The church traditionally has accepted the reality of the virgin birth. The Apostles Creed proclaims, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary . . . .”
The Gospel writer Matthew concludes that Christ’s miraculous birth was the fulfillment of a prophecy recorded in Isa 7:14, “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call his name Immanuel” (NASV). When one examines the passage in its historical context, however, it looks like the prophecy is addressed to King Ahaz for his day and age, and not one pointing to the birth of the Messiah. How did Matthew come to his conclusion?
The Gospel writers deemed the OT a divine book, making it different from all other kinds of literature. Therefore, they held that it had a divine as well a human meaning. What the original author intended for his audience (authorial intent) was not the only or final meaning of a passage. The divine author (God) infused the text with another meaning for an entirely different audience, which would be revealed in time. According to Raymond Brown, Scripture should be given a first and second reading; one to discover the human meaning and the other to find the sensus plenior or fuller meaning.
The Gospel writers adopted methods of interpretation that were common to the Second Temple period. Unlike modern-day evangelical exegetes, they did not limit themselves to the grammatical-historical school. They concerned themselves not only with the OT text’s meaning for the original audience, but its divine intent for their contemporary audience. Two of the more popular interpretive methods were:
1. The Pesher method that sought to uncover the eschatological or messianic meaning of the text, which was not necessarily the meaning that the original author intended. This method was prevalent among the scribes of Qumran. Texts such as Ps 118:22–23=Luke 20:17–18; Isa 61:1–2=Luke 4:16–20; Isa 7:14=Matt 1:22–23 can be interpreted this way.
2. The Midrash method that sought to find a deeper than surface meaning to a text through careful observation and prolonged reflection. Deut 25:4=1 Cor 9:8–9 is an example of this method.
Being inspired, the NT writers were given unique abilities to discover the “correct” eschatological or deeper meaning of the text. They understood the OT contained more than mere facts about Israel, but was a record of salvation history up until that point, but which was moving forward. It had an eschatological dimension. The OT then was part of a much larger story, which had not yet been fulfilled. Therefore, from a divine standpoint, each OT story had future implications, often unbeknown to the original author.
Obviously OT writers did not know about Jesus, but their NT counterparts did; thus, when the latter read the Hebrew Scriptures they interpreted them from a Christological perspective (e.g. Isa 7:14; 53:3). To interpret the OT according to the original author’s intent only (the grammatical-historical method) was to miss Jesus. Likewise, when we refuse to go beyond the historical context of a passage; we too miss Jesus in the OT. We end up with Judaism, not Christianity!
The testimony of Jesus himself is that the Hebrew Scriptures point to him (Luke 24:27, 44). Therefore, we must look at these ancient texts from both eschatological and Christological points of view. This is exactly what Matthew does. He reads Isa 7:14 and seeks to discover the divine author’s intent.