If the first shall be last and the last shall be first, then it only makes sense to end this series on the Women in the Book of Mormon with Mary, the mother of Christ. I have talked about Mary before and how she represents our Heavenly Mother. This time, I would like to talk more about what her references in the Book of Mormon tell and teach us, and help us understand the truths of the Bible.
One of the arguments between Christians and Jews about Jesus, and more specifically Mary, are in regards to a scripture found in the book of Isaiah.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14, KJV
The argument holds that in the Hebrew, the word “virgin” is not used, but rather “young woman.” When the Hebrew was translated to Greek it was mistranslated as “virgin,” and this mistranslation continued to the Latin version, making its way to the English. At the time the New Testament was being written, the Greek version was used heavily by Jews and today’s Jews claim that the New Testament writers claimed Mary was a virgin due to this mistranslation.
The Dead Sea Scrolls version of this verse, written in Hebrew, is translated to “virgin” incorrectly here:
“therefore YHWH/Adonai himself will give to you a sign, Behold the virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son and he shall call his name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14, DSS, (Great Isaiah Scroll)
The translator of this Scroll, Fred P Miller, just used the word “virgin” because he is a Christian. Both the Deas Sea Scrolls and the oldest traditional copy of the book of Isaiah use the same word, “ha almah” which does mean “young woman.” If the word were “virgin,” as in “untouched by a man sexually” the verse would use the Hebrew “bethulah.”
In 1830, the Book of Mormon is published and Nephi calls Mary a virgin not once, but five times (1 Nephi 13-20)! Well, technically four times, she is called a virgin once by the angel/Holy Ghost. Nephi calls her;
- exceedingly fair
- a virgin
- most beautiful
- fair above all other virgins
Is this also a misunderstanding? Isaiah 7 was not important enough to be included in the Book of Mormon, so we do not know. However, it would be presumed by Nephi that this young woman would be a virgin as she he can see, through the spirit, that she is, in his own words, “righteous.” And, he says this before she is “carried away in the Spirit” (1 Nephi 19). Then, in verse 20, calls her a virgin again seeing her holding the Christ child, which is confusing as now she has a child.
In my mind, the Book of Mormon and the Bible were mistranslated here. Smith likely used the word “virgin” correctly at first, then it is more likely that “young woman” would be the correct translation after she has the child, as she would still be young, but is clearly no longer a virgin. In Smith’s time a virgin was “woman not a mother,” yet she clearly is a mother now that she is holding a baby, or “a woman who has had no carnal knowledge of man,” which being impregnated she must be.
Thus, one logical conclusion is that this may have been translated with Smith’s bias in mind, as he, being a Christian, would have seen Mary as a holy virgin. Re-translating the same verse, replacing “virgin” with “young woman” works just as well (I will also be re-translating “white” to the 1828 meaning, “Pure; unblemished”).
And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a young woman, and she was exceedingly fair and righteous.
And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: “Nephi, what beholdest thou?”
And I said unto him: “A young woman, most beautiful and pure, above all other young women.”
…And he said unto me: “Behold, the young woman whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.”
And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: “Look!” And I looked and beheld the young woman again, bearing a child in her arms. – 1 Nephi 11: 13-15, 18-20
We know that there are other mistranslations in the Book of Mormon, as it is not a perfect book, so this reasoning works, but there is another way to look at it. The real clarity in the Book of Mormon comes not from Mary’s virginity, but in the form of who the real father of Jesus is. The New Testament is very unclear on this point.
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1: 35
Is the Holy Ghost the father, or the “power of the Highest?” or God the Father? We know that God the Father, Elohim, is the father of his spirit, just as he is the father of our spirits. But of the physical body of Jesus who is the father? The Book of Mormon clears this question up nicely for us.
…the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: …behold, [Jesus Christ] shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin [or young woman], a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.” – Alma the Younger (Alma 7: 9-10)
Between Luke stating that “The Holy Ghost shall come upon” Mary, Nephi stating he saw her “carried away in the Spirit… for the space of a time” and Alma stating that she would “conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost” it is clear that the Holy Ghost is the mortal father of Christ, making him the Son of God in every aspect. He is the Son of God the Father of our spirits and the Son of God the Holy Ghost, who is also the Father of God’s Church here on the Earth (Adam/Michael/the Holy Ghost) being the Son of the Holy Ghost. This makes him the legitimate heir of the Kingdom of God both in Heaven and on the Earth. Thus he is truly the Son of God and the Son of Man and the only person that can save us, and take his place at the head of both kingdoms, making them one again.
This, to me, is the great lesson we learn about Christ from the mention of Mary in the Book of Mormon.
This also clears up the virgin mystery. If the father of Jesus is the Holy Ghost, she has not known a man in the traditional sense of the word, as we do not know how the Holy Spirit impregnated her. Regardless of how that happened, she was not in sin to conceive the Christ child and thus is a “virgin” in the religious sense. We see throughout the scriptures examples of comparing sin and loving other gods as a form of adultery. Thus all of these ideas may work together flawlessly. Nephi sees that she is fair, beautiful and a virgin. Isaiah saw that she was a young woman and later Nephi sees that she is still pure, and a virgin in God’s eyes, making Smith’s translation correct after all.
There are two key lessons that we can learn from Mary in the Book of Mormon. The first is that petty translation arguments do not really matter. Was she technically a virgin? should the scriptures read that she was a young woman? Likely she was both though she clearly was not really a virgin anymore in one sense once she was pregnant. Regardless, the use of the term makes sense in saying that she was still pure, she had not sinned in the conception of Jesus. The other lesson we learn is that through Mary’s conception of Jesus, he became the Christ, heir to the throne of kingdoms of Heaven and Earth, able to truly be our Savior and our King. And really, this is the lesson we should be keeping in our hearts.
Image: The Annunciation by Eustache Le Sueur, Public Domain.