Isaiah 7:14

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (ASV)


The word "virgin" here is the result of a mistranslation in the Greek Septuagint. The Hebrew "almah", or "young woman", could be a virgin, but the terms are not synonymous (the Hebrew "betulah" is the word for "virgin"). This verse is significant because of its later hijacking by the author of Matthew, who claimed it to be a prophecy of Jesus, despite the fact that it was intended to be a contemporary sign for King Ahaz and was apparently fulfilled in Isaiah 8:3. This is covered in more detail in the Matthew 1:23 section, where the claims of the "Con" section are specifically addressed.

Technically, the error here is in Matthew, not Isaiah (at least, not in the original Hebrew of Isaiah). However, the translators of the King James Version repeated the Septuagint's convenient mistranslation despite otherwise working directly from the Hebrew Masoretic text (presumably for the same reason Matthew did), and this pattern has been followed by many Christian translators since: "almah" is falsely translated as "virgin" in the New King James Version, New American Standard Bible, Webster's, Young's, Darby's, the American Standard Version, the Latin Vulgate, and the New Living Translation (with a "young woman" footnote)... a triumph of wishful thinking over responsible scholarship, though the Revised Standard Version does have "young woman". --Robert Stevens 17:45, 3 Nov 2005 (CST)

JW: The best Category of evidence in determination of the meaning of "almah" is an examination of its usage in the Jewish Bible. The Con argument claims:

"First off, there are only six other verses in the Hebrew Bible where the word 'almah is used (Gen. 24:43, Ex. 2:8, Ps. 68:25, Prov. 30:19, Song of Sol. 1:3, Song of Sol. 6:8). In each instance, the word is used to denote a virgin."

An examination of the six verses indicates there is no Context yielding a specific meaning of "Virgin":

Verse List

Genesis 24:43

43 I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,”

Exodus 2:8

8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.

Psalm 68:25

25 the singers in front, the musicians last, between them girls playing tambourines:

Proverbs 30:19

19 the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a girl.

Song of Solomon 1:3

3 your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out; therefore the maidens love you.

Song of Solomon 6:8

8 There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number.

--JoeWallack 17:08, 18 Jun 2006 (CDT)

Brown-Driver-Briggs is generally the Christian Lexicon of choice for Christian Bible scholarship. This is the Standard for the Seminary. Brown, Driver, and Briggs were all early 20th century Christian clergy and Jewish Bible scholarship would consider them biased. Here is their entry for "almah":

"?*??????? S5959 TWOT1630b GK6625 n.f. young woman (ripe sexually; maid or newly married);—?? Gn 24:43 (J), Ex 2:8 (E), Pr 30:19 Is 7:14; pl. ???????? ? 68:26 Ct 1:3; 6:8; ???????????? to (the voice of) young women, either lit., or of soprano or falsetto of boys: 1 Ch 15:20 ? 9:1 (read ???????????? ?????? [for ???????? ??????, ‘voce virgines a pueris decantandum,’ Thes), 46:1; 48:15 (read ???????????? [for ????????]; tr. prob. to 49:1)."

Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. 2000. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Strong's, TWOT, and GK references Copyright 2000 by Logos Research Systems, Inc. (electronic ed.) . Logos Research Systems: Oak Harbor, WA

JW: From the above we can see that:

1) Isaiah 7:14 is specifically categorized as "young woman".

2) Every Jewish Bible usage is categorized as "young woman".

3) There is no meaning of "virgin" given.

--JoeWallack 14:29, 17 Jun 2006 (CDT)


It is commonly assumed (and declared) that 'almah singularly denotes a young woman, whereas betulah denotes a virgin. This is hardly credible, however, when textual evidence is considered.

First off, there are only six other verses in the Hebrew Bible where the word 'almah is used (Gen. 24:43, Ex. 2:8, Ps. 68:25, Prov. 30:19, Song of Sol. 1:3, Song of Sol. 6:8). In each instance, the word is used to denote a virgin.

The Finnish scholar, Risto Santala, who has done his life's work in Hebrew, points out, in addition, that the highly valued Hebrew encyclopedia of Even Shushan says the term almah "denotes a maiden or a young woman, especially before marriage". Since virginity was the condition of marriability, any girl called almah would naturally be understood to be a virgin.

Secondly, the word betulah hardly denotes only a virgin. There are several cases in the Hebrew Bible where a betulah is quite far from being a virgin. In Esther 2:17, betulah is a girl who has spent the night with the King Ahasuerus. In Ezek. 23:3, a betulah has committed fornication, and in Joel 1:8 a betulah has been married and lost his husband.

In addition, the word betulah is used of Rebekah, the girl whom Abraham's servant went to get as a wife for his son Isaac. Why does the word betulah need additional words for explaining the notion of virginity?

"The maiden was very fair to look upon, a betulah, whom no man had known (slept with)." (Gen. 24:16)

If the word betulah would alone be sufficient to connote virginity, why would the writer need to emphasize that this betulah had notbeen touched by a man? What kind of a virgin would she be if a man had touched her, anyway? Isn't it rather apparent that the word betulah was not enough to convince the reader about Rebekah's virginity?

The same girl is called 'almah in Gen. 24:43, but in this case no further description is necessary. The servant tells that he has been searching for an almah to marry him to his master's son, which again hints at the fact that an 'almah is an undefiled and thus marriagable girl. If almah meant only a young woman, why would the servant need to mention it at all? Whom else would he be searching for his master's son? A young man, perhaps?

Thirdly, there is nothing special in a young woman becoming pregnant. However, in Isaiah 7:14, the incident is supposed to be a sign; the same word ('ot) denotes a miracle. "Behold, a young woman becomes pregnang and gives birth to a son." What kind of a sign is that supposed to be to anyone?

Fourthly, the original recipients of the Hebrew Bible understood this 'almah to be a virgin. Else why would they translate the word as parthenos, a virgin? There was available a perfectly suitable Greek word, neanis, to denote a maiden. Is there any justification for us, over two thousand years later, to suppose that we understand the nuances of the words better than they and therefore can translate the word more accurately?

The subject is thoroughly discussed in an article here. The writer notes that at the time of the writing of Isaiah, the word betulah had become rather fixed at meaning poetically Israel herself. There would have been an additional possibility of misunderstanding with using the word for a "real" woman in a prophecy.

--jjmarkka 13:41, 21 Oct 2005 (CDT)


From the Pro argument: "Technically, the error here is in Matthew, not Isaiah (at least, not in the original Hebrew of Isaiah)."

Actually, I would say that the mistranslation is in the Septuagint, which uses a Greek word that unambiguously means "virgin."

--JustinEiler 18:31, 3 Nov 2005 (CST)

JW: Justin, you've been spending too much time at Tweeb. I don't think you appreciate just how low the level of scholarship is there and sounds like you've picked up some bad none habits.

From BDAG:

"????????, ??, ? (s. prec. entry; Hom.+, gener. of a young woman of marriageable age, w. or without focus on virginity; s. esp. PKöln VI, 245, 12 and ASP 31, ’91 p. 39) and ? (s. reff. in b) in our lit. one who has never engaged in sexual intercourse, virgin, chaste person ? female of marriageable age w. focus on virginity ? ???????? Mt 25:1, 7, 11; 1 Cor 7:25 (FStrobel, NovT 2, ’58, 199–227), 28, 34; Pol 5:3; Hv 4, 2, 1; s 9, 1, 2; 9, 2, 3; 5; 9, 3, 2; 4f; 9, 4, 3; 5f; 8 al.; AcPl Ox 6, 16 (cp. Aa I 241, 15); GJs 13:1. After Is 7:14 (????????? ?????; on this ASchulz, BZ 23, ’35, 229–41; WBrownlee, The Mng. of Qumran for the Bible, esp. Is, ’64, 274–81) Mt 1:23 (cp. Menand., Sicyonius 372f ???????? ?? ???, ??????? ??????). Of Mary also Lk 1:27ab; GJs 9:1; 10:1; 15:2; 16:1; 19:3; ISm 1:1 and prob. Dg 12:8 (the idea that the spirit of a god could father a child by a woman, specifically a virgin, was not foreign to Egyptian religion: Plut. Numa 62 [4, 6], Mor. 718ab; Philo, Cher. 43–50 [on this ENorden, D. Geburt des Kindes 78–90; ELeach, Genesis as Myth, and Other Essays ’69, 85–112; RBrown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus ’73, 62, esp. n. 104; idem, The Birth of the Messiah ’77, 522f, esp. n. 17]. S. further the lit. on ????? 4 and OBardenhewer, Mariä Verkündigung 1905; EPetersen, Die wunderbare Geburt des Heilandes 1909; HUsener, Das Weihnachtsfest2 1911; ASteinmann, D. jungfräul. Geburt des Herrn3 1926, D. Jungfrauengeburt u. die vergl. Religionsgeschichte 1919; GBox, The Virgin Birth of Jesus 1916; OCrain, The Credibility of the Virgin Birth 1925; JMachen, The Virgin Birth of Christ2 ’32 [on this FKattenbusch, StKr 102, 1930, 454–74]; EWorcester, Studies in the Birth of Our Lord ’32; KSchmidt, D. jungfrl. Geb. J. Chr.: ThBl 14, ’35, 289–97; FSteinmetzer, Empfangen v. Hl. Geist ’38; RBratcher, Bible Translator 9, ’58, 98–125 [Heb., LXX, Mt]; TBoslooper, The Virg. Birth ’62; HvCampenhausen, D. Jungfrauengeburt in d. Theol. d. alten Kirche ’62; JMeier, A Marginal Jew I, ’91, 205–52 [lit.].—RCooke, Did Paul Know the Virg. Birth? 1927; PBotz, D. Jungfrausch. Mariens im NT u. in der nachap. Zeit, diss. Tüb. ’34; DEdwards, The Virg. Birth in History and Faith ’43.—Clemen2 114–21; ENorden, D. Geburt des Kindes2 ’31; MDibelius, Jungfrauensohn u. Krippenkind ’32; HMerklein, Studien zu Jesus und Paulus [WUNT 105] ’98; in gener., RBrown, The Birth of the Messiah ’77, 133–63, esp. 147–49. As a contrast to Dibelius’ Hellenistic emphasis s. OMichel and OBetz, Beih., ZNW 26, ’60, 3–23, on Qumran parallels.). Of the daughters of Philip ???????? ????????????? Ac 21:9. Of virgins who were admitted to the church office of ‘widows’ ISm 13:1 (s. AJülicher, PM 22, 1918, 111f. Differently LZscharnack, Der Dienst der Frau 1902, 105 ff).—On 1 Cor 7:36–38 s. ?????? 1 and s. also PKetter, Trierer Theol. Ztschr. 56, ’47, 175–82 (????. often means [virgin] daughter: Apollon. Rhod. 3, 86 ????. ?????? and the scholion on this has the following note: ???????? ???? ??? ????????; Lycophron vss. 1141, 1175; Diod. S. 8, 6, 2; 16, 55, 3; 20, 84, 3 [pl. beside ????]. Likewise Theod. Prodr. 1, 293 H. ??? ??? ????????=‘your virgin daughter’; in 3, 332 ?. ?????? ???????? refers to one’s ‘sweetheart’; likew. 6, 466, as well as the fact that ????. can mean simply ‘girl’ [e.g. Paus. 8, 20, 4]). On Jewish gravestones ‘of age, but not yet married’ CIJ I, 117. RSeeboldt, Spiritual Marriage in the Early Church, CTM 30, ’59, 103–19; 176–86.—In imagery: the Corinthian congregation as ???????? ???? (????? a) 2 Cor 11:2 (on this subj. s. FConybeare, Die jungfräul. Kirche u. die jungfräul. Mutter: ARW 8, 1905, 373ff; 9, 1906, 73ff; Cumont3 283, 33).—? ??????? ???????? AcPl Ox 6, 15f (of Thecla; cp. Aa I 241, 15 ? ??????? ????? ??? ????????). ? male virgin ? ???????? virgin, chaste man (CIG IV, 8784b; JosAs 8:1 uses ?. of Joseph; Pel.-Leg. 27, 1 uses it of Abel; Suda of Abel and Melchizedek; Nonnus of the apostle John, who is also called ‘virgo’ in the Monarchian Prologues [Kl. T. 12 1908, p. 13, 13]) Rv 14:4 (on topical relation to 1 En 15:2–7 al., s. DOlson, CBQ 59, ’97, 492–510).—JFord, The Mng. of ‘Virgin’, NTS 12, ’66, 293–99.—B. 90. New Docs 4, 224–27. DELG. M-M. EDNT. TW. Spicq. Sv."

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. 2000. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. "Based on Walter Bauer's Griechisch-deutsches Wr?terbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der frhüchristlichen [sic] Literatur, sixth edition, ed. Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, with Viktor Reichmann and on previous English editions by W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich, and F.W. Danker." (3rd ed.) . University of Chicago Press: Chicago

JW: Note that "parthenos" in the literature of the time had a priMary meaning of "a young woman of marriageable age". It was because of "Matthew's" use that it gradually acquired a stronger connotation of "virgin". Brown in "The Birth Of The Messiah" is the only Christian scholar I've ever seen who has confessed this. The same has happened with the Latin "virgo". Even in modern Greek "parthenos" is still not "unambiguously "virgin".

Justin, stay here and I will show you the True Nature of "The Verse".


It seems strange that Isaih would predict that a young woman shall have a son. This is something that is rather mundane. Consequently, I think the interpretation of a virgin shall conceive makes sense. Otherwise he is saying something like "in that day the sky will darken and it will rain."

If Isaiah wished to claim such a startling and miraculous event as a virgin birth, then surely he should have used the Hebrew word for "virgin"? It's true that a non-virgin birth is mundane, but there are several reasons why he might have mentioned one as a "sign". For instance, it's entirely possible that the young woman was present at the time: "Behold [points finger], a young woman..." (who may or may not have been virginal at that time). As Isaiah apparently "goes in unto" this woman subsequently, this raises the likelihood that he would have kept her nearby. Also, Isaiah is specifying a timescale for the defeat of Ahaz's enemies: the time needed for a young woman to concieve and bear a child, plus the time needed for that child to know the difference between "good" and "bad". A "virgin birth" wouldn't affect this timescale. --Robert Stevens 06:53, 21 Apr 2006 (CDT)

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