Isaiah 7:14 – A Virgin Birth?

Is Isaiah 7:14 talking about a virgin birth?

Many Christians and professional missionaries like to quote the following verse as a proof-text. “Behold the Lord Himself will give you a sign, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and she shall call his name Immanuel.”   Isaiah 7:14 . Are there differences – Christianity vs Judaism? Let’s find out

They claim that this passage prophesies the miraculous virgin birth of the Messiah and that Jesus is the only one who could have fulfilled it. They also point out that the name Immanuel literally means “God is with us” and use this as a proof of the divine nature of this individual.

Genealogy of Jesus

The New Testament book of Matthew recounts the genealogy[1] of Jesus starting from Abraham and ending with Joseph the husband of Mary.  It claims (Matthew 1:18-25) that when they were betrothed and had not yet consummated their marriage Joseph discovered that Mary was with child and still a virgin.  Not wanting to disgrace her he planned to put her away secretly. Only afterwards does the gospel claim that an angel comes and informs Joseph that this event is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah.

This entire story is extremely puzzling and a major question begs to be answered. If the prophesy in Isaiah 7:14 is so clear and fundamental to the coming of the Messiah, why was Joseph, a descendant of King David, totally oblivious to it. Upon discovering that his virgin wife was with child he should have jumped for joy that this may be the precursor to the arrival of the Messiah. Instead he suspects her of infidelity.

The answer is simply – This passage in Isaiah isn’t speaking about the Messiah or a virgin birth.

Let’s begin by examining the context of the seventh chapter of Isaiah. In the same way that America and Korea were divided into North and South during their Civil wars, at this point in Jewish history the Jewish nation was divided into two kingdoms,[2] known as the Southern Kingdom of Judea and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Each kingdom had its own capital, king and enemies.

The Southern Kingdom of Judea had its capital in Jerusalem and was ruled by King Ahaz. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had its capital in Samaria and was ruled by King Pekah.  To the north of both these kingdoms was a third, non-Jewish ruler, King Resin of Aram (Syria) whose capital was Damascus.

God dispatched the prophet Isaiah and one of his sons to warn King Ahaz that the northern kingdom had formed an alliance with this King Rezin They had joined forces to “wage war against Jerusalem.”  Isaiah tells King Ahaz (verse 4) that he should not be afraid because God will be with him and the invasion with fail. Additionally, within 65 years the northern kingdom will cease to exist and its 10 tribes would be led into exile by Assyria. This is where the idea of ten lost tribes originates.

Although Ahaz was an evil king, God would continue to protect Jerusalem in the merit of his righteous predecessors. When Ahaz ignores Isaiah’s warning the prophet tells him to request a sign from God. After Ahaz refuses this offer, Isaiah informs him that God will give him a sign despite his stubbornness. He tells King Ahaz that “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the Almah (הָעַלְמָה) shall conceive and give birth to a son and she shall call his name Immanuel.”    Isaiah 7:14

Mistranslation

The word Almah has been mistranslated by most Christians as “virgin.” In truth, this word means “young woman.” Additionally, the definite article (Ha-ה) means “the” and indicates that the prophet is speaking about a specific woman who he can point to. Interestingly when Matthew quotes this passage he not only mistranslates “young woman” as “virgin” but, to deflect the reference from a specific woman standing before Isaiah, he intentionally mistranslates the young woman” as “a virgin.” To prove that “Almah” does in fact mean “a virgin” missionaries fallaciously assert that this word is used 7 times in the bible and that it always refers to a woman who is a virgin.

First, those who translate Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin” inconsistently translate the other six places a as “maiden or young woman” revealing their intentional mistranslation. The word “Almah” should always be translated as “a young woman.” This word alone does not teach us anything about her sexual status.  It simply informs us that she is young. This is also true of the masculine form of the word “Almah” which is the Hebrew word (Alem עָלֶם) which means “a young man“, as in the following examples:

Whose son is this young man (הָעָלֶם)”  Samuel I (17:56)

If I say thus to the young man”    Samuel I (20:22)

In both cases the word “Alem” only teaches that this man is young, it gives no indication of his sexual status, which by men is indiscernible. The Hebrew bible has a completely different word for virgin. The specific Hebrew word is (Betulah – בְּתּוּלָה).  This word has no masculine form and indicates the physical sexual status of a woman. It is always translated as “virgin.”  For example: “the girl was very beautiful, a virgin (בְּתּוּלָה), and no man had had any relations with her”   Genesis 24:16

I took the woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin (בְּתּוּלָה)”     Deut 22:14

And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh 400 young virgins that had known no man.”  Judges 21:12

These verses show us that the word “Betulah” means “a virgin who has not had physical relations with a man,” regardless of her age. She could be 100 years old or 18 years old. If Isaiah had wanted to tell us the physical status of the woman he would have used the specific word “Betulah,” a word he was familiar with and uses in his writings (see Isaiah 47:1). Missionary are incorrect when they claim that whenever the word “Almah” is used it is referring to a young woman who is also a virgin.[3] Here are some examples where it cannot mean a virgin: “There are sixty queens, and eighty concubines and young women (Almot) without number, my dove my undefiled is but one, she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice of her that bore her,”  Song of Songs 6:8-9

There are three things which are to wonderful for me, yes, four which I know not. The way of the eagle in the air, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea and the way of a man with a young woman (Almah). Likewise, the way of an adulterous woman, she eats, and wipes her mouth and says, ‘I have done nothing wrong’.”   Proverbs 30:18-20

The common characteristic: “the way” is that they all leave no trace, just like an adulterous woman who claims she has done nothing wrong, and there is no trace of her act, so too the eagle leaves no trace in the air, a snake leaves no trace on a rock, a ship leaves no trace in the midst of the sea, so too the young woman (Almah) with a man leaves no sign which is not the case of a virgin who leaves a sign of blood called “the token of her virginity”  Deuteronomy 21:15-19.

We also see this in the verse: “Bring out the evidence of the girl’s virginity”  Deuteronomy 22:15

Missionaries attempt to prove that “Almah” means a “virgin” by referring to an ancient Greek translation of the Bible, called the Septuagint, which was carried out by 70 rabbis approximately 165 years before Jesus. They claim that in Isaiah 7:14 the word “Almah” is translated as the Greek “parthenos”  which they claim means virgin.

Problems with this claim:

First, the Septuagint also translates the Hebrew word (Narah-נַעַרָ-maiden) in Genesis 34:3 as “parthenos-Παρθένος-.”

…Shechem…took her and lay with her by force. And his soul was drawn to her …and he loved the maiden (Narah -הנער), and he spoke to the heart of the maiden (Narah- הנער).”  Genesis 34:2‑3

In context, this passage is speaking about Dinah the daughter of Jacob, after she was raped by a non-Jew know as Shechem. Obviously, she was not a virgin and we cannot rely on the Septuagint’s inaccurate translation.

Secondly, according to both Jewish and Greek traditions, (see Babylonian Talmud Megila 9a and Aristeos’ letter to King Ptolemy) the Septuagint translation attributed to the 70 Rabbi’s was exclusively the Five Books of Moses and did not include the Prophets and the Holy writings, thereby distancing itself from any Greek translation of Isaiah.

Additionally, there are no original copies of the Septuagint. Today’s versions are taken from second and third century manuscripts that had been corrupted by non-Jewish writers. That is why the introduction to the Zondervan Septuagint points out that “the Pentateuch is considered to be the best executed, while the book of Isaiah appears to be the worst.

Numerous Christian translations like The New Revised Standard Version recognize this mistake and correctly translate “Almah” as “the young woman.” Whether the woman mentioned by Isaiah is a virgin is completely irrelevant. How would anyone know without doing a physical examine and even then, this is not absolute proof.

Examining the Hebrew more closely we note that the Hebrew verbs for “conceived – harah” and “will give birth – yoledet” are used throughout scriptures to refer to natural conceptions and birth, as in, “And man new his wife and she conceived (tahar) and bore (taled) and bore Cain”  Genesis 4:1 These are the same verbs used in Isaiah 7:14 and refer to a natural birth. The sign mentioned in Isaiah 7:14 has nothing to do with a miraculous birth.

In context Isaiah is speaking about a specific young woman who will become pregnant during the life time of Isaiah and King Ahaz. A miraculous virgin birth that supposedly took place over 560 years later would be irrelevant to Ahaz, who required a sign prior to an imminent military invasion.

Christians attempt to avoid this problem by claiming that this is a “double level prophesy” that happens both during the time of Ahaz and again in the time of Jesus. If Christians want to believe that the word Almah means a virgin and simultaneously claim a “double level prophesy” they would have to believe that a virgin birth took place in the time of Ahaz. However, this never occurred and would also contradict the claim that Jesus’ virgin birth is unique.

The sign mentioned in verse 14 to Ahaz is that the two kings who threatened King Ahaz would be destroyed quickly. This sign is described in the next verse: “before the child knows enough to refuse evil and choose good the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken”   Isaiah 7:15

It is fulfilled in the next chapter with the birth of a child to the prophet Isaiah: “he (Isaiah) approached the prophetess and she conceived (tahar) and bore (taled) a son and God said to me:  Name the child “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” which means (the spoil speeds the prey hastens). For before the child shall know how to cry my father my mother the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Sammaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”   Isaiah 8:4

Clearly, the woman mentioned in Isaiah 7:14 and 8:3-4 are one and the same and that she is Isaiah’s wife.  The real sign to King Ahaz is that Isaiah’s child will be born quickly and before he matures (knowing the difference between good and evil and father and mother) the nations who threaten the Kingdom of Judea will be defeated. Interestingly, Isaiah’s children are specifically referred to as a “signs” from God.

Behold I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel.”  Isaiah 8:18

King Ahaz was told to trust in G-d for assistance and to ask for a sign as proof that his enemies would be defeated. He is told that the sign will be the birth of a child from the young woman who will call the child (Immanuel –עמנואל).[4] Although this name mean ‘God is with us” it does not mean that the child will be divine. It is very common for biblical personality to have names that include God and part of their name. For example, (Daniel –דניאל) means “God is my Judge.” The implication was that G-d would be with Ahaz and the Kingdom of Judah in their fight against their enemies.

Isaiah refers to this when he says, “Contrive a scheme, but it will be foiled; conspire a plot, but it will not stand, for   God is with us (Emanu El).”   Isaiah 8:10 Eventually the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Aram-Syria are vanquished by the armies of Sennacherib King of Assyria (Babylon) who exiled the northern kingdom, “The king of Assyria invaded the entire country… the king of Assyria captured Samaria and exiled Israel”   2 Kings 17:5-6

Thus God saved Hezikiah (son of Ahaz) and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib King of Assyria.”  2 Chronicles 32:22 The concept of a virgin birth preceded Christianity and has its roots in Greco-Roman mythology. Numerous Greek and Roman gods were born of virgin births, as recorded in the “Golden Bough” by Frazer, for example Tammus and Attis who both were claimed to be of virgin births. The concept of the virgin birth was adopted by Christianity from the pagan world and has no foundation in Judaism.

Isaiah is clearly describing an event that has no Messianic connotations. In fact, the word Messiah is never used in this chapter.

© 2005 Written and compiled by Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz

 [1] A careful comparison of Jesus’ genealogy listed in the book of Luke provides as good example of how the gospels contradict one another. Additionally, Matthew’s genealogical list proves Jesus could not be the promised messiah because he is not from the tribe of Judah, a messianic requirement (Genesis 49:10) transmitted solely by one biological father (Numbers 1:18). Luke’s genealogy proves that Jesus could not be the Messiah because he is not a descendant of King David through his son Solomon, another messianic requirement (2 Samuel 7:12‑16 and 1 Chronicles 22:9‑10)

[2] This occurred after the reign of King Solomon

[3] In the story of Rebekah, she is called both a virgin (Betulah) in Genesis 24:16 and a young woman (Almah) later in Genesis 24:43. Christians incorrectly claim that this proves that an Almah is a virgin. An Almah (young woman) may or may not be a virgin but the word doesn’t teach this. A virgin may be young or old but the word Betulah doesn’t tell us her age. In this story the first reference is in a narrative given by G-d who knew her physical status as a virgin, latter when Abraham’s servant Eliezer repeats the story from his perspective he calls her a “young woman” since he knew her age but not her physical status.

[4] Some Christians have mistakenly quoted Rashi on Isaiah 7:14 as saying that the word “Almah refers to a woman who never had intercourse in her life.” This is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word (נִתְּנַבאִית) which means to prophesize. They confused it with similar sounding word that means intercourse. Rashi says that the woman never prophesied before in her life and now prophetically gave the child the name Immanuel. The same Hebrew word is used by Rashi in his commentary on Numbers 16:7 and means prophesied. They also quote the same Rashi as saying “that the Almah was not fit to give birth.” This does not mean she was a virgin, just that she was not fit to give birth. Similarly, Abraham’s wife Sarah who was barren and unfit to give birth to Isaac was undeniably not a virgin.

 


 

Editors note: This is yet another example of the difference between Christianity vs Judaism.

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