Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive and Bear a Son

Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive and Bear a Son
James Scott Trimm

We read in Matthew 1:23 Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;
    Behold, a virgin [ALMA] shall conceive, and bear a son,
    And call his name Immanuel.
    (Is. 7:14)

Anti-missionary Tovia Singer challenges the application of this verse to a virgin birth in the books known as the “New Testament.”

The truth is that the evidence is overwhelming that this verse is a Messianic prophecy and does in fact refer to a virgin birth of the Messiah.  This can be shown in three ways:

The first is the meaning of the Hebrew word ALMA and why it would be used here.

The second is the reading of the other ancient versions of Isaiah 7:14.

And the third is the overall context of this passage.

Now great controversy surrounds the Hebrew word ALMA in Isaiah 7:14.

It has been suggested that the Hebrew word “ALMA” simply means “young woman” and that if Isaiah had intended to refer to a “virgin” he would have used the Hebrew word BETULAH. SO the question arises, what is an ALMA? What is a BETULAH and why would Isaiah use the word ALMA rather than BETULAH if it were to be a virgin birth?

The word ALMA refers to a young unmarried woman one of whose characteristics is virginity. There is no instance where the word ALMA is used to refer to a non-virgin. In such passages as Gen. 24:43 (compare Gen. 24:43 with 24:16 where BETULAH appears) and Song 1:3; 6:8 ALMA clearly refers to virgins. In fact the Hebrew Publishing Company Translation of 1916 translates ALMA as “virgin” in Gen. 24:43 and in Song 1:3; 6:8. Moreover an ancient Ugaritic tablet was discovered which uses ALMA in synonymous poetic parallelism as the synonymous parallel to the cognate of BETULAH. For this reason one of the worlds leading Semitists, the late Dr. Cyrus Gordon who was Jewish and did NOT believe in the virgin birth of Yeshua maintains that Is. 7:14 may be translated as “virgin” (Almah in Isaiah 7:14; Gordon, Cyrus H.; JBR 21:106). So why would Isaiah have used ALMA rather than BETULAH? Because a BETULAH can be a young married woman who is not a virgin, but pure because she is married (as in Joel 1:8).

Now it has been suggested that Isaiah 7:14 refers not to a birth to a “virgin” but to a birth to a “young woman”.

In order to understand how this passage was understood anciently we should look at the other ancient versions of the book of Isaiah. The Aramaic Peshitta Tanak has:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;
Behold, a virgin [B’TULTA] shall conceive, and bear a son,
And call his name Immanuel.
(Is. 7:14)

The Aramaic word B’TULTA clearly means “virgin” and not simply “young lady”.

Now lets look at the Greek Septuagint reading:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;
Behold, a virgin [PARTHENOS] shall conceive,
and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel.
(Is. 7:14)

The Greek PARTHENOS means “virgin” and not simply “young lady”.

Thus both the ancient Aramaic and ancient Greek versions of Isaiah 7:14 understand ALMA here to refer to a virgin.

Finally I want to examine the context of Isaiah 7:14. First I will want to examine the immediate context of Isaiah 7 and then the broader context of this whole section of Isaiah.

Literal translation of Hebrew of Is. 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give to you(pl) a sign:
behold the ALMA will conceive and bear a son
and she will call his name Immanuel.

“you” in verse 14 is plural. By contrast King Achaz is singular you in verses 11 and 16-17. The sign to Achaz was that before a child should know how to choose good from bad, the siege would end (16-17). That child was NOT be the newborn child of verse 14 the child is Isaiah’s son Sh’ar-Yashuv from Isaiah 7:3. The prophecy of Is. 7:14 is not addressed only to Achaz as is the rest of the prophecy.

The following literal translation clears things up: (s)=singular (pl)=plural

7:3a Then YHWH said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet
Achaz, you(s) and Shear-Jashub your(s) son…
7:10 …YHWH spoke again to Achaz saying:
7:11 “Ask a sign for yourself(s) from YHWH your(s) God;
ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”
7:12 But Achaz said: “I will not ask, nor will I test YHWH”
7:13 Then he said: “Hear now, O House of David! Is it a small
thing for you(pl) to weary men, but will you(pl) weary my God
7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give to you(pl) a sign:
behold the ALMA will conceive and bear a son and she will
call his name Immanuel.
7:15 Curds and honey He shall eat, that he may know to refuse
the evil and choose the good.
7:16 For behold before the child shall know to refuse the evil
and choose the good, the land that you(s) dread will be forsaken by both her kings.
7:17 YHWH will bring the King of Assyria upon you(s) and your(s) people and your(s) father’s house…

Note the clear distinction to what is addressed to you(pl) and what is addressed to you(s) (Achaz) and how this creates a distinction between the newborn in verse 14 and the child in verse 16. Thus the birth in Is. 7:14 is not a sign to Achaz alone.

Isaiah 8:8-9:7 also speaks of this same “Immanuael” figure. Thus it is clear that the “Immanuel” of Is. 7:14 & 8:8 is also the child born in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Now the NT clearly applies these passages to Yeshua as Messiah. Rev. 21:3 alludes to Is. 7:14 & 8:8, 10. 1Kefa 3:14-15 cites Isaiah 8:12-13 in regards to Messiah. Romans 9:32 & 1Kefa 2: apply Is. 8:14 to Messiah. Hebrews 2:13 applies Isaiah 8:17-18 to Messiah. Finally Mt. 4:15-16 and Luke 1:79 apply Isaiah 8:23-9:1 (9:1-2) to Messiah.

Of the 5 surviving fragments of the ancient Netzarim Midrash on Isaiah, three of them fall in this section of Isaiah and all three apply the passages to Yeshua.

Moreover the Talmud applies Is. 8:14 to Messiah:

Judah and Hezekiah, the sons of R. Hiyya, once sat at table with Rabbi and uttered not a word. Whereupon he said: Give the young men plenty of strong wine, so that they may say something. When the wine took effect, they began by saying: The son of David cannot appear ere the two ruling houses in Israel shall have come to an end, viz., the Exilarchate, in Babylon and the Patriarchate in Palestine, for it is written, And he shall be for a Sanctuary, for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both houses of Israel (Is. 8:14). Thereupon he [Rabbi] exclaimed: You throw thorns in my eyes, my children! At this, R. Hiyya [his disciple] remarked: Master, be not angered, for the numerical value of the letters of yayin is seventy, and likewise the letters of sod: When yayin [wine] goes in, sod [secrets] comes out.
(b.San. 38a)

Moreover Targum Jonathan on Isaiah applies Is. 9:6-7 to the Messiah as well.

(For more on Isaiah 9:6-7 as a Messianic Prophecy see my article “Unto Us a Child is Born- Isaiah 9:6-7 and the Prophetic Perfect

Finally the figure in Isaiah 9:6-7 certainly seems to be the same as that in Is. 11:1f. This is important because EVERYONE agrees that Is. 11:1f refers to the Messiah.

Thus by examining the overall context of Isaiah 7:14 it becomes clear that Isaiah 7:14 is indeed a messianic prophecy which prophecies of the virgin birth of the Messiah.


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