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isaiah_7.14_analysis

Isaiah 7:14 Analysis

under construction – still need to deal with the grammar of the rest of 7.14 and talk about matthew 1.23

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)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.Isaiah 7:14 (NRSV)

Isaiah 7:14 is the most debated verse in the bible. Christians hold it as a lynchpin prophecy of Jesus, Jewish sources claim that Christians edited their bible and intentionally mistranslated the verse in order for it to appear Christological.

The Christian position is beautifully illustrated by this passage from CARM:

“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,” (Isaiah 7:14).

Isaiah 7:14 says that a virgin will bear a son. The problem is dealing with the Hebrew word for virgin, which is almah. According to the Strong's Concordance it means, “virgin, young woman 1a) of marriageable age 1b) maid or newly married.” Therefore, the word almah does not always mean virgin. The word “occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament only in Genesis 24:43 (maiden); Exodus 2:8 (girl); Psalm 68:25 (maidens); Proverbs 30:19 (maiden); Song of Songs 1:3 (maidens); 6:8 (virgins).”1 Additionally, there is a Hebrew word for virgin: bethulah. If Isaiah 7:14 was meant to mean virgin instead of young maiden, then why wasn't the word used here?

The LXX is a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. This translation was made around 200 B.C. by 70 Hebrew scholars. In Isaiah 7:14, they translated the word almah into the Greek word parthenos. According Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature,2 parthenos means virgin. This word is used in the New Testament of the Virgin Mary (Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:27) and of the ten virgins in the parable (Matt. 25:1, 7, 11). If the Hebrews translated the Hebrew word almah into the Greek word for virgin, then they understood what the Hebrew text meant here.

Why would Isaiah choose to use the word almah and not bethulah? It was probably because he wanted to demonstrate that the virgin would also be a young woman. Is it still a prophecy? Of course.https://carm.org/isaiah-7-14-virgin

If we are going to examine an issue of this magnitude fairly we need to get all the information on the table. So before we begin the actual analysis, let us present the original Hebrew scripture alongside a standard KJV/Septuagint-based translation of the verse, then examine several competitive English translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, RSV, etc). Then everyone we will be well-equipped to discuss the verse and to understand the important aspects of this debate.

Interlinear Hebrew + Strongs

Strong's Transliteration Hebrew Translation Type
03651 lā·ḵên לָ֠כֵן Therefore Adj
05414 yit·tên יִתֵּ֨ן shall give Verb
0136 ’ă·ḏō·nāy אֲדֹנָ֥י the Lord Noun
01931 ה֛וּא Himself Pro
lā·ḵem לָכֶ֖ ם to you Prep
02009 hin·nêh הִנֵּ֣ה Behold Prt
05959 hā·‘al·māh, הָעַלְמָ֗ה young woman; virgin Noun
02030 hā·rāh הָרָה֙ is pregnant Noun
03205 wə·yō·le·ḏeṯ וְיֹלֶ֣דֶת and bear Verb
01121 bên, בֵּ֔ן a son Noun
07121 wə·qā·rāṯ וְקָרָ֥את and shall call Verb
08034 šə·mōw שְׁמ֖וֹ his name Noun
‘im·mā·nū עִמָּ֥נוּ - -
06005 ’êl. אֵֽל׃ Immanuel Noun

Comparison of English Translations

We immediately note that there are two main approaches to the translation of Isaiah 14, based around the translation of the word 'ha-almah' (the maiden/the virgin).

Ha'almah as Virgin

Translation Verse (Isaiah 7:14)
KJV Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
ESV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
NASB 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.
NIV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
NKJV Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
HCSB Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
AMP Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).
WEB Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
OJB Therefore Hashem Himself shall give you an ot (sign); Hinei, HaAlmah (the unmarried young virgin) shall conceive, and bear Ben, and shall call Shmo Immanu El (G-d is with us) [See extensive commentary in The Translator To The Reader, page vii].

Ha'almah as Maiden

Translation Verse (Isaiah 7:14)
RSV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el.
NRSV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
NET For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.
HNV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, an almah shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu'el.
BBE For this cause the Lord himself will give you a sign; a young woman is now with child, and she will give birth to a son, and she will give him the name Immanuel.
CEB Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.
CJB Therefore Adonai himself will give you people a sign: the young woman will become pregnant, bear a son and name him 'Immanu El [God is with us].
GNT Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: a young woman who is pregnant will have a son and will name him “Immanuel.'

In contrast to the first list, this one is probably complete in the sense that it is standard Christian doctrine to translate the passage 'virgin' in comport with Matthew 1:23.

Does ha-almah mean Virgin?

We know what biblical hebrew means because of how it is used in the bible.

The word Almah (ha-Almah) is a special biblical Hebrew word that appears only four times in the entire Bible (and it is almot [plural] an additional three times).

14 I will say to a young woman, ‘Please lower your jar so I may drink.’ May the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac reply, ‘Drink, and I’ll give your camels water too.’ In this way I will know that you have been faithful to my master.”
15 Before he had finished praying, there came Rebekah with her water jug on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah (Milcah was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor). 16 Now the young woman was very beautiful. She was a virgin; no man had ever had sexual relations with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came back up.Genesis 24:14-17 (NET)

The first time it appears is in Genesis 24, where Rebeccah is refereed to as an almah and then also described secondarily as a betulah (the actual word for 'virgin' in Hebrew). This shows us that while almah can refer to virgin, it generaly does not imply so one way or another much the same way that “young woman” does not necessarily refer to a virgin. In this particular case it was necessary for God to specifically inform us she was a betulah; as almah would not have been sufficient for us to understand her situation.

NET was chosen here for readability, but it is important to note that the translators of the KJV, and many other popular versions such as NIV, NKJV, NASB, etc. translate almah here as young woman twice, and betulah as virgin. So, based on it's own best evidence from this passage, almah does not mean virgin. no matter if you consult the Septuagint or the Hebrew.

7 Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?
8 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child's mother.Exodus 2:8 (KJV)

The second time is in Exodus 2:8 where Moses' older Sister is described as an almah. It would not make sense to assume that this passage making a statement regarding her virginity, only that she was a young woman. In the same way, the following uses of almah (or the plural, almot) are referring to people as young ladies and not necessarily to virgins:

  • “The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the damsels playing with timbrels.” (Psalm 68:25)
  • “See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, …” (Genesis 24:43)
  • “Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you!” (Song of Solomon 1:3) “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and maindens without number.” (Song of Solomon 6:8)

None of the above require ha-almah to refer to a virgin, they are just referring to a group of young women.

The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.Proverbs 30:19 (KJV)

In the third case the word almah is used, it is used with the word ha-rah which is the past tense for conception – the woman is pregnant, not “will conceive”. Saying “will conceive” is a gross translation error. Of course this is kind of like cheating because this is the verse in question – but we are examining the verse in usage here, so we must mention all cases and how they read in the original Hebrew.

This is the fourth case. In this case the commonality with all four is that they are traceless; they have no trace or evidence left behind. In this case almah specifically cannot mean Virgin, because there is a sign that a woman is no a virgin (her blood).

But what about the Septuagint?

Isaiah is not part of the Septuagint. We do not know who translated Isaiah, and even the introduction to the Septuagint explains how we do not know who translated Isaiah and notes that Isaiah is perhaps one of the worst anonymous translations the modern Septuagint contains. It is written in a form of Greek one might liken to street vernacular.

But even considering the Septuagint, “parthenos” does not always mean virgin either. It is well known that parthenos can mean a non-virgin as well; the translators referred to Dinah after she was raped as a 'parthenos' – after-the-fact. Therefore even if for some reason we simply did not have the Hebrew and we had to use the Septuagint, Isaiah isn't even part of the Septuagint and even then the higher quality translation of Genesis (which *is* part of the actual Septuagint) considers the word parthenos to be young woman.

But could it might mean Virgin anyway?

Even though we must conclude the word doesn't always mean virgin, we must also allow that it might mean virgin. After all, (the young woman) might have been a virgin (it still might refer to someone who was a 'virgin') – because after all, almah can also mean virgin even if it is not explicitly stated. After all, many young women are indeed virgins so it wouldn't have been unusual.

Granted!

But the word ha-Almah is not used in isolation in Isaiah 7:14. It is defined by it's context:

  • the in hā·‘al·māh means “the”, referring to someone who was known to King Ahaz.
  • hā·rāh is a past tense verb; the woman is already pregnant.
  • Ahaz is commanded to 'Look'; hin·nêh means 'to look; to observe; to behold'. He was to see the woman as it was being spoken to him.

As a result of pointing out the fact that the woman in his presence was already pregnant, and that there was nothing unusual about this situation in and of itself, it can be concluded that here 'almah' does not refer to a virgin.

Conclusion over ha-almah

In any case where almah is used, the meaning of ha-almah does not imply the woman is a virgin or not, or is pregnant or not, but merely that she is a young woman. Therefore the surrounding context must be taken into account if it becomes important whether or not she is pregant or a virgin (or both).

In the case of Isaiah 7:14 the surrounding context states that the woman is already pregnant, and that she is a woman in Ahaz's presence. Further, the actual prophecy as stated is that Ahaz's enemies will fall before the child grows up. Therefore we must reject the idea that it is a prophecy about an unknown woman in the future who will have a virgin birth.

More Information

isaiah_7.14_analysis.txt · Last modified: 2018/03/06 03:32 by serena