Is Isaiah 7:14 referring to a “virgin” or a “young woman”?

Some believe that she was a combination of both, she may have been a young woman and a virgin as well. So why does this matter? It wouldn’t matter, but the verse is used by the writer of Mathew to present his “virgin birth” story of the messiah. The book of Matthew is the only record of this account. This is not duplicated by the writers of Mark or Luke, or any other writer in the New Testament.

Matthews portrayal of this Scripture is that approximately 700 years after it is given that a virgin would give birth to the messiah. Is this what the verse in Isaiah is saying?

A good place to start is looking at what the Hebrew text actually says, and what is the context. From there we can draw a conclusion, was the writer of Matthew presenting a true prophetic word or taking a prophecy and using it for some other purpose?

The word in Isaiah 7:14 that is translated to English from the Hebrew as “virgin” is, עלמה pronounced “almaw”. The Hebrew word almaw describes a young woman. She may be married or not, she may be a virgin or not, but it refers to a woman who is young. The King James translators translated almaw as “maid” twice and as a “virgin” twice in the four times this word appears in the Tanach1. The intent of the word is to only portray a young female.

If a writer wanted to describe a virgin in Hebrew he would write, בּתוּלה pronounced “bethulah”. The Hebrew word bethulah means that the person is a virgin. The Prophet Isaiah uses this word five times and in each case the King James translators translate it as “virgin”. The question arises, why would the King James translators translate bethulah as virgin each time correctly, and then translate almaw incorrectly as virgin?. The answer may be that if they hadn’t translated it this way it wouldn’t line up with the verse in Matthew.

The context of Isaiah 7:14 is that King Ahaz was about to go to war, and Isaiah gives him a word from God to ask for a sign. Ahaz is reluctant to do this, but Isaiah reassures him to do it. This is where some confusion enters in. Some readers believe that the sign is based on the miss translation of עלמה “almaw”. Even if she were a virgin, this could not have been a “sign”. A sign has to be evident by everybody, and a persons virginity doesn’t meet this criteria. But what Isaiah states as the sign does.

Isaiah says that she is pregnant (הרה), and that she will name him, Immanuel. With Isaiah’s statement that she is pregnant, then she could not have been a virgin. The sign is centered on the child’s name. His mother names him Immanuel, meaning “G-d is with us”. Immanuel עמנואל, meaning עמנו (immanu) “with us”, and אל (El) “G-d”. This was fulfilled as they went to war, G-d was with them, and they won that war. If they hadn’t won, it would have been devastating as the Davidic dynasty would have been destroyed.


Jim Behnke

1Tanach – The Jewish Scriptures, (Christian Old Testament)

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