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Some Muslims have taken over the atheist reasoning based on anti-supernaturalist presuppositions which claims that Isaiah 7:14 does not speak about a virgin but just about a young woman. This is to deflect from the prophetic evidence and authority of the Bible. The below article is a posting from the TCode mailing list where a Professor of Hebraic Studies answers to a doubter of this passage.
In this post I answer the critical comments of Dr. Bob Schiermeyer's on Isaiah 7:14 and the virgin birth.
Dr. Bob: THE NEW TESTAMENT USE OF ISAIAH
A VIRGIN or THE VIRGIN?
SHALL CONCEIVE or HAS CONCEIVED?
THEY WILL CALL or SHE WILL NAME?
(22) Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, (23) Behold, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14-16 (correct Hebrew)
(14) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, THE young maiden IS with child [she is pregnant], and she is bearing a son, and SHE shall call his name Immanuel. (15) Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. (16) For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
The Hebrew word that the KJV translates as virgin (Almah) is more correctly translated as young maiden. Hebrew has a specific word for virgin: Betulah. Most virgin females are young women, but not all young women are virgins. Therefore, the best translation of the Hebrew word Almah is young maiden. [Even the Greek word used in the Septuagint, parthenos, is not specific for virgin; it described Dinah after her rape by Shechem (Gen 34:2-4).]
Here Dr. Bob parrots the standard argument that the Hebrew word *'almah* does not mean virgin, but rather that the word *bethulah* has that meaning. In what follows I first demonstrate that the word *bethulah* does not always refer to a virgin, and next I demonstrate that in the Bible the word *'almah* always refers to a virgin.
*Bethulah* not always a Virgin
Although the word *bethulah* usually refers to a virgin, a number of passages in the Bible indicate that the word *bethulah* does not necessarily always mean a virgin in the technical sense of the term:
(1) Genesis 24:16 "Now the young woman [*na'arah*] was very beautiful to behold, a virgin [*bethulah*]; no man had known her. And she went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up."
In this verse Rebekah is referred to as a *bethulah*, but the text adds the qualifying clause "no man had known her." Such a qualifying clause would be unnecessary if *bethulah* unambiguously meant "virgin." Later in the same story, Rebekah is referred to as an *'almah* (vs. 43) with no qualifying clause.
(2) At least once the word is used of a married woman:
Joel 1:8 Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth
For the husband of her youth.
(3) At times the word *bethulah* is used as an epithet for various pagan nations known for their idolatry and immorality:
the virgin daughter of Sidon (Isa 23:12)
the virgin daughter of Babylon (Isa 47:1)
the virgin daughter of Egypt (Jer 46:11)
The same epithet is used for the nation of Israel, at times in the context of their spiritual adultery:
The virgin of Israel (Amos 5:2)
The virgin daughter of Judah (Lam 1:15)
the virgin daughter of Zion (Isa 37:22; Lam 2:13)
the virgin daughter of my people (Jer 14:17)
"The virgin of Israel has done a very horrible thing.
Because My people have forgotten Me,
They have burned incense to worthless idols.
And they have caused themselves to stumble in their ways,
From the ancient paths,
To walk in pathways and not on a highway." (Jer 18:13, 15)
(4) The word *bethulah* is used at times in the literature of the Semitic people as an epithet for their pagan goddesses known for their immoral behavior.
(5) The Jewish Hebrew-English Dictionary by Reuben Alcalay defines the word *bethulah* as "virgin, young woman, girl, maid." Obviously the meaning does not focus exclusively on virginity.
*'Almah* always a Virgin in the Bible
Although the opponents of the virgin birth insist on translating *'Almah* as "maiden" or "young woman" rather than "virgin," the word is never used in the Bible where it necessarily means anything other than virgin.
(1) The word occurs seven times in the Hebrew Bible:
Gen 24:43--where the word refers to the virgin Rebekah (see above discussion).
Exod 2:8--where the word refers to Moses' sister Miriam. Who would question that she was a virgin at the time Moses was born?
Psa 68:25--where the word refers to the female musicians in the procession escorting the king into the sanctuary. There is no reason to question the virginity of these choice young women?
Song 1:3; 6:8--where the word refers to the attendants of Solomon's queens and concubines. There is no reason to question the virginity of these choice young women.
The only possible reference where one might suppose that the word may refer to a woman not a virgin is Proverbs 30:19, on the basis of the verse that follows it:
Proverbs 30:19 "The way of an 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 virgin."
Proverbs 30:20 "This is the way of an adulterous woman:
She eats and wipes her mouth,
And says, 'I have done no wickedness.'"
Before one jumps to a hasty conclusion about the relationship of these verses, the literary structure of this chapter must be understood. Chapter 30 of Proverbs contains a sequence of number poems, that is, short poems built around the number 4, or in one instance the number 2. Usually, but not always, the poems follow a pattern such as "For three things X, and for four X'. This is the pattern for the number four. The following poem is built on the number two: 30:7-9. The following poems are built on the number four: 30:11-14; 30:15b-16; 30:18-19; 30:21-23; 30:24-28; 30:29-31.
A careful observation indicates that following several of these poems an independent, non-number proverb is inserted (see verses 10, 15a, 17, 20, and 32-33). The poem in verses 18-19 describes four things that are too wonderful to understand:
(a) the way an eagle soars in the sky
(b) the way a serpent slithers across a rocky surface
(c) the way a ship navigates through the sea
(d) the way a young man courts a virgin
Notice that the topic of the independent proverb of verse 10 is not related to the topic of the number poem preceding or following it. The same is true of the topics of the other inserted proverbs of verses 15a, 17, and 32-33. This leads to the conclusion that the topic of verse 20 is not directly related to its neighboring number poems either. In fact, if anything its topic is the opposite to that of the number poem of verses 18-19. The poem of verses 18-19 speaks of things amazingly wonderful and right, whereas the following proverb speaks of something disgusting--the blatant shamelessness of an adulterous woman. The independent proverb on the adulterous woman of verse 20 has no effect on the meaning of the word "virgin" in verse 19. It is true that the KJV translates the word of verse 19 as "maid," but the English dictionary defines that word as "a girl, an unmarried woman, or virgin." Surely in 17th century England the word meant virgin.
(2) The root of the word implies that the *'almah* was a sexually mature woman of marriageable age.
(3) Ancient Jewish culture expected an unmarried woman to be a virgin. If an unbetrothed virgin was raped (or consented to intercourse) the man was required to marry her (Exod 22:16); if her father refused to give her in marriage, the man had to pay the bride price, and she remained in her father's house as a defiled woman (Exod 22:17) unsuited for marriage. A betrothed woman who was found not to be a virgin was put to death (Deut 22:13-21).
(4) It is significant that the Greek Septuagint (LXX), a pre-Christian translation made by Jews, translated the word *'almah* by the Greek word *parthenos*, the word that commonly means "virgin." This word was used to translate *bethulah* in Genesis 24:16 and *'almah* in 24:43; the LXX seems to treat the two words as synonyms. The fact that in other contexts the word has a broader sense than "virgin" does not detract from its meaning in Isaiah 7:14. A word should be taken in its normal meaning unless extenuating circumstances dictate otherwise. What is important here is that pre-Christian Jews understood *'almah* to mean "virgin." The prejudice against the meaning "virgin" arose after the debate with Christians became active.
(5) Thus it is safe to conclude that the word *'almah* in the Bible refers to a virgin. The only possible exception to this conclusion could be its use in Isaiah 7:14, the passage under discussion. This passage foretells that the *'almah* will be with child, a condition that seems to deny the possibility of virginity. However, this passage is a prophecy that classifies the pregnant condition of the *'almah* as an *'oth* (sign or miracle). According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon the word *'oth* can have one of several meanings:
(1) a sign, pledge, or token
(2) a sign or omen
(3) a sign or symbol
(4) a sign or miracle given as a pledge or attestation of divine presence and interposition
(5) a sign or memorial
(6) a sign or pledge of a covenant
(7) an ensign [flag] or standard
(8) a sign of changing weather
In this passage the 4th meaning fits the context; the sign was a miracle given as God's pledge of future deliverance of Israel. That the sign truly was to be a miracle is evident from verse 11--''Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above." Clearly Isaiah offered King Ahaz a miraculous sign of the magnitude of the miraculous sign actually given to King Hezekiah at a later time (38:8). That Ahaz understood the offered sign to be a miracle is evident from his response in verse 12--"But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!'" The request of a purely natural event would not have been regarded as a test of God.
Now if the *'almah* conceived by natural means, then no miracle occurred. Young women conceive regularly by natural means. There is nothing miraculous about that. The only way the conception could be a miraculous sign would be for it to be supernatural. Thus, it is appropriate to conclude that the word *'almah* means "virgin" here also. I know that Dr. Bob denies that the sign is the *'almah*s conception; I respond to this later.
Dr. Bob: Hebrew also has a definite article: THE (Ha). The use of the definite article (HaAlmah) implies an object known to the speaker and the listener: THE young woman. It was a young woman known to both Ahaz and Isaiah.
Here Dr. Bob insists that the definite article indicates that the *'almah* was well known to the participants in the story and by implication to the readers. However, there is nothing in the context, either near or remote, that gives the the reader the slightest hint as to who the woman could have been. That is a very unusual practice in Hebrew literature. For that reason, expositors who choose to deny the virgin birth have come up with a list of possible candidates, none of whom can be verified with any certainty. This is a strange usage of the definite article, if that is what it is supposed to indicate in this passage. Evidently Dr. Bob is unaware that the Hebrew definite article has a variety of meanings, depending on the context, some of which are different from the use of the article in English. The great Hebrew grammarian, William Gesenius, stated: "Peculiar to Hebrew is the employment of the article to denote a single person or thing (primarily one which is as yet unknown, and therefore not capable of being defined) as being present to the mind under given circumstances. In such cases in English the indefinite article is used" [Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, � 126q]. In this section Gesenius listed many examples including the *'almah* of Isaiah 7:14. This great grammarian, who did not support the virgin birth, nevertheless supported the use of the indefinite article in an English translation of this passage. In other words, according to the grammar and the context, the identity of the *'almah* was unknown to the participants of the story and to the prophet's audience.
Dr. Bob The Hebrew word that the KJV translates as shall be with child (Harah) is more correctly translated as is with child. The word means that there i be a young maiden, but she is not a virgin.
Of course what Dr. Bob proposes is a possible translation if one ignores the context. Verbless clauses and participle clauses are often translated in the present tense, but that is because the clauses are in a present tense context. The great Hebrew grammarian, William Gesenius, stated regarding one use of participle clauses: "To announce future actions or events" [� 116p]. In this same section he listed many examples among which is Isaiah 7:14.
The tense of a verbless clause and of a participle clause is determined by the tense established in the context, not by the form of the verb. When such clauses are in a past tense context they are translated with a past sense. When they are in a present tense context they are translated with a present sense. When they are in a future tense context they are translated with a future sense. In the context of 7:14, the tense is established by the verb of the initial clause of the speech: "therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign." Here the verb is the imperfect conjugation of the verb *nathan*. As the principal verb of the initial clause, the imperfect conjugation sets the time frame of reference in the future, as is generally the case in prophecy. Dr. Bob's proposed translation involves a logical and temporal inconsistency. A future sign is inconsistent with a present condition. Placing the sign in the future indicates that the sign has not yet happened.
Dr. Bob God spoke to Ahaz through Isaiah the prophet. God promised a sign to confirm that Ahaz would be delivered from his enemies. A sign is a visible, documentable event. The status of virginity is not a sign. A virgin birth may be a miracle, but it is not a sign.
As a physician, Dr. Bob knows that the status of virginity is verifiable, and in ancient Israel there were "tokens of virginity" that documented the status (Deut. 22:20). Since a virgin birth is a miracle, then it clearly qualifies as a sign, a visible, documentable event.
Dr. Bob: Additionally, in order for the 'sign' to be a sign for Ahaz it had to at least occur in his lifetime, not 700 years later. The defeat of Ahaz's enemies before a specified period of time was the sign. The conception and birth of a child was not the sign.
Here Dr. Bob has missed an important change in the wording of the text. The sign was not given to Ahaz. The Lord instructed Ahaz to ask for any kind of sign (7:11). In unbelief, Ahaz refused to specify a sign for the Lord to give, so the Lord turned from Ahaz to the "house of David" (the elders of Israel) and said: "Hear ye (plural) now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you (plural) to weary men, but will ye (plural) weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you (plural) a sign" (7:13-14). Clearly the prophecy was not given to Ahaz (a single person), but to Israel (a group of people). As Dr. Bob said in another place: "A group of people can be viewed as a single entity but a single entity cannot be viewed as a group." Therefore, by Dr. Bob's own reasoning the prophecy cannot have been given to Ahaz. Likewise, since the prophecy was not given to Ahaz but to Israel, it can now be understood to have shifted from short range to long range; it ceased to be assurance of short term deliverance, and shifted to long range assurance of Messianic hope. When a prophetic sign is given to a nation, its fulfillment is not bound to the life span of any individual of the nation. In fact, the sign often is long range. Since Ahaz had rejected God's help, the only thing left for his people Israel was the impending defeat and destruction which was the cause of their fear and dread, but with a promise of survival and hope for the distant future.
Also the purpose of the sign had shifted. The original sign was offered to Ahaz to provide assurance of God's deliverance from the impending threat from Syria and the northern tribes of Israel (7:4-9a). Of the impending threat from Syria and Northern Israel the promised assurance was: "It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass" (vs. 7). However, this sign was offered on the condition of faith and obedience: "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established" (7:9). Ahaz refused to believe and to specify a sign (7:12). Consequently, the available deliverance was not given. Instead, the Lord permitted Syria and Northern Israel to attack them, kill 120,000 troops, and take captive 200,000 civilians (2 Chron 28:5-21). The appeal of Ahaz for help from Assyria brought some temporary relief, but the Lord used that "hired razor" to bring further judgment at a later time (Isa 7:17-25; 2 Chron 28:16-21).
Dr. Bob: The Lord promised that before the promised child was old enough to refuse the evil and choose the good, the two kings that Ahaz feared would be destroyed. THAT was the sign. (What was the purpose of the sign? To confirm the promise in Isaiah 7:3-9.)
Dr. Bob again missed the point. As I demonstrated above, the promised deliverance of 7:3-9 was not fulfilled. If the destruction of the two kings was the sign confirming that promise, it was a false sign, because the impending attack did occur, and drastic destruction resulted. It was only after that drastic destruction, brought about by those two kings, that the kings were destroyed. No, the destruction of the two kings was not the sign. The promise of the future virgin-born Immanuel was the sign, not of present deliverance, but of ultimate deliverance. His foretold name, Immanuel (God with us), gave Israel assurance that God was with them to preserve them through the impending Syro-Ephraim destruction, through the subsequent devastation by the Assyrians, and through any further future difficulties. The anticipation of the ultimate appearance of the virgin-born Messiah should have given Israel hope.
Dr. Bob: Isaiah identifies the kings that Ahaz abhors: Rezin and Pekah. Isaiah 7:1,3-4
(1) And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that REZIN the king of Syria, and PEKAH the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. (3) Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz. (4) And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of REZIN with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah [PEKAH].
God fulfilled the promise he made to made Ahaz:
II Kings 15:30a
And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead.
II Kings 16:9
And the king of Assyria hearkened unto him [Ahaz]: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.
God fulfilled his promise; all in just a few years: before the child promised as the time marker of the promised sign, who was already conceived, knew enough to reject evil and choose good.
What Dr. Bob says is true. However, he failed to report that this took place only after the Syro-Ephraimic war and the accompanying death, destruction, and captivity mentioned above. Dr. Bob regards the destruction of these two kings to be the sign confirming the promise of deliverance in 7:7-9. As I pointed out above, that promise was not fulfilled because of the unbelief and disobedience of Ahaz. It is strange that Isaiah failed to provide the identity of the *'almah* or to record the birth of her son, if she was his contemporary. One would expect those details to be an integral part of recording the fulfillment of prophecy. If Jesus is the virgin-born Immanuel, then He too had not reached maturity when those kings were destroyed.
Dr. Bob: The New Testament has no record of Jesus ever being named or called Emmanuel nor does it record Jesus eating butter and honey.
Here Dr. Bob resorts to an argument from silence. The NT provides few details of Jesus' private life. This includes a lack of any discussion of His daily diet. Silence in this case proves nothing. Likewise, Dr. Bob has failed to pay careful attention to the Hebrew text which says "She shall call His name Immanuel." The verb is *qara'th* the third person feminine singular form. While the form also could be the second person masculine singular (you shall call), that would be inconsistent with the context, because Isaiah everywhere else addressed his hearers in the plural. The text does not say that the public would call Him Immanuel. Mary was fully aware of her virginity at the time of Jesus' conception and birth. She knew that the conception had occurred through the power of the Holy Spirit. She was aware of His deity, and may have addressed Him privately as Immanuel. However, the knowledge of His virgin birth and deity would have been a private matter between Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. During His earthly ministry He was called Jesus (Savior), the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the Messiah. His disciples were not fully aware of His deity until after His resurrection. Therefore silence again proves nothing.
Dr. Bob: Therefore, Isaiah 7:14 is actually a prophecy about the pregnancy of a young woman known to both Isaiah and Ahaz. It only appears to be about Jesus when mistranslated and taken out of context. Jewish tradition says that the young woman was actually Isaiah's wife. Isaiah 8:18 certainly seem to support that view.
I think I have demonstrated that no mistranslation has taken place in the traditional Christian rendering of the passage, and nothing has been taken out of context. On the other hand, I have demonstrated that Dr. Bob's proposals involve lexical, grammatical, and syntactical errors, and that the resultant translation lacks internal self consistency. There is no uniform Jewish tradition concerning the *'almah*. Some propose Isaiah's wife; others suppose the son was Hezekiah or Josiah or some other. There is no Biblical precedent for referring to a married woman as an *'almah*; and if Isaiah was referring to his wife, he did so in a very unusual and ambiguous way; nor did he record the birth of this prophetically important son. Silence here is significant. Hezekiah was already several years old at the time of the prophecy, and Josiah was not born before the two kings were killed (which disqualifies him according to Dr. Bob's criterion). None of the alternate proposals were called Immanuel, and none ate curds and honey, according to existing records (this disqualifies them according to Dr. Bob's criteria). So all the alternate proposals have as many or more problems than the alleged problems associated with Jesus as the virgin-born Immanuel.
Dr. Bob: Isaiah 8:18
Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of Hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion.
Just as the prophet Hosea's children were for signs to the ten northern tribes of Israel (Hosea 1:4-9) so also the prophet Isaiah's children were to be signs for what God was going to do to the two southern tribes of Judah.
Price 5/16 Of course what Dr. Bob says is true. Isaiah's two sons were named with prophetic names: *She'ar-Yashub* (A Remnant Shall Return) and *Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz* (Speed the Spoil, Hasten the Booty). However, Immanuel is never unambiguously recorded as a son of Isaiah. That relationship remains theological speculation, not a Biblical proclamation.
Dr. Bob: There are those that acknowledge that this prophecy was for Ahaz and was fulfilled in his lifetime as described previously. But, they go on to say that the prophecy was a 'double' prophecy. By that they mean that it had a 'secondary' fulfillment; not only was there the historical fulfillment but there was also a second future fulfillment. They believe that it can be applied to the child in Ahaz's time and it can also can be applied to Jesus.
True, but not all Christians hold to double fulfillment, because of internal inconsistencies. If the word *'almah* truly means a virgin, and I believe it does, then a double fulfillment would call for a double virgin birth. No one really is willing to go that far. The least problematic solution is to see only one fulfillment in the Messiah.
Dr. Bob: However, the sign was death of the enemies of Ahaz (Rezin and Pekah) and the deliverance of the land from foreign domination, not just the conception and birth of a child. Was Israel, in the time of New Testament, delivered from foreign (Roman) domination before Jesus was old enough to reject the evil and choose the good? No. Therefore, it could not have been a 'double' prophecy.
This conclusion is based on the incorrect assertion that the sign was the death of the two kings (Rezin and Pekah). In Isaiah's day Judah was not under the dominion of a foreign nation. Syria had no dominion over Judah; Northern Israel had no dominion over them. These two neighboring nations unsuccessfully attempted to conquer Judah by means of a devastating war. Although Judah was sorely disabled, they managed to retain self governance with the temporary aid of Assyria. Assyria exercised some control over the minor nations through covenant relationship and the payment of assessments; but the Assyrians permitted the smaller nations to maintain self rule through their own kings, and to wage their own wars unless payment was made for outside help. Thus, deliverance did not come to Judah during the reign of Ahaz, to whom Dr. Bob thinks the prophecy was given. Instead Judah experienced devastating destruction.
During the days of Hezekiah, the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel and terminated their self governance; but when Assyria tried to conquer Judah, the Lord gave them a great deliverance (Isa 36-37). However, Isaiah did not associate that deliverance with the Immanuel prophecy, but with Hezekiah's faith, obedience, and prayer. This deliverance did not come during the childhood days of Dr. Bob's alleged Immanuel.
True, Jesus did not provide Israel with political deliverance from foreign dominance. But He did provide for deliverance from a greater dominant enemy--sin, death, and hell--that aspect of Messiah's mission that must be accomplished before world peace can be achieved (Isa 53). He will provide political deliverance when He comes the second time in power and great glory to judge the nations and to set up His righteous kingdom.
Dr. Bob: Some will claim that Jesus delivered Israel from its "spiritual" enemies, thus fulfilling the prophecy. However, the prophecy stated that Israel would be delivered from its enemies before the promised child was old enough to reject the evil and choose the good. According to Christianity, Jesus accomplished his work at his crucifixion. That was long after Jesus was old enough to reject the evil and choose the good. Therefore, Isaiah 7:14-16 could not be a prophecy about Jesus even in a spiritualized sense.
Dr. Bob has failed to read the prophecy correctly. The text does not say that Immanuel would accomplish His work while He is a child. Instead it says:
Isaiah 7:15 "Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 "For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.
The land was forsaken by both kings before Jesus passed childhood, long before! So nothing in the prophecy precludes its fulfillment in Jesus.
I encourage Dr. Bob to learn more about the Hebrew language. One is not free to come up with alternate proposals without checking them against all the significant characteristics of proper Hebrew literature. A unit of discourse exhibits coherence and internal consistency of lexical reference, grammatical concord, syntactic governance, and factual detail. The words, phrases, and clauses are not independent entities, but exhibit an interdependence that makes their collective whole into a consistent, coherent, meaningful communication. These are the characteristics of truth as opposed to error. I assure you that the tenents of Christian doctrine stand up under the scrutiny of careful Biblical exposition, and I encourage you to thoughtfully reevaluate your decision to change your religious orientation.
James D. Price