The issue stems from the Hebrew word "almah" and whether or not it means "virgin" or "young woman". Let's begin with verses from the Jewish Publication Society Bible (JPS) Tanach:
Genesis 24: 43 behold, I stand by the fountain of water; and let it come to pass, that the maiden [ha'almah] that cometh forth to draw, to whom I shall say: Give me, I pray thee, a little water from thy pitcher to drink;
Exodus 2: 8 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her: 'Go.' And the maiden [ha'almah] went and called the child's mother.
Isaiah 7: 14 Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman [ha'almah] shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
How is this a SIGN if Almah only means "maiden" or "young woman"? Why does the JPS translate "almah" as "maiden" in most verses yet translate the same word as meaning "young woman" in Isaiah 7:14? This is VERY strange and seems to show a bias on the part of the Jewish interpretation.
|Song of Solomon 1:3
|Song of Solomon 6:8
The Jewish scholars who translated the Greek Septuagint into a Hebrew version of the Tanach, (see Wikipedia), translated parthenos, which means "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14, into "almah" which can mean either "young woman" or "virgin". Since these Jewish Torah experts were well acquainted with the meaning of the Hebrew words as well as the Greek, their choice of words is very meaningful (the Septuagint was several hundred years before Yeshua's birth).
If "young woman" means she is considered too young to have children, did you know that there have been girls as young as eight years old that have given birth in modern times? And there is an increasing number of ten-year-olds that give birth every year? So if a young woman giving birth is a sign, it is an extremely poor sign!
If this is supposed to be a SIGN from G-d, then how young would the Messiah's mother need to be? Since many (if not most) traditional Jews believe Yeshua is not the Messiah and the Messiah is to be born in modern times, then they believe that Messiah has been born within the past few decades, or is soon to be born. With the laws against marrying young children in modern times, this would mean either an illegal marriage or the Messiah's mother was raped by a pedophile.
Obviously the rabbi's own definition of almah meaning "young woman" leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Since there are so many "young women" giving birth in modern times, then a "young woman" giving birth is no sign at all - And therefore, insisting almah means "young woman" as a SIGN from Adonai is a meaningless sign. Do the rabbis think ADONAI would give a non-sign as A SIGN? Obviously, almah means more than "young woman"....
Rabbis argue Isaiah 7:14 is not a Messianic verse, nevertheless the oldest version of Isaiah 7:14 did say "virgin" rather than "young woman" so there seems to be more to the verse than is clear from the plain reading! What is a young woman giving birth (in the days of Ahaz according to traditional rabbis) a sign of? If this verse was about that, then who was the "young woman" and what was the sign and what is the significance of this that G-d would give it as a prophecy?
Isaiah himself seems to clear it up in chapter 8 as his own wife conceives and births a son! But wait! His wife already had sons! The mystery deepens! Why would Isaiah's prophecy use the word "virgin", when this chapter 7 prophecy seems to have come to pass in the next chapter?
Oh, it gets more difficult! Take a look at the following verse which shows that Isaiah says that the Messiah, in yet a new prophecy of a future birth would definitely be born as a child and is definitely YHWH-Come-in-the-Flesh:
Isaiah 9: 5 For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom;
The JPS Tanach, for some reason, does not translate Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom as "Wonder of a Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace"...
Wonder why that is?
There is an excellent explanation in an appendix entitled "Almah" in the Aramaic English New Testament (AENT). This appendix presents an in-depth explanation of the terms "virgin" and "young woman" via comparisons in the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic languages. The picture that emerges reveals there was a frequent dialog and mutual influence between the Nazarene and Rabbinic camps during the First Century which later editors of the Mishnah tried to edit out of their official records - but fortunately, they did not succeed.
AENT agrees with the rabbinical interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 as NOT referring to the future birth of Yeshua; the 7:14 prophecy unfolds within 65 years - the lifetime of the two Kings mentioned in Isaiah. The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 was used by Matthew, but there was an expectation in Matthew's writings that the reader would understand the reference to Isaiah as he did. Matthew clearly knew the remainder of Isaiah, chapters 9-11 was a progressive revelation of the future Messiah, and that the tie between the prophecies included the word "virgin" (which in the Hebrew translation became "almah").
The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-25 is about the salvation and regathering of Israel, and that salvation as the prophecy was being revealed, involved a sign of a birth, first to Achaz in Chapter 7, then of a future birth of chapters 9-11.
The key is Matthew's use of the word "virgin" ['beytolta' in Aramaic] in Matthew 1:23. It is wrong for us, today, to deny what Matthew wrote simply because it is hard to understand. Rabbis of old and Matthew (most certainly) knew full well the reading of the Greek Isaiah 7:14, 'parthenos' as "virgin" did not mean "virgin" in the sense of a woman who had never had sexual relations, after all that particular prophecy was directed at Achaz to be a sign in his day which came to pass, and the prophesied birth is generally accepted as from Isaiah's own wife (Isaiah 8:3).
But while that prophecy in chapter 7 was not about a "virgin birth", nevertheless, the word "virgin" was used in 7:14 - with obvious implications that the prophecy meant more than revealed from the simple, plain meaning!
NOTE: Sometimes it's hard to remember that the Septuagint predates the modern Hebrew scriptures by hundreds of years because most all of any original Hebrew texts were long-lost while the Greek Septuagint survived largely in-tact. It's also hard to remember that the Hebrew Texts we have today, are from the Masoretic Text which itself was a translation INTO Hebrew from older, available sources (primarily the Septuagint!)
Matthew, no doubt, knew that the word in Isaiah 7:14 was "virgin" from the available scriptures of his day (apparently confirmed by simply referring to the Septuagint), and he used "virgin" in his narrative because he saw the hidden meaning of 7:14 as the beginning of the later, Chapter 9-11 prophecy - thus revealing why the word "virgin" was used by Isaiah.
Indeed, scholars have been arguing this issue for millennia. As we have seen, in the Septuagint, Isaiah 7:14 indeed has the Greek word "parthenos" which is "virgin"; this is not arguable, and clearly Rabbis have struggled with this for a long time, resulting in the word "almah" in the Masoretic Text - probably an attempt by the compilers of the Hebrew scriptures to "distance themselves" from the troubles caused by the word "parthenos", i.e., virgin.