Matthew tells his readers that the virgin birth is a fulfillment of prophecy. Orthodox Jews say he hoodwinked his readers by mistranslating the Hebrew to “virgin” when in fact it simply means “young woman”. In part one, we explained the meaning of this prophecy and the time of Isaiah. Now we want to see if Matthew was correct in translating Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin”. If not, it calls into question the entire New Testament. It is true that “alma” means “young woman”. So why did Matthew translate it to “virgin”?
- The word for “virgin” in modern Hebrew is “betula”. So why didn’t Isaiah use that? Because in Biblical Hebrew “betula” can simply mean “young woman” as well. In fact, over half of the 50 plus times that this word is used, it is not translated as “virgin”. There is no word in Biblical Hebrew that exclusively means “virgin”. Proof of this can be found in Genesis 24:16. Referring to Rebecca, the text says, the girl was very beautiful, a virgin, never having had sexual relations with any man.” The word translated “virgin” there is “betula”. Michael Brown points out that in English, it is redundant. “The young woman was a virgin and she never had sexual intercourse in her life.” A bit redundant right? What other kind of virgin is there? The writer qualifies that in this case “betula” means “virgin” because it had other meanings, just like “alma”.
- What did the rabbi’s think it meant? Today, they are emphatic that it means “young woman” and not “virgin”. However, over 200 years before Matthew ever penned the words, 70 Jewish rabbinic scholars were appointed to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek since much of the Jewish world has become more familiar with Greek than Hebrew. 70 of the smartest Jews of their day translated Isaiah 7:14 the “parthenos” (Greek) or “virgin” will conceive. Of the seven times “alma” is used in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is never clearly referring to a non-virgin. Hence, the scholars felt comfortable using “virgin”.
- We take it to be a messianic prophecy because when Isaiah prophesied, he didn’t merely speak to Judah but specifically to the “house of David”, the Davidic line from which the Messiah would be born. This phrase is used only three other times in all the major prophets, meaning it was intentional and he could have been speaking to a different time and generation in the line of David.
- Isaiah is king of the prophets when it comes to Messianic prophecy. From Isaiah, we get Isaiah 53. And in the same section of Isaiah 7:14, we get the amazing promise of Isaiah 9:6 and all of chapter 11. While Isaiah 7:14 speaks up the miraculous act of a virgin conceiving a son whose name means God with us, Isaiah 9:6 moves it forward and speaks of a son that is born who was called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 11 speaks of his royal reign when he will bring justice and peace to the nations.
What can we conclude from all this? Matthew is spot on in quoting from the Septuagint that “alma” here means “virgin”. Miriam miraculously conceived according to Isaiah 7:14, he was and is God with us as Isaiah 9:6 refers to the child as “mighty God”. The prophecy was given to the house of David and Yeshua was from the line of David through both Miriam, which makes him physically Davidic seed and through Joseph his earthly father, which gave him the authority to rule on David’s throne.