Isa. 7:14

“14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman[e] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.[f] 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” Isa. 7:14-16 (NRSV)

“22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”” Mt. 1:22-23 (NRSV)

Matthew cites Isa. 7:14 as a Messianic prophecy in Matthew 1. The problem with this, however, is that Isaiah 7:14 doesn’t appear to actually be a Messianic prophecy. Rather, it appears to be a prophecy directed toward King Ahaz about a child who is about to be born in the near future. Thoughts?

It is both for King Ahaz and prophecy about Jesus. An example is God’s promise to King David about his son. God’s word was fullfilled in Solomon, but in reality God was referring to another descendant of King David, God’s Son Jesus Christ. There many of these in the OT, especially in the Psalms.

Yet Isaiah never indicates that it is anything other than a prophecy about King Ahaz.

Remember, the Scriptures are not given to us for history, although there is history in it. The purpose of Scripture is to reveal God and His redemption to us. As St. Augustine, the New Testament is the Old Testament unveiled. If we desire to understand NT better, we go to the Old Testament for further insight because it is now unveiled. Remember: The Old Testament is about Jesus Christ. Therefore, this passage is also about Jesus Christ. If we are not looking for Jesus Christ and His Mother in all of the Old Testament, we will fall into wrong interpretation.

Matthew is clearly quoting the Septuagint, where that same verse reads:

"Therefore, the Master Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will conceive in the womb, and will bring forth a Son, and you will call His Name Emmanuel."

The difficulty lies between the Hebrew text and the Greek Septuagint (LXX).

The Hebrew word, **Almah, ** is translated Parthenos, virgin, in the LXX.

In Hebrew, Almah does not necessarily mean virgin. But if it does, that can only refer to our LORD’s birth.


When Matthew cited Isa. 7:14 he saw that passage as the witness to a fulfilled prophecy in Christ. It doesn’t matter what Isaiah intended the passage to mean, no more than any other OT passage cited in the NT. Rather, the writers of the NT saw in certain passages fulfillments of Christ–of his day, his message, his life, his mission.

Scripture can be interpreted in four ways, which Bible scholars have used for centuries. Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it:

The four ways of interpreting Scripture: #s 115-119.

The senses of Scripture
115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83
117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85
  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86
    118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:
    The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
    The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88
But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89

There are plenty of scriptural “twofers” where the second meaning doesn’t become apparent until much later…so the literal context (that is the state of affairs at the time it was written) is certainly concerning King Ahaz, but as the Salvation Plan is fleshed out, and time passes, it become apparent that it is also prophecy.

Even more notorious is the book of Revelation, which is both about Rome and about the End Times.

You are looking at the literal sense of this Scripture. The literal sense is what the author was talking about and what the words on the page mean to the audience at the time it was written. King Ahaz is the literal sense. From the literal sense we get the three spiritual senses.

From the Catechism…

*116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

**(1) The allegorical sense. **We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism. 84

(2) The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”. 85

**(3) The anagogical sense **(Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem. 86 *


There’s much more to prophecy than simplistic predicting event/event takes place. For example, think about how the child in the Ahaz story is a sign for Yahweh’s presence and deliverance. So too is Jesus such a sign.

I understand that. But the fact is that Isaiah was not talking about Christ in that passage, he was talking about someone else. Matthew took that passage and applied it to Christ, but he also said that that prophecy was “fulfilled” in Christ, which means he thought that Isaiah was talking about Christ in that passage.

But Matthew specifically says it was fulfilled. That means Isaiah must have meant it to be talking about Christ as well.

It’s not either / or, it’s both / and. As is the case with most of the Word of God, there is a depth and richness to it and things that may not be apparent until they have actually occured.

Isaiah is the witness to the coming fulfillment. Let’s look at it this way, the sacrifices in the Temple were certainly intended for the time and for those for whom they were offered, but they also looked forward to Christ who would fulfill them in his one sacrifice on the cross. It’s both/and not either/or otherwise what would be the point of even reading the OT if it only applied to certain people at certain times? :slight_smile:

So Matthew’s not quoting the Septuagint, where that verse in Isaiah says virgin?

I think he’s absolutely quoting the Septuagint. What I’m saying is that the passage didn’t originally refer to the Messiah but rather to another child to be born in the time of Ahaz. However, some have said that it may have referred both to that child and to the Messiah - I suppose that they may be right. Matthew certainly applies it to the Messiah.

If you use the Masoretic text you could argue that it is a prophecy about any young woman that gave birth to a son. However, using the Septuagint text, it can only be seen as a Messianic prophecy, unless there is another claimant to a virgin birth.

This may explain it

There are 51 verses in the Old Testament in which the word “bethulah” is used.* It is our conviction that,first of all, the word “bethulah” does not always signify a virgin;secondly, that the word “almah” at times indeed refers to a virgin, and in fact –based on the given trends of that era- the wordalwaysmeant “virgin”;*thirdly, even if the translation had the word “young maiden” instead of “virgin”, or, if Isaiah had indeed implied “a young maiden”, even so, that young woman would have to have been a virgin.The fact that the word “bethulah” does not always mean “virgin”, is evident in various verses of the Old Testament.In Genesis, we note:

*Genesis 24: 15,16:"And it came about before he had finished speaking in his mind, that then, behold, Rebekka, who was born to Bathouel son of Melcha the wife of Nachor—and he was Abraam’s brother—was coming out with her water jar on her shoulders. Now the maiden was very beautiful in appearance; she was a maiden (betulah)—no man had known her. So then going down to the spring she filled her jar and came up…"Genesis 24: 43:"Behold, I stand near the spring of water, and the daughters of the people of the city will come out to fetch water, and it shall be that the maiden(almah)to whom I should say, “Give me a little water from your jar to drink…

”In verse*16,Rebecca is referred to as “bethulah”; but that word was obviously not adequate enough to let us know that she was a virgin, thus, the author added the clarification that “no man had known her” to that day.Whereas, in verse 43, Rebecca is referred to as “almah”, which was obviously a satisfactory term for the author of Genesis to indicate that Rebecca was a virgin. The author of Genesis did not add any clarification after the word “almah”, that “no man had known Rebecca”, obviously because the word “almah” implies the absence of carnal relations.

Again from the aforementioned link.

**Saint Basil the Great in his “Interpretation of Isaiah", p. 464, writes of the allegations of the Judeans (and of Porphyrios), below:

"The Jews are resisting the publication of the Septuagint edition, claiming that the word “Virgin” does not agree with the Jewish view, instead it should be “the Young Maiden”, in that it implies a young woman who is in the prime of her life, and not to a woman who is unfamiliar with wedlock”.*

To which, Saint Basil replied:

"Unless it is a tremendous sign and a display of something different to the commonplace manner of people, what is there so wondrous about one out of many women who cohabits with a man, to become the mother of a child? How then can it also be, for a child born of fleshly desire to be called Emmanuel? (Emmanuel=the Lord is amongst us) So that, if the event was indeed a “sign”, the birth would also be paradoxical. If the manner of the child’s birth was commonplace, it would neither be called a “sign”, nor would the child be called “Emmanuel”. Likewise, if the woman who gave birth was not a virgin, what kind of “sign” would that be? And if the birth was not divine -as many claim- then how is the presence of Emmanuel explained?"*

Essentially, what Saint Basil is saying is: "where is the miracle, if a married woman became the mother of a child?* And if that was considered the “sign” (in other words the miracle), then, thewayit was born must have been uncommon.* If it was the commonplace kind of birth, then it would not have been called a miracle.* If it wasn’t a virgin who was going to give birth, then where is the miracle?"Saint Basil also provides us with other examples: in Deuteronomy 22:27 and Kings III 1:3-4, where virgins are referred to as “maidens”.Even if Isaiah had used the word “almah” instead of “bethulah”, he still implied the same thing, i.e., that a virgin was to give birth to a son. Otherwise, the prophesying of this miracle (the wondrous sign) would not have made any sense. The Septuagint translators had very appropriately translated the word “almah” as “virgin”, because that is precisely what Isaiah wanted to stress: that a woman, who had no carnal relations, was to bear a son. That is what constitutes a miracle and a “sign”.**

From this article.

                                    **What Does Almah Mean?

By William F. Beck [March 3, 1970**

” I have searched exhaustively for instances in which almah might mean a non-virgin or a married woman. There is no passage where almah is not a virgin. Nowhere in the Bible or elsewhere does almah mean anything but a virgin. Jastrow’s dictionary shows that almah has no implication of marriage even in later Hebrew. The maneuverings to get away from the clear evidence are varied and odd. The ICC on Isaiah 7:14 cites Proverbs 30:19 as evidence that the word does not mean virgin; and then the ICC on Proverbs 30:19 cites Isaiah 7:14 as the only proof that the word means a married woman. That’s desperate. It is frequently asserted that almah does not stress virginity.xxii At our distance we are somewhat insensitive to the degrees of stress of a meaning in a word. The euphemisms of ancient days, for instance, clearly express facts which we can’t sense at all. However, we must not deduce that what isn’t stressed isn’t there. When a layman calls his pastor “Bill,” “Bill” is still a pastor. When Jesus calls Himself “The Son of Man,” this does not eliminate His deity. When a father says, “My girl goes to high school,” to suppose that she is no virgin because “girl” doesn’t stress virginity is to insult the girl. We are in no way permitted by the degree of stress of virginity in almah (which may be underestimated) to conclude that it means anything but a virgin. For any lack of virginity we must have evidence. There is a flanking movement resorted to by the statement, “But it could mean a married woman.” That is a guess that goes beyond the evidence, and anyone has the right to guess the opposite. If you’ll let me ignore usage, I’ll prove the opposite meaning of any text in the Bible. Without usage as evidence, anything could be the meaning. Almah could mean an elephant. That isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound; remember that alluph means “friend,” “husband,” and also “ox.” How do we know that almah does not mean “elephant”? The only way we can eliminate “an elephant” from the meaning of almah is to go back to usage, which also eliminates “a married woman.” Then we have such statements as “It may be used of a virgin, but it does not mean a virgin.”xxiii This is a frank discarding of Scriptural usage and a substitution of human authorities, including lexica that go beyond the evidence. Among the many contradictory speculations of commentators, it isn’t hard to find authoritative quotes for almost anything. A mass of opinions by so-called scholars, selected in such a way as to present a unanimous verdict, may convince men whose convictions depend on human authority. We may gather another mass of quotations to prove the opposite, and so convince others. But this is not a battle of quotes. A whole host of human opinions can be quite valueless. In our theological confusion, it is the specific genius of Lutheran exegesis that it remains unimpressed by any human authority and refuses to indulge in what-could-be speculations, but sticks to what is. This sober attitude has preserved us from the need of face-saving, which other interpreters must resort to whenever new manuscripts are discovered. God’s truth, including the meaning of almah, does not depend on the guesses of men but on the power of God (1 Co 2:3-5). That is why we patiently search the Hebrew and Greek text for meaning. And we cannot ride roughshod over the meaning that is given there, asserting our own opinions or those of others. We need to come to His Word with a fine empathy, or we desensitize ourselves to it. If we’ll search with an open mind, saying, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening,” if we’ll search with all our hearts, ready to believe whatever he tells us, he will speak to us**

Again from same article by Beck.

We may still wonder, “Why did Isaiah use almah and not some other word?” Let us see what might be involved in the use of other terms. If he had used yaledhah, the reader might think of a child. The same might be said of naarah, which, moreover, is so broad that it would be difficult to tell what it meant in the text. In Exodus 2-6, the three-monthold Moses, weeping in his little basket, is called a naar. In Ruth 2:5-6, Ruth, a widow, is called naarah. The meaning of virginity is not distinct in naarah. In order to express clearly the idea of virginity, naarah has bethulah added to it six times.xxiv In contrast, almah never has bethulah added to emphasize the meaning of virginity. If Isaiah had used bethulah, those who want to have a young married woman in Isaiah 7:14 could cite Joel 1:8, where bethulah is used of a woman who has had “a husband”: “Weep like a bethulah, girded with sackcloth, for the husband of her youth.” Some commentators make her a virgin widow, but the term for “husband” most naturally implies sex relations. Jeremiahxxv uses bethulah several times of Israel as the wife who has gone astray, which makes the meaning of “virgin” doubtful in these instances. Twice when the biblical narrative wants to express very clearly that the bethulah is really a virgin, it adds, “who had not known a man.”xxvi Such an expression need not be tautology; the writer wants to make it very clear that these girls were really virgins. In 7:14, Isaiah did not use bethulah because he wanted to avoid any possible ambiguity. Almah alone seems to insure the thought that this is an unmarried woman. Then, too, Isaiah wanted to state that this would be a young virgin. Bethulah could possibly mean a child of three years or a woman of sixty, beyond the child-bearing age.xxvii In order to keep the bethulah young, the Hebrew text adds naarah to it six times.24 But almah means “a young virgin” without adding a word expressing youth. Most of the argument for “a young woman” rests on a contrast of almah with bethulah. But the production of meaning by such a contrast of synonyms is precarious. Here’s a simple example: Ice is different from snow; ice is cold; therefore snow must be warm. Compare the parallel argument in regard to almah: Bethulah is different from almah; bethulah means “virgin”; therefore almah does not mean virgin. But the Old Testament never contrasts bethulah with almah. Any contrast which is to yield legitimate meaning must have usage to back it. If there is any contrast at all, it is between a bethulah, which in rare instances is used for a married woman and an almah which is never used for a married woman. The contrast which makes bethulah a virgin and almah a married woman is an invented and false contrast, and it yields an invented and false meaning. Genesis 24:16,43 uses both bethulah and almah as synonyms with no distinguishable difference of meaning. The real contrast is between ishah and almah. We see this contrast in Genesis 24, where, over against the three terms for the unmarried girl, ishah is used eleven times and always for Isaac’s wife which Rebekah is to be, and ishah is always translated gune in the Septuagint. Throughout the Old Testament it is an ishah, a married woman, who “conceives and bears.”xxviii And now the text in Isaiah 7:14 by every previous wording prepares for something new and wonderful—not an ishah but an almah (believe it or not) will, in the picture of the prophetic perfect, conceive and have a Son. In the future a woman who is an almah will at the same time be pregnant, and so the Child will be pele, “wonderful” (Is 9:5

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