Dr. Dan Hayden •
In order for Jesus Christ to be “God with us” (Immanuel), He had to be virgin born. The union of a divine nature and a human nature in one Person could not have been accomplished by natural conception. The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 anticipates this, when it says, Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
Yet, there have been liberal scholars, choosing not to believe in the deity of Christ (nor the miraculous), who have challenged this translation of Isaiah 7:14 saying that the Hebrew word translated “virgin” really means “young woman.” The Revised Standard Version of the Bible and the New English Bible, for instance, translate this verse to say “A young woman is with child.” Since they don’t believe in the virgin birth, the translators chose the meaning “young woman”, rather than “virgin.”
The word in question is the Hebrew word “almah”, which according to Langensheidt’s Hebrew Dictionary means “a maiden, a young marriageable woman.” Actually, this word comes from the root word “alam” — a verb meaning “to hide, conceal, cover.” The idea, then, is of a young woman that is covered or veiled, who is being protected (hidden away or concealed). That is why Strong’s Concordance reflects the meaning of “almah” as “a lass (as veiled or private).” The implication, then, is that she is young, inexperienced, protected by her family, and reserved for the man who will become her husband. It is truly the idea of a virgin woman.
This word is used seven times in the Old Testament — Gen. 24:43; Exod. 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8; Isa. 7:14. Sometimes it is translated “maiden” or “damsel” where the virgin nature of the woman (or women) is implied, but not stated. The first time it is used, however, there is no question about the virgin status of the ALMAH woman. Abraham’s servant is explaining to Laban how he had prayed to the Lord saying “…and may it be that the maiden [“almah”] who comes out to draw (water)…” would be the right woman to become Isaac’s bride (Gen. 24:43). Earlier in the chapter, however, a description of Rebekah is given in verse 16 which says, “And the girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her…” It is very clear in this text, therefore, that “almah” is referring to a virgin woman.
In addition to the use of the word in the Old Testament, there are two other factors that are conclusive in their proof that “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 should indeed be translated as “a virgin”. The first is to notice how the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) reflects this verse. It uses the Greek word “parthenos” as the translation for the Hebrew word “almah”. In Greek, the word “parthenos” specifically means “a virgin”. These Hebrew scholars, seeking to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, understood “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 to be referring to a virgin woman.
The second conclusive factor, is to observe how the Holy Spirit led Matthew to translate Isaiah 7:14 in his Gospel. In Matthew 1:23, he actually quotes from Isaiah 7:14 and, just as the Septuagint translators had done, he chose the word “parthenos” (a virgin) to render the meaning of “almah”. Furthermore, he used descriptive phrases like — “…before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (v. 18), and “and kept her a virgin [parthenos] until she gave birth to a Son” (vs. 25) — so there could be no misunderstanding about what he was saying.
So there you have it. “Almah” in Isaiah 7:14 really does mean “a virgin”. This prophetic pronouncement concerning the coming Messiah was astounding — a virgin woman would conceive and bear a Son. The Bible does teach the virgin birth of Christ — a fact that is foundational to the truth that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
For further study, see Born of a Virgin.