conceived in and born of a virgin, i.e. a woman who had not been sexually
intimate with a man. Matthew affirms Mary's virginity. (Matthew 1:23-25) The
beloved physician Luke affirms that she was a virgin. (Luke 1:27) Mary affirms
her own virginity. (Luke 1:34) There is no way that a person can believe the
testimony of the scriptures and deny the fact that Mary was a virgin when Jesus
was conceived, and when he was born.
A theological firestorm erupted in the 1950's when the Revised Standard
Version of the scriptures debuted. Previous English versions such as the KJV and
the ASV had generally used the word "virgin" to translate 'almah in Isaiah 7:14.
The RSV used the phrase "young woman" instead of virgin. The translators were
charged with denying the virgin birth of Jesus, and their translation was maligned
as being the product of communists. Copies of the RSV were burned, and the
translation was banished from many pulpits. It appears that much of the emotionalism
of that period of time has given way to reason on most fronts.
Hebrew has many words that identify a woman in various ways. Female
(neqebah; Gen. 1:27), daughter (bat; Gen. 34:1), sister ('achot; Gen. 34:13),
woman (ishshah; Gen. 34:4); wife (ishshah; Gen. 34:4); maiden (yaldah;
Gen. 34:4), harlot (zonah; Gen. 34:31) concubine (pelegesh; Judg. 19:1,24,25),
and widow ('almanah; Gen. 38:11)
'Almah is a feminine noun and is used seven times in the Hebrew text.
Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Psa. 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8 and
Isa. 7:14) It is the feminine counterpart of the masculine form 'elem. 'Elem occurs
twice in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 17:56; 20:22) In both instances it is used to
describe David. 'Elem means young man, lad, boy. Since it is the counterpart to
'almah, then 'almah means a young woman, a maiden, a damsel. 'Almah is not the
technical word for virgin. Bethula is the word that is used many times in the Hebrew
text for "virgin." Therefore, it appears that 'almah represents a young woman or
maiden, one of whose characteristics is virginity.
Many of the Semitic languages have equivalents of the Hebrew feminine
noun 'almah and its masculine equivalent 'elem. In Ugaritic the masculine noun
glm occurs many times and the feminine glmt occasionally. Other equivalents are
found in various Aramaic dialects; Imperial Aramaic, Nabatean, Palmyrene,
Punic, Syriac, and Palestinian Aramaic. Equivalents of the noun are found in North
Arabic and Old South Arabic. In Akkadian we find a metaphorical use of slm that
coincides to some extent with the usage of the Ugaritic nouns glm and glmt. The
Septuagint is inconsistent in translating 'almah. It uses parthenos twice
(Genesis 24:43; Isa 7:14), elsewhere it uses neanis. In most other places the
Septuagint used parthenos to translate bethulah, and neanis to represent
na'ara, na'ar. Jerome's Latin Vulgate uses virgo in Isaiah 7:14 and Genesis 24:43.
Puella or adolescentula is used elsewhere. Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion
all use neanis in Isaiah 7:14.
Someone may ask, "If 'almah means 'young woman,' since Matthew used
the word parthenos which means 'virgin,' isn't he misapplying the text?" No,
because 'almah does not exclude virginity. Its main focus is on youthfulness instead
of virginity.The word 'almah that God through the Holy Spirit, chose for Isaiah to
use is the ideal term. It allows "the house of David" (Isa. 7:13) in the prophet's day
to see God's deliverance from "Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of
Remaliah the king of Israel." (verses 1-10) God promised them, "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." (v. 16) It also allows Matthew
to show how it is ultimately fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew's quote
in 1:23 is from the Septuagint which uses the word parthenos, and it means virgin.
Inasmuch as 'almah does not exclude virginity, the prophecy works both in Isaiah's
day and for the birth of our Lord from the womb of a young woman who had not
been sexually intimate with a man.