How can Isaiah 7:14 be considered a prophecy about Christ’s virgin birth when the word translated there also means a young female?
This is a popular objection for those looking for a reason to deny prophesy and the virgin birth of the Messiah but it is also an opportunity to consider proper interpretation of Scripture. So I am going to hit on a few points of consideration that will answer this concern…
- On the surface we should see that there is no contradiction with a young female being a virgin. The Hebrew word in this verse translated virgin (‘almah) can also be translated as “young woman.”
- When it comes to prophecy, we frequently find an immediate interpretation and a distant interpretation. An example would be the seven churches referenced in Revelation which have an immediate application to the local church of that day and a distant application to the universal church of our day.
- Isaiah 7 is the larger context of this verse and it is dealing with King Ahaz of Judah who is refusing a sign from God. God gave the prophet Isaiah a sign to give to Ahaz and that applications would be to a young woman in his tribe, family, or within his care.
- There is seen within the context of this chapter a reference to a distant application in its appeal of “Hear now, you house of David!” (verse 13), and in the New Testament reference found in Matthew 1:23.
- The Greek word translated virgin (παρθένος) in Matthew 1:23, which is the restating of Isaiah 7:14, clearly means not having sexual relations and clearly points to the sign of earth’s arrival of the Messiah.
- The use of the term “will conceive” in Isaiah 7:14 and in Matthew 1:23 only strikes us as a miraculous happening if we are referencing a sexual virgin, not just a young woman, so the use of the word virgin is fully defined and applicable in its New Testament context.
- There are some deeper theological implications in Isaiah 7:14 regarding the name of the child as Immanual because Ahaz was not wanting God to be with him, and in the Matthew 1:23 broader application the world was not wanting God to be with them.
It is finally worth noting that in Matthew 1:20-21, before we have the recorded reference to Isaiah 7:14 prophecy in verse 23, Joseph had a vision from God to not leave Mary because of her pregnancy because the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit not by another man.
The text says, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
The question regarding the meaning of the word virgin in the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 is a good honest question, and one that does cause us to consider some principles of good interpretation, like the meaning imposed by the larger context.
As we study deep into the New Testament theology of Christ’s God-Man nature and His recapturing of the role as the Second Adam, the importance of the virgin birth becomes even more evident and important, though we may not fully understand that when considering a single verse.