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Isaiah 7:14 and Almah
By Gary F. Zeolla
Below are excerpts from three letters by Bill Lowe (editor of The Messianic Herald). He is responding to my article "Born of the Virgin Mary" and the chapter "Two NCC Bible Versions" in my book Differences Between Bible Versions where I address the translation of the Hebrew word almah in Isaiah 7:14.
1) ... There has always been an ongoing debate over almah and bethulah, with Luther making Isa 7:14 a DIRECT prophecy of Christ (i.e.., there is no secondary interpretation). We have been brainwashed! One of my teachers said that, "In all but one place, ha almah means a virgin." He never said where that one place can be found, but it is fatal to his argument: Prov 30:18-20.
The general rule is that a disputed text should never be used as a "proof text." If it is used as such it becomes a shouting match, with each side screaming, "I am right." The one who can yell the loudest wins. I am enclosing an article that proves the absolute necessity of the virgin birth, without needing Isa 7:14....
2) ... My first inkling that almah did not always mean "a virgin" did not come from doubters, or from Jews, but from a very sound Biblical Study from England.
To find that my teachers even said, "In all but one place, almah meant a virgin, (without citing Prov 30) did make me angry that they were ramming this down the throats of Jews when the Jews made a distinction between a bethulah who had not known a man, and an almah, a young woman, married or not....
My arguments from the curse on Jechoniah, and from the fact that the tribe of Judah never had the "birthright" makes the virgin birth a necessity, if the Messiah was to come from the house of David.
3) ... When my position is challenged I do not just pull out old "Notes" but go over the subject afresh. I did this with the Septuagint before me....
What they did not tell us was that parthenos is used in the LXX [Septuagint] to translate almah (Strong's 5959); bethulah (Strong's 1330,1331); and the word for "Damsel" (Strong's 5291). Therefore, no matter what meanings we give to almah and bethulah if one word means a young woman of marriageable age, or married, and the other means an inviolate virgin, we cannot say with authority that the LXX uses a word that only means a pure virgin when translating Isaiah 7:14....
Luther knew that some saw a dual fulfillment for every prophecy of Scripture (or, for many prophecies) that would allow that the child who would be born would see the overthrow of Samaria, and another Child who would reign in the House of David. That would make the virgin at that time be a young married woman. Isaiah's wife bore him Maher-Shalal-Hasbaz (ch.9)....
With love in Christ, Bill Lowe.
Response: As can be seen, this subject is very controversial, and complicated. First, whether Prov 30:19 is "fatal" to the idea almah always means "virgin" depends on how the verse is interpreted.
Second, it is possible there is a dual fulfillment to Isaiah 7:14 and other prophecies. Though Matthew clearly believed this verse predicted Jesus' birth by a virgin (Matt 1:18-23).
Third, Mr. Lowe is correct when he writes, "The general rule is that a disputed text should never be used as a 'proof text.'" The doctrine of the Virgin Birth, however, is based mainly on the explicit teachings of Matthew and Luke, as my article showed. So whatever is the correct interpretation of Isaiah 7:14, that Jesus was "Born of the Virgin Mary" is NOT called into question.
The above letters originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1995.
They were posted on this Web site in July1996.
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