A VIRGIN?
By Jim Myers

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If there is a verse that has generated more discussion and controversy than Isaiah 7:14, I don't know what it would be.  The infamous King James Version reads as follows:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

There are many different reasons that people study the Bible.  Sadly, one of the most popular is to provide additional support for their doctrines and beliefs.  However, Bible study that forces a particular faith or doctrinal perspectives onto a reading of the biblical text is not really Bible "study."  Shouldn't a meeting like that be more accurately called an indoctrination or brainwashing session?

"Study" is defined by Webster's dictionary as "a careful examination or analysis of a phenomenon, development, or question; the activity or work of a student."  Therefore, every Bible study should be a "careful examination of the portion of the biblical text under consideration."  It must always be remembered that for Biblical Heritage Associates, the term "biblical text" doesn't refer to an English translation called "The Bible," instead it refers to an "interlinear text," like the one below.

An "interlinear text" allows you to view the Greek or Hebrew words along with a literal English translation.  The Biblical Heritage Bible Study Bible Interlinear Text is the format displayed on the previous page.  The number on the far right is the "Line Number," and the numbers above the Hebrew words are the "Word Numbers."  This allows us to refer to words by these two numbers, i.e. Line 1, Word 4 is translated as "he."  Throughout this article I will be making reference to the Hebrew words of Isaiah 7:14 using this system.

Hidden Agendas

The primary issue related to this verse concerns the way readers view it when they begin their Bible Study.  As Biblical Heritage Associates we approach every Bible Study the same way and with the same goal - discover what the words meant to the original author.  It is clear from the text that Isaiah was concerned with problems facing his generation, a people who lived over 700 years before the birth of Jesus.

Many Christian theologians, however, only wish to view Isaiah's words as a Christological prophecy.  Have their hidden agendas have completely veiled the message of Isaiah and replaced it with their words - presenting beliefs and ideas that were unknown to Isaiah?  They say that the ancient prophets were uninterested in politics, the military, or foreign nations - their only goal was to point to Jesus. 

 

Why Do Christians Consider
Belief in the Virgin Birth So Important?

Over the centuries Christian theologians have made belief in the Doctrine of Virgin Birth an essential element of being recognized as a true Christian.  Some of their claims concerning the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth are shown below.  They say that if this doctrine is not true, then Jesus could not:

(1)

Be divine 

(2)

Be qualified to fulfill the Davidic Covenant.

(3)

Be born free from sin.  

(4)

Have had a sinless human nature.

(5)

Have bypassed the manner in which original sin is transmitted.

(6)

Have had two natures, human and Divine.

(7)

Have been the perfect sacrifice for human sins.

(8)

Have endured the wrath of the Father.

(9)

Have been the God who entered the world like anyone else so that he could be a genuine human.

(10)

Be the God of Christianity.

In short they say that without the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth - the cross would be emptied of its power; Jesus would be just a man, not God; and, Jesus would not be able to save anyone.

 

The Differences Between the Doctrines of
"THE VIRGIN BIRTH" & 
"THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION"

Both the doctrine of the "Virgin Birth" and the doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception" are Roman Catholic doctrines.  However, the doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception" is unrelated to the doctrine of the "Virgin Birth," and is not accepted by most Protestant Christians, but it is often confused with it.  Many believe that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception states that Jesus was without original sin from the moment of his conception by Mary and the Holy Spirit.  This is not correct - that is part of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.  The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception states that when Mary herself was conceived, she was also without original sin. 

The doctrine of Original Sin produced a conflict concerning the "sinlessness of Jesus."  According to it, every human being was a carrier of the "Original Sin," because it was passed down to all through Adam.  Since the doctrine of the Virgin Birth stressed the fact that Jesus' mother was human, this presented a problem - Mary would have been a carrier of the Original Sin.  There wasn't a problem from the father's side since the Holy Spirit wasn't human.  This problem of Mary's sin produced many challenges to the doctrines that stated that Jesus was sinless in all ways. 

Pope Pius IX finally solved this problem by introducing the doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception" in his Bull Ineffabilis:

"...We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful."

When did the Pope solve this theological problem?  It was issued just before the American Civil War in 1854.  For almost 1500 years Mary's human nature had been a serious problem, but with the Pope's declaration the problem was solved - at least for Catholics.  Now, both Jesus and Mary were sinless and without even the "stain of Adam's sin."  By the way, when was the first time that anyone had heard of Adam's "Original Sin"?  It wasn't until the 5th century CE when Augustine, through another declaration, that created the doctrine of "Original Sin."  It should be noted that Original Sin was unknown during the time of Jesus and for centuries thereafter.  It should also be noted that without the doctrine of Original Sin, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth would not be so important - and there would be no need for a "universal" savior.  Remember, it didn't exist until after 400 AD (CE).  

 

Young Woman or Virgin?

If you read many of the articles about Isaiah 7:14 you will find that most of them focus on the Hebrew word 

(Line 1, Word 8 [see page one]).  The analysis below will help you better understand this word.  Remember, Hebrew is read from right to left.

HA + \ALeMAH = the + young woman

\ALeMAH means "young woman" in the Bible and in later Hebrew. The word in the singular feminine form occurs just 4 times in the Bible and none of them conclusively mean virgin.  As you can see above, \ALeMAH is the word used in Isaiah 7:14.  

There is another Hebrew word, BeTHULAH, that scholars use to compare with \ALeMAH.  The position presented by most theologians is that BeTHULAH is the correct word for "virgin," meaning "a young woman who has not been engaged in sexual intercourse."  However, scholars generally agree that it does not denote "virgin" in the technical sense as someone who has not had sex.  Instead, they argue that it is a word that indicates that a woman is of a marriageable age and status, regardless of her previous sexual activity.  It is akin to our modern expression "single woman" -- that is, a woman who is not currently married but legally available. 

The word is ambiguous and scholars point out that when an author wants to stress the idea of a "woman who has not engaged in sexual activity," he adds the standard phrase - "I have not known a man."  This may be seen in the description of Rebeccah (Genesis 24:16):

 And the young woman (NA\ARA) was very fair to look upon, a young woman of marriageable age (BeTULAH), neither had any man known her.  And she went down to the fountain, and filled her pitcher, and came up.

 

Linguistically speaking, neither \ALeMAH nor BeTuLaH is a technical and specific term in biblical Hebrew that carries the meaning of the modern English word "virgin."

How then did the technical meaning "virgin" get connected to Isaiah's words?  The only answer is that it was when Isaiah's words were viewed through the much later "lens of Christian theology."  The meanings of this his words were changed to conform to Christian doctrine.  This process took place about a thousand years after the words of Isaiah were written.  Needless to say, Jesus would have understood them as their author, Isaiah, understood them.  

Avoiding Theological Traps
By Staying in the Box

Isaiah 7:14 is not a "stand alone" set of words.  It belongs in a context and that context has a great deal to do with how they are understood.  The immediate context of the verse is Isaiah 7:1-17:

1 In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, and they could not conquer it. 2 When the house of David was told, "Syria is in league with Ephraim," his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind. 

3 And the YAHWEH said to Isaiah: "Go forth to meet Ahaz, you (Isaiah) and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller's Field, 4 and say to him,  `Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying,  6 "Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it," 7 thus says the master YAHWEH:  "It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. 8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin.  Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken to pieces so that it will no longer be a people. 9 And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.'" 

10 Again YAHWEH spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask a sign from YAHWEH your elohiym; let it be deep as Sheol or high as one may ascend." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the YAHWEH to the test."

13 And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my elohiym also? 14 Therefore the master himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman is pregnant and bearing a son, and she shall call his name Immanu EL (El is with us). 15 He shall eat curds and honey when 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. 17 YAHWEH will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah -- the king of Assyria."

Kings of the United Kingdom

Date (BCE)

King

 

 

1020-1000

Saul

 

 

1000-961

David

 

 

961-922

Solomon

 

Kings of the Southern Kingdom (Judah)

922-915

Rehoboam

 

 

915-913

Abijah

 

 

913-873

Asa

 

 

873-849

Jehoshaphat

 

 

849-843

Jehoram

 

 

843

Ahaziah

 

 

843-837

Athaliah

 

 

837-800

Joash

 

 

800-783

Amaziah

 

 

783-742

Uzziah

 

 

750-742

Jotham (co-regent)

 

 

742-735

Jotham (king)

 

 

735-715

Ahaz

 

 

721

Fall of Samaria

 

 

715-687

Hezekiah

 

Isaiah: A History of a Real People

Many people seem to forget that the Jewish people view Isaiah's work as historical writings, not just scriptures.  Isaiah was active during an extraordinarily lengthy period (over 60 years), extending from the reign of King Uzziah to that of King Hezekiah, who both ruled in Judah.  It is generally agreed that the historical material in Isaiah begins with this chapter (7).  This section begins with Ahaz, king of Judah, facing an impending attack from the alliance between the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Syria.  The political realities that brought on this alliance was the imminent expansion of the Assyrian Empire.  The threat presented by Tiglath-pilezer created alliances among all the Palestinian nations so they could present a united front against the advancing Assyrians. 

However Judah, under this same threat, did not join the above alliance.  Therefore, Ahaz was deemed an opponent by the nations of the alliance.  King Resin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel proposed to depose Ahaz and replace him with a king who would follow their policies.  Although their first assault against Judah appeared successful, it eventually failed (also see 2 Chronicles 28:4-6). 

Isaiah tells us that YAHWEH would have protected Ahaz if he had trusted in him, but Ahaz chose to trust in his own political solution instead.  Ahaz took gold and silver from the Temple and sent it to Tiglath-pilezer who had already begun his attack on Israel (Northern Kingdom).  Tiglath-pilezer had probably already deported the tribes east of the Jordan into Assyrian Media by this point in time.  Isaiah then goes to Ahaz and tells him to trust in YAHWEH and that YAHWEH has a sign for him.  The sign that he gives Ahaz is recorded in Isaiah 7:14-16:

Behold, a young woman is pregnant and is bearing a son, and she shall call his name Immanu EL (El is with us). 15 He shall eat curds and honey when 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.

Notice that this sign is to Ahaz and that the young woman is already pregnant - she may even be at the stage of giving birth at the time Isaiah is speaking to Ahaz.  The nation will be affected by the choice that Ahaz makes.  The dangers are imminent dangers to the people of Judah.  But Ahaz did not trust in YAHWEH even though Isaiah gave the assurance in Isaiah 8:4:

For before the child [Isaiah's son] shall have knowledge to call, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away by the king of Assyria.

But Ahaz asked for help from the king of Assyria.  It was at that time that Tiglath-pilezer invaded Syria, put King Rezin to death and defeated most of Israel (Northern Kingdom), which reduced the Divided Kingdoms by two thirds of their tribes. Only Samaria and the area around it were still under the control of the king who was now a vassal of the king of Assyria.  Galilee was devastated at the same time and people from other nations were brought by forced immigration to take the place of the deported Israelites.  Just about nine years later, the next king of Assyria would bring an end to the Northern Kingdom with the fall of Samaria in 722 BCE. 
 

A Much Bigger - Yet Untold Story

What were ancient Israel and Judah like in the time of Isaiah?  Before I answer that question I want to remind readers that they must always pay special attention to the use of the word Israel.  After the death of Solomon in 922 BCE the nation divided into the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom.  The Northern Kingdom is called Israel and the Southern Kingdom is called Judah.  The divided kingdoms exist until 721 BCE when Israel is captured and many of its inhabitants deported. 

The Book of Isaiah opens with a statement that provides us with information that allows us to establish the time in which he lived:

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, the kings of Judah.

Notice that Uzziah's reign began in 783 BCE and Hezekiah's reign ended in 687 BCE (click here to see list).  Their reigns cover a span of 96 years; 60 years of which scholars say Isaiah was active in his work.  When Isaiah began his work both the Israel (Northern Kingdom) and Judah (Southern Kingdom) existed.  By the end of it, the Northern Kingdom had been conquered.  How do you think this affected Isaiah?  Before you answer that question I want to ask another - What was the religious environment of Isaiah's world?

The Religious Condition of Jerusalem: 
From Solomon to Josiah

If the texts of the books of Kings were trustworthy, it would have to be acknowledged that the religion of Jerusalem and Judah centered on a series of temples built to a group of deities.  This environment, however, seems to be unknown to most Christians and Jews.  The religious world of Judah that the biblical narrative presents existed from the reign of Solomon (961-922) to well into the reign of Josiah (640-609) - almost 400 years. 

Solomon was the founder and builder of these temples.  One of those temples was the one to YAHWEH.  Always remember that winners write history and the winner in this case was the cult of YAHWEH.  It should not be surprising then that most readers of the Bible come away with the feeling that Israel had only one temple and priesthood - YAHWEH's.  But the books of Kings provides page after page of information that paints a completely different picture.  The reason that these sections of the biblical texts are getting much more attention these days is that the picture that archaeology is painting matches the picture in Kings.

These temples remained in operation for almost four hundred years - the USA will only be celebrating its 225 anniversary on July 4, 2001.  How many institutions have been around for the entire 225 years of American history? 

An important, but often overlooked, aspect of this story is that all the other religious cults were also part of the official royal patronized religions of Jerusalem and Judah.  Remember, the biblical texts records that Solomon is the founder of these temples too.  This means that they had royal sanction and were official religious sites - just like YAHWEH's.

The people of Judah and Jerusalem were introduced to many ELOHIYM by Solomon, including YAHWEH, ASHTORETH, MILCOM, CHEMOSH, and MOLECH, according to 1 Kings 11:5-8.  By the time of King Josiah of Judah, the Temple of YAHWEH contained vessels that were made for Baal, the Asherah, and all the host of heaven.  There were Houses of the Cult Prostitutes (males) in the House of YAHWEH, and in that temple women were involved in the cult ritual of weaving hangings for the Asherah.

They were kept at the entrance of the House of YAHWEH, by the chamber of Nathan-melech.  Horses were considered as sacred to the sun by many nations, some even sacrificed horses to the sun as part of their ritual.  Scholars generally believe that the horses in Judah were not offered as sacrifices.  However, we must infer from the existence of the "chariots of the sun," that they were used for ritual processions that were carried out in connection with the worship of the sun.  It is thought that the priests of the Sun god would drive the chariots toward the sun every morning as a part of a ritual to "meet the rising sun."  This would have been an everyday occurrence in the life of Isaiah.  The biblical text also tells us about altars that were built upon the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, "which the kings of Judah had made."  It goes on to point out that after Ahaz, Manasseh (687-642 BCE) would build altars in the "two courts of the House of YAHWEH."

There were also high places east of Jerusalem that were located on the southern height of the Mount of Olives.  These were dedicated to ASHTORETH, CHEMOSH, and MILCOM.  Sacred pillars were built for each of the gods.  We are also told about an altar at the House of EL (Bethel).

Seventy-five years after the end of the reign of Ahaz the polytheistic environment of Judah and Jerusalem still existed.  It was then that a new king would take the throne of Judah; his name was Josiah.  During his reign, from 640-609 BCE, an amazing event took place (2 Kings 22:8-11):

"Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the Book of the Teachings in the House of YAHWEH.  Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.  Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and reported to the king, and said, "Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen that have the oversight of the House of YAHWEH."  Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, "Hilkiah the priest has given me a book."  Shaphan read it before the king. It came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the Book of the Teaching that he tore his clothes."

This launched the famous reforms of Josiah.  All the houses of the high places that were in the other cities of Samaria, Josiah destroyed in the same way as the House of EL, and offered up the priests of the high places upon the altars, i.e. slew them upon the altars on which they had offered sacrifice, and burned men's bones upon them (the altars) to defile them.  He also exterminated the necromancers, the teraphim and all the abominations of idolatry, throughout all Judah and Jerusalem.

Conclusion

For centuries, theologians, priests, and preachers have continued to fuel the flames of debate over the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.  If they would read the text of Isaiah 7:14 literally, as many of them insist that we do, this issue would be settled.  Take another look at the verse on page one, specifically Line 2, Words 1 & 2 - "is pregnant and is bearing."  Isaiah's virgin was a pregnant virgin, one who became pregnant in the conventional manner. 

Isaiah 7:15-16 states that by the time this child reaches the age of maturity (“he knows to reject bad and choose good”), the two warring kings, Pekah and Rezin, will have been removed.  This prophecy was fulfilled when these two kings were suddenly assassinated (2 Kings 15-16).  With an understanding of the context of Isaiah 7:14 alone, it is evident that the child born in Isaiah 7:14 is not referring to a future messiah or to any future virgin birth.  It is referring to the divine protection that Ahaz and his people would enjoy from their impending destruction at the hands of these two enemies, the northern Kingdom of Israel and Syria.

Recycled Prophecies

Christian theologians are faced with a serious problem when the author of the Book of Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 as proof for the messianic authority of Jesus.  This author claims that Isaiah was referring to the birth of Jesus, not the child that we just read about from Isaiah's text.  The theologians attempt to explain away this stunning problem of Matthew’s complete indifference to the biblical context of Isaiah 7:14 by claiming that Isaiah’s words to Ahaz had two different applications.  They must concede that the first application of Isaiah’s prophecy must have been addressed to Ahaz and his immediate crisis.  They agree that a child was born and thus the first leg of this dual prophecy was fulfilled at the time of Ahaz, 2,700 years ago.  The idea of "dual prophecies" was a product of Jewish thought that came into being sometime in the second century BCE.

Christian theologians declare that the second leg of this dual prophecy applied to Jesus’ virgin birth.  They maintain that Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 is entirely appropriate through this elaborate explanation.  Therefore, they claim that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled twice: once in 732 BCE, and a second time in the year 6BCE.  This insistence that Isaiah’s words are the substance of a dual prophecy raises a number of questions are raised:

(1) At what age did the baby Jesus mature? 

(2) Which were the two kingdoms during Jesus’ lifetime that were abandoned? 

(3) Who dreaded the Kingdom of Israel during the first century when there had not been a Kingdom of Israel in existence since the seventh century BCE? 

(4) When did Jesus eat cream and honey? 

(5) Was Jesus born as a sign to Ahaz?

(6) Did the King of Assyria conquer Judah in Jesus' lifetime?

(7) Did Jesus' mother name him "EL (name of Canaanite god?) is with you"?

Don't you think it would be much more worthwhile to study the words of Isaiah in their proper context?  Isn't it much more exciting to see the stories in the biblical texts verified by the work of archaeologists - even if their discoveries conflict with many long-held doctrines and beliefs?  Personally, I would rather work to discover facts about the real Jesus, the historical one, instead of spending my time arguing and defending any of the theological Jesus' created by either Jewish or Christian theologians - wouldn't you?

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