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:
the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a
virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall
call his name Immanuel.
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
a meeting like that be more accurately called an indoctrination or
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.
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:
qualified to fulfill the Davidic Covenant.
born free from sin.
had a sinless human nature.
bypassed the manner in which original sin is transmitted.
had two natures, human and Divine.
been the perfect sacrifice for human sins.
endured the wrath of the Father.
been the God who entered the world like anyone else so that he
could be a genuine human.
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
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
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).
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
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.
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
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
neither had any man known her. And
she went down to the fountain, and filled her pitcher, and came up.
speaking, neither \ALeMAH nor BeTuLaH is a technical and
specific term in biblical Hebrew that carries the meaning of the modern
English word "virgin."
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
By Staying in the Box
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:
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
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
10 Again YAHWEH spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask a sign from YAHWEH
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
Kings of the United Kingdom
Kings of the Southern Kingdom (Judah)
Fall of Samaria
A History of a Real People
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
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:
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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):
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.
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.
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.
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'
(7) Did Jesus' mother name him "EL (name of
Canaanite god?) is with you"?
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 -