Isaiah 7:14, Born of a Virgin

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

//In this chapter, Isaiah speaks to King Ahaz, offering a sign from God. Ahaz wishes not to “put God to the test,” but Isaiah provides a sign anyhow, telling the king that God will save them from the present military threat of “two kings.” All this will happen soon; before a certain young woman’s son (presumably one who is currently pregnant) will be old enough to discern good from evil.

The identity of this young woman is undisclosed. Some scholars suggest it is Isaiah’s wife. Some take the coming child to be the crown prince, son of Ahaz. Others think it may have simply been a pregnant woman whom Isaiah noticed as he was addressing the king.

So that’s the scene of what’s going on in Ahaz’s court that day in the eighth century B.C. But the real story behind this verse comes much later. Let me first emphasize that the phrase which describes the pregnant mother, here in the NSRV and almost all other modern translations, is “young woman.” The Hebrew word ‘alma’ is neutral with regard to marital status or sexual experience. But when the Hebrew was translated into Greek six hundred years later, the phrase “young woman” inexplicably became “virgin.”

Fast forward two hundred more years, where Matthew, reading the Greek version of Isaiah, decides to apply this scripture to Jesus. Rumors of Jesus’ miraculous birth had already begun (Luke also tells a virgin-birth story, though it differs in fundamental ways), and Matthew loves to quote scripture to bolster his story.

Matthew 1:23—“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel”

Never mind the context and immediacy of Isaiah’s prophecy. Never mind that Mary never named her son Immanuel. Matthew repeated the Greek mistranslation, and the above quotation from Isaiah suddenly grew into one of the most popular verses in Christian history.


  1. well, not being a virgin certainly explains where the Y chromosome came from. But then, miracles don’t have to have exclamations.

    Why do you think Luke has so much more detail? And John has none? Was it simply not important to John?

  2. According to John, Jesus pre-existed eternally. God the Father dispatched him from heaven. The virgin birth (or any birth) has no place in John’s theology.

  3. What an adorable blog you have, Elle! Hope that’s ok to say!

  4. Thanks! But my (shared) blog is not thought provoking about the big questions of life and faith or intellectual, and its almost entirely secular.

    Really, it is just like a journal for every day cooking and dressmaking that only nerdy seamstresses and overly enthusiastic cooks and consumers of good food would enjoy on a long term basis…

    You are welcome to drop by as often as you like, of course!

  5. Quote – “Never mind the context and immediacy of Isaiah’s prophecy”
    Isaiah often had this unusual (to his subjects) habit of taking any occasion to speak
    of the coming Messiah and King. That’s what preachers do.
    Quote – “Never mind that Mary never named her son Immanuel”
    And never mind that Isaiah also called the Messiah Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Holy One, Redeemer etc.. In Daniel he’s called
    Michael, and Zechariah calls him The Branch.
    Quote – “Matthew repeated the Greek mistranslation”
    You’ll argue to the cows come home on that one. Without original texts it can’t be
    resolved. And that’s how I am sure God meant it to be.
    There was no king Immanuel
    Most young girls had children
    Matthew didn’t open himself to Jewish ridicule by suggesting Isaiah referred to a
    Mary herself said she was a virgin.

    Isaiah goes on two chapters later to speak of this child:

    Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he
    humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee
    of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan — The people walking in darkness have
    seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
    You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice
    at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
    For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across
    their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
    Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and
    righteousness from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

    So is Isaiah speaking of the military triumphs of Israel, or is he speaking of Jesus of Galilee?
    Both. At every opportunity to speak to Israel, Isaiah speaks of the Coming King.

  6. Lee Harmon

    Thanks for contributing, PP! But do you actually read Isaiah differently than I do? You think that Isaiah wasn’t prophesying an immediate event, telling Ahaz not to stress because his enemies would be taken care of? And that the rescue would happen before this child (here I imagine Isaiah pointing at a round belly in the room) would grow up?

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