A study...the Virgin

The Greek word “porthonos“ literally means virgin and nothing else. This of course disturbs the critics, and they seem to make all kinds of weak excuses for why they claim this is an error. But it is not really an error, because actually, “almah“ does not mean merely a “young woman“ as some imply (although the RSV does include footnotes), but rather as indicated above, it means “maiden“, thus a “young unmarried woman”, both of which in the ancient Hebrew culture, and in Judaism under the law, would have implied virginity. So is it unreasonable that Jonathan ben Uzziel’s Chaldean Targum Isaiah, written during or immediately following the Jesus events (though not a Christian) also renders this word “virgin”? I think not.

So in fact, the virgin connection existed as an acceptable Jewish translation, within Israel’s religious leadership, centuries before Matthew wrote his gospel. It is therefore totally likely that Matthew wrote his gospel version in and from the Hebrew/Aramaic just as history implies, and the subsequent Greek interpreters of his day were also simply following the accepted Rabbinical example of the preceding centuries. I actually feel that these Rabbis, and the writers of the Scrolls of Qumran, are a much more reliable source of pre-Christian Judaism than the later Masoretes or the so-called Higher Critics of today. Why? Because the early writers had zero motive to alter the text or its meaning, while the Masoretes and the modern critics could have motive. Both of these groups deny that Jesus was the true Messiah, and deny the many scriptural implications of His deity!

Of course the big controversy regarding Isaiah 7:14 is in defining the meaning or proper implication of the Spirit’s selection of the word “almah“. Modern Rabbi’s and many of the modern critical scholars supplant the meaning “a young woman“ in place of “maiden“ where the latter would automatically carry an implied ‘sense’ of virginity. They claim that if virgin were indeed implied, the prophet Isaiah would have used the word “bethullah“ instead, which they allege is virgin proper in the Hebrew. They make the argument that because “bethullah“ is not used here, this automatically means that Isaiah wasn’t in fact trying to imply “virgin” in the text at all.

The problem is, the word “maiden” always carried the implication of virginity, even in the sense of a young unmarried woman (usually untouched), and not just used generically as any young girl for which he could have used the generic word for girl (na’arah). This is especially true in ancient Israel where the word for a “maiden” would carry the assumption of virginity, just as assuredly as the Hebrew word for wife would imply probable consummation of the marriage.

In that culture and time period, no one under the Law of Moses would ever have declared that a maiden was anything but a virgin, without having definite proof. False witness against one’s neighbor was often punishable severely, if not by death, and sex before marriage was not only forbidden, but strictly guarded against. In most social contexts, men would not even speak with a maiden. Usually, the most common exception to this cultural norm was in the case where if a maiden at a well saw you were in thirst, and she offered you a drink (as an act of chesed or mercy before God) you could make small talk, or acquire information (where is the closest inn, or how do I get to so and so).

It was this custom that Jesus Himself observed to His advantage with the woman at the well of Samaria (John 4). Abraham’s servant likewise depended on this cultural courtesy to identify the future wife of his master Isaac (Genesis 24). Just read the text and see for yourself. These two greatly distanced events show how deeply ingrained such a practice of respect for women, was among the Hebrews. A maiden therefore could never conceive for if she did she would cease to be a maiden, but in Isaiah 7:14 this maiden not only conceives but bears the child.

So let’s get this straight before we go any further. Despite the normative lack of morality in our modern culture, of which I myself was quite personally familiar, virginity was the norm in ancient Israel, as opposed to most of the surrounding pagan cultures. King Solomon pointed out in the Song of Songs that there were three types of women who were desirable, a Queen because of her Royalty, a concubine because of her hard work, and lastly, a “maiden for her virtue“. The connection is here again made regarding the use of the word “almah” for a girl still maintaining her virtue in ancient Israel. Since Solomon knew what was meant when men used this word then, how is it that these allegedly superior moderns do not. The funny thing is, even in English the word maiden has traditionally implied virginity. In fact, we get our term maiden-head for the hymen from this very application (see almost any Webster’s).

For the sake of clarity, this word “almah“ is used in six other places than Isaiah in the Tanakh (Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:10; Song of Songs 1:3; 6:8), and it always speaks of unmarried women with no indication they are not also assumed to be virgins. Now though an argument from silence is moot, in association with the preponderance of other evidences, this fact becomes significant. For the insistence, the notion that “Bethulah“ be “required” in order to imply virgin is again fallacious, because we see in Esther 2:17’s Aramaic, that the girls mentioned here are “bethulah“ after having sex!?! The parallel word in Canaanite is used to describe the wife of Ba’al, who is clearly not a virgin. The parallel word in Egyptian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Shiite, and elsewhere, carry no specific reference to virginity whatsoever nor does it negate the possibility!

So in the ancient world, including Hebrew culture, bethulah seems to have had much more of a flexible generic usage than the modern apostates and critics today would like you to believe. In Joel 1:8, the woman that is grieving is a non-virgin “bethulah“, and in Ezekiel 23:3 the “bethulah’s“ breasts are being handled in harlotry. So though the word “bethulah“ can be used as virgin in certain contexts, it is in no wise automatically, or exclusively “virgin”, and is not used this way exclusively in the Bible.

Remember, in Hebrew, as in all character languages, the context gives us the meaning. But when the word “bethulah“ is used in the Tanakh, it is mostly used allegorically to refer to places, i.e., cities and nations! In fact, the prophet Jeremiah uses the term in this fashion almost exclusively (see Jeremiah 14:17; 18:13; 31:4, 21; Lamentations 1:15; 2:13), and the prophet Isaiah also uses the word “bethulah” in this allegorical fashion in Isaiah 23:12; 37:22; 47:1 and 62:5! So why should we assume he should also use it as the appropriate term in this passage in chapter 7?

In light of the prophet’s almost exclusive use of the word betullah in reference to cities and nations, in my opinion the use of the word “almah“ chapter 7 verse 14, becomes the correct and necessary alternative. I am sure that he consciously decided on this word choice so as to not confuse anyone into misinterpreting the verse by assuming that perhaps God, in His prophetic “sign“ promise, was allegorically referring to a city or nation, not even the nation of Israel! As I see it, this is the logical way the grammar presents the term. Using any other word would have been totally senseless, and would have caused even greater confusion centuries later.

Lastly, a “sign“ is almost always a word associated with an occurrence outside the natural order of things. So for some non-specific young woman to conceive a child by natural means and bear this child would not be a sign at all! This happens every day. To frame the whole idea in this sense would have been nonsense! Also to present a virgin as conceiving by natural means is equally nonsense, because obviously she could in no wise maintain her virginity while having conceived the child in this way. So in order to conceive by natural means, the young woman would have to have necessarily sacrificed her maidenhood. However, for a virgin to “conceive and bear“…now this is a “sign“!

Why is it people won’t respond to this wonderful sign from YHVH? As for the engineered accusations against the Apostle Matthew, as if he may have taken extreme linguistic liberty here in order to further glorify his idolized dead teacher (the Hoax Theory), there is nothing in history or archaeology that supports this unfounded bias.

This oldest of the gospel accounts was written in the Hebrew/Aramaic of his day as an apologetic to the children of Israel, tying together the Messianic events just historically witnessed by multitudes of alive at the time people. In Isaiah 7:14 it is no different. From all the above examples, and many others not covered, Matthew seems in line with the Rabbinical ‘sense’ that would be comprehended by the Hebrew hearer of his time period, whether or not some wolf-like critic hiding beneath his modern sheepskin decides it should be otherwise. For an intelligent apologist to do otherwise would at best be counter-productive, or else it would be sheer nonsense which is idiocy, one or the other, you simply cannot have it any other way if it is not the correct application! Matthew was no ignorant fisherman, that’s for sure. It was after all the Lord Jesus Himself, who personally opened the mind of Matthew and the other Apostles to the references about Him in the Law and the Prophets. Thus what we have here is the Memra of God (the Word) giving us His own meaning in the Scriptures that He wrote (not just Matthew’s interpretation). After all, the Son/Word is the living Torah. So where are any historical rebuttals from the reasonable doubters of Matthew’s time period? Where are examples of the other interpretations for this verse from before the time that Messiah Jesus came? There simply aren’t any!

Finally, the immediately following witness of the Apostle’s own disciples, Papias, Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, etc., right up through Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, demonstrate to us that this was the doctrine they likewise were taught from the direct followers and students of Jesus.

The conclusion of all this, in my opinion, whether one believes this Halacha (tradition) of Messiah ben-Yosef or not, is irrelevant to the fact that “virgin“ is indeed the correct, and acceptable interpretation in both passages, from hundreds of years before the birth of Y’shua, even until well into the centuries that followed.
You also got to think it would have no been uncommon for a young woman to have a child but for a virgin to would have been something that only happened this once.