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|A. Virgin Birth. The Christian idea of a virgin birth is derived from the verse in Isaiah 7:14 describing an “alma” as giving birth. The word “alma” has always meant a young woman, but Christian theologians came centuries later and translated it as “virgin.”||
The Scripture says, Is 7:14 “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.”
Before Christian theologians who came centuries later translated alma as virgin, the Septuagint, the rabbis’ own translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, two centuries before Jesus’ arrival on earth, translated Is 7:14 alma into Greek as parthenos, virgin. Why would the rabbis have done that?
The Hebrew word alma, from the root alm, does indeed mean a young woman. During the Old Testament days it meant a very young woman, often too young to bear children. An alma would not likely have been of sexual interest to an elem, a boy at that age, and so was always regarded as a virgin. The same root alm also gives us the Hebrew word alum, hidden, secret, unknown. Moreover, the Torah required that a young woman of marriageable age be a virgin. Deut 22:20 “But if … the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then … the men of her city shall stone her to death.” An alma was apt to be a virgin at the time of her marriage!
Today in Israel moral standards have changed dramatically. In modern Hebrew, an alma means simply a young woman. But we are discussing Isaiah, who wrote during Biblical Hebrew’s “golden age,” 1200 BC to 500 BC, and so we must take the meaning that a word had then.
Moreover, Hebrew is a concise language in which much is taken from context. Since any young woman could conceive a child in the usual way and name him Immanuel, that would not be a sign from God. However, a virgin birth would be a supernatural event.
Isaiah could have written that a betula would conceive and bear a son. The Hebrew word betula definitely means a virgin. But a betula is a virgin of any age. Up to that time, the sign of a miraculous conception had been an old woman bearing a child. In the Old Testament we find, Gen 17:15 “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” And in the New Testament, Lk 1:7 “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years … But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John … And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.’” But, God in His mighty providence willed that the mother of His Son fulfill His warning to Satan after the original sin, Gen 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” To visibly work at His side, to be associated with Him for all the generations to come, His blessed mother would have to be a very young woman, an alma. And so God, speaking through Isaiah, used the word alma to rule out a miraculous birth to an old woman and point instead to a miraculous birth by a young woman.
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