Saturday, January 1, 2011
conceived in and born of a virgin, i.e. a woman who had not been sexually
intimate with a man. Matthew affirms Mary’s virginity. (Matthew 1:23-25) The beloved physician Luke affirms that she was a virgin. (Luke 1:27) Mary affirms her own virginity. (Luke 1:34) There is no way that a person can believe the testimony of the scriptures and deny the fact that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived, and when he was born.
A theological firestorm erupted in the 1950’s when the Revised Standard
Version of the scriptures debuted. Previous English versions such as the KJV and the ASV had generally used the word “virgin” to translate ‘almah in Isaiah 7:14. The RSV used the phrase “young woman” instead of virgin. The translators were charged with denying the virgin birth of Jesus, and their translation was maligned as being the product of communists. Copies of the RSV were burned, and the translation was banished from many pulpits. It appears that much of the emotionalism of that period of time has given way to reason on most fronts.
Hebrew has many words that identify a woman in various ways. Female
(neqebah; Gen. 1:27), daughter (bat; Gen. 34:1), sister (‘achot; Gen. 34:13),
woman (ishshah; Gen. 34:4); wife (ishshah; Gen. 34:4); maiden (yaldah;
Gen. 34:4), harlot (zonah; Gen. 34:31) concubine (pelegesh; Judg. 19:1,24,25), and widow (‘almanah; Gen. 38:11)
‘Almah is a feminine noun and is used seven times in the Hebrew text.
Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Psa. 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8 and
Isa. 7:14) It is the feminine counterpart of the masculine form ‘elem. ‘Elem occurs twice in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 17:56; 20:22) In both instances it is used to describe David. ‘Elem means young man, lad, boy. Since it is the counterpart to ‘almah, then ‘almah means a young woman, a maiden, a damsel. ‘Almah is not the technical word for virgin. Bethula is the word that is used many times in the Hebrew text for “virgin.” Therefore, it appears that ‘almah represents a young woman or maiden, one of whose characteristics is virginity.
Many of the Semitic languages have equivalents to the Hebrew feminine
noun ‘almah and its masculine equivalent ‘elem. In Ugaritic the masculine noun glm occurs many times and the feminine glmt occasionally. Other equivalents are found in various Aramaic dialects; Imperial Aramaic, Nabatean, Palmyrene, Punic, Syriac, and Palestinian Aramaic. Equivalents of the noun are found in North Arabic and Old South Arabic. In Akkadian we find a metaphorical use of slm that coincides to some extent with the usage of the Ugaritic nouns glm and glmt.
(Genesis 24:43; Isa 7:14), elsewhere it uses neanis. In most other places the
Septuagint used parthenos to translate bethulah, and neanis to represent
na’ara, na’ar. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate uses virgo in Isaiah 7:14 and Genesis 24:43. Puella or adolescentula is used elsewhere. Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion all use neanis in Isaiah 7:14.
Someone may ask, “If ‘almah means ‘young woman,’ since Matthew used
the word parthenos which means ‘virgin,’ isn’t he misapplying the text?” No,
because ‘almah does not exclude virginity. Its main focus is on youthfulness instead of virginity.The word ‘almah that God through the Holy Spirit, chose for Isaiah to use is the ideal term. It allows “the house of David” (Isa. 7:13) in the prophet’s day to see God’s deliverance from “Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel.” (verses 1-10) God promised them, “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.” (v. 16)
Inasmuch as ‘almah does not exclude virginity, the prophecy works both in Isaiah’s day and for the birth of our Lord from the womb of a young woman who had not been sexually intimate with a man.
Posted by R. Daly at 1:54 PM