Is there any good ground for the change, advocated by some, of the word “virgin” In Isaiah 7:14 to “young married woman” or “young woman of marriageable age”?
I believe “virgin” can be shown to be the true rendering, along several lines of proof. It is significant that those who propose this change are mostly of Modernist tendencies. Such men deny the miraculous in general, and would gladly get rid of the Virgin Birth of our Lord, and create a discrepancy between Matthew 1:23 and our verse. Gesenius, the well-known author of the Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, a man with a strong Modernistic bias, says, “The true meaning of ‘almäh, (“virgin” in Isaiah 7:14) is a girl of marriageable age, with no special reference to her unspotted virginity, which is expressed,” he affirms, “by another word, bethulah”; but that moral purity is surely taken for granted, unless definite proof is alleged to the contrary. He adds, “almãh is used of a youthful spouse recently married”; but the only place he quotes to prove this is the verse in question, Isaiah 7:14, where he wants to rule out the other meaning, and thus begs the question. He also
quotes Canticles 6. 8 to prove his point, but as virgins (‘almöth) are distinguished there from wives and concubines, we may ask what they do stand for, if not for unmarried girls of unspotted character? Gesenius admits, moreover, that his word bethfflah is sometimes clearly used of a woman newly married, e.g., in Joel i. 8. If that word had been used in Isaiah 7:14 he might still have found a loop-hole, and have quoted Joel to show that even “bethfflãh was not conclusive. God, however, has raised up to oppose Gesenius a man of equal scholarship, namely, Dr. S. P. Tregelles, of humble evangelical faith, and also of European reputation as a Hebraist. He translated Gesenius’ Lexicon from the German, and has added notes in brackets to neutralise, where necessary, the bias of the Lexicon. The following note by Dr. Tregelles occurs under “‘almãh”: “Gesenius’ object in view in seeking to undermine the opinion, which would assign the signification of virgin to this word, is clearly to raise a discrepancy between Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. Nothing which has been stated (i.e. by Gesenius earlier in the article) does, however, really give us any ground for assigning another meaning.. . . ‘Almãh in the Punic language signifies virgin.
The absolute authority of the New Testament is, however, quite sufficient to settle the question to a Christian.” We may refer here to the words of Matthew 1:23: “Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled, which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is by interpretation, God with us.” The Evangelist uses the ordinary Greek word, “parthenos,” for “virgin,” used too in Luke 2:27, of the Virgin Mary. The Greek Version, the Septuagint, does sometimes translate the word “‘almãh” otherwise than by “parthenos,” but here in Isa. 7. 14, where as Tregelles points out “it must to their minds have occasioned a difficulty,” they translate by the same word that we have in the Gospels. We may suppose these learned Jews—the translators of their own Scriptures—knew at least as much of Hebrew and Greek as Modernist scholars. Matthew does not appear to have quoted from the LXX, so is an independent witness. We do not, however, in any case, need even the authority of God-fearing scholars. This is a question in which “a wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err.” Let us look at the other occurrences of the word, “‘almãh,” in the Old Testament. It is used in Genesis 24:43 of Rebecca—the prospective wife of Isaac. The other word, “bethülãh, occurs in verse i6, as we might say “virgin” or “maid” indiscriminately. Miriam, in Exodus 2:8, is called an “‘almh,” and she was clearly not a young married woman, but a maiden. This suits, too, in Proverbs 30:19. Canticles 10:3 seems to demand the sense of virgins, as also chap. 6. 8, as we have seen. Psalm 68:25 we may take as neutral; we cannot affirm the damsels to be virgins, though they might have been. Then there is another consideration. The name to be given to the child—”Emmanuel,” “God with us”—goes a long way to justify the translation of “virgin” by our Translators and Revisers, as such a birth demanded extraordinary concomitant circumstances. The context, too, favours the same conclusion. Jehovah had offered Ahaz any sign he might choose to ask—”in the depth or in the height” above, that is anything comparable with the drying up of the Red Sea or the Jordan, or on the other hand, with Joshua’s long day. When Ahaz refused, the prophet replied, “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign. “Behold a* (literally “the”) virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” Clearly God’s sign would be something extraordinarily arresting. How else would the Eternal Son of God enter into manhood except in the womb of a Virgin? The birth of a son to a young married woman, far from being an arresting sign, would not be a sign at all, but the most atural of events.
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