Did Isaiah Prophesy the Virgin Birth of Christ?
“Does Isaiah 7:14 contain a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ? Some suggest that Isaiah’s statement refers to a ‘young woman’ (not necessarily a ‘virgin’) of his day, who would conceive and give birth to a child, and that this event would be a sign to Hezekiah. It is then further said that Matthew took that text and applied it to Jesus’ birth, though, allegedly, this was not the meaning of the passage originally. How do we respond to this assertion?”
This theory contains so many flaws that it is difficult to know where to begin in refuting it. It can be traced ultimately back to the second century A.D., when it was employed by those who repudiated the concept of predictive prophecy that pointed to Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.
It has been filtered down, revised and refined over the years, so that some Christians now parrot the theory — though they haven’t a clue that the young woman notion was birthed from the womb of skepticism.
As briefly as we can, we note the following points.
The Background of the Prophecy
When the kingdom of Judah was threatened by a confederation of enemies from the north, King Ahaz was terrified. God sent the prophet Isaiah to calm the king.
The prophet declared that the evil forces would not prevail. Ahaz was encouraged to “ask for a sign” documenting this word of consolation, but the stubborn king refused.
Isaiah then directed his attention to the “house of David.” He promised a much greater sign, namely “the virgin” would conceive and bear a son, whose name, Immanuel, would signify “God is with us.”
The time-frame that it would take for the Immanuel-child to reach the age of accountability was used as a chronological measurement. Before that time-span would expire, Judah’s current threat would dissipate (which reality came to pass).
More importantly, however, was the fact that a much greater deliverance was needed in Israel, and such would be provided by the actual arrival of Immanuel — who is Jesus Christ.
A “Sign” is Prophesied
This prophesied event is designated as a sign. The term “sign” is a point of controversy.
While the word itself does not demand a miracle on a strictly etymological basis, a word’s meaning is determined by more than etymology alone. General usage and context (both immediate and remote) must be factored in.
The immediate context does suggest a*miracle. The king had been challenged to ask for a “sign,” either “in the depth, or in the height above” (Is. 7:11). This indicates something phenomenal.
Ahaz refused the proffered sign claiming that such would tempt Jehovah—again hinting of the supernatural.
Additionally, Matthew’s*inspired interpretation*of the passage clearly establishes the miraculous nature of the prediction (Mt. 1:22-23).
There is*no evidence at all*that there was a*miraculous birth*to a virgin in the days of Isaiah.
The Sign of a Virgin
The Hebrew word rendered “virgin” is*almah. It is the only biblical word that truly signifies a virgin. Prof. William Beck, who researched this matter with great precision, declared:
I have searched exhaustively for instances in which*almah*might mean a non-virgin or a married woman. There is no passage where*almah*is not a virgin. Nowhere in the Bible or elsewhere does*almah*mean anything but a virgin (1967, 6)
Robert Dick Wilson, the incomparable Hebrew scholar who was proficient in forty-five biblically-related languages, declared that*almah*“never meant ‘young married woman,’” and that the presumption of common law is that every*almah*is virtuous, unless she can be proved not to be (1926, 316).
Even the Jewish scholar, Cyrus H. Gordon, who made some of the archaeological discoveries at Ras Shamra, conceded that recent archaeological evidence confirms that*almah*means “virgin” (1953, 106).
The notion that*almah*merely signifies a “young woman” was first argued by the anti-Christian Jew, Trypho, in the mid-second century A.D (Justin Martyr, 67).
The Virgin Shall Conceive
Isaiah’s text plainly says “the virgin” (note the definite article, denoting a*specific*virgin) “shall conceive.”
The passage does not speak of a virgin who would marry (thus surrendering her virginity) and then conceive. She conceives*as a virgin.
If this alluded to some contemporary of Isaiah, who was his mysterious lady? Were there two virgin births — one in Isaiah’s day and another involving Jesus? There is no credibility to this view.
Additionally, the virgin’s child was to be called “Immanuel,” which signifies “God is with us.” If this name applied to a child in Isaiah’s day, who was this illusive youngster? He seems to have vanished as soon as he was born!
The suggestion made by some—that Matthew took Isaiah’s text and gave it an application alien to the original meaning—is unworthy of a correct view of Bible inspiration.
Preachers today who take a text, extract it from its context, and make it a mere pretext for points they wish to establish are strongly chastised and their credibility is compromised.
Yet men, under the sway of modernism, do not hesitate to so charge God’s inspired apostle in the case of the virgin birth. This is a shameful circumstance.
The church fathers were of one mind that Jesus was born of a virgin, and Isaiah 7:14 was appealed to as an Old Testament prophetic proof-text.
For example, Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202) wrote:
Wherefore also the Lord Himself gave us a sign, in the depth below, and in the height above, which man did not ask for, because he never expected that a virgin could conceive, or that it was possible that one remaining a virgin could bring forth a son, and that what was thus born should be “God with us”? (19.3)