The Virgin has Conceived and God is Now With Us!

The following OT text,

“Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: The virgin (ha almah) shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 Modern English Version (MEV)

Is taken to be a prophecy of the Lord Jesus’ birth from his blessed virgin mother:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: After His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child by the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not willing to make her a public example, had in mind to divorce her privately. But while he thought on these things, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for He who is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this occurred to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘A virgin shall be with child, and will bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is interpreted, ‘God with us.’ Then Joseph, being awakened from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and remained with his wife, and did not know her until she had given birth to her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.” Matthew 1:18-25 MEV

However, not everyone thinks that this is a genuine prophecy of the virginal conception and birth of our glorious Lord Jesus from his blessed mother.

It is asserted by skeptics and polemicists that the word almah doesn’t mean virgin, but simply a young woman or maiden. This meaning can be seen in the following translations:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el.” Revised Standard Version (RSV)

“Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.” Common English Bible (CEB)

“For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.” New English Translation (NET)

I will allow the following Old Testament scholar and professor to provide the refutation of this claim:

It is true that the Hebrew word “almah” is also translated in other places as “maid” or “maiden,” but one must not forget that these words are synonyms for “virgin” as any English dictionary clearly indicates. Our present immoral culture has obscured the issue, but in earlier English culture (and Hebrew culture) an unmarried young woman was expected to be a virgin. So, whether one referred to an unmarried young woman as a virgin or as a maiden, the same thing was meant.

This was such a strong expectation in ancient Hebrew culture that a girl guilty of fornication was put to death, and a raped young woman was unsuited for marriage. Thus Joseph thought to set Mary aside when he learned she was with child, and was only prevented from doing so by angelic intervention (Matt 1:18-25). Thus Jewish culture expects the word to mean virgin in this context.

It is true that Hebrew has another word “bethulah” that means virgin. But this word is used to refer to any virgin, ranging from a little girl to a mature young woman; whereas the word “almah” refers ONLY to a sexually mature young woman.[3]

In the Hebrew Bible the word refers only to young women that are virgins. So for example, Genesis 24 relates the story of the betrothal of Rebekah to Isaac. In verse 16 she is referred to as “a virgin [“bethulah”], neither had any man known her”; whereas in verse 43 she is referred to as a virgin [“almah”]. In such contexts the words are synonymous. NO USAGE of the word “almah” in the Hebrew Bible can be shown to mean OTHER THAN a sexually mature virgin, and this passage is no exception.

The context of this passage demands the sense of virgin here. The prophecy is called a “sign” [Hebrew “‘oth”] which frequently implies something supernatural. In verse 11 the Lord told King Ahaz: “Ask a sign [‘oth] for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” Such a sign obviously could have been anything, such as the sign given later to King Hezekiah: the sun moving back in its orbit by ten degrees (Isa 38:7-8). But Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, so the LORD gave His own sign, the sign of the virgin born Messiah, not to be fulfilled in the days of Ahaz, but in the future.

Now only a virgin birth would qualify as such a sign–there is nothing supernatural about a young woman becoming pregnant, it happens all the time. Lippard refers to the foretold event as “biological impossible”–another indication of his anti-supernatural presupposition. But a number of biologically impossible events have happened. Adam was created without father or mother. Eve was made from Adam’s flesh and bone without father or mother. Isaac was conceived when his parents were both beyond the age of possible conception. Several people were raised from the dead. All of these events were biologically impossible, but they happened nevertheless; unless one rationalizes, as Lippard does, that such things are a priori impossible and so the stories must be legends or myths.

[3] F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford, 1955), p. 761. (Response To Jim Lippard’s The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah, James D. Price, Ph. D. https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/response-to-jim-lippards-the-fabulous-prophecies-of-the-messiah/; bold and capital emphasis mine)

This next Christian apologist and writer also does a superb job of demonstrating that almah always refers to a sexually mature virgin, in contrast to bethulah which does not:

The linguistic data is fairly straightforward. This word, in contradistinction to bethulah, is NEVER used of a non-virgin (either in the OT or in ordinary cognate usage). It STILL GENERALLY means ‘young woman’ but always includes the notion of virginity and non-marriage.

Let’s dredge up a little data on this one, too:

“The rarity of its usage makes determining its meaning very difficult. The masculine <elem occurs only twice and is translated, “lad,” “stripling,” or “youth.” This may suggest that almah is another term denoting a girl of a particular age — but of what age is uncertain. In Ex. 2:8 the girl could be younger than a teenager, but in Gen. 24:43 Rebekah is already of marriageable age (cf. v. 16 [bethulah]). In no case is it clear that an almah is married: indeed, Cant. 6:8 contrasts the king’s wives (“queens” and “concubines”) with the “maidens [alamoth] without number.”. So possibly almah means “virgin,” since all unmarried girls in Israel were expected to be chaste. Often it has been argued that since bethulah denotes “virgin,” almah cannot have this technical sense. But if bethulah means “teenage, nubile girl,” then it is not impossible that almah means “virgin.”…It would certainly help the discussion if the meaning of almah were clearer. Unfortunately, the evidence is too meagre to be decisive. It is not certain what differentiates almah from other Hebrew terms for younger females. Elsewhere almah is never used for girls who are definitely married (Prov. 30:19 is equivocal), so this may weigh against interpretations that suppose that Isaiah was thinking of the king’s wife of his own wife. But the lexical evidence is not strong enough to rule out such possibilities. Certainly Isaiah’s use of almah contributes to making this a striking and mysterious prophecy. [ISBE]

“Third, the term almah is never used in the OT of a married woman, but does refer to a sexually mature woman. There are no texts in the OT where almah clearly means one who is sexually active, but it is possible that Song of Solomon 6:8 (cf. Prov 30:19) implies this. It would appear then that almah normally, if not always, implies a virgin, though the term does not focus on that attribute. Fourth, several of the Greek translations of the OT (i.e., Aq, Sym, Theod) translate almah with neanis;  however, the LXX clearly translates it with parthenos. It is probably correct to say that if almah did not normally have overtones of virginity, it is difficult if not impossible to see why the translators of the LXX used parthenos as the Greek equivalent. [NT:DictJG, s.v. “Birth of Jesus”]

“The Hebrew text says almah (“the virgin”) suggesting that a definite woman is in view. The Hebrew word almah is used seven or nine times in the Old Testament (Gen. 24:43; Exod. 2:8; Prov. 30:19; Song of Sol. 1:3; 6:8; Isa. 7:14; Ps. 68:26 [1 Chron. 15:20 and the heading of Ps. 46 are uncertain]) and is the only Hebrew word which without qualification means a mature young woman of marriageable age, but unmarried and presumably a virgin. In Song of Sol. 6:8 the word stands in contrast with queens and concubines, and in Prov. 30:19 “the way of a man with an almah” contrasts the infatuation of youthful love with the infatuation of an adulterous woman (v. 20). Some have suggested that the word bethulah would more accurately suggest a virgin, but this term sometimes requires a qualification such as “neither had man known her” so that it cannot merit serious consideration as a quasi-technical term for virgo intacta  [The Emmaus Journal—V8 #1—Sum 99— David J. MacLeod]

“The translation virgin (alma) is widely disputed on the ground that the word means only ‘young woman’ and that the technical word for ‘virgin’ is bethulah.’ Of the nine occurrences of ‘alma’ those in 1 Chronicles 15:20 and the title of Psalm 46 are presumably a musical direction but no longer understood. In Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19 and Song of Solomon 1:3 the context throws no decisive light on the meaning of the word. In Genesis 24:43 and Exodus 2:8 the reference is unquestionably to an unmarried girl, and in Song of Solomon 6:8 the “alamoth ‘ contrasted with queens and concubines, are unmarried and virgin. Thus, wherever the context allows a judgment, `alma is not a general term meaning ‘young woman’ but a specific one meaning ‘virgin’. It is worth noting that outside the Bible, ‘so far as may be ascertained, ‘alma was ‘never used of a married woman’.  [Motyer, Isaiah]

“SamP. aµóléµma: fem. of µl,[,; MHeb. DSS (Kuhn Konkordanz 164); Ug. gùlmt (Gordon Textbook §19:1969; Aistleitner 2150; Fisher Parallels 1: p. 46ff no. 36) girl, parallel with at_t (Fisher Parallels 1: p. 133 no. 86), also the name of a goddess (W. Herrmann BZAW 106 (1968):7), cf. A. vSelms Marriage and Family Life in Ugaritic Literature (1954):108ff; Ph. html[, Pun. alma (Jerome see Schroeder 1741; Harris Gr. 133; Friedrich Phön. Gramm.2 §229; Jean-H. Dictionnaire 214); htmyl[ Sam. (Ben-H. 2:549b) and EgArm., Nab. Palm (also tml[; Jean-H. Dictionnaire 214); CPArm. atymylw[, Syr. >laymtaµ; Arb. gùulaµmat :: Gerleman ZAW 91 (1979):338-49 ® t/ml;[} (H.M. Wolf JBL 91 (1972):449-456; Brunet Essai sur l’Isaïe de l’histoire (Paris 1975):35-100): —1. a) marriageable girl Gn 2443 Ex 28 Ps 6826, as a description of the beloved Song 13 68; b) a girl who is able to be married Pr 3019; c) a young woman (KBL: until the birth of her first child :: Wildberger BK 10:290) Is 714 Sept. parqevno” (< Matthew 123), Aq., Symm., Theodotion nea`ni”, [HALOT] (Response to…”The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah”, by Glenn M. Miller http://christianthinktank.com/fabprof2.html)

Miller goes on to discuss the use of almah in Proverbs 30:19 and Song of Solomon 6:8, and shows that the word in both instances refers to a young virgin of marriageable age:

Now, let me comment on a couple of the seven almah verses. There are two verses that are sometimes advanced as evidence that almah is used of non-virgins: Proverbs 30.19 and Song of Solomon 6.8. The scholarly data sources listed above indicate that these two verses either (a) support the ‘unmarried’ meaning; or that the passages are (b) too unclear to contribute to the discussion. Let me briefly look at the two verses:

First, Proverbs 30.19:

“There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: 19 the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden (almah).

Now, by itself it doesn’t contribute anything to our discussion–this could be referring to various aspects of romantic love–which is how it is taken by many/most commentators, as a celebration of romantic love. For examples,

“The fourth mystery is “the way of a man with a maiden” (see Notes). The term `almah (“maiden”) does not in and of itself mean “virgin” but rather describes a young woman who is sexually ready for marriage. What is in view here is the wonder of human sexuality, for the preposition be suggests that the “way of a man” is either “with” or “in” the `almah. This mystery might begin with the manner of obtaining the love of the woman but focuses on the most intimate part of human relationships. So the most intimate moments of love are at the heart of what the sage considers to be wonderful. All of it is part of God’s marvelous plan for his creation and therefore can be fully enjoyed and appreciated without fully comprehending it. [EBCOT]

“These verses are another graded (3/4) numerical saying. The understanding of this proverb is not as easy as it appears to be at first sight. Many different solutions have been proposed to explain the wonder occasioned by the four examples. 18 The introductory formula notes that there are four wonderful things in all, with the fourth carrying the main emphasis. These are not objects of investigation, but rather of admiration because they surpass human understanding. The choice of the examples seems to be dictated by what the author felt were truly worthy of wonder. But note that it is not the eagle, serpent, ship, or man that is the real target; it is the “way” (ûrd), repeated in each of the examples. Commentators have proposed various solutions to the “wonder.” One is “how”—how does the eagle stay up; how does the serpent move without legs—in other words the mystery of movement. Others have seen something marvelous in that supposedly no trace is left by these objects. This solution resembles superficially the words in Wis 5:10–12, which deals with human transience. That understanding, the absence of any trace, seems to be reflected also in the following v 20. However, one must evaluate better the fourfold repetition of the “way.” The saying underscores the course of an action—that is “the way.” It is not that these objects—eagle, serpent, ship—leave no trace. Rather, their course is not recoverable. At any given point one cannot describe the path of the eagle to where it is, or that of the serpent, or the course of the ship in its traversing the water. But the way has not been without its goal. If we follow this lead to contemplating the way of a man with a woman, there is marvel and astonishment at the course of the attachment that has made the two one, the mystery of how this was accomplished. After many encounters and years, they are to become one. This refers not only to the “yearning” of the woman for the man (Gen 3:16), or of the man for the woman (Cant 7:10), but to the whole mystery of their relationship: how it came to be and what brought them together finally. An observation like this is singular in the book of Proverbs. One wishes that more of the numerical sayings would have been handed down. In view of the not uncommon charge that the sages were simplistic in their observations and teachings, this openness to wonder and the contemplation of one of the deepest mysteries in human relationship is not to be forgotten.” [WBC]

“What do the ways of an eagle in the sky . . . a snake on a rock . . . a ship in the ocean, and a man with a woman have in common? Some writers say the ways of these four are mysterious; others say their ways are nontraceable; others suggest that they each easily master an element that is seemingly difficult. Another suggestion is that they each go where there are no paths. “The way of a man with a maiden ” refers to a man’s affectionate courting of a woman.” [BKC]

If it is talking about how two lovers find each other and end up married, the almah would clearly be a virgin. But the virginity is not the focus of this at all–it is the beauty of the dance and the interplay of the man’s ‘strength/virility’ (geber) with the young woman’s nubility and blossoming (almah).

However…some try to tack verse 20 onto to this: This is the way of an adulteress: She eats and wipes her mouth and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’  And they argue that the adulteress (obviously not a virgin) is the same woman as the almah of verse 19…this makes the beauty and wonder of verse 19 into something sinister and sneaky (like the untraceable nature of snake, maritime, and bird movements?)…

There are a number of observations that count against this, and only one that I can find for it.

The main argument for it is that this verse 20 has to be included in the ‘four things’, since another numerical saying starts in verse 21. But this argument cannot stand in this case, because we have the exact same situation in the numerical saying immediately before this one! The 3/4 things in 15b-16 are followed by a ‘random’ verse in 17, so there is obviously no ‘legalistic genre constraint’ here…

In fact, commentators argue that verse 20 is meant specifically to contrast the adulteress (a common warning in Proverbs, remember–always smuggling this theme in wherever possible) with the purity of God-designed love:

“However valid in itself the observation in this verse may be, it is not a harmonious sequence to vv 18–19. It goes beyond the numerical saying which closed with the fourth item in v 19d. Moreover, it betrays no wonder, which was a key to the previous verses, and it also seizes upon the misleading issue of no trace being left by the eagle in the air, etc. It is better to translate “so” at the beginning as “such,” introducing a new theme independent of vv 19–20. The theme is familiar from chap. 7: the “way” of an adulteress. She regards her wrongdoing so lightly that it can be compared to wiping away any fragment of food from her mouth. The symbolism of eating to indicate a sexual encounter appeared already in the invitation issued by Woman Folly in 9:16–17. [WBC]

“Equally amazing is the insensitivity of the adulteress to sin. That this verse was placed here lends support to the idea that the previous verse is focusing on sexual intimacy in marriage; for just as that is incomprehensible (filling one with wonder), so is the way that human nature has distorted and ruined it. Carrying forward the use of derek the verse describes “the way of an adulteress.” She is ‘ishshah mena’apet; she may be married but certainly is unchaste. The portrayal is one of an amoral woman more than an immoral one (McKane, p. 658). Kidner notes that the act of adultery is as unremarkable to her as a meal (Proverbs, p. 180). The imagery of eating and wiping her mouth is euphemistic for sexual activity (see 9:17). It is incredible that human beings can engage in sin and then so easily dismiss any sense of guilt or responsibility, perhaps by rationalizing the deeds or perhaps through a calloused indifference to what the will of the Lord is for sexuality. [EBCOT]

“An adulteress contrasts with the woman in verse 19. Here it is not the man’s way with a woman, but an immoral woman’s way with men (cf. 2:16-19;  5:1-14; 7; 22:14; 23:27-28). She takes a casual approach to her sinful ways, treating them as lightly as eating a meal and asserting that nothing is wrong (cf. 28:24) with adultery. [BKC]

A good discussion of the evidence for the disjunction is made by Niessen:

“There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; the way of a man with a maiden [alma].” This is the text cited by more commentators than any other as the coup de grace to any idea of virginity in almah. Lattey argues for the idea of virginity in the other six passages where alma is used, but he places this verse in a category apart from the others and views the study of it as “a distasteful task.” A Jewish writer [Joseph Jacobs, 1907] proclaims confidently, “The fact that it alma is used in Proverbs xxx.19, of ‘the way of a man with a maid,’ is sufficient to prove that there is no idea of virginity attached to the word. This is now recognised [sic] by all scholars, Christian as well as Jewish.”

“It should first be recognized that there is a textual problem with the verse. Instead of ‘with an alma’ some manuscripts read ‘in his youth’ so that the translation would be “the way of a strong man in his youth.” This is supported by the Septuagint’s oJdou;” ajndro;” ejn neovthti… The Syriac, Vulgate, and Arabic versions agree with the Septuagint; and they are also supported by the manuscript on which the Wycliffe translation was based, for it reads, “the weie {sic} of a man in his waxing youthe {sic}.” If this is valid, then those who object to the view that almah means young virgin will have to appeal elsewhere for proof. But it is not necessary to retreat behind a textual variant, though the literature is replete with emendations based on far less evidence.

“A closer look at the proverb shows that four things are placed in a position of comparative parallelism. Verse 20  is often erroneously joined to verse 19  which reads, “So is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.” The improper conclusion that is formed by joining verses 19  and 20  is that the way of the man and his girl friend are compared to the way of an adulteress; hence it is a sinful and sexual relationship outside of marriage. But if the two proverbs are joined, the interpretation may just as well be that the alma  is contrasted to the wanton wife.

“Delitzsch recognizes the disjunctive nature of the two proverbs (30:18–19  and 30:20) when he suggests that verse 20  “does not appear to have been an original part of the numerical proverb, but is an appendix thereto.” Therefore, it appears that the proverb about the adulterous woman is an independent cognate proverb and its ken  points forward into itself, as in Proverbs 11:19, rather than backward to verses 18–19 , which are actually a separate proverb.

“The problem will be well on its way toward a solution with the uncovering of a common denominator to the four “ways.” Since this is quadruple parallelism, what is common to the first three would also apply to the fourth, and vice versa. If the way of the man with his alma is a reference to sinful fornication then there would be something inherently evil about the first three “ways.” However, there is nothing evil about the soaring of an eagle, or a ship sailing on the open waters. Serpents are ceremonially unclean creatures and occasionally carry evil connotations (Gen 3:1–15), but lizards are just as unclean and they are spoken of in a commendable way in this same chapter (30:24–28 ). Because evil is not a common denominator to the first three, it cannot apply to the fourth. Therefore, sexual impurity is not in view in 30:19 .

“What is there about the way of an eagle, a serpent, and a ship that inspired the awe of the writer? One possibility is their tracelessness, but how does this apply to the way of a man with his alma? Delitzsch sees the connection in “the tracelessness of illicit intercourse,” but it has already been shown that this is inappropriate to the context. A better solution is the idea of fascination—ways that capture the attention and inspire the imagination because of the mysteriousness of their actions. The majesty of a giant eagle soaring effortlessly in the sky, borne aloft by invisible air currents; the unpredictable meanderings of a serpent on a rocky hillside; the listlessness of a ship floating on the high seas—in each of these cases the “way” refers to the three objects in a particular kind of action that is awe-inspiring. There is nothing particularly captivating about an eagle in its nest, a serpent in its lair, or a ship in port; but when the three things perform in the ways described, their activities are such as to hold the thoughtful spectator spellbound for extended periods of time.

“Considering the morality of ancient Hebrew ethical standards, a scene of fornication would be revolting rather than awe-inspiring and would hardly fit the parallels of the first three “ways.” Obviously what is being described here is the courtship and infatuation of youthful love between a young man and his young girl friend. While the passage does not specifically make a point about the girl’s virginity, it may be presumed.

Secondly, Song of Solomon 6.8/9:

Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins (almaoth) beyond number; but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her. The maidens (banoth, lit. ‘daughters’) saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines praised her. [NIV, other translations use damsels, maidens, etc]

Who are these alamoth?

Solomon’s harem is described in I Kings 11.3, dividing his wives into two groups: (1) wives of royal birth (i.e., princesses from foreign countries, typically for diplomatic marriages) and (2) concubines of common birth (marriages without the possibility of royal heritage):

And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. [NASV]

He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. [NIV]

Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.[NRSV]

He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned his heart away [Jewish Pub Soc]

[Note: there are not three groups here, only two: royal wives (queens) and concubines.]

The alamoth in 6.8–distinguished from the queens and concubines in the text–could be one of three groups: (1) virgin “daughters” of the realm;  (2) virgin pre-wives in the royal harem; or (3) virgin attendants to the wives (or possibly to the general court, as in cooks, perfumers–cf 1 Sam 8.13–and singers, the later of which certainly had to be virginal since they would have participated in the processional to the Temple).

If they are in the royal harem, they are still distinguished from married women:

“A royal harem consists of (1) women who are designated as “queens” and whose sons are automatically in the line of succession; (2) concubines who have a lesser status and whose sons may not inherit without the direct command of the king; and (3) maidens who may be either women who have not yet been presented formally to the king (see Esther 2:8–14) or those who have not yet borne children. [BBC]

“Apparently three categories of women are mentioned here for the sake of completeness. The queens were quite obviously married, and the concubines were like the common-law wives of today. The almaoth are apparently in contrast to these two groups of wives and as such would be unmarried women. They were in the service of the queens and destined to be chosen eventually as wives by the king. Thus it would be quite natural to expect them to be virgins. This is confirmed by the events in Esther 2. King Xerxes had gathered together a great number of virgins (bethulah, tanknote: from their father’s households) for the purpose of selecting a new queen (2:1–4 ). Purity was so essential that the women were to go through a process of ceremonial purification for an entire year (2:12–13 ) before going into the king’s chamber. Their biological virginity was not open to question; it was assumed. [Niessen]

If they are the “daughters” of the realm (as suggested by the parallelism in verse 9, and comprising ‘aspirants’ to concubinage?), they are still virginal too.

“queens . . . concubines . . . virgins. The reference is either to Solomon’s harem or to all the beautiful women of the realm.” [NIV Study Bible Notes; note that the only other use of alma in SS is in 1.3, where it seems to describe these young girls of the ‘general public’. They are never said to have known Solomon sexually, but that his perfume makes them love him.]

So, in any case, we have references to groups that are clearly virginal.

Okay, let’s check where we are…we have seen that bethulah is a social word, describing a woman’s relationship to patriarchal authority, and that alma is a biological word, describing a woman’s reaching the age/ability of childbearing. NIDOTTE can summarize part of this:

“The lexical relationship between (bethulah) and (almah) is that the former is a social status indicating that a young girl is under the guardianship of her father, with all the age and sexual inferences that accompany that status. The latter is to be understood with regard to fertility and childbearing potential. Obviously there are many occasions where both terms apply to the same girl. A girl ceases to be a  (bethulah) when she becomes a wife; she ceases to be an (almah) when she becomes a mother.

Thus, I have to conclude–on the basis of lexical and usage information that:

“The word yalda would have been inappropriate in Isaiah 7:14 because it refers to a child. Likewise na’arah would have been the more normal choice if a young woman had been the object of Isaiah’s thought, for it is used of both married and unmarried women. Some say that if Isaiah had really wanted to denote virginity he would have used bethulah which primarily denotes virginity. However, bethulah was used of widows and others who had experienced coitus. Furthermore, a bethulah can be a woman of any age, making the word difficult to qualify as a specific sign. The evidence supports both the traditional translation of “virgin” and the modern translation of “young woman,” but each must be qualified. The English term “virgin” does not suggest age limitations while the English phrase “young woman” does not suggest virginity. The word almah demands both, and so a more accurate translation would be “young virgin.” [Niessen]

With the foregoing in perspective I will now quote the verses showing that bethulah doesn’t always refer to a sexual virgin, whereas almah does.

Bethulah doesn’t always refer to a virgin

“Lament like a virgin (kibthulah) wearing sackcloth for the husband of her youth.” Joel 1:8 MEV

“Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin (bethulat) daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground; there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans. For you shall no more be called tender and delicate… Therefore, now hear this, you who are given to pleasures, who dwell carelessly, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, nor shall I know the loss of children’; but these two things shall come to you in a moment, in one day, the loss of children and widowhood. They shall come upon you in their fullness because of the multitude of your sorceries and for the great abundance of your enchantments.” Isaiah 47:1, 8-9 MEV

“The young woman was very beautiful to look at, a virgin (bethulah), and no man had ever been with her. She went down to the well and filled her pitcher and came up.” Genesis 24:16 MEV

“So among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead they found four hundred young virgins (bethulah) who had never slept with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.” Judges 21:12 MEV

The very fact that in these last two cases, the authors felt the need to add the qualifier that these virgins hadn’t known any man affirms that bethulah in and of itself does not always refer to a sexual virgin.

Almah always refers to a virgin of marriageable age

“I am standing by the well of water, and let it be that when the virgin (ha almah) comes forth to draw water, and I say to her, “Please give me a little water from your pitcher to drink,” Genesis 24:43 MEV

“And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the young girl (ha almah) went and called the child’s mother.” Exodus 2:8 MEV

Who would question that Moses’ older sister was a physical virgin at this time?

“The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the young women (alamot) playing tambourines.” Psalm 68:25 MEV

“There are three things which are too wonderful for me, indeed, four which I do not know: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid (ba’almah).” Proverbs 30:18-19 MEV

“Your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is oil poured out; therefore the virgins (alamot) love you.” Song of Solomon 1:3 MEV

“There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins (alamot) without number.” Song of Solomon 6:8 MEV

So much for the objection that Isaiah 7:14 does not prophecy the glorious virginal conception and birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who truly is God with us!

“For where two or three are assembled in My name, there I am in their midst.” Matthew 18:20 MEV

“Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20 MEV

“‘I will not leave you fatherless. I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more. But you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father. And I will love him and will reveal Myself to him.’… Jesus answered him, ‘If a man loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and WE will come to him, and make OUR home with him.’” John 14:18-21, 23 MEV

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