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Tuesday, October 16, 2018


This one came from Mark:

"Dear Rabbi, What is your response to the point that in Isaiah 7:14, the term is "young woman" and not "virgin?" I am a believer in Christ, yet find this confounding. Thank you for your time. Mark"

My response:

"Shalom Mark, and thank you for your question.

I highly recommend Dr. Michael Brown’s book “Answering Jewish Objections” as what you are referring to is very common among Jews.  Yes it is true the word Almah (as in Isaiah 7:14); technically does translate to young woman, however elsewhere it is used to describe a virgin as well, as virgins are more often than not also technically “young women”.  So the word can be used interchangeably. 

Commenting on Matthew 1:23, Dr. David Stern in his brilliant Jewish New Testament Commentary says further: “The virgin will conceive and bear a son. This verse introduces a major controversy concerning the use of the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament. Following are three objections which non-Messianic Jews and other skeptics often make to Mattityahu's quoting Isaiah 7:14; in this verse, along with Messianic Jewish replies.
  (1) Objection: A virgin birth is impossible.
  Reply: In liberal scholarship miracles are characteristically explained away as natural phenomena in disguise. One might pursue this line here by pointing to observed instances of parthenogenesis in the animal kingdom or modern cloning experiments. But there is no instance of human parthenogenesis. Therefore one must regard a virgin birth as supernatural.
  Usually objection to a virgin birth as impossible follows as a logical consequence of objecting to any and all supernaturalism. But the God of the Bible is literally "supernatural," above nature, since he created nature and its laws. Therefore, if it suits his purpose he can suspend those laws. The Bible in both the Tanakh and the New Testament teaches repeatedly that God does intervene in human history and does sometimes overrule the natural course of events for his own reasons.

Frequently his reason, as in this instance, is to give humanity a sign of his sovereignty, presence and concern. In fact, Isaiah 7:14 immediately preceding the portion quoted, reads, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign." The Hebrew word for sign (" 'ot") means an extraordinary event that demonstrates and calls attention to God's direct involvement in human affairs. The "God" of Deism, pictured as starting the universe like a man winding a watch and leaving it to run by itself, is not the God of the Bible.

(2) Objection: Isaiah, in using the Hebrew word " 'almah," was referring to a "young woman"; had he meant "virgin" he would have written "b'tulah."
  Reply: " 'Almah" is used seven times in the Hebrew Bible, and in each instance it either explicitly means a virgin or implies it, because in the Bible " 'almah" always refers to an unmarried woman of good reputation. In Gen. 24:43 it applies to Rebecca, Isaac's future bride, already spoken of in Gen. 24:16 as a b'tulah. In Exodus 2:8 it describes the infant Moshe's older sister Miryam, a nine-year-old girl and surely a virgin. (Thus the name of Yeshua's mother recalls this earlier virgin.) The other references are to young maidens playing on timbrels (Psalm 68:25) maidens being courted (Proverbs 30:19) and virgins of the royal court (Song of Songs 1:3; 6:8), In each case the context requires a young unmarried woman of good reputation, i.e., a virgin.
  Moreover, Mattityahu here is quoting from the Septuagint, the first translation of the Tanakh into Greek. More than two centuries before Yeshua was born, the Jewish translators of the Septuagint chose the Greek word "parthenos" to render " 'almah." "Parthenos" unequivocally means "virgin." This was long before the New Testament made the matter controversial.

The most famous medieval Jewish Bible commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki ("Rashi," 1040-), who determinedly opposed Christological interpretation of the Tanakh, nevertheless explained that in (Song of Songs 1:3), 'alamot" (the plural of " 'almah") means "b'tulot" (" virgins") and refers metaphorically to the nations.
  Victor Buksbazen, a Hebrew Christian, in his commentary The Prophet Isaiah, quoted Rashi as writing that in Isaiah 7:14 "'almah" means "virgin." In the first four editions of the Jewish New Testament Commentary I cited this Rashi. It has been pointed out to me that Rashi did not write what I represented him as having written, so I have removed the citation from the main body of the JNTC and herewith apologize for not checking the original source.
  In fact, the Hebrew text of Rashi as it appears in MikraCot G'dolot says something quite different and far less supportive of the case I am making that in Is. 7:14, "'almah" means "virgin." Following is a literal translation of Rashi's remarks in MikraCot G'dolot:
  [Isaiah:] God gives you (plural) a sign.
  [Rashi:] He gives it to you (plural) by himself upon you against your will.
  [Isaiah:] Pregnant.
  [Rashi:]In the future she will be like we found with Manoach's wife, that was spoken to her by the angel and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and it was written, and he will say to her: here you are pregnant, etc. [Isaiah:] The young girl ['almah].
  [Rashi:]My wife pregnant this year? and it will be the fourth year of King Achaz?
  [Isaiah:] And she will call his name.
  [Rashi:] The Holy Spirit will descend upon her.
  [Isaiah:] Immanu'el.
  [Rashi:] This will be to say that God is with us. And this is the sign that after the na'arah who will have never prophesied in all her life and with him (the son) will come the Holy Spirit. And that has been said in [Talmud tractate] Sotah, "and he will draw near to the prophetess," etc. We never find a prophet's wife is called a prophetess unless she prophesied. And there are some who understand this to be referring to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah). But this is impossible. After you count the years you will find that Chizkiyahu would have been born nine years before his father's kingship began. And there are some who interpret this to mean that this is the sign, that she was an 'almah for whom it was not appropriate that she give birth รณ or, with Hebrew r'uyah translated differently, the 'almah was not suited to giving birth, i.e., she was too young.
  Contrary to the Buksbazen citation, Rashi never explicitly says that the na'arah has never in her life had intercourse with any man (i.e., is a virgin). Rather, he simply defines the 'almah as a na'arah and then says that some interpret this to mean either that it was improper for her to give birth (presumably because she was unmarried, in which case what would be proper is that she would be a virgin) or that she was too young to be physically capable of giving birth (in which case, unless she had been abused, she would be a virgin).

I regret misrepresenting Rashi. (Stern says), Nevertheless, even without the Rashi paragraph, I believe the overall case I have made for understanding the 'almah of Isaiah 7:14 as a virgin remains convincing.
  (A friend says that Rashi did write the paragraph as quoted, but it is not in MikraCot G'dolot. However, until someone directs me to a genuine Rashi source for it, the matter remains as I have left it in this note.)
  Also in the earlier editions I referred to a 1953 article in the Journal of Bible and Religion, in which the Jewish scholar Cyrus Gordon held that cognate languages support translating "'almah" in Isaiah 7:14 as "virgin." However, Michael Brown, a Messianic Jewish scholar with a Ph.D. in Semitics, informs me that Gordon's observations were based on an early incorrect reading of a key Ugaritic text. In this case, my error stemmed from unfamiliarity with recent scholarship.
  However, the Bible itself shows us how we can know when an 'almah is a virgin. Rivkah is called an 'almah at Gen. 24:43  but it can be deduced from Gen. 24:16 ("Neither had any man known her") that she was a virgin. In the same way, we know that the 'almah Miryam was a virgin from Luke 1:34 where she asks the angel how she can be pregnant, "since I am a virgin?"
  A possible reason for Isaiah's using the word " Almah" instead of b'tulah is that in Biblical (as opposed to later) Hebrew, "b'tulah" does not always unambiguously mean "virgin," as we learn from Joel 1:8 Lament like a b'tulah girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth."  & Deut. 22:19 speaks of a woman after her wedding night as a b'tulah.”  (Stern, 1992).

There are actually more “objections” in this argument that Dr. David Stern addresses and I have only quoted two here for you.  I recommend both resources to you if you are interested in doing more research.  Dr. Michael Brown’s “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus”, as well as Dr. David Stern’s “Jewish New Testament Commentary”. 

I hope I have helped you.  Above all pray for the salvation of all of our Jewish people!

Be well,

R’ Eric
Tikvat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue
Cleveland, OH.

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