Many Christians believe that Isaiah 7:14 is a prophecy of the coming Messiah (Jesus) who will be born of a virgin. The Isaiah passage says,
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (7:14).
Like other scriptural passages, this takes place within a specific historical context. In this case, the prophet Isaiah is addressing king Ahaz of Judah when he and Jerusalem were under attack by the Kingdom of Israel and its ally Aram-Damascus (Syria). Their goal was to get king Ahaz to join them in an alliance that would unite to fight against the powerful Neo-Assyrian Empire.
Nonetheless, Assyria would soon come to king Ahaz’s assistance and destroy the Kingdom of Israel and Syria. Before this, however, Isaiah promised Ahaz that God would destroy his enemies, and, as a sign that what he said would come true, the prophet predicted that an almah (the Hebrew word for a woman of childbearing age) would give birth to a child. The child’s name would be Immanuel which translates to “God is with us,” and that the threat from the enemy kings would be ended before the child grows up. This historical setting is important to consider.
The difficulties for believing this to be a prediction of the virgin birth of Jesus (seven or so centuries later) are several. First, the word “virgin” is not mentioned in Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah could have selected a more suitable word had he wanted to describe Immanuel’s mother as a virgin. In that case, “betulah” would be a more common way to refer to a woman who has never had sexual relations with a man. Instead, Isaiah used the word “almah” which means “young woman.” It is the female form of “young man,” and it therefore explains why a number of Christian Bible translations (see the Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version etc.) have since replaced the word “virgin” with “young woman.” And even though most evangelical Bibles still render almah as “virgin,” they footnote it with “young woman” as an alternative (1).
Second, the historical context provides a challenge. Should someone interpret the passage as referring to Jesus’ birth, then one might wonder as to exactly what assurance Ahaz, who at the time was being besieged by a military presence, would have had given a prophecy predicting a future some seven centuries removed? The reasonable explanation is that this was a prophecy given to Ahaz in his own time and historical context regarding an event that would happen then.
Details in the wider passage also suggest that the child Isaiah was referring to could not have been Jesus. For example, as scholar Thom Starke explains, the detail that the child would eat “cream and honey” refers to the land having been recently ravaged by the Assyrians and that the people were forced to eat uncultivated food (cream and honey) rather than bread and wine (2). That Isaiah says the child would be called “Emmanuel” which means “God with us” does not mean the child himself is God, as was believed of Jesus by the earliest Christians. On this point Starke explains,
“Ancient names frequently included reference to some god or divine activity. Joshua’s name means “Yahweh saves,” and Azariah means “Yahweh helps,” but neither Joshua nor Azariah were therefore understood to be Yahweh in the flesh. The significance of naming the child “God with us” is that the child was a sign to king Ahaz that Yahweh was going to protect the kingdom of Judah from the hostile alliance presently threatening it. The child was born, and not too long thereafter, Assyria had indeed defeated the kingdom of Israel in battle. That is the “single, fixed meaning” of Isaiah’s prophecy” (3).
Further, if this is a prophecy of Jesus then who are the “two kings” whose kingdoms identified by the prophet Isaiah would be abandoned during Jesus’ lifetime? Who, during the first century CE, “dreaded” the Kingdom of Israel when there had not been a Northern Kingdom of Israel in existence for 700 years?
Scholar Bart Ehrman explains that when one uses Isaiah 7:14 as a predictive prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus he urges the reader to consider the passages carefully and find where there is any reference to a messiah,
“These passages are not talking about the messiah. The messiah is never mentioned in them. Anyone who thinks they *are* talking about the messiah, has to import the messiah into the passages, because he simply isn’t there. I should stress that no one prior to Christianity took these passages to refer to a future messiah” (4)
But how does the Gospel of Matthew factor into this? According to Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph, Mary’s husband, in a dream and informs him that Mary’s pregnancy fulfills what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us’” (Mat. 1:22-23).
The issue is that Matthew’s author drew his Isaiah 7:14 reference from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that began centuries before Jesus’ birth. In the Septuagint, Isaiah predicted that a “parthenos,” a virgin, would conceive a child. Starke explains that
“The trouble began when the Greek translators of the Greek Suptuagint (LXX) translated almah using the Greek word Parthenos, which by Matthew’s time did mean virgin. Since Matthew used the Greek Bible, he would have understood the meaning to have been virgin, thus his reapplication of the prophecy to support the tradition of the virgin birth of Jesus” (5). This is understandable given that Matthew’s author was eager to convince his Greek-speaking Jewish audience that Jesus was God’s promised Messiah, hence why he included references to the Hebrew Scriptures, “the Matthean community is not interested in the text for its historical meaning, they are only interested in using the text to elucidate their own present-day experiences and to reinforce their sense of identity” (6).
1. Burke, D. 2012. Did Isaiah Really Predict The Virgin Birth? Available.
2. Starke, T. Human Faces of God. Location: 1012
3. Starke, T. Ibid. Location: 1036
4. Ehrman, B. Jesus and the Messianic Prophecies. Available.
5. Starke, T. Ibid. Location: 1031
6. Starke, T. Ibid. Location: 1072.
Absolute garbage..you discredit the sense of any truth of the historic Church and its apostolic foundation..the carnal mind is enmity against God James..good luck on the last day!
I’m still searching your comment for an argument, Drue. “Garbage” doesn’t cut it nowadays.
I think Drue’s comment is appropriate – is there anything at all in the Bible that you really believe? If so,why?
James you’re spot on my friend. Context is everything and you’ve given us the truth here. Thank you. My eyes have been opened to the many lies of NT and the entities that created it. Yah bless.
Thom Stark is spelled without an “e” on the end. Other than that, thanks for admitting the obvious!
Even Evangelical Apologist Josh McDowell Admits that the Virgin Birth Prophecy was Not Originally about Jesus: https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2018/05/23/evangelical-apologist-josh-mcdowell-admits-that-the-virgin-birth-prophecy-was-not-originally-about-jesus
Besides the difficulties you mentioned, there are even more difficulties with citing passages in Isaiah as prophecies of Jesus: https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/search/label/Isaiah
And this article interprets Isaiah 53 in light of the wider section in Isaiah of which it is a part, some excellent points are raised: https://apikoris.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/isaiah-53.html?view=magazine
Speaking of seeing so call prophecies in the OT one might add that Isaiah can even be interpreted as uttering prophetic warnings against orthodox Christian beliefs depending on how you read these passages: https://web.archive.org/web/20151002114813/http://home.comcast.net/~fiddlerzvi/Isaiah-NT.html
Additional OT passages that Christians ignore because they don’t fit easily with NT theology:
“God is not a man.”
Atonement without blood.
Torah is always there for us.
So you are discounting this but then how can you account for any prophecy about Jesus. The Gospels themselves claim it to be true.
You spend a lot of time on this blog showing how the bible is incorrect in so many ways. It’s astounding why you’re even a christian if you pretty much agree that the bible is bullshit. I have to agree with John Argent. Why even continue in your stupid faith if you admit that it’s source is bunk. You should just leave the faith already.
But thank you for continually showing me that leaving christianity was the riight choice. The more I read of this blog, the more I’m convinced i did the right thing
I’m honest Luis. I don’t play pretend when seeking the truth. And not at all for me to come across as insensitive, but the fact that you chose to leave Christianity was your choice alone. No-one made it for you. You also haven’t obviously read my blog widely because if you did you’d discover materials in which I argue for the truth of Christianity. Moreover, if you feel you want to chat about the reasons you left Christianity it would be my honour to chat with you.
[…] (1): https://jamesbishopblog.com/2018/05/27/why-isaiah-714-is-not-a-prophecy-of-jesus-virgin-birth/ […]
I’m finding your work as a refreshing, evidence based approach to apologetics James. Since you take such a critical approach (which I think is important, but is really challenging a lot of stuff I’ve always heard), what do you base your faith on most?
When men discus issues about God, and religion, and believes, I always imagine how God looks down on them and sees and hears and as I believe God has a lot of humor smiles at “the wisdom” of men. He let us know through the very prophet Isaiah:
55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
So forget about your thoughts and musings they cannot be right unless you have a change of heart and mind, having received God’s mind and thought cleansing power through Jesus the Way the Truth and the Live. God is Spirit and wants to be worshiped in spirit and in truth, NOT IN RELIGION! And truth is something you receive in your heart or you reject it-what will you do?
Satan once tempted men to be like God-not to have him above them but be equal if not even above him, be able to know everything for themselves and not have to bow before him and beg from him. That is the struggle going on ever since men wanted to “know” (see Genesis 3) and be God themselves.
Your wrong about almah – it explicitly means virgin. It only occurs 7 times so its easy to confirm. The prophecy is about Jesus because thats what Matthew says. Clearly the reason why Jesus birth doesn’t fit within the historical context of Isaiah 7 is because it was delayed just as Israel’s entry into the land was delayed, destruction of Ninevah was delayed, and Jesus second coming was delayed even though it could have occurred within the Acts period (3:19-20 “repent….that he may send Christ appointed for you”
If this is a false statement about Jesus then the Gospels of Mathew and Luke are false. Then you have no Gospel.
What comes across in Isaiah [and many other parts of scripture] is a double prophesy. Scripture if full of arriving and foreshadowing events: coming soon and the same usually bigger later. The Holy Ghost teaches believers this Gen-Rev, and all truth of course. Virgin in 7:14 is an untouched maid of marriable age, same used of Rebekah for Isaac in Genesis; who herself also became newly married when she said “yes” to be in covenant with Isaac – no consummation yet then, though. Ahaz/House of David is given 65 years to see the coming son, a sign Yah said He would do; but it’s also foreshadowed here Yah would beget a son – God with us – as well when matched with Isaiah 9:2-8; a Child whose government has no end and his Kingdom will be forever/eternal. That can only be speaking of King Yah/Yahshuah. Isaiah speaks of current and end of days, so we can expect current and foreshadowing from him. The Assyrian shows up in Revelation, Apollyon, The Destroyer…a bigger army coming [nephilim/ giants/tech] because of the paganism Israel/Believers on Yah/Yahshuah fell into again and will not turn back to obedience and Yah’s ways. You make some good points too, thank you for the discussion, James.
Good Read, It takes guts to seek the truth and go against the grain! …I don’t know about all the specifics but, I agree that Isaiah 7 doesn’t support a ” Messiah ” …. Also, Isaiah 53 isn’t about Jesus, Read it … It says, God prolongs this particular servants days, he will see his offspring ( Children of his loins ) & he will receive a portion with the great?. ….. ( If it was the Messiah, ( Jesus) ,,, Would he really only receive a portion with the great? …. Weird, Whoever the ” Singular ” Servant is, & it isn’t Israel as a whole either, WHO IS IT?…. Don’t be sheep, do some research! …. There are all kinds of Sheep & Shepherds! … Most are just in it for the Business!!$$$!! … God Bless! ….
Isaiah 7:14 is not a reference to Jesus. The sign was given to Ahaz, and it wouldn’t make sense for God to give a sign to Ahaz, if the fulfillment of that sign is 700 years removed from Ahaz. I can only imagine being surrounded by enemy forces and God says: Seven hundred years from now, I will deliver this city.
My response: Ok…does…that…mean…we won’t be delivered from the army surrounding the city today?