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"the virgin will become pregnant"

03-02-2012 - Posted by Andre Piet

Question: Matthew, in chapter 1:22-23, refers to the prophecy of Isaiah (7:14) about a damsel who would become pregnant and give birth to a son. But does the context in the book of Isaiah not make it clear that it is concerning a son in the days of Ahaz? In addition, does Isaiah not also speaks of a damsel, as opposed to Matthew, who writes about a ‘virgin’? What to make of it? Answer: Indeed, Isaiah speaks about events that would occur in the life of the then-reigning king Ahaz. That is very emphatically said.

Wherefore, Yahweh Himself will give a sign to you (= Ahaz): Behold! the damsel shall be pregnant and bear a son, and you call his name Emmanu-El (…) For ere the lad will know to reject evil and choose good, forsaken shall be the ground which you are irritating, of the presence of its two kings.” Isaiah 7:14,16 (CLV)

These words undeniably show that Isaiah’s words are dated. They relate to Isaiah’s own time. But does this mean that Isaiah’s words have been fulfilled, at that time, i.e., have been given their complete fulfilment? No, because the complete fulfilment would take place not until six centuries later. The LORD would again give a sign to the royal house of David. A damsel from the house of David would become pregnant and bear a son, who would rightly be called Emmanu-El, which means, “God with us’. The boy that was born in Ahaz’ house, indeed, was given the name Emmanu-El, but this became fully true only when God, in Christ (see 2Cor.5:19), came to us, by way of Himself begetting new life in Mary, without the intervention of a man. It is for that reason that Matthew writes:

Now the whole of this has occurred that that may be fulfilled which is declared by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Lo! The virgin shall be pregnant And shall be bringing forth a Son, And they shall be calling His name ‘Emmanuel,'” which is, being construed, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23

One question remains. Why does Matthew use the word “virgin”, while Isaiah speaks about a “damsel”? The reason is that Matthew was not quoting the Hebrew Bible, but the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the so-called Septuagint translation. Greek was the universal language in those days and all the Jews who lived abroad used this translation. In Isaiah 7:14 (in the Septuagint) the Hebrew word for “damsel” (alma) was rendered with “virgin” (parthenos). That is not fully correct. For a damsel is not necessarily a virgin. But when it comes to the fulfillment, this choice of words is very much “to the point”, because Mary, besides being a damsel, also, was still a virgin. In addition, when a virgin becomes pregnant, this may rightly be called a sign! This is especially so, when, exactly in this way, the truth of the naming is realized: Emmanu-El, God with us! The conclusion must be that Isaiah’s words primarily pertained to his own day, but were fulfilled when the virgin Mary became pregnant and gave birth to the Son of God. ————————————– * The specific Hebrew word for “virgin” is betulah (2Sam.13:18). The Hebrew word almah denotes a young, unmarried woman. Rebekah, at the well, is so called (Gen.24:43) and Miriam who stood guard at her brother, was called an almah (Ex.2:8). ——————————— translation: Peter Feddema