Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Prophecy Part 5: Virgin Birth

I’ve been working on a series of posts that examine the prophecies given in the Bible. My first post in the series can be found here.

One of the best known prophecies of Christ concerns the virgin birth. In Matthew 1:18-25, we learn about Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus. In verses 22-23, we’re told:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

The passage in Isaiah 7 that Matthew is referencing is definitely a prophecy. It says that something specific is going to happen, and it seems to include peculiar events that would be impossible under normal circumstances. However, there are still a couple of problems.

First of all, this prophecy is given to King Ahaz of Judah to put him at ease about the looming threat of Syria and Israel, who had joined forces to attack him. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, but he’s given one anyway:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”
– Isaiah 7:14-15

Now in the Bible story, there’s only one person we know of that is born of a virgin, and that’s Jesus. But this prophecy was given to a king who lived 700 years before Christ and had an immediate need that he was concerned about. So if this were a prophecy about Christ, what possible consolation would it have been for King Ahaz? The other interesting question is why would it say “before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good,” if we’re talking about Jesus? Granted, we don’t know exactly how he was as a child, but this still sounds unusual.

Of course, the reason we know this prophecy is talking about Jesus is because of the word virgin. But in actuality, the Hebrew word here is almah, which means “maiden.” While that can imply virginity, it does not necessitate it. And in any other circumstance, a maiden who is pregnant is obviously not a virgin. Had Isaiah really meant virgin, he could have used the word bethulah, which means just that. That word is used in Deuteronomy 22:13-24 where the subject of virginity is actually discussed. The word almah was used in passages like Genesis 24:43 where the point of the passage had nothing to do with whether or not someone was actually a virgin. Of course, even if Isaiah had meant to say “virgin,” that doesn’t necessarily mean he was implying the conception would be through miraculous means. A virgin can conceive by having sex. So she may have been a virgin at the time the prophecy was given, but that doesn’t mean he was stating she would still be one by the time she conceived.

Furthermore, Isaiah 8 actually seems to show the fulfillment of this prophecy. Verses 1-4 show where Isaiah goes in to a prophetess who conceives, and he names the child Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Then he repeats the same prophecy he gave before, “before the boy knows how to cry ‘my father’ or ‘my mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria” (vs 4).

Every indication is that this prophecy has nothing to do with Christ. It was about a current event in Isaiah’s time, and its fulfillment happened right there in Isaiah chapter 8. This really calls Matthew’s integrity into question.

The fact that Isaiah’s prophecy deals with a local event in his own time is not new information. Apologists and preachers are aware of it, but they try to answer the problem by saying that many prophecies have double fulfillments. In other words, they admit that Isaiah was talking about a local issue in this prophecy, and that it was fulfilled by the birth recounted in Isaiah 8. But they say that the prophecy also had a double meaning that pointed to Christ.

I think this is a very poor explanation. A prophecy really has no point unless it’s predictive in nature, because anyone can claim credit once the event has happened. To borrow an analogy I’ve used before, I could claim credit for predicting the World Trade Center collapse of 9/11 by saying I knocked down a tower of blocks when I was four. While my immediate actions only concerned the tower of blocks, I was also predicting the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Obviously, that’s a ridiculous claim. But this is basically how people have tried to explain Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7. See, here’s the problem: Before Christ came, people who read Isaiah would find no significance in the prophecy of chapter 7, because they’d see that it had already been fulfilled in chapter 8. Since no one saw it as a prophecy of the Messiah, there was no point in having it. No one would have dreamed of making the connection until Matthew told us to.

So while I suppose we could say that this was just the magnificent insight of a person who was inspired by the Holy Spirit, it seems more like the manipulation of someone creating a myth.

We’ll continue our study of prophecies in the next post.

69 thoughts on “Prophecy Part 5: Virgin Birth”

  1. “that being said, and assuming we can all agree to those terms, mike, ”

    William thank you for a fair response . I do appreciate it and it just might have been a solid discussion but as you pointed out this is Nate’s blog. Your terms really don’t control anything. Whoever wants to claim otherwise is free to but I think we both know that if I responded to a request for some ground rules the way that nate just did in total rude ungraciousness you would have called me a jerk. o is it surprising that I think he was? then whats the point going on?

    Hey enjoy your weekend and I mean that sincerely. I part with you on good terms from my side but the blog itself. meh -its become a bit of a joke to me.


  2. Mike, To add to what I wrote before,

    if you take a tour around this blog, I think you will find that this is a space with bloggers that don’t generally seek to offend people. Instead people I think come here to understand perspectives, share thoughts and discuss beliefs.

    Nate is one of the most respectful and generous bloggers I have come across. I can personally vouch on this from past experience.

    All the best 🙂


  3. One more thing, Nate also definitely expresses grace, again I can say through personal experience on his blog.

    As I wrote about before, Grace is something we all benefit from and need 🙂



  4. “In chapter 8, when the baby was born to the young lady, are we to assume that he was also born of a virgin, if that’s what isaiah intended? and again, if this prophecy could be fulfilled twice, then why not more? Were there at least 2 virgin births that have occurred?”

    I missed this post and saw it as I was scrolling up. No the prophecy is to the house of David not as Nate alleges to the king. The King had already turned down the offer of a divine miracle down and God responded that nothing could weary him and he would give a sign to the whole house of David. I won’t deny that many have missed this point (though there are commentaries that don’t) but Isaiah’s son may well have been the age that fit verse 16 at this time – really young. We can’t fix the age but by all accounts he was young not a man. We have no real explanation why he is there and SPECIFICALLY told to be brought by God. Obviousy he had to play a role and the most likely role was a sign himself as isaiah 8 goes on to say ALL Isiaiah’s children were.

    Ancient writings are notorious for not being descriptive of turning , pointing or those kinds of physical cues. Most of the Bible just states what is said not other cues (gospels have some turning and looking etc but even there its rare) so the logical interpretation is that at that point the buo in the room who had been asked by God to be there was the subject. it fits although I am quite sure I will probably hear it doesn’t

    Unfortunately I won’t be around to really get into it as I don’t find the blog owner too honest (sheesh after reading the elaborate scheme to fool a church I just read even more so) and certainly nowhere near as open as he claims. Skeptics often claim his and then get very angry when presented with evidences for alternate views they swear they were open to when they thought they did not exist.

    At any rate have fun claiming its all just hot air and “Word games” and pinning all of it on evil Mike . I’m bored. I may or may not just leave off reading here as I did the Tyre thread but good luck to you


  5. Back to the discussion at hand. I just happened to do considerable research on this word usage for my book. This is what I found out.

    The Hebrew word almah, while often translated in English bibles as “virgin” (a word with strong connotations in the English language), actually means “young woman,” according to Jewish scholars, and denotes age, not virginity or sexual purity. The Hebrew word most commonly used for virgin is bethulah.

    Wikipedia comments that the meaning of almah is most often determined by referring to its uses in the Bible; however, only a few of the verses where it is used contain clear and unambiguous meanings. It goes on to say, The problem is further compounded when one considers that these various texts were recorded by different authors living centuries apart. Languages tend to evolve over time and ancient Hebrew was no different

    The following is a quote from

    “For nearly two millennia the Church has insisted that the Hebrew word almah עַלְמָה can only mean “virgin.” This is a vital position for defenders of Christianity to take because Matthew 1:22-23 translates alma in Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin.” The first Gospel quotes this well known verse to provide the only “Old Testament” proof text for the supposed virgin birth of Jesus. The stakes are high for Christendom. If the Hebrew word alma does not mean a virgin, Matthew crudely misquoted the prophet Isaiah, and both a key tenet of Christianity and the credibility of the first Gospel collapses.”

    And further:

    “The word betulah appears frequently in the Jewish Scriptures, and is the only word – in both biblical and modern Hebrew – that conveys sexual purity.”


  6. “Nate is one of the most respectful and generous bloggers I have come across. I can personally vouch on this from past experience. ”

    IF you didn’t feel that way you wouldn’t stay at this blog so all the people who feel otherwise are not around. its the the natural almost groupie affect to a blog you like (especially a small one). I can personally vouch with me he has not been anywhere near respectful or generous. I was having a fairly good conversation with him when he compared me to Clinton’s lying and twisting then claimed he meant nothing but was back in days spelling the same thing. Thats neither honwst nor gracious

    Anyway enough I’m out


  7. Isaiah 7:

    “12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

    13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you[c] a sign:”

    Mike, while Isaiah does say “house of david” it appears to me that he’s still referring to Ahaz and this direct family line. He uses that phrase when scolding Ahaz and then adds that the Lord will give him a sign whether he wants to ask for one or not.

    I will say that it’s unfortunate that we cant seem to abide by the suggested rules, but it doesnt really matter in the long run. but whether someone takes the high road or not should have little bearing on whether we do.

    and for nate, all those that know him here, whether believer or nonbeliever – all hold him in high regard for honesty and fairness. I see that you do not, but i can only assure that he is both. regarding his reply to you about rules, perhaps he was merely and hastily stating that “rules” shouldn’t be required when discussing the facts. A short can answer can sometimes be misinterpreted as rude, but I believe in this case, it was nothing more him getting to the point. he didnt call you any names, or suggest anything about your character or motives.

    I havent seen where nate has lied about anything. it’s possible that he’s been mistaken, as it is for the rest of us, but i haven’t seen any intentional lies being passed on by him.

    “Almah was overwhelming the word used for a virgin.” – mike

    would you provide sources verifying this claim? my research is in agreement what nan’s.

    “Furthermore the text is unambiguous – the sign that was to be given was of the miraculous order.” – mike

    I agree, but what could be ambiguous is what the miracle was to be. Considering the text, the context and the events in the next chapter, i believe isaiah’s “miracle” was the prediction of a child being born around the time Ahaz’s enemies were thwarted.

    I’m not sure I understand your point about the boy in the room?


  8. Nate as i leave I will tell you – Your book will be suck horrible. If you think what you just provided (from wikipedia and a Jewish anti christian perspective) does anything that settles an issue that has been debated by Hebrew experts on both sides you are delusional. Young unmarried woman back in those days WERE virgins overwhelmingly so usind that word g DID without a doubt overwhelmingly imply that. Its a cultural fact

    “however, only a few of the verses where it is used contain clear and unambiguous meanings”

    which being interpreted means you have nothing to really answer the clear cultural meaning of the word or the fact that its clearly a reference to a miracle within the context.

    LOL I have to really hit the back button so I can get out of here for good. As soon s I post theres something else just posted



  9. “I can personally vouch with me he has not been anywhere near respectful or generous.”

    mike, you cant say any better of yourself. let’s not throw stones from a glasshouse. If you’re gonna dish it out, maybe you shouldnt complain about it.

    can we discuss isaiah or must we continue to delve back into who hurt whose feelings or who was more rude than who?

    we’re all guilty (mike, nate, william) in being less than polite. we could all debate who started it or to which degree who did what more or less than the other – but that’s static, and nothing of any real substance. It detracts from the points we’re trying to make.

    Please elaborate on the boy in the room and what significance that is supposed to have.


  10. “Young unmarried woman back in those days WERE virgins overwhelmingly so usind that word g DID without a doubt overwhelmingly imply that. Its a cultural fact” – mike

    which definition do you have that says the word means “Young unmarried woman?” It may, but to my knowledge the word simply means “young woman.”

    “LOL I have to really hit the back button so I can get out of here for good. As soon s I post theres something else just posted” – mike

    well, that’s because this is high trafficked blog.

    what in isaiah would have made the jew on isaiah’s time think that he was referring to some event over 700 years away, when the “prophecy” seems to be fulfilled in the chapter following the prophecy?


  11. It appears you just can’t stay away, Mike, so I’m going to point out that it was me … NAN (not NATE) … that discussed the use of the word almah and provided sources.

    And if you don’t think a comment like, “Your book will suck horrible” is offensive, then you are grossly mistaken. Common courtesy would dictate a response similar to: “I would have grave doubts about the accuracy of your book …” or something similar instead of saying it would “suck.”


  12. nan, I’m hoping I’m wrong, which is why i keep trying to insist upon cordial discourse, but i suspect that Mike is a troll, like Ark suggested.

    And Like Ark pointed out, “Mike Anthony” is also the name of a bass player for switchfoot. could be coincidence, but could also be some dude going around making noise.

    either way, not too big of a deal. during my deconversion, when reading articles and blogs similar to this one, the blog comments tended to have a lot more affect on me. they supplemented the article and you could point and counter point. i didnt comment, but i observed. with most of these issues I saw that the apologist arguments often and mostly failed to win, and then they’d typically resort to name calling, then get upset when names were called their way, etc.

    the facts will rise to the top, through all the vitriol and posturing. Could i have missed something in this issue? certainly, but i havent seen it pointed out yet. at least nothig supported with citations, just baseless claims.

    Prov 15:1, Gal 6:1 – be excellent to each other.


  13. Some people in this world simply can’t get beyond the “I’m right, you’re wrong” syndrome.

    Having said that, in this instance, “troll” does seem like an appropriate definition.


  14. “A virgin can conceive by having sex. So she may have been a virgin at the time the prophecy was given, but that doesn’t mean he was stating she would still be one by the time she conceived.”

    and nate said this is his article. it seems true. Isaiah specifically said “a young woman shall conceive…” it doesnt say the conception would be miraculous or that she was definitely a virgin or not, nor does it go over at which point she was a virgin and when she stopped being one.

    so again, I posit that isaiah was not saying a miraculous conception would happen, he said something would happen when this other thing happened. he’s giving a prediction about events, which is his miracle – especially when read in the context of the preceding verses and the events in the following chapter.

    how do you see this, as a “dual prophecy?”


  15. “‘however, only a few of the verses where it is used contain clear and unambiguous meanings’
    which being interpreted means you have nothing to really answer the clear cultural meaning of the word or the fact that its clearly a reference to a miracle within the context.” – mike

    Mike, I think that’s a bad interpretation. nate is suggesting that isaiah, when talking to king ahaz was like,

    Isaiah: “ahaz, god wants to give you a sign that your troubles will be absolved. Just ask for one.

    Ahaz: “I’m no gonna ask.”

    Isaiah: “you’re so difficult and should learn to rely on your god! Well god’s got a sign for you anyways; a young lady will conceive and before her son can do this or that, the lord with have taken care of your troubles.”

    as it turns out, in the following chapter, chapter 8, this happens:”3 Then I made love to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 4 For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.””

    so isaiah makes a prediction that he’ll impregnate someone, and young woman, which he does, so she’s no virgin, and then has a son while ahaz’s problems have been settled at the same time.

    prophecy fufilled – at least the first time.


  16. Mike,

    Not sure if your still here, but this morning I was thinking about what’s been expressed here

    I don’t agree with William, Nate, Ark, Nan in their position of atheism. But that doesn’t mean I think they are lesser people.

    We all say things sometimes that can trigger strong responses or cause disagreement and even offence.

    But just because there is disagreement doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t want the best for others, even if the best is considered to be different things by different people.

    But it’s only through sitting down alongside someone (digitally so to speak) that you gain a better understanding of who they are and what they actually are trying to convey.

    And this helps to prevent misrepresentation for both theists and atheists.


  17. Also Mike, In saying that, I’m Not suggesting you think people as lesser either by the way 🙂


  18. @Portal

    Just an FYI– perhaps it’s a technicality, but I don’t see myself as an atheist nor an agnostic. I’m simply a “non-believer” in that I don’t agree with the concept of Christianity. If anything, I lean towards natural or scientific pantheism.


  19. Hi Nan,

    I wasn’t aware of that, your views are not what I thought they were. Thanks for your clarification


  20. I dont really know how to classify myself, but i guess agnostic is the most accurate…

    but, i was wondering if there were a hebrew word for “young woman” than never had the connotation or the implication of virgin?

    If they only had one word for “young woman,” then usages being partially based on context is completely unavoidable.


  21. William, in looking at an interlinear Bible, it looks like there’s a Hebrew word nor (or e’nor) which also means “young woman.” But I haven’t had luck finding any real information about that word. It’s odd…

    However, I did run across some interesting information concerning the way the Greek word parthenos is used in the Septuagint. Matthew uses the term “virgin” when he references the prophecy because the Septuagint uses parthenos in that passage, which is commonly used for “virgin.” But in Genesis 34, the Septuagint also uses parthenos to describe Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, after she lost her virginity to Shechem. So it seems that the translators of the Septuagint did not always use parthenos as a way to stress virginity, but as a general term for “young woman.”


  22. it is interesting. When i was a christian I was so sure that is all just “right” that now i am still amazed at how ambiguous it all really is, and has been. I marvel at how long it took me to see it.


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