Monday, September 17, 2007

Isaiah 7:14

In picking a version of the bible Isaiah 7:14 "Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the [young woman/virgin] shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." has been used as a test case for liberal vs. conservative translation. The argument can be summarized very quickly:
  • The word used in all Hebrew manuscripts is almah.
  • In Hebrew the word almah means young woman. It has no connotation of a woman that has never had sex, and is used in some literature to refer to a prostitute.
  • The Hebrew word for virgin is betulah
  • Matthew 1:23 uses the word parthenos which does mean virgin
  • In the Greek the word TR text the word in Greek (which appears in some LXX virgins is parthenos).
  • When Isaiah wants to refer to virgins he uses betulah: 23:4, 23:12, 37:22, 47:1 and 62:5.
So the traditional rendering is virgin and the "accurate" rendering is young woman. For those who disagree there are many counter examples, for example in Proverbs 30:18-20 alma is used for a young woman after the act of adultery. For a good discussion of this issue see wikipedia. For a traditional Christian discussion Marlowe's critique of the Net Bible provides a counter argument. Rabbi Tovia Singer provides a Jewish critique of the traditional Christian translation. For people of a less conservative bent Isaiah 7:14 provides a simple test of accuracy in a translation. Any bible using virgin is going to be suspect since it implies the translators are putting tradition above accuracy and deliberately mistranslating.

So I've decided to separate the translations into four groups based on how they handle this verse. And interestingly enough this simple test does an excellent job of creating a continuum from traditional but less accurate to more accurate and less traditional translations (from a Christian perspective).

The goal of this is to provide a reference for the translations out there classified this way. Please feel free to comment with additional translations. In terms of discipline church that discipline generally use more traditional translations, the more accurate ones can be helpful in providing alternate explanations and interpretations.

Bibles that use virgin (traditional)
  • Classical
    • LXXM (Septuagint):δια τουτο δωσει κυριος αυτος υμιν σημειον ιδου η παρθενος (paryenov=virgin) εν γαστρι εξει και τεξεται υιον και καλεσεις το ονομα αυτου Εμμανουηλ
    • Vulgate: propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum ecce virgo (virgin) concipiet et pariet filium et vocabitis nomen eius Emmanuhel
  • King James Family
    • KJV (King James Version): Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
    • NKJV (New King James Version): Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel
    • 21KJ (21st Century King James Version): Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
  • English Revised Version family
    • ASV (American Standard Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
    • ESV (English Standard Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
    • NASB (New American Standard): 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.
    • RcV (Recovery Version): Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and will bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.

  • NIV Family
    • NIV (New International): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
    • NIrV (New International Reader's): The Lord himself will give you a miraculous sign. The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.
  • 19th century
    • Darby: Therefore will the Lord himself give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel.
    • YLT (Young's Literal): Therefore the Lord Himself giveth to you a sign, Lo, the Virgin is conceiving, And is bringing forth a son, And hath called his name Immanuel,

  • Paraphrase:
    • GW (God's Word): So the Lord himself will give you this sign: A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel [God Is With Us].
  • Other:
    • HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible): Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
    • Douay-Rheims Bible Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
    • NETS (based on LXX) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Look, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son and you shall name him Emmanouel.  
Bibles that use virgin but at least footnote young woman (middle position)
  • CEV (Contemporary English Version) But the LORD will still give you proof. A virgin [a] is pregnant; she will have a son and will name him Immanuel.
    Footnote: Isaiah 7:14 virgin: Or "young woman." In this context the difficult Hebrew word did not imply a virgin birth. However, in the Greek translation made about 200 (B.C. )and used by the early Christians, the word parthenos had a double meaning. While the translator took it to mean "young woman," Matthew understood it to mean "virgin" and quoted the passage (Matthew 1.23) because it was the appropriate description of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
  • NCV (New Century Version): The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin[a] will be pregnant. She will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel.[b]
    Footnote: virgin The Hebrew word means "a young woman." Often this meant a girl who was not married and had not yet had sexual relations with anyone.
  • TNIV (Today's New International Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin [b] will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
    Footnote: Or young woman
  • NAB (New American Bible): Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
    Footnote: [14] The sign proposed by Isaiah was concerned with the preservation of Judah in the midst of distress (cf Isaiah 7:15, 17), but more especially with the fulfillment of God's earlier promise to David (2 Sam 7:12-16) in the coming of Immanuel (meaning, "With us is God") as the ideal king (cf Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1-5). The Church has always followed St. Matthew in seeing the transcendent fulfillment of this verse in Christ and his Virgin Mother. The prophet need not have known the full force latent in his own words; and some Catholic writers have sought a preliminary and partial fulfillment in the conception and birth of the future King Hezekiah, whose mother, at the time Isaiah spoke, would have been a young, unmarried woman (Hebrew, almah). The Holy Spirit was preparing, however, for another Nativity which alone could fulfill the divinely given terms of Immanuel's mission, and in which the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God was to fulfill also the words of this prophecy in the integral sense intended by the divine Wisdom.
  • NLT (New Living): All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin [F16] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
    Footnote: [F16] F16: Or young woman.

Bibles that try and have it both ways
  • AMP (Amplified Bible): Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, the young woman who is unmarried and a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us]
  • MSG (The Message): Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She'll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us).
  • NLV (New Life): So the Lord Himself will give you a special thing to see: A young woman, who has never had a man, will give birth to a son. She will give Him the name Immanuel.
  • Luther's Bible: Darum wird euch der HERR selbst ein Zeichen geben: Siehe, eine Jungfrau (young woman with strong hint of virgin) ist schwanger und wird einen Sohn gebären, den wird sie nennen Immanuel*.

Bibles that use young woman (accurate)

  • Jewish:
    • Masoretic Text: לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא, לָכֶם--אוֹת: הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה (bold is almah = young woman), הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן, וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ, עִמָּנוּ אֵל.
    • ART (Artscroll): Therefore, my Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the maiden will become pregnant and bear a son, and she will name him Immanuel.
    • CJB (Complete Jewish--Messianic Jewish): Therefore Adonai himself will give you people a sign: the young woman will become pregnant, bear a son and name him 'Immanu El [God is with us].
    • JPS (Jewish Publication Society Tanakh): Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
    • NJPS (New Jewish Publication Society of America): Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him, Immanuel.
  • RSV Family:
    • RSV (Revised Standard Version): 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.
    • NRSV (New Revised Standard Version): Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
    • NWT (New World): Therefore Jehovah himself will give YOU men a sign: Look! The maiden herself will actually become pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son, and she will certainly call his name Im·man´u·el.
  • NEB Family:
    • NEB (New English Bible): Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son, and will call him Immanuel.
    • REB(Revised English Bible) Because you do, the Lord of his own accord will give you a sign; it is this: A young woman is with child, and she will give birth to a son and call him Immanuel.
  • Jerusalem Bible Family:
    NJB (New Jerusalem Bible): Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, the young woman[g] is with child, and she will bear a son, and shall call his name ‘Immanu-el’.
  • Footnote: Gk reads the 'the virgin', being more explicit then the Hebr which uses 'almah, meaning either a young girl or a recently married woman. The LXX reading is, however an important witness to an early Jewish interpretation, adopted by the evangelist: Mt 1:23 understands the text to be a prophecy of the virginal conception of Jesus.
  • Easy to read
    • GNT (Good News) (TEV Today's English Version): Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: a young woman F11 who is pregnant will have a son and will name him "Immanuel.
      Footnote: F11: young woman: [The Hebrew word here translated "young woman" is not the specific term for "virgin," but refers to any young woman of marriageable age. The use of "virgin" in Mt 1.23 reflects a Greek translation of the Old Testament, made some 500 years after Isaiah.]
    • BBE (Bible in Basic English): For this cause the Lord himself will give you a sign; a young woman is now with child, and she will give birth to a son, and she will give him the name Immanuel.
  • NET (New English Translation) For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman 3 is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.
    Footnote: Traditionally, “virgin.” Because this verse from Isaiah is quoted in Matt 1:23 in connection with Jesus’ birth, the Isaiah passage has been regarded since the earliest Christian times as a prophecy of Christ’s virgin birth. Much debate has taken place over the best way to translate this Hebrew term, although ultimately one’s view of the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is unaffected. Though the Hebrew word used here (עַלְמָה, ’almah) can sometimes refer to a woman who is a virgin (Gen 24:43), it does not carry this meaning inherently. The word is simply the feminine form of the corresponding masculine noun עֶלֶם (’elem, “young man”; cf. 1 Sam 17:56; 20:22). The Aramaic and Ugaritic cognate terms are both used of women who are not virgins. The word seems to pertain to age, not sexual experience, and would normally be translated “young woman.” The LXX translator(s) who later translated the Book of Isaiah into Greek sometime between the second and first century b.c., however, rendered the Hebrew term by the more specific Greek word παρθένος (parqenos), which does mean “virgin” in a technical sense. This is the Greek term that also appears in the citation of Isa 7:14 in Matt 1:23. Therefore, regardless of the meaning of the term in the OT context, in the NT Matthew’s usage of the Greek term παρθένος clearly indicates that from his perspective a virgin birth has taken place.
  • CHES (Concordant Hebrew English Sublinear) therefore he-shall-give my-Lord he to-you sign behold! the-damsel pregnant-one and*one-giving-birth son and*she-calls name-of-him Immanuel.

11 comments:

Cindy said...

CD Host,

I keep wondering and must ask, since I keep admiring this thourough review.
1.) How long did this take to complete?
2.) Was this just for fun and personal interest, or did you have a specific purpose in mind for this study?

CD-Host said...

Hi Cindy --

This took about 4 hours total writing time. On the other hand I'd already done similar types of studies and I already knew quite a bit about Isaiah 7:14. In other words I knew exactly where to look for exactly what I was looking for. If I had to start from scratch it would have taken much longer (say 10-20 hours).


I think this piece is valuable in and of itself. The Isaiah 7:14 issues comes up quite frequently. But what I'm really doing is building up towards a treatment of the infamous "malakoi arsenokoitai" (traditionally translated soft men laying outstretched with men i.e. homosexual sex). But there are fairly good arguments for a more limited translation. But these depend on excluding dictionaries which are translating "traditionally" rather than accurately.

There is enough room in the bible to not send 5% of the planet to eternal torture because they have the wrong type of sexual desire. This study is just the first part of slowly building towards that later study.

Cindy said...

Hi Host,

Do you have a favorite translation, either from this study or others? Did any one appeal to you more than another?

You know, I take great comfort in reminding myself that as Daniel the prophet said "Man looks to the outward things, but God looks to the intent of the heart." Man judges with bias and prejudice and upon all manner of outward things. God judges righteously. I'm so glad that I'm not the final arbiter of the hearts and actions of man. But for grace, there go I.

I'm impressed by your enduring concern for these homosexual young men that brought you to this interest in church discipline. I wish most evangelical Christians had half of your compassion for their brethren as you. I hope and pray that you find the satisfying answers (and solutions) you seek.

CD-Host said...

Do you have a favorite translation, either from this study or others? Did any one appeal to you more than another?

Well... Hmmm... I guess I'd say appeal to me for what. I'm a strong advocate of the position that different translations have different functions and there is no one "best" translation. To serve different audiences and purposes translators have to do exactly opposite things. So in some ways maybe the best way to answer this would be an editorial on my top 3 translations for 10 different functions.

That being said if you are looking for stand out translations worth looking out that are very different than the normal NIV vs NKJV vs NRSV I'd say: NEB, MEB and Concordant. All 3 have an ideology which is why they don't usually make the cut.

The Concordant is far and away the best verse by verse translation available. Also if you are a windows user it has a great downloadedably version (you can also see pdf samples of the whole things). The only place I'd be cautious is on verses related to the trinity, there the idealogical bias (Arian) shows through.

The MEB is an excellent quick read bible and first bible. I think mature Christians fail to appreciate how quickly people can progress with an easy to read and understand paraphrase.

Finally the NEB isn't well known in the US. But it is perhaps the single most interesting translation to read. Its been 400 years since has a group of scholars of this quality has agreed to work together for this long on a translation. Think of it as the liberal NIV. The translators have a bit of anti traditional bias, and not much of an ear. But if it were any book but the bible this would be the standard translation without question.

Cindy said...

Hi Host,

Since you don't consider yourself a Christian, I was just curious to discover if one translation seemed more appealing than another (for whatever reason). I tend to like the few that I cut my own spiritual teeth on, but I also associate those translations with the most important events in my life -- my faith in Jesus. I would expect then that your experience would be much different as a result. I was curious (and evangelically hopeful) that maybe one might wiggle its way into your favor. (What kind of evangelical would I be if I didn't???)

CD-Host said...

Oh I see. NIV study bible is the answer to "which translation is the most meaningful", "which did you use the most"... But no, no great emotion attached to any of them. Prayers, hymns, some of those can still make me feel chocked up.

richImages said...

Hi CD-Host,
I understand your position for translation accuracy in this verse. Curious questions follow from this discussion:

(1) Overall question, aside from accuracy, Do you believe that Mary was a virgin when Christ was born?

(2) Backing up one more, do you believe Christ was born?

(3) Do you believe the OT is inspired and that Matthew was not?

I wish I could have a face to face ... not attacking ... just curious about your beliefs ...

richImages said...

The more I think about this ... the more I want to keep "stepping back" a bit ... to keep backing up to the point of asking really really basic type of questions, as opposed to asking tedious, detailed, specific kinds of questions. Stepping all the way back, the question I am really interested in asking is this:

What kind of puny might is God trying to display by saying that He, Himself is going to give a "sign" in letting a "young woman" get pregnant?

I mean, even if the word selected is properly translated "young woman", isn't it obvious that the real meaning is speaking to that of a virgin?

Could it be that God allowed that specific word to be used so that those who know him would skip over this with no problem at all from living by Faith, and that the specific word used is purposely designed to allow one's heart to lead them where they want to go?

CD-Host said...

richImages --

I'd rather talk about the books themselves and the meaning of verses than my personal beliefs. But your question #2 intrigued me so I'm wondering what brought that on. I will answer directly though:

(1) Yes.
(2) Depends on what exactly you mean.
(3) No.

I'm sure that doesn't clear things up... Now onto the meat.

What kind of puny might is God trying to display by saying that He, Himself is going to give a "sign" in letting a "young woman" get pregnant?

The sign is a girl getting pregnant is puny but that's not the point of the passage. First read 2Kings 16 so you have the context. Now read all of Isaiah 7. King Ahaz of Judea is freaking out that he is going to get attacked by a Syrian, Israeli alliance. God wants to prove to him that he is going to be fine, but Ahaz would rather bribe the king of Assyria into helping him. So God sends Isaiah who essentially tells him that within 15 years Syria and Israel will be over, so this is a short term problem and he should put his faith in God not Assyria. The way he does this is quite dramatic, he points to a young woman in Ahaz court (likely a daughter of Ahaz) and tells him she is going to get pregnant and give birth to a child. Before that child turns 13 Syria and Israel will be gone. That's a pretty strong promise, nothing puny about it at all. Nothing about Jesus at all either and nothing about a virgin in there.

In the Greek OT it is more ambiguous, but in the Hebrew it is unambiguous.

Bill K said...

CD-Host,

In your response to Cindy you said this:

"I think this piece is valuable in and of itself. The Isaiah 7:14 issues comes up quite frequently. But what I'm really doing is building up towards a treatment of the infamous "malakoi arsenokoitai" (traditionally translated soft men laying outstretched with men i.e. homosexual sex). But there are fairly good arguments for a more limited translation. But these depend on excluding dictionaries which are translating "traditionally" rather than accurately. "

Did you ever blog about this planned upcoming article? If so, I cannot find it - could you please direct me to it?

-Bill K

CD-Host said...

Nope as I started to do research I could never put together a cohesive argument. There is a financial flavor to too many uses for it just to be a term for homosexual. The problem is the financial stuff doesn't all seem to be of the same type.

So for example any of these 3 possibilities:

1) "malakoi arsenokoitai" has something to do with homosexuality and money. Male prostitution for example.

2) "malakoi arsenokoitai" started out meaning something like homosexual and then got used for some soft of financing associated with gay sex. So around the time of Paul it had too meanings.

3) There were lots of instances of people paying for gay sex or gay slaves or something.

But it could be something else entirely. While I support the pro gay argument, I'm finding it too much of a stretch regarding this term. My research didn't show what I thought it would.