The Virginity of the עַלְמָה in Isaiah 7:14 -- By: Richard Niessen

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 137:546 (Apr 1980)
Article: The Virginity of the עַלְמָה in Isaiah 7:14
Author: Richard Niessen


The Virginity of the עַלְמָה in Isaiah 7:14

Richard Niessen

[Richard Niessen, Associate Professor of Apologetics, Christian Heritage College, El Cajon, California]

Few passages of Scripture have given rise to so great a variety of expositions as the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Hammershaimb rightly observes, “The many solutions put forward since ancient times are sad evidence of how difficult a task is here set for interpreters. It must be freely admitted that the passage assumes a knowledge of its hearers which we do not possess, and that we are therefore reduced to conjecture on certain critical points.”1

Three approaches to applying the prophecy have been advanced. The immediate or nonfulfillment view attempts to identify the two leading characters—עַלְמָה and Immanuel—with people living in Ahaz’s time. The typological view posits a double fulfillment in that it sees a relationship to the birth of Christ and yet seeks a relevance to the time of Ahaz. The third approach sees its one and only fulfillment in the virgin birth of Christ to Mary.

This article focuses on the crux interpretatum of the passage—the meaning of the Hebrew word עַלְמָה in Isaiah 7:14—for the conclusions of that study bear directly on the range of possible interpretations.

The Etymology of the Term

The basic root of עַלְמָה (עלם) is divided into three categories, only two of which are relevant to this study.2

עָלַם : To Conceal

The first category of words listed under the radicals עלם centers around the verb form עָלַם which occurs twenty-six times in the Old Testament and always means “to hide” or “to conceal.”3 Older commentators had some rather fanciful applications of this to עַלְמָה. Jerome wrote, “'Almah is not applied to girls or virgins generally, but is used emphatically of a hidden and concealed virgin, who is never accessible to the looks of males, but who is with great care watched by the parents.”4 Calvin followed suit. “The shame and modesty of virgins does not allow them to appear in public.”

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