Q. Orthodox Jews claim that Matthew 1:23 misquoted Isiah 7:14. They say that word “Alma” means young woman and not a virgin. And the word for virgin is “Bethulah”. Is that true?
A. Sort of. The word “alma” in the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:14 can mean “virgin” or “young woman”. It’s true, the word most commonly used for virgin is “bethulah.” But that doesn’t give us the whole story.
First, the Lord was giving an important sign to Israel (Isaiah 7:13-14). What kind of a sign would it be if a young woman gave birth to a son? That’s an everyday occurrence.
Second, 70 Hebrew scholars translated Isaiah 7:14 into Greek a few hundred years later in the course of developing an official Greek language Old Testament. They chose the Greek word “parthenos”, which can only refer to a person who has never had sexual intercourse, a virgin. The Greek translation was called the Septuagint and was pretty much complete by about 150 BC. (Most New Testament quotes of Old Testament passages are from the Septuagint translation.)
So why didn’t Isaiah use bethulah and avoid the problem altogether? When the Lord gave prophecies with a fulfillment far in the future, he often had His prophets word them so they could be partially fulfilled within their lifetimes. This partial fulfillment served as confirmation of the ultimate one and maintained the prophet’s credibility in accordance with Deut. 18:21-22.
From Isaiah 8 we learn that his own wife bore the son who fulfilled the short term prophecies of Isaiah 7:16-17. The name Immanuel, which means “God with us” was first associated with him (Isaiah 8:10).
The Lord couldn’t call Isaiah’s wife a virgin because she wasn’t one, and besides there would only ever be one virgin birth. But He could use a word that hinted of it, and so he used “alma”. After Isaiah was long gone and they only had the ultimate fulfillment to deal with, the 70 Hebrew Scholars disclosed the clear intent of the passage. The virgin was with child and gave birth to a son who literally was God with us. Matt. 1:23 is correct.