[b-hebrew] virgin vs. young woman

Harold Holmyard hholmyard3 at earthlink.net
Mon Jul 9 19:48:39 EDT 2007

Dear Jim,
>   I'm new here and I just read your posts. I've always considered the issue of virgin vs young woman an interesting and important issue.
>   The Hebrew word used was Alma in the Old Testament, as you know. As a Jew I can tell you that it does not simply mean "young woman", although it is describing a young woman. Alma specifically means a maiden or damsel - a young woman who has not been married/sexually touched.

HH: Being a Jew does not necessarily give you special insight about 
meaning of 'almah. Non-Christian Jews through the centuries have argued 
that the word did not have to mean "virgin." Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

 From the earliest days of Christianity, Jewish critics have argued that 
Christians were mistaken in their reading of almah in Isaiah 7:14.[17] 
Because the author of Matthew 1:23, believed that Jesus was born of a 
virgin, he quoted Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and 
shall bring forth a son" as a proof-text for the divine origin of Jesus. 
Jewish scholars declare that Matthew is in error, that the word almah 
means young woman (just as the male equivalent elem means young man). It 
does not denote a virgin or sexual purity but age. Because a different 
Hebrew word, bethulah בתולה(" "), is most commonly used for virgin even 
in modern Hebrew, the prophet could not have meant virgin in Isaiah 7:14.

HH: Here's a quote from another source:

Almah means simply a young woman, of marriageable age, whether married 
or not, or a virgin or not; in a broad general sense exactly like girl 
or maid in English, when we say shop-girl, parlor-maid, bar-maid, 
without reference to or vouching for her technical virginity, which, in 
Hebrew, is always expressed by the word bethulah. But in the Septuagint 
translation into Greek, the Hebrew almah was erroneously rendered into 
the Greek parthenos, Virgin.
"As early as the second century B.C.," says the distinguished Hebrew 
scholar and critic, Salomon Reinach, "the Jews perceived the error and 
pointed it out to the Greeks; but the Church knowingly persisted in the 
false reading, and for over fifteen centuries she has clung to her 
error." (Orpheus, p, 197.) The truth of this accusation of conscious 
persistence in known error through the centuries is proved by confession 
of St. Jerome, who made the celebrated Vulgate translation from the 
Hebrew into Latin, and intentionally "clung to the error," though Jerome 
well knew that it was an error and false; and thus he perpetuated 
through fifteen hundred years the myth of the "Prophetic Virgin Birth" 
of Jesus called Christ.
Being criticized by many for this falsification, St. Jerome thus replies 
to one of his critics, Juvianus: "I know that the Jews are accustomed to 
meet us with the objection that in Hebrew the word Almah does not mean a 
Virgin, but a young woman. And, to speak truth, a virgin is properly 
called Bethulah, but a young woman, or a girl, is not Almah, but 
Naarah"! (Jerome, Adv. Javianum I, 32; N&PNF, vi, 370.)

HH: Also see the bottom of this online source for another Jewish writer 
taking the same view. I don't really agree with them but admit with you 
that the word does not seem to technically mean
>  There is no such thing as an "alma" who has had sex.

HH: This remains somewhat debatable, depending on the interpretations 
you give the word in its various OT occurrences. I do take them all to 
refer to virgins, but it is not necessary to do so.

>  She ceases to be alma after sexual intercourse. Therefore, though "virgin" is not the strict definition of alma, "alma" does most certainly and emphatically refer to a virgin young woman. Besides this, the point of the verse in question declares that this pregnancy is a "sign", and the verse itself is a prophecy of that pregnancy and birth. "Young women" give birth all the time. There is no sign or miracle in that. "Unmarried young women" also give birth all the time, so there is no miracle in that either. The focus of the verse is that a miracle will take place, a sign - a sexually untouched "maiden" girl will conceive and give birth to Immanuel.
>  The New Testament writers, when quoting this verse, specifically used the Greek word "parthenos" - a virgin (we see this word in use with the Parthenon, referring to a vigin goddess). So in the minds of the Gospel writers, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the young woman's virginity was indisputable.

HH: I agree with the general thrust of your argument throughout, but a 
sign does not have to be miraculous, even if God is the author of it. If 
you check the word for sign throughout the OT, you will see that this is 
the case. Now, the fact that Isaiah's words were precisely fulfilled 
gave them the quality of the miraculous, whether or not the girl was a 
virgin. I believe she was, and that the words had a fulfillment in 
Isaiah's time. This is important. The words had a fulfillment in 
Isaiah's time. They also had a fulfillment in the birth of Christ, but 
in a different way.

Harold Holmyard

>   Kindly,
>   Rev. Jim Cunningham
>   King James Bible Ministries
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