As discussed in Part One of this series, Jesus repeatedly associated OT prophecies and events to events in His life.  We saw that after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, His disciples, especially Matthew, used OT events and prophecies to prove Jesus was indeed the Christ, the promised Messiah to Israel. Let’s see how and why they did this. We will begin our investigation by looking at Matthew’s use of an OT prophecy to provide evidence for the virgin birth of Jesus.

The virgin birth:

       In Matthew chapter one, the writer explains how Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Matthew concludes his remarks by saying the following:

       Matthew 1:22-23: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin (Greek: parthenos) will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."

       We see in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus a reference to the fulfillment of an OT prophecy.  Matthew doesn’t name the prophet he is quoting but it is apparent he is quoting Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter seven, Isaiah records an event that contains language and dynamics that speak of a virgin being with child and giving birth to a son who is called Immanuel.

       Isaiah 7:14-16: “The virgin (Hebrew: almah) will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.”

       The context of Isaiah 7 relates to a conflict between Ahaz, king of Judah, and Pekah king of Israel who allied himself with Rezin, king of Aram.  Israel had some years earlier split into two nations, Judah to the south and Israel to the north.

       King Pekah of Israel formed an alliance with king Rezin of Aram and the two kings and their armies came up to fight against Ahaz and Judah.  God, through the prophet Isaiah, told Ahaz that this alliance would not succeed against Ahaz and Judah.  It’s recorded that God gave a sign to Ahaz to show him the alliance would not succeed. That sign was to be a virgin giving birth to a son who will be called Immanuel.

       As clearly seen, the sign of a virgin being with child and giving birth to a son who will be called Immanuel pertains to a boy living in Isaiah’s time. This prophecy relates to the conflict between Ahaz and the kings of Israel and Aram.  There is nothing here pointing to the birth of Jesus 700 years later.  The name “Immanuel” in the Hebrew means, “God is with us” or “God with us.”  The boy being called Immanuel signified to Ahaz and Judah that God would be with them in their battle against the alliance. 

       Matthew writes that the virgin pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Jesus all took place to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet about a virgin being with child and bearing a son called Immanuel.  Why does Matthew do this?  Is Matthew saying Isaiah was prophesying the birth of Jesus?  There is nothing in Isaiah’s prophecy that would indicate Isaiah is prophesying the manner in which Jesus would be born.  There is no mention of Jesus or the Christ in Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah’s prophecy appears to pertain to a boy born in his time and not a time 700 years later.

       So, what are we to make of this?  How can Isaiah’s account of a boy born to a virgin 700 years before the birth of Jesus be prophetic of the birth of Jesus when the context of Isaiah 7 clearly shows this event relates to the time of Isaiah with no indication in Isaiah that this is also prophetic of the birth of Christ?

Almah, Bethulah, Parthenos:

      Answering the foregoing question involves looking at several issues. We need to first look at Isaiah’s use of the Hebrew word almah which is rendered “virgin” in most English translations.       

       In speaking to Ahaz, Isaiah says “The virgin will conceive.”  The Hebrew word translated virgin in verse 14 is almah, which has the basic meaning of a young girl of marriageable age.  The Hebrew word for virgin in a moral sense is bethulah. Bethulah is found in the Hebrew Scriptures 50 times and by context can be seen to refer to a woman that is a virgin in a moral sense which means she has not had sexual relations with a man.

       When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, a document called the Septuagint, the translators used the Greek word parthenos to render the Hebrew word almah into Greek. The Greek word parthenos has a broader meaning than almah and can be translated virgin, marriageable maiden or young married women. Context will determine the meaning.

       There is good evidence that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and it was later translated into Greek. If this is the case, Matthew would have probably used the Hebrew almah and whoever translated his Gospel into Greek used the Greek word parthenos to render the Hebrew almah into Greek. 

       Since almah is not the common Hebrew word for virgin in a moral sense, some scholars believe Isaiah was not speaking of a virgin in a moral sense but was referring to a young woman of marriageable age who may or may not have been a virgin.  Therefore, it is concluded Isaiah is not speaking of a woman becoming pregnant and remaining a virgin but of one who was a young woman of marriageable age who became pregnant through normal sexual intercourse with a man.  Scholars who take this approach argue that Matthew’s use of Isaiah to say Mary became pregnant without losing her virginity is unwarranted.

       This argument, however, is somewhat superfluous.  There is nothing in the meaning of almah that prohibits an almah from also being a bethulah, a virgin in a moral sense. The Hebrew Scriptures themselves bear this out.  In the account in Genesis 24 where a wife is being chosen for Isaac, both Hebrew words are used to describe Rebekah.  The writer uses the Hebrew for virgin in a moral sense and the Hebrew for maiden interchangeably in referring to Rebekah.       

       Genesis 24:16: The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; (bethulah) no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.  

       Genesis 24:43-44: See, I am standing beside this spring; if a maiden (almah) comes out to draw water and I say to her, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar," and if she says to me, "Drink, and I'll draw water for your camels too," let her be the one the LORD has chosen for my master's son.'

       Verse 45-46: Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, `Please give me a drink.'  "She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, `Drink, and I'll water your camels too.' So I drank, and she watered the camels also."

       It is obvious from this narrative that Rebekah was a virgin (bethulah) in a moral sense as it is said she had never laid with a man.  Yet she is also referred to as a maiden (almah).

 The birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz:

      Scholars who argue that the woman in Isaiah chapter 7 was not a virgin point to what Isaiah writes in chapter 8. In Isaiah 8, Isaiah is shown as impregnating a prophetess who then gives birth to a son who is named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (pronounced: mah her shal al hash baz) which in Hebrew means “One hastens to the plunder, one hurries to the loot.”    

       Isaiah 8:3-4: I then had sexual relations with the prophetess; she conceived and gave birth to a son. The Lord told me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, (pronounced: mah her shal al hash baz) for before the child knows how to cry out, ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria (NET).

       So here we have Isaiah having sexual relations with a prophetess which results in her giving birth to a son.  Is this the same boy spoken of in Isaiah 7 where an almah is said to give birth to a son who is called Immanuel?   Some feel the child named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz in Isaiah 8 is the boy called Immanuel in Isaiah 7 as there is indication the boy born to Isaiah and the prophetess is called Immanuel. 

       Isaiah 8:5-8: The LORD spoke to me again: "Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River -- the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, O Immanuel !"

       Is it Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz who is being called Immanuel in Isaiah 8 and if this is the case, is this the same child spoken of as Immanuel in Isaiah 7?  If it is the same child spoken of in Isaiah 7, it would mean the child was born of a sexual union between Isaiah and a prophetess and the women of Isaiah 7 was not a virgin when she gave birth.  If this is the case, how can it be said by Matthew that the virgin birth of Jesus reflects a virgin birth that took place in Isaiah's time? 

       So what are we to make of all this?  Let’s take a closer look. To begin with, we can't conclude with certainty that Maher-Shalah-Hash-Baz is the same child referred to in Isaiah 7 or that it is Maher-Shalah-Hash-Baz who is being called Immanuel in Isaiah 8.  Isaiah may have been referring to the child of Chapter 7 when he speaks of Immanuel in chapter 8. 

        It is instructive that the Hebrew construction of the phrase “The virgin (almah) will be with child" in Isaiah 7:14 strongly suggests that Isaiah is not saying that the "virgin" or "young maiden" will be with child but that she already is with child at the time Isaiah is speaking to Ahaz.  In footnotes to Isaiah 7:14, the New English Bible (NET) points this out.  This same conclusion is reached by various scholars who have studied the Hebrew construction of this passage. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates it this way:   

       Isaiah 7:14: Look, the young woman is with child (Hebrew: harah) and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.     

       The phrase “is with child” is rendered from the Hebrew word harah which means to be pregnant, to be with child.  This word occurs 16 time in the Hebrew Scriptures and in every occurrence can be seen to be talking about a woman already being pregnant as opposed to first becoming pregnant yet in the future. Here are a few additional translations of Isaiah 7:14 that indicate a pregnancy already having occurred.

        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 (Young's Literal Translation).

       Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: a young woman who is pregnant will have a son and will name him 'Immanuel' (Good News translation).

       But the LORD will still give you proof. A virgin is pregnant; she will have a son and will name him Immanuel (Contemporary English Version).

       Isaiah appears to be speaking about a woman that is already pregnant and not a woman who is about to become pregnant. While this doesn’t prove the woman was a virgin when becoming pregnant, it does better fit what is written in Matthew 1:18-23 where the author appears to speak of Mary already being with child at the time the angel addresses Joseph.

       Matthew 1:18-20: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Two virgin births?

       For Mary's virgin pregnancy to truly correspond to the pregnancy of the woman in Isaiah, it would appear the woman in Isaiah would have had to experience a virgin birth. Isaiah said that the birth of the child would be a sign to Ahaz that God would be with him and he would be successful against the alliance.  The Hebrew word translated "sign" in this passage can mean something miraculous and is used in this fashion by Isaiah in other of his writings. A child born in the normal way would not be a very convincing sign to Ahaz whereas a child born to a virgin would get his attention.   

       There has been a good deal of scholarly discussion on this issue with no definitive conclusion being reached.  Many OT scholars lean toward seeing the women mentioned in Isaiah 7 as becoming pregnant in the normal way and not still being a virgin after she became pregnant.  Matthew, however, clearly parallels the pregnancy of Mary with what happened in Isaiah’s time (Matthew 1:22-23) and clearly sees Mary becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit and not through sexual intercourse (Matthew 1:18-20). Luke also  writes that Mary’s impregnation was supernatural in nature.  When told of her becoming pregnant, Mary is quoted as saying this:  

       Luke 1:34-35:  "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin (parthenos)?"  The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

       Luke doesn’t mention the account in Isaiah.  Luke uses the Greek word parthenos in quoting Mary’s response to the angel. By context it should be apparent Mary sees herself as someone who has not had sexual relations with a man as she questions the angel as to how she will become pregnant.  We know from Matthew's account that when Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, he was going to disown her which clearly shows he knew he had nothing to do with her getting pregnant. 

       For the parallel between the birth spoken of in Isaiah 7 and the virgin birth of Jesus to have validity, it would appear the pregnancy recorded in Isaiah 7:14 was supernatural in nature. If this is the case, the child born to the sexual union between Isaiah and the prophetess is a different child as this child appears to have been born of a normal sexual union.  What makes the proposition that there are two different boys involved here appear problematical is that there is no Scriptural identification of the mother of the first boy.   Only one mother is identified and that is the prophetess Isaiah had sex with.

        If indeed there were two boys involved here, the birth of both boys signified to Ahaz that God would be with Ahaz and Judah in their pending war with the alliance.  This was the whole purpose of this birth or births taking place.  In Matthew, were Jesus is called Immanuel, it was to signify God was with Israel by providing salvation through His Son Christ Jesus.  

The Isaiah/Matthew connection:

       Regardless of how the issues of a virgin birth are viewed, a more pressing question here is how Isaiah’s prophecy of a woman giving birth in his time relates to Mary experiencing a birth in her time. To repeat, there is nothing in the Isaiah account that suggests a fulfillment some 700 years later in the birth of Jesus. The fulfillment took place in Isaiah's time. If it is true the Hebrew construction of Isaiah 7:14 shows the woman Isaiah is speaking of was already pregnant, Isaiah is not prophesying anything but simply stating a fact. 

       The promised birth in Isaiah’s time was directed to Ahaz.  Even the naming of the child Immanuel relates to the events extant in Isaiah’s time. The context of Isaiah 7:14-16, clearly shows that the son spoken of is a boy who would be living at that time and behaving in a certain way relative to the two kings being laid waste. This boy being called Immanuel was to tell Ahaz God would be with him. 

       When Matthew wrote that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.” we see that what the Lord said through the prophet is that a young maiden would bear a son who would be called Immanuel and this would be a sign to Ahaz that He would prevail over the alliance.  The context is clearly the impending war between Judah and the alliance and not the birth of Jesus.  Some have tried to connect Isaiah 7:14 with Isaiah 9:6-7 where the prophet appears to be prophesying the birth of Jesus.  However, this prophecy is pointing to a future time when the Gospel will be taken to the Gentiles.  This prophecy is in a totally different context from that of Isaiah 7. It is a real stretch to associate the virgin text of 7:14 with 9:6-7.

       So why would Matthew relate the event in Isaiah’s time with the Christ event?  What justification is there for Matthew doing this?  What does Matthew mean in saying, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet,”      

        The Greek word translated “fulfilled” in Matthew 1:22 is pleeroo.  This word appears 90 times in the NT and has the basic meaning of “to make full, to fill, to fill up and to fill to the full.”  When Matthew writes that the virgin pregnancy of Mary was to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet, he is not necessarily saying Isaiah was prophesying Mary’s virgin pregnancy.  He may only be saying that the event in Isaiah’s time was being made full in Mary.

       It should be noted that it is only in retrospect that Matthew can associate the pregnancy of Mary with what happened in Isaiah’s time.  Someone looking at Isaiah’s prophecy and its fulfillment during the time of Ahaz would have no reason to see in this event a foreshadowing of the virgin birth of Jesus.  So by what authority does Matthew take an ancient event that has nothing contextually to do with Jesus and apply it to Jesus?   As discussed in Part One of this series, Matthew got his authority for doing this directly from Jesus.  It was Jesus who taught the disciples that the events in His life were fulfillments of OT prophecies.

       It was Jesus who had pointed out to His disciples the parallels between OT prophecies and events in His own life.  The Greek word translated “fulfilled” in Luke 24:44 is the same word Matthew uses in paralleling OT events with events in the life of Jesus. Did Jesus teach his disciples that His birth was prophesied by Isaiah or did He teach them the circumstances of His birth was a making full, filling up or filling to the full what had previously occurred during the time of Isaiah in a different context?  Let’s return to what Jesus said as recorded in Luke.

       Luke 24:44: He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

Types and anti-types:

       Jesus is making a very straightforward statement here.  He is saying that a number of prophecies and events recorded in the OT were about Him.  He saysEverything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms?”  Why does Jesus say “written about me? Is the virgin birth connected with Ahaz and the alliance really about Jesus?  How can it be said that what Isaiah wrote about a virgin birth is about Jesus when the context is all about Ahaz and the alliance and not a word is said about Jesus?  The answer to this question may be in what are called types and anti-types.

       Types are events that happen in a particular context and anti-types are similar or parallel events that happen in a different context.   The virgin birth in Isaiah is in the context of a sign given to Ahaz to show God would be with him in his war with the alliance.  The child being called Immanuel was God telling Ahaz that God would be with him. This is the type. The virgin birth of Jesus is the anti-type to the Ahaz event. It is a similar or parallel event to what we see during the time of Ahaz. 

       Matthew appears to be using Isaiah’s prophecy of a boy being born of a virgin during the time of Ahaz as a type of the virgin birth of Jesus which becomes the anti-type. Matthew tells Mary the child she gives birth to will be called Immanuel which means “God with us.”  God would be with his people through Jesus just as he was present with Ahaz as signified by the son born to the virgin in Isaiah’s time being called Immanuel.

       Types and anti-types are extensively found in the book of Hebrews where there is considerable discussion of how Old Covenant conventions and regulations were forerunners of what became the new order of things under the New Covenant.  The writer to the Hebrews sees much of Old Covenant types being fulfilled in Christ.  This should tell us that God purposely orchestrated a number of Old Covenant types to foreshadow what was to come later in His overall plan for mankind. 

       It is evident NT writers see a number of sayings, prophecies and events being fulfilled or brought to their full in Christ. The question this raises is whether God orchestrated these OT events in order to serve as types of Christ.  For example, did God purposely bring about the events at the time of Ahaz to create a type that would be fulfilled as an anti-type in Christ?  Was the virgin birth in Isaiah's day really about the virgin birth of Jesus even though there is nothing in the Isaiah account about Jesus

 The skeptic's response:

      Some NT scholars and most Jewish scholars bristle at the conclusion that some OT events happened in the way they happened for no other reason than to foreshadow events in the life of Christ.  Such scholars point out that the disciples of Jesus did not by and large see a connection between OT prophecies and Jesus until after His crucifixion and resurrection. 

       It is this retrospective association of OT events with events in the life of Jesus that some scholars find problematical. Some consider such associations quite arbitrary and lacking in evidence that there was meant to be a relationship between what occurred in OT times with what happened in NT times.

       It is argued that retrospectively seeing the birth of Jesus being a fulfillment of Isaiah 7 is an arbitrarily arrived at conclusion which can’t be proved to be valid because it is a conclusion arrived at after the fact. It is assuming the thing to be proved.  It is like a non sequitur argument where the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise.

       However, as already noted, it is Jesus who associates OT events and prophecies with events in His life. It would appear Matthew and others make these associations only because of what he and the other disciples learned from Jesus.  Jesus is saying that certain OT prophecies and events were written with Him in mind.  If Jesus is truly the resurrected Son of God, I would say we better take note when Jesus says He is written about in the OT Scriptures.  


       Did God with purpose of forethought bring about the conditions that led to the brink of war between Judah and the alliance?  Was this war orchestrated by God so that the sign of a virgin birth could be given which would some 700 years later be seen as a type of the virgin birth of Jesus?  This is not something we can conclude from the Scriptures and would appear unlikely.  The circumstances that led up to the pending war between Ahaz and the alliance may simply have been the result of fortuitous events associated with the times and not have had any divine involvement whatsoever.  After all, conflicts between nations were as common then as they are today.

       However, it would appear there was divine involvement as to the virgin birth reported by Isaiah as virgin births do not normally occur.  As stated above, a normal birth would not have been much of a sign to Ahaz that God would protect Judah from the alliance. However, a virgin birth would have got his attention.  Since it is a virgin birth in Isaiah's time that Matthew sees as fore-shadowing the virgin birth of Jesus, it is not unreasonable to see the virgin birth in Isaiah's time purposely brought about by God to not only be a sign to Ahaz in Isaiah's time but also as a fore-runner of the virgin birth of Jesus. The virgin birth of Jesus would act as a sign that God would be with His people in facilitating their salvation just as He was with Ahaz in saving Judah from the alliance.