Isaiah 7:14 is a verse of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament that is often a point of contention between Christians and Jews.

The Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14 is:

לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא לָכֶם אוֹת הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ עִמָּנוּאֵל

The translation and meaning of this verse is a subject of debate, especially between Jewish and Christian scholars. An English translation of this verse with the contentious Hebrew words transliterated and the several meanings under debate provided is:

"Therefore, my Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, ha-almah [the or a] [young woman or virgin] harah [is pregnant or is about to become pregnant or shall conceive], and bear a son, and [she or you] shall call his name Immanuel."

Jewish Perspective


The following table provides the English translations of this verse from several well-accepted Jewish sources:

Source Translation Note
ArtScroll Tanach, Stone Edition 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. Commentary: Either Isaiah’s (RASHI) or Ahaz’ (RADAQ) young wife will bear a son and, through prophetic inspiration, will give him the name Immanuel, which means "God is With Us," thus in effect prophesying that Judah will be saved from the threat of Rezin and Pekah.
The Jerusalem Bible, Koren Publishing Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, the young woman is with child, and she will bear a son, and shall call his name 'Immanu-el'.
JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH 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. Comment on "Immanuel": Meaning "with us is God."
Judaica Press Tanach Therefore, the Lord, of His own, shall give you a sign; behold, the young woman is with child, and she shall bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel. Detailed commentary agrees with ArtScroll Tanach commentary
Soncino Press Tanach Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, the young woman is with child, and she will bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-El.


In chapters 7-12 of the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah narrates the Syro-Ephraimite War. In the 8th century BCE, Assyria was a great regional power.[1] The smaller nations of Syria (often called Aram) and the Northern Kingdom of Israel (often called Ephraim because of the main tribe) formed a coalition in defense against the oncoming threat. They had previously been tributary nations to Assyria, and they finally decided to break away. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was loyal to Assyria and refused to join the coalition. Judah was ruled by King Ahaz. In 735 BCE, Syria, under Rezin, and Israel, under Pekah, attempted to depose Ahaz through an invasion. Judah was being defeated and, according to 2 Chronicles, lost 120,000 troops in just one day. Many significant officials were killed, including the king's son. Many others were taken away as slaves. (Telling of the same battle, 2 Kings 16:5 mentions no casualties and states that Rezin and Pekah failed to defeat Ahaz.)

Ahaz king of Jerusalem was besieged. Through Isaiah, God sends a message. Ahaz is reluctant to accept it, but is told he will get a sign. So Isaiah 7:10-17 states:

And the LORD spoke again unto Ahaz, saying:
11 יא שְׁאַל-לְךָ אוֹת, מֵעִם יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; הַעְמֵק שְׁאָלָה, אוֹ הַגְבֵּהַּ לְמָעְלָה.
'Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God: ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.'
12 יב וַיֹּאמֶר, אָחָז: לֹא-אֶשְׁאַל וְלֹא-אֲנַסֶּה, אֶת-יְהוָה.
But Ahaz said: 'I will not ask, neither will I try the LORD.'
13 יג וַיֹּאמֶר, שִׁמְעוּ-נָא בֵּית דָּוִד: הַמְעַט מִכֶּם הַלְאוֹת אֲנָשִׁים, כִּי תַלְאוּ גַּם אֶת-אֱלֹהָי.
And he said: 'Hear ye now, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also?
יד לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא, לָכֶם--אוֹת: הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה, הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן, וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ, עִמָּנוּ אֵל. 14
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. (The literal translation of the original Hebrew words reads: "Therefore shall-give my-lord he [himself] to you sign behold the-young-woman conceived (is pregnant) and-beareth son and- calleth name-his immanuel.")
15 טו חֶמְאָה וּדְבַשׁ, יֹאכֵל--לְדַעְתּוֹ מָאוֹס בָּרָע, וּבָחוֹר בַּטּוֹב.
Curd and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
16 טז כִּי בְּטֶרֶם יֵדַע הַנַּעַר, מָאֹס בָּרָע--וּבָחֹר בַּטּוֹב: תֵּעָזֵב הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה קָץ, מִפְּנֵי שְׁנֵי מְלָכֶיהָ.
Yea, before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou hast a horror of shall be forsaken.
יז יָבִיא יְהוָה עָלֶיךָ, וְעַל-עַמְּךָ וְעַל-בֵּית אָבִיךָ, יָמִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא-בָאוּ, לְמִיּוֹם סוּר-אֶפְרַיִם מֵעַל יְהוּדָה: אֵת, מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר. {פ} 17
The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria'.[2]

Not a prophecy of Jesus, nor "The Messiah," nor a future virgin birth

Thus Jews understand that God indicated he was sending a "sign" in the days of Ahaz (who lived many centuries before Jesus). Isaiah wanted King Ahaz to wait for God to give him support in this troublesome time instead of making alliances with Assyria[3].

Moreover, Jews observe that there is no indication that Immanuel will be the Messiah, whatever the timing of his birth.

Isaiah's original Hebrew, reads (transliterated): Hinneh ha-almah harah ve-yeldeth ben ve-karath shem-o immanuel. The word almah is part of the Hebrew phrase ha-almah hara, meaning "the almah is pregnant." Since the present tense is used, it is argued that the young woman was already pregnant and hence not a virgin. As such, the verse cannot be cited as a prediction of the future.[4] The Jewish tradition has accordingly never considered Isaiah 7:14 as a messianic prophecy. Jewish scholars argue that this is a Christian misinterpretation.

Meaning of “almah’”

Jewish scholars argue that the word betulah is used instead of almah in verses where a reference to a virgin is clearly intended (see Genesis 24:16, Exodus 22:16-17, Leviticus 21:14, and Deuteronomy 22:13-21) and that almah is more correctly translated as "young woman."

Jewish tradition states that the "young woman" was in fact Isaiah’s wife and the birth of the child is recorded later in Isaiah 8:3, although that child is not named "Immanuel" but "Maher-shalal-hash-baz".

As an example of how '[almah] is used, in Proverbs 30:18-20:

18 There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
19 יט דֶּרֶךְ הַנֶּשֶׁר, בַּשָּׁמַיִם-- דֶּרֶךְ נָחָשׁ, עֲלֵי-צוּר;
דֶּרֶךְ-אֳנִיָּה בְלֶב-יָם-- וְדֶרֶךְ גֶּבֶר בְּעַלְמָה
The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock;
the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a young woman.
20 כ כֵּן, דֶּרֶךְ אִשָּׁה-- מְנָאָפֶת
אָכְלָה, וּמָחֲתָה פִיהָ; וְאָמְרָה, לֹא-פָעַלְתִּי אָוֶן
So is the way of an adulterous woman;
she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith: 'I have done no wickedness.'[5]

In this context it is argued, "the way of a man with a young woman," [almah] does not appear to have the connotations of a virgin.

Christian apologists have sometimes argued that the translation as "virgin" in many Christian translations of Isaiah 7:14 is justified by pointing to the Septuagint version of Isaiah, and arguing that the Septuagint, which was translated by Jews, used the word virgin, so the original must have been understood to mean virgin.[6]

This argument has problems: One, the Letter of Aristeas, which dates to second century BCE, says that the Septuagint was a translation by Jews only of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Josephus Flavius similarly states that, at least under Ptolemy Philadelphus, only the Law was translated, and something similar is stated in the Talmud.[6] The Septuagint was tampered with by the Church and the present Septuagint is largely a post-second century Christian translation of the Bible, used zealously by the church throughout the centuries as an indispensable apologetic instrument to defend and sustain Christological alterations of the Jewish scriptures.[6]

Furthermore, the word parthenos, which some Christian translators insist means virgin, and is used in the Septuagint section containing Isaiah 7:14, does not mean virgin.[6] Those who take this position appeal to how parthenos is employed in Genesis 34:3[6], where Dinah is called parthenos even after she has been raped. The word parthenos only later on in time came to mean virgin, but originally meant young woman.[6]

The article in “ha-almah’”

The word “ha” is generally translated as the definite article “the”. Some interpreters (e.g. the authors of the New English Translation) however believe that its use here means that the young woman was present to the conversation, and thus render “ha-almah’” as “this young woman”. That is taken to refer to either a member of the royal family or the “prophetess” mentioned in Isaiah 8.

Adjective “harah הָרָה ” and time of pregnancy

The adjective “harah הָרָה ” is used predicatively. From the narrator’s perspective, Jewish scholars argue that this generally means a past, or present, or imminent future pregnancy.[7] With that in mind, the translation of Isaiah 7:14 may also be rendered as either “the [or this] young woman is pregnant” or “the [or this] young woman will soon be pregnant”.

Naming of Immanuel

The verb "karat קָרָאת" has mostly been taken as an archaic form of the third feminine singular, and rendered as “she will name”. The name itself, meaning “God [is] with us”, Judaism argues while noble, does not imply a divine nature of the boy. Such theophoric names are common in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus, moreover, is never called Immanuel in the New Testament.

Christian Perspective

The Jewish view is often disputed by Christians, and has been a point of contention between Jews and Christians since the formation of the modern Church. Jerome, in 383 CE, wrote in "Adversus Helvidium" that Helvidius misunderstood just this same point of confusion between the Greek and the Hebrew.

The Christian interpretation of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 is based on the following scriptures in the Christian New Testament where the conception and birth of Jesus Christ are described:

(Matthew 1:20–23 KJV) But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. (21) And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (22) Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, (23) Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament translated 200 B.C. or before and used by the early Christians, Isaiah 7:14 has the word "virgin" (παρθενος - "parthenos") as the Greek translation of "almah":

7:14 δια τουτο δωσει κυριος αυτος υμιν σημειον ιδου η παρθενος εν γαστρι εξει και τεξεται υιον και καλεσεις το ονομα αυτου εμμανουηλ[8]

Since Matthew was originally written in Greek[9], he more than likely referenced the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew, or Masoretic, version of the Old Testament.

Based on these scriptures many Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Immanuel prophesied of in Isaiah 7:14 and that He is "God with us". Many also believe that Jesus was born by means of a Virgin Birth and through the power of the Holy Spirit rather than through normal conception by man.

The modern Catholic perspective, from an entry in Catholic Encyclopedia, endorses a viewpoint that Luke, the writer of the gospel used a previous document that was written in, or inspired by a Hebrew text:

In point of fact the history of the infancy as found in the third Gospel [Luke] (1:5 to 2:52) betrays in its contents, its language, and style a Jewish-Christian source. The whole passage reads like a chapter from the First Book of Machabees; Jewish customs, and laws, and peculiarities are introduced without any further explanation; the "Magnificat", the "Benedictus", and the "Nunc dimittis" are filled with national Jewish ideas. As to the style and language of the history of the infancy, both are so thoroughly Semitic that the passage must be retranslated into Hebrew or Aramaic in order to be properly appreciated. We must conclude, then, that St. Luke's immediate source for the history of the infancy was not an oral, but a written one.[1]

Some Christian scholars refer the Hebrew 'almah' (young, marriageable maiden) to the royal bride of Ahaz and young mother of the heir to David's throne, Hezekiah. According to this interpretation the prophet Isaiah did not understand the word 'almah' in its New Testament sense but meant the queen who would soon conceive and bear a son. On the other hand, since the prophecy of Nathan, every king was the bearer of the whole promise which could not take form in the future without being a bodily reality in the present time. With each new king, there was a reawakening of the hope that this new bearer of the royal blood would realize the ideals of the ruler to come, the Messiah. In the perspective of prophecy, present and distant future are joined. The miracle of the virgin birth in the fullest sense of the word is not clearly expressed in the Immanuel prophecy. According to this interpretation, Virgin Mary is only indirectly referred to in the figure of the 'almah'. The Greek Bible (Septuagint) had translated 'almah' as 'parthenos' (virgin), and thus prepared for its interpretation as "virgin" in the proper sense of the word.[10]

Criticisms of Christian interpretation

Some who do not believe this passage is a reference to the birth of Jesus object that Jesus was not in fact named "Immanuel." They express other concerns:

1. If Christians claim that the virgin birth of Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled twice, who then was the first virgin having a baby boy in 732 BCE? If they insist that the word ha'almah can only mean virgin. Are they claiming that Mary was not the first and only virgin to conceive and give birth to a child?

Christian response: The divine intent of Isaiah 7:14 involved true virginity.... The clear interpretation of Matthew 1:22–23 should explain whatever ambiguity one might find in Isaiah 7:14. This is the proper order of Christian exegesis.[11][12]

2. What does the "butter and honey" refer to?

Christian response: Butter─rather, curdled milk, the acid of which is grateful in the heat of the East.[Job 20:17] Physicians directed that the first food given to a child should be honey, the next milk [Barnabas, Epistle]. Horsley takes this as implying the real humanity of the Immanuel Jesus Christ, about to be fed as other infants.[Lu 2:52] Isaiah 7:22 shows that besides the fitness of milk and honey for children, a state of distress of the inhabitants is also implied, when, by reason of the invaders, milk and honey, things produced spontaneously, shall be the only abundant articles of food [Maurer].[13]

3. Why is Jesus, who was sinless from birth in the traditional Christian understanding, described as having to learn to refuse the evil and choose the good?[Isa. 7:15-16]

Christian response: He would grow up like other children, by the use of the diet of those countries; but he would, unlike other children, uniformly refuse the evil and choose the good.[14]

4. At what age did the baby Jesus mature?

5. Which were the two kingdoms during Jesus' lifetime that were abandoned?[Isa. 7:16]

6. Who dreaded the Kingdom of Israel during the first century CE when there had not been a Kingdom of Israel in existence since the seventh century BCE?

7. When did Jesus eat cream and honey? [15][16]

Contemporary languages other than English

Expanding the contemporary usage outside of only English, other modern languages can have a number of differing issues with the wordings in the translations to their language, or may even have a word with overlapping usage for "young woman" and "virgin," the same as the Hebrew word "almah". One example is the English word "maiden", used in an earlier, more conservative British society where the young age of the woman assumes her virginity. Words like these have become archaic in contemporary society, hence leading to modern problem readings with "almah".

As a notable example the text from the Luther Bible uses the German word "Jungfrau", which is composed literally of the words "young" and "woman", although it is common to use this word for "virgin". This ambiguity results in a similar reading to the original Hebrew in the text of Jesaja (Isaiah) 7:14. "Darum wird euch der HERR selbst ein Zeichen geben: Siehe, eine Jungfrau ist schwanger und wird einen Sohn gebären, den wird sie nennen Immanuel."[2] in English: "For this reason, the LORD himself will give to you(plural) a sign: See, a virgin/young woman is pregnant and will bear a son, whom she will name Immanuel."

Secular interpretations

According to Howard Clarke, most secular Biblical scholars, along with Jewish scholars and some Christian scholars, interpret this verse Isaiah to be explicitly referring to a son of the Judean King Ahaz (ca. 735-15) rather than to his mother as Matthew understands it, when the verse is read in the context of the chapter 7 of Isaiah.[17]

See also


  1. Walton, John H.; Hill, Andrew E. (2004). Old Testament Today. Zondervan. pp. 164. ISBN 0310238269, 9780310238263. 
  2. Isaiah 7 / Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre
  3. "Ahaz". 
  4. The Second Jewish Book Of Why by Alfred Kolatch 1985
  5. Proverbs 30 / Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5
  7. (see 1 Sam 4:19,; Gen 16:11 and 38:24; 2 Sam 11:5; Judg 13:5, 7)
  8. 7 LXX
  9. Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, p.43
  10. Claus Schedl, History of the Old Testament, Volume IV, Translation of 'Geschichte des Alten Testaments', Society of St.Paul, Staten Island, New York 10314, 1972, pages 220-221
  11. Gromacki, Robert Glenn. The Virgin Birth: Doctrine of Deity. Baker Book House, 1981, ISBN 978-0801037658 p.141.
  12. Khoo, Jeffrey. "Undermining God’s Word by Subtle Study Bibles." Web 30 Oct 2009.
  13. Jamieson, Robert, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Web. 30 Oct. 2009. <>
  14. Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary. Web. 30 Oct. 2009 <>
  15. Outreach Judaism
  16. Messiah Truth – Counter-Missionary Education
  17. Howard Clarke, The Gospel of Matthew and its Readers, Indiana University Press, p.5