The Ancient Versions on Isaiah 7.14

Fewer texts in the OT have been more important to the Christian church than Isaiah 7:14. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho is a great example of the controversy between Jews and Christians over this crucial text.  However, Justin and Trypho argue on the basis of Greek versions alone, and the controversy never descends to the meaning of the Hebrew Bible.  The Versions listed below are translations from the Hebrew text, and I offer some commentary on each one.

Isaiah 7:14 in the Versions of the OT

The Aramaic Targum represents a clear Jewish reading of the verse: בְכֵין יִתֵין יוי הוּא לְכוֹן אָתָא הָא עוּלֵימְתָא מְעַדְיָא וּתלִיד בַר וְתִקרֵי שְמֵיה עִמָנוּ אֵל׃. Although the Targum contains a cognate of the Hebrew lemma, according to the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (CAL), עוּלֵימְתָא means “girl” with no reference to the chaste or unchaste state of the girl.  The Jews of the second century AD did not interpret this text as a virgin birth as the Dialogue with Trypho demonstrates.  Therefore, the Targum probably should be read in a naturalistic way, the young woman will conceive and give birth to a son [in the natural way].

The Syriac Peshitta of Isaiah 7:14 reads as follows: ܡܛܠ ܗܢܐ ܢܬܠ ܠܟܘܢ ܡܪܝܐ ܐܠܗܐ ܐܬܐ܂ ܗܐ ܒܬܘܠܬܐ ܒܿܛܢܬ ܘܝܿܠܕܐ ܒܪܐ܂ ܘܢܬܩܪܐ ܫܡܗ ܥܡܢܘܐܝܠ܂.  Syriac ܒܬܘܠܬܐ certainly means “chaste girl” or “virgin,” and this translation may infer that Christians translated Isaiah, though we cannot be certain of this conclusion.  Although we do not know whether Christians or Jews translated the OT Peshitta, this version still testifies to another reading of virgin over young woman.

Jerome’s Vulgate has as follows: propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium et vocabitis nomen eius Emmanuhel.  Jerome represents the conclusion to the debate, since his version was completed by 405 AD. He also brought a new dimension to the debate, since he was the only Christian to argue from the Hebrew text, who concluded that the Hebrew העלמה should be read as virgo, if even in a periphrastic way.  Jerome actually believed that the Hebrew העלמה meant abscondita “hidden.”  Therefore the girl in Isaiah 7:14 was more than a virgin.  She was a cloistered girl, which necessitates virginity.

The LXX has διὰ τοῦτο δώσει κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῖν σημεῖον ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ.  Its reading  is found in Matthew 1:21 and it has become the proof text of the virgin birth of Christ for the church.

Justin debated the readings of Aquila and Theodotion, two of the Three Jewish revisers of the LXX in the first and second centuries.  These two translated the text as follows: ἰδοὺ ἡ νεᾶνις ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν.  They clearly remove the idea of chaste woman from the text.  Of course a young woman might incidentally be a virgin, but ἡ νεᾶνις renders the Hebrew העלמה and implies that the conception and the birth of the son will happen in the natural way.

Conclusion

There is one Hebrew text that underlies these readings.  Of course the NT decides which way Christians are to go, but it is interesting to note that early Christians did not argue presuppositionally over this verse, when they conversed with Jews.  Christians attempted a variety of exegetical and philological arguments to prove that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, just as the OT said the Messiah would be.  The one in particular I appreciate is Justin Martyr’s argument from the Greek word σημειον in Dial. 84.  In essence he argues that it would not be a divine sign if the woman would give birth in the natural way.  The sign is precisely that because the Messiah would be born in a supernatural way by a virgin.  Although Justin did not argue on the basis of the Hebrew text, he still made a compelling argument for the faith based on the Septuagint.

30 thoughts on “The Ancient Versions on Isaiah 7.14

  1. Michael,

    Great question. I think you see some presupposition at work in Justin Martyr, though not in a full blown sense like C. Van Til or Greg Bahnsen. Martyr presupposed the true God, who revealed himself through his word, but also in history through prophecy and fulfillment.

    John Calvin also seems to work from the presupposition of special revelation must interpret us and our contexts before we can interpret anything else around us. The knowledge of the one true God and self are co-axioms for Calvin, but I think he leaned more towards knowing God first and then one may gain a proper knowledge of self. I don’t find this presupposition very lucid before Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

    Does this help? Did you have anyone else in mind?

  2. Thanks. I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind, but I found your comment interesting that:

    … early Christians did not argue presuppositionally over this verse, when they conversed with Jews. Christians attempted a variety of exegetical and philological arguments to prove that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, just as the OT said the Messiah would be.

    This “variety” would seem consistent with the “two or three witnesses” principle found many, many places in Scripture (Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:15ff., etc. etc. etc.), which I’m becoming increasingly convinced is at the heart of a biblical concept of how one knows something to be true – there is truth in the eyewitness testimony of someone who was there, and there is truth in the testimony of multiple witnesses, perhaps including the “variety of exegetical and philological arguments” that the early Christians used. To put it a little differently, an individual witness (argument, piece of evidence) stands on his/her/its own as a source of truth, but cannot stand alone as proof that something is the truth.

    To me it seems that this biblical principle shows that some form of evidentialism is valid and biblical. I have nothing against presuppositionalism per se. God is the ultimate source of all truth, after all, as Justin & the other early Christians would agree. But I tend not to see it as the only valid approach. This would be heresy in strict presuppositionalist circles, but I would place presuppositionalism along with evidentialism, etc., in the gathering of “two or three witnesses.”

    And so my question was part of my ongoing fact-finding mission to find out when believers first started thinking in terms of presupposition, evidence, etc. Thanks for the post!

  3. Michael –

    Very interesting. I am a presuppositionalist, but all I mean by that is that I argue on the basis of a transcendent authority, namely that the Triune God exists and he is not silent. He has revealed himself clearly in his Word and less clearly in the opera Dei.

    With that said, evidence has a place at the table. I like your idea of witnesses as evidence. In Acts 14:17, Paul says that God did not leave the people αμαρτυρον, without witness. God provides the rain from heaven, and produces fruit in season and fills hearts with nourishment and gladness. God’s constant governance of the creation is called a witness to the peoples.

    Thanks for your comment Michael. Keep in touch.

  4. This following quote from Jerome says that Matthew composed a gospel in the Hebrew tongue, and did not follow the LXX but made use of the old (Hebrew) Scripture. If so, then this gospel quotes the Hebrew Isaiah which says nothing about a virgin.

    “Matthew, who is also Levi, and who from a publican came to be an Apostle, first of all the Evangelists, composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the Hebrew language and characters, for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed. Who translated it into Greek is not sufficiently ascertained. Furthermore, the Hebrew itself is preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea which the martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected. I also was allowed by the Nazarenes who use this volume in the Syrian city of Beroea to copy it. In which it is to be remarked that, wherever the Evangelist makes use of the testimonies of the old Scripture, he does not follow the authority of the seventy translators, but of the Hebrew.”

    We have been told for so long that Matthew and Luke record a virgin birth. But is this the case, or has Jewish idiom been twisted to fit the mentality of the Greek interpreters of the Bible?

    The interpretations theologians give to the birth narratives run into problems at every instance: Matthew supposedly did not quote Isaiah’s prophecy, but a translation which says something different to the original (see above quote); supposedly the NT has 2 genealogies of Joseph (who is irrelevant to Jesus’ physical lineage) and none of Jesus; a ridiculous interpretation is given to Mary’s question; it is claimed the angel’s assurance confirms a virgin birth in Mary’s case, but not in Elizabeth’s case; and so on.

    You may find these articles on virgin birth of interest and coming from an unusual angle

    http://www.wallsofjericho.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=26

    and, similarly TheologyWeb:

    Forum — General Theistics 101
    Thread — Does the Bible teach that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived?

    http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/forumdisplay.php?f=160

  5. Crosthwaite –

    Are you here to dialogue or simply to leave your blog? If it is the former, I will answer your questions, but if it is the latter,then I will let these go unanswered, and simply direct readers to my paper on Justin Martyr’s arguments for the Virgin Birth under “Seminary Pages.”

  6. You mix a few exegetical comments with your etymology.

    The core issue with Isaiah 7:14 is what did the prophet actually say as distinct from subsequent interpretations in other languages.

    As most commentators acknowledge these days, Isaiah’s prophecy and fulfilment were to do with contemporary events (circa 735BC).

    Matthew saw in Jesus a second fulfilment of part of Isaiah’s prophecy (4BC).

    Isaiah spoke in Hebrew. He used the word ‘almah.’ In the last 60 years church scholars, often grudgingly, have generally conceded this word refers to a time in life and not a state of life, and means ‘young woman’ not ‘virgin.’

    If Isaiah spoke of a ‘virgin’ then we would be talking about 2 virgin births, not one.

    It is because of this that church commentators are insistent Matthew quoted the LXX and not the words that Isaiah actually spoke.

    You might notice Matthew did not mention Isaiah’s ‘sign’ or the latter part of the prophecy, because these parts of the prophecy were to do with events in Isaiah’s time and nothing to do with Jesus.

    And as to a virgin birth being a sign? Strange how nobody, including Joseph, could see this alleged sign. Some sign!

    • Crosthwaite –

      Glad to see you stuck around for some conversation.

      Let’s go back to your first comment, which seems to be the evidence for your argument. You quote Jerome uncritically, and from this quote you believe that Matthew originally wrote his gospel in Hebrew (this would have to be an Aramaic dialect, right?), but Jerome is not sure how the gospel was originally translated into Greek. If this premise is granted, then one should (must?) read ‘ulemta’ (Aramaic form) in the Jewish tradition, not the Greek tradition παρθενος.

      Let me come back at you on a couple of these points.

      1. Besides this quote from Jerome, do we have any other evidence or reason to assume that Matthew wrote his gospel in Aramaic? I would argue that the Gospel of Matthew is fine example of Jewish compositional Greek, not translation Greek. It reads very well, as opposed to some of the books is the LXX, where the Greek is very Hebraized because it is a translation. Furthermore, Justin Martyr in 135 AD is already using a Greek argument for the virgin birth. If Matthew’s gospel was originally composed between 55-70 AD, that leaves very little time for a translation to occur and furthermore, it leaves no time for the Greek translation to gain authoritative status, such that both Justin and Trypho would recognize its authority. Furthermore, the search for the Aramaic gospels ended about 20-30 years ago. No scholar today, conservative or liberal, believes that the gospels were originally written in Aramaic.

      2. Let’s assume that your view is right, and that Matthew was originally written in Aramaic and then translated into Greek. How do we know what the parent text would have said? The only way to know that, would be to compare other instances of the same phenomenon. Thus we would need to find other instances of παρθενος in the Gospel of Matthew, and see how the mysterious translator rendered his aramaic source. Of course the problem with this is that we do not have the aramaic source. Thus we cannot be scientific in our method. In fact it is anybody’s guess what aramaic word Matthew would have used. One could very easily argue and perhaps more plausibly that he used the word bethultha since the Greek translation has παρθενος, which definitely means virgin. One cannot assume that since Isaiah 7:14 in Hebrew as ‘almah that Matthew rendered that literally. He might have modified the citation to bethultha and the Greek translator of the Gospel rendered it appropriately with παρθενος.

      This argument is still based on an assumption that Hebrew ‘almah must mean young woman and not virgin. It seems to make no difference whether the word refers to time in life or state in life. If one is in a virgin state, then during that time one is a virgin and the converse is true. Thus it is still possible to understand ‘almah as virgin, even if in a coincidental way. The LXX translator, who worked long before Jesus Christ was born, also saw this meaning in the context and translated appropriately. The translators of the LXX were Jews. They may have been hellenistic Jews, but they were Jews none the less.

      I will let you answer these, and then I will try to move on to the rest of your points.

  7. You left out one ancient version of Is 7:14 and that is Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew. It is consistent with the Hebrew version of Isaiah and also uses ‘almah’ – young woman rather than ‘bethulah’ which refers to virginity.

    • Romanoz –

      The Shem Tov version is not considered an ancient version. It does not seem to be either ancient or a real version of the Bible. At best, we could call it a Medieval rescension. Shem Tov worked with an already existing Hebrew text, the origins of which we know nothing about. Perhaps it was a Hebrew translation from the Greek original with which he worked. Either way, Shem Tov represents a much later Jewish revision of this translation, and thus it cannot be called a version of Matthew in any respect.

      Perhaps you would like to elaborate on your point?

      • Pope Benedit recently commented on Matthew’s Gospel
        “We no longer have the Gospel written by Matthew in Hebrew or Aramaic – the Pope concluded – but in the Greek Gospel we have we continue to hear, in a way, the persuasive voice of the publican Matthew who, having become an Apostle, continues to announce to
        us God’s redeeming mercy.”
        Of course the Vatican did have a copy of Hebrew Matthew, according to the historian Gibbon, which it “unaccountably lost”! How careless with the word of god.
        We know from early translators such as Jerome, who had access to the Hebrew Matthew, that Matthew quoted the Hebrew Isaiah and rendered the quote from Is 7:14 as “almah” young woman.
        As regards the criticism of Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew I suspect much of it is self serving. It’s interesting to note the impact the discovery of the Isaiah Scrolls at Qumran have had on the translation of Is 7:14. Pre-Scoll we had it rendered as “virgin”,
        post-Scroll it is universally rendered as “young woman”. I suspect we would have a similar situation if a Hebrew Matthew were stumbled upon!

  8. Romanoz –

    Croswaithe quoted the relevant section of Jerome above. There is no mention exactly how Matthew translated or quoted Is. 7:14. Let’s focus on what we do know.

    Jerome’s vulgate translated ‘almah with virgo. One does not have to be a Latin scholar to figure this one out. Furthermore, Jerome believes that he made the most accurate translation of ‘almah because ‘almah comes from the root ‘alam “to cover or hide.” Thus the woman is described as cloistered and therefore necessarily a virgin, according to Jerome. You can find the article by Adam Kamesar in my paper on Justin Martyr.

    I’m really confused by this argument, since, we really have no idea what Matthew’s putative Hebrew original read. Are you sure that he had ‘almah and not bethulah, even the Greek text that we have now seems to indicate the latter?

    • We do know that Jerome thought that Matthew quoted from the Hebrew version of the scriptions in his Hebrew Matthew, the quote above from Crosthwaite shows that. The Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea which is pre-Christian uses ‘almah’. I suppose Jerome could have been using a Hebrew OT which had Is 7:14 as ‘bethulah’, but this would be an assumuption on your part.
      To summarise, Jerome says that Hebrew Matthew, when it quotes from the OT, uses the Hebrew version of the OT rather than the “Seventy”. We know that the Hebrew of Is 7:14 uses ‘almah’, from the Isaiah Scrolls. So it is fair to infer that Hebrew Matthew also uses ‘almah’. This is also consistent with Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew.
      Thank you for helping me to sort out my thoughts on this.

      • Romanoz –

        I said explicitly in my last comment, “Jerome’s vulgate translated ‘almah with virgo.” No one is talking about Jerome’s text as having bethultha.

        All I am pointing out are the dangers of using hypothetical texts. If Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew (and we have no evidence of this version except quotations from patristic sources), there is no guarantee that he simply used the form of the text which later became the Masoretic text, which Jerome certainly used. My point is that the Greek text which we have uses parthenos, which means virgin, and the closest Heb. equivalent to this word is bethultha. Thus if one were to argue from the Greek to the putative Hebrew source, one would more reasonably posit bethultha as the proper source text of the Greek. Just because the OT has ‘almah, one cannot necessarily posit that Matthew would not tweek the citation, even in a Hebrew original, for the benefit of his readers. Again, I do not think this view accounts for the essentially Jewish Greek composition of Matthew’s gospel. I think he either quoted the LXX approvingly (the text form of Matt. agrees with Is. almost exactly), or he offered his own translation of the Hebrew text, in which case he translated ‘almah with parthenos. This view fits with what other scholars say about Papias’ description of Matthew’s gospel written in the “Hebrew dialect.”

        Are you aware of the reference by Papias (preserved in Eusebius) to Matthew writing in the hebrew dialect? Many have taken this reference to mean that Matthew did not write in the Hebrew language but in the Hebrew style? In other words his gospel represents a fine example of Jewish compositional Greek. What are your thoughts on Papias?

  9. “Although we do not know whether Christians or Jews translated the OT Peshitta, this version still testifies to another reading of virgin over young woman.”

    Isn’t it the least bit significant in your eyes that the word used by the Peshitta is the cognate of the Hebrew word betulah (which is used for virgin throughout the Hebrew text), not the one for almah as is used by the Targum. This seems to me relevant both to the implication of almah and the question of whether the OT Peshitta on this verse reflects Jewish or Christian influence.

    • Yirmeyahu –

      Thanks for stopping by.

      It is very significant that P translates the Hebrew with the Semitic word for virgin. My comment simply intends to convey that if Christians translated the book of Isaiah into Syriac, I would expect them to use the word for virgin, not young woman, because it is in accord with their view of the virgin birth. Does that make sense? Now if the Jews translated the book into Syriac, then we have an even stronger argument that the Hebrew text originally meant “virgin” and that both Jews and Christians have read the text this way. However, based on my study of the readings of the Three Jewish revisers and Justin Marty’s Dialogue with Trypho, I do not think Jews were reading the text as “virgin” or bethultha in the second century AD.

      What do you think?

      • I tend to agree with your conclusion but just stronger.🙂 Aramaic and Hebrew, are much closer together than even other semitic languages, or at least it seems to me. As such if Jews of that period felt almah meant virgin then we would still see the Aramaic cognate used. On the other hand, since the cognate of bethulah was used not only can we infer that the translator understood the passage as referring to virgin, we can also infer that they felt that bethulah was a better way to express that than almah. It is very difficult to ascribe such a dichotomy to Jewish translators, so the evidence weighs heavily in favor of a Christian one in my opinion.

        What we are left with, in my opinion, is that while the Christian translators of the Peshitta may have felt Isaiah 7:14 referred to a virgin, they did not necessarily feel that “almah’ meant virgin, whether due to reliance on the Septuagint or general compartmentalization, etc.

        What is your take on parthenos being applied to Dinah in Genesis? I haven’t addressed it in my article yet but I have some thoughts.

      • Yirmeyahu –

        Your comment is taking me some time to evaluate, and I apologize for the delay. I will hopefully have a response in the next couple of weeks due to my comprehensive exams.

        The Dinah example is very interesting. I noticed the Hebrew text has na’ara(h) “young woman” which the LXX translates with παρθενος. Is this the usual translation equivalent?

        Thanks for your comments. I hope to engage them more fully in time.

  10. Please excuse me if I am posting this question in the wrong place–I am not much experienced with blogs. I have a question concerning Theodotion and Symmachus Isaiah. It is well-known that a pre-Theodotion or Ur-Theodotion existed for Daniel and some other books. That is, we have in writings from before Theodotion’s floruit (NT, Apostolic Fathers) readings which agree with Theodotion. This is especially the case in Daniel, but (if I have understood him) Barthelemy holds that this pre-Theodotion text or Ur-Theodotion is also to be found in the kaige texts. Symmachus also exhibits this same phenomenon, in that there are Symmachus readings in texts which belong to the period before Symmachus lived. All this means that Theodotion and Symmachus must have been more revisers of already existing Greek translations than translators who began merely with the Hebrew text and a blank sheet of papyrus.

    Now, my question is, do we have much evidence that these pre-Theodotion and pre-Symmachus translations included the Book of Isaiah? Jellicoe (pg. 87) does mention 1 Cor. 15.54 quote of Isa, 25.8, which agrees with Theodotion. Do we have more extensive evidence?

    I am particularly interested in the translations of Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus of Isa. 64.1 LXX (= 63.19 MT). According to Field, they all three agree in accurately rendering the Hebrew in having the heavens torn, whereas the LXX merely has the heavens opened. Could this reading go back to the first century, or is it more likely the work of the historical Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Darrell Hannah

    • Mr. Hannah,

      My apologies for this slow reply.

      My thinking regarding the question of Ur-Theodotion is quite different than the consensus view. My doctoral supervisor, Peter Gentry, wrote his doctoral dissertation, The Asterisked Materials in the Greek Job (Published by SBLSCS, 38, 1995), and he concluded that we ought to put a moratorium on Ur-Theodotion or Proto-Theodotion, at least for the Job materials. Basically, he suggested that instead of thinking that the order of the revisors was Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, he posited that Theodotion was first, then Aquila, and finally Symmachus. The translation technique of Theodotion in Job more closely aligns with the Greek Minor Prophets scroll (early 1st century AD), and it occupies a mediating technique between the Greek Psalter on the one hand and Aquila on the other.

      Gentry notes that some patristic testimony will have to be overturned, but he notes that the Fathers who comment on the Three are, with the exception of Jerome and even his testimony is conflicting, are not reliable guides to the Jewish tradition in the first two centuries. However, he does warn about simply trying to find NT and Patristic citations from the Three which occur before their supposed date of flourishing and saying that they worked prior or that there was a proto-X. We need more careful studies of these matters.

      Now to your specific questions regarding Isaiah. Regarding the evidence of the Three, as a rule, you should consult the second Apparatus of the Goettingen editions, wherever possible, instead of Field. J. Ziegler was the editor of the Isaiah volume. In many cases, the second apparatus has updated the state of the evidence of the Three, since the time of Field. It is interesting to me that a Theodotion citation (Is 25:8) is found in the NT. According to Gentry’s thesis we might expect this. Regarding Isaiah 64:1, I would presume that these readings are from the historical Three, but I would want to investigate the nature of the agreement of the reading. Sometimes, Theod can be used by Aq and Symm at a later time.

      Does this help? Any feedback?

      John Meade

  11. I regards to the LXX rendering na-ar as vigin, I suspect they were following a rabbinic interpretation which took the deficient “hey” to mean the girl was seperate from a man. “If a girl (na’arah) is a virgin, na’arah is written without a letter Hei (na’ar). What is the reason for this, It is because she has not been linked to a male. And wherever male and female are seperate, the letter Hei cannot be found.”

  12. Justin debated the readings of Aquila and Theodotion, two of the Three Jewish revisers of the LXX in the first and second centuries. These two translated the text as follows: ἰδοὺ ἡ νεᾶνις ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν. They clearly remove the idea of chaste woman from the text. Of course a young woman might incidentally be a virgin, but ἡ νεᾶνις renders the Hebrew העלמה and implies that the conception and the birth of the son will happen in the natural way.

    What would you say about the LXX translation of 1 Kings (aka ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΩΝ Γ) chapter 1 verse 4?

    καὶ ἡ νεᾶνις καλὴ ἕως σφόδρα·
    καὶ ἦν θάλπουσα τὸν βασιλέα
    καὶ ἐλειτούργει αὐτῷ,
    καὶ ὁ βασιλεὺς οὐκ ἔγνω αὐτήν.

    Doesn’t the king not “knowing” her imply that this נערה (na`ara[h]) is chaste?

    And how about what Euripides does in his play “Helen” (around line 167)? He has Helen calling out to these:

    πτεροφόροι νεάνιδες,
    παρθένοι Χθονὸς κόραι
    Σειρῆνες,

    Richmond Lattimore translates this phrase as follows:

    … winged women in form
    young and maiden, daughters of earth,
    O Sirens …

    What’s more, Lattimore translates Matthew’s

    ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ

    as

    Behold the maiden shall conceive in her womb …

    Doesn’t this suggest that both ἡ νεᾶνις ἐν γαστρὶ and ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ are ambiguous in similar ways? Is it possible that either phrase does “clearly remove the idea of chaste woman” or that either clearly adds this idea?

    • Thanks for these references. I have rethought my view of this verse in recent months. I am perfectly fine with what you have written in this comment. That fact is that παρθενος simply means young woman in this verse and in other places in the LXX and wider Greek literature (cf. Dina in Gen 34:3). The word generally means young woman and ideally a virgin, but the latter sense is not required in every context. I understand the revisers’ use of νεανις to make sense only in a context where παρθενος has been hijacked or used to mean “chaste woman” only (which by the time of Justin Martyr, it clearly had been, since Trypho never disputes this point but only relies on his different version which had νεανις). The Jewish revisers of the 1-2 centuries chose a word which could still mean chaste, as you point out, but it is a word that would be used to imply childbirth in the normal way. Thanks for your comment.

      • Thank you for your reply! And I should have said first that this is a great post. A related question: Would Aquila and Theodotion have paid attention to the fact that the phrase νεᾶνις is not even once used by the writers of the NT? (In the LXX, of course, both terms discussed are used rather frequently sometimes in redundant ways as in the Septuagint’s Deuteronomy 22, where παρθένια τῇ νεάνιδι is part of verse 20). Clearly their change of the LXX to ἡ νεᾶνις ἐν γαστρὶ is rather marked. But it is not at all a New Testament usage.

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  14. Hello, I was happy to find your blog–sorry to comment on such an old post. I have one comment and one question, if that’s okay.

    The comment is about Justin’s argument about a “sign” in Isaiah 7. I’ve heard preachers use this one before as proof that Mary’s virginity was the sign in question, but it just doesn’t hold any water. In Exodus 3:12, God tells Moses that the “sign” of God’s salvation will be when the people arrive at Mount Sinai and worship there. In other words, the sign isn’t itself a miracle, but rather something that Moses will be able to see that will remind him of what God has done. In the Hebrew of Isaiah 7, it makes perfectly good sense that the “sign” will simply be the moment when Ahaz realizes his child has grown up, and that he has not been destroyed by Rezin and Pekah.

    Of course, someone could simply posit that Isaiah really meant for the sign to be a virgin birth, but that would be begging the question. The force of Justin’s argument is that the word “sign” would *only* make sense if the sign itself were a miracle, and Exodus 3 proves that’s just not true.

    Anyway, then a question, which is only loosely related: Do you know where a person can go to find a text of Theodotion’s translation of the OT? I have the Ziegler volume of Isaiah, but reconstructing verse by verse is a huge hassle, plus it’s hard to know if I’m reading the apparatus right. Do you know if anyone has published a volume––or even put together an online version, etc., that has Theodotion as a running text in Isaiah?

    Thanks so much

    • Hi Scott –
      Great questions. My reading of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho leads me to believe that he thought that the sign was a miracle. In fact he thought his greatest argument for παρθενος meaning “virgin” was the miraculous birth which would satisfy the “sign.” What the OT means is another question🙂.

      There is no single edition of Theodotion. All of our evidence is fragmentary. Therefore, all we have are the Goettingen Editions and the forthcoming fascicles of the Hexapla Institute.

      Hope this helps.

  15. Pingback: Is the Virgin Birth Prophecy a Mistranslation? | Veracity

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