This Sunday I am talking about the naming of Jesus, and so I am reading from Matthew 1 and the story reads like this in the CEB.
Matthew 1:23 (CEB)
Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel.
Which is great, it’s probably what we all remember. But the passage is actually a “quote” from Isaiah 7 which reads like this:
Isaiah 7:14 (CEB)
Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.
Huh? They don’t match. Why would the CEB translators make the Isaiah passage say “young woman” when the Matthew passage says “virgin?” Well probably because rather than force the translation to match, the editors felt that each passage deserved it’s own delivery. But does the Isaiah passage NOT use the word for virgin?
Well… that’s where it gets tricky…
The word in the Hebrew is the word “almah” …here it is in Genesis
Genesis 24:43 (CEB)
When I’m standing by the spring and the young woman who comes out to draw water and to whom I say, “ Please give me a little drink of water from your jar.
Notice again, it says “young woman.” But this young woman is Rebecca and she is being sized up as a future wife for Isaac – now, do we “assume” she is NOT a virgin? Oh no way, she would not even be considered for a respectable marriage if she had ever been with a man.
In fact in no reference in the Hebrew scriptures is the word “almah” ever used for a woman who has had sexual relations or been previously married.
Another valuable tool for helping translators understand the Hebrew language is the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew). In the Septuagint, the “almah” in Isaiah 7:14, reads “parthenos.” This is a word that clealy means a woman who has not known a man. So we know that ancient translators had this same understanding; that Mary was a “virgin.”
But even more interesting than this word for “virgin” is the word a few steps before it. It’s the Hebrew word “owth” that we always translate as the word “sign.” Why would it be considered a “sign” if just any random young woman has a baby and names him Immanuel?
Well, it’s not…. a sign should be something that stands out as unique and noteworthy.
Well, the Hebrew word “owth” also means “miracle.”
Tell me, would it be a “miracle” if any random girl had a baby and gave him a name?
The “miracle” comes in the fact that a “young woman” who has never had sex – becomes pregnant.
But if you need more convincing, drop on over to Luke 1:34 (CEB)
Then Mary said to the angel, “ How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man? ”
This is the Greek word “ginosko” the Greek “keyword” for having SEX.
So let’s say it like this… even if Isaiah didn’t know that Mary would be a “virgin” or just a “young girl…”
Mary knew and that works for me.
So do I think the CEB translators don’t know Mary was a virgin, or that they don’t care? Are we questioning if they don’t believe in the “virgin birth” or have some conspiratory motive behind the action?
And while I can’t speak for them, I have to believe that attention is given to each word and so rather than “force” the word to fit so that there is consistency, the bible translators leave room for discussion.
Clearly this translation says she was a young woman AND she was a virgin.
So rather than take away from the discussion, I think this adds to it.