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Bible prophecies

Isaiah 7:14 "Behold, a virgin shall conceive..." 

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The prophecy is perhaps the best known of all the predictions in the Bible. It is often read at Christmas time:

Isaiah 7:14-17: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings." 1

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Isaiah 7:14 according to many religious conservatives:

Their belief is grounded in the concept that the Bible is inerrant -- it is free of errors. Thus, if one passage of the Bible predicts an event, and one or more later passages state that the event actually happened, then both the prediction and the fulfillment actually occurred as stated. The prophecy is true. In this case, a virgin conception is such a miraculous event, that if the prophecy came true, one could conclude that the prediction was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

bullet In Isaiah 7:14, the writer is recorded as predicting in 734 BCE that a "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
bullet In Matthew 1:18-20, the author describes the birth of Jesus which had happened in 4 to 7 BCE -- many decades in his past. He stated: "...When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost...that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost..." In Matthew 1:23, the author quotes Isaiah: "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.' "
bullet Probably within ten years after Matthew wrote the above passage, the author of the Gospel of Luke wrote in Luke 1:26-35: "...the angel Gabriel was sent...To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary...behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS...The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

Isaiah prophesized, during the 8th century BCE, the miraculous event that a virgin would conceive. The event happened circa 6 BCE and was infallibly recorded during the first century CE by two independent Gospel writers. The prophecy came true. It was only one of many dozens of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) which predicted elements of Jesus' life and which were verified by the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) as having actually happened.

The Bible cannot have any internal conflicts that cannot eventually be harmonized. The writers of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew both state that Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant. So this must have been true. Thus the prophecy made over seven centuries earlier came true.

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Isaiah 7:14 according to some religious liberals:]

Many religious liberals would interpret the passage, as follows:

bullet The author of Matthew quoted the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Septuagint contains a translation error made when the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:14 was converted into Greek. Isaiah used almah to describe a young girl who would give birth. In Hebrew, an almah is a young woman of marriageable age. If he wanted to refer to a virgin, he would have used the word bethulah. The creators of the Greek translation, the Septuagint, mistranslated the Hebrew almah into the Greek parthenos, meaning virgin. The authors of Matthew and Luke were probably unable to read Hebrew; they would have relied on the Septuagint translation in Greek. They based part of their writing on the error in the Greek. They were obviously creating a story in order to make the prophecy come true.
bullet Isaiah's prophecy was that the child Immanuel was to have been born in 742 BCE, the first year of King Ahaz's reign. Ahaz, the king of Judah, faced the combined armies of Syria and Israel. Isaiah explained to Ahaz that he should not form an alliance with Assyria. In support of this advice, God would provide a sign: a young woman would conceive and bear a child who would be named Immanuel. 2The sign would have only have been effective if it happened almost immediately. It would not have convinced King Ahaz that Isaiah's prophecy was valid if it was not fulfilled until after King Ahaz' death! 
bullet Isaiah was clearly not referring to some event that would occur centuries later. When he referred to the far future, as in Chapter 11, he typically used a phrase such as "In that day."
bullet The translation of the Hebrew name Immanuel, (Greek Emmanouel) as "God with us" in Matthew 1:23 implies that the name-holder is divine. The name really means "God is with us," meaning that God will support us. The name makes perfect sense if the child's name was to indicate to King Ahaz that God is on their side.

Luke 1 states that Mary would call her son Yeshua (Jesus in Greek). He is called Yeshua throughout the Christian Scriptures -- not Immanuel.

The idea of Jesus being born to a virgin was not prophesized by Isaiah. Rather, Isaiah must have been referring to a young woman who gave birth to a son circa 742 BCE -- a very normal occurrence. He predicted that she would call his name Immanuel. Many births to young women would have probably happened at that time. But, there is no mention either in the Bible or in the historical or archaeological record that positively refers to an Immanuel having been born. It may or may not have come true. But the prophecy certainly was unrelated to Jesus' birth.

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  1. King James version of the Bible
  2. Tim Callahan, "Bible prophecy: Failure or fulfillment?," Millennium Press, (1997), Page 6. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  3. "Who is Jesus - Preview: What were people saying before he was born," Campus Crusade for Christ Online, at: 
  4. B.M. Metzger & M.D. Googan, Eds., "The Oxford Companion to the Bible," Oxford University Press, (1993), Page 789 to 790. Read reviews or order this book

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Copyright 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUN-30
Latest update: 2007-AUG-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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