We need to respond to this claim, since this issue was brought up
by the extremely cunning Porphyrios during the 3rd century A.D.
First of all, let's see what Isaiah had said:
this, the Lord Himself will give you
a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive
and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel.”
There are 51 verses in the
Old Testament in which the word “bethulah” is used.
It is our conviction that,
first of all,
the word “bethulah” does not always signify a virgin;
that the word “almah” at times indeed refers to a
virgin, and in fact –based on the given trends of that
era- the word
even if the translation had the word “young maiden”
instead of “virgin”, or, if Isaiah had indeed implied “a
young maiden”, even so, that young woman would have to
have been a virgin.
The fact that the word “bethulah” does not
always mean “virgin”, is evident in various verses of the
In Genesis, we note:
Genesis 24: 15,16:
it came about before he had finished speaking in his
mind, that then, behold, Rebekka, who was born to
Bathouel son of Melcha the wife of Nachor—and he was
Abraam’s brother—was coming out with her water jar on
her shoulders. Now the maiden was very beautiful in
appearance; she was a maiden (betulah)—no
man had known her.
So then going down to the spring she filled her jar and
Genesis 24: 43:
"Behold, I stand near the spring of water, and the
daughters of the people of the city will come out to
fetch water, and it shall be that the maiden
whom I should say, “Give me a little water from your jar
Rebecca is referred to as “bethulah”;
but that word was obviously not adequate enough to let
us know that she was a virgin, thus, the author added
the clarification that “no
man had known her”
to that day.
Whereas, in verse 43, Rebecca is referred to
as “almah”, which was obviously a satisfactory term for the
author of Genesis to indicate that Rebecca was a virgin. The
author of Genesis did not add any clarification after the
word “almah”, that “no man had known Rebecca”, obviously
because the word “almah” implies the absence of carnal
There are quite a number of instances where
the use of the word “bethulah” is accompanied by the
clarification of “not having carnal knowledge”.
In Joel 1:8 we read:
"Lament like a bride
girded with sackcloth, for the husband
(ba’al) of her youth..."
We notice here that a bride – in other words,
a woman who has had carnal relations – is referred to as “kibetulah”.
Normally, if the word “bethulah” signified “virgin”, it
would be inappropriate to use it for a married woman, who is
mourning for her “virginal” husband, i.e., the husband whom
she was married to, a very long time ago (=from the time she
was a virgin).
This last point is very important, because
some people insist that the “bride” mentioned in the above
verse is merely betrothed (and not wed), and therefore has
no carnal relations as yet. However, this mode of
expression denotes a very long period of time (hence she
cannot still be engaged), as is apparent in the wording of
your well of water be solely your own, and rejoice with
Furthermore, the betrothed of a young woman
is called “ish” and not “ba’al”, which is always used when
referring to a married man, and not to one who is betrothed.
The word “bethulah” does not chiefly imply “virgin”; it
signifies a young woman who lives in her father’s house.
times in the Old Testament, in the Singular and Plural (Genesis 24:43, Exodus 2:8,
68:25, Song of Solomon 1:3 and
In none of these verses is it used to mean “a married
woman” or women (i.e. who are not virgins).
But even in the languages of other peoples of
the Middle East, the word equivalent to the term “bethulah” does not
necessarily signify “virgin” (in its biological sense).
For example, the Akkadian term “batultu” basically denotes
an age group. Only when it is within a special context,
does it imply “virgin”. In the Ugarit texts,
is the usual characterization of Anat, Baal’s wife. In
Aramaic texts, we read of a woman “btwlt”
who is in labour.
At any rate, if Isaiah had prophesied that a
…non-virgin was to give birth to a son, it would not have
been much of a “sign given by God”. After all, for a
non-virgin to give birth to a son is nothing wondrous or
unusual; nor is it a miracle sent by God so to speak, since
all women that give birth are naturally not virgins.
In other words, it would have been illogical for Isaiah
to speak of a non-virgin giving birth to a son, and
present it as a miracle. Even if the word
“almah” does not precisely denote “virgin”, but simply
“young maiden” – a young woman who is not yet married –
Isaiah would still not have referred to a birth by a
non-virgin as something miraculous.
the young (unmarried) women of that time were virgins.
Saint Basil the Great in his “Interpretation
of Isaiah", p. 464, writes of the allegations of the Judeans
(and of Porphyrios),
"The Jews are resisting the publication of
the Septuagint edition, claiming that the word “Virgin” does
not agree with the Jewish view, instead it should be “the
Young Maiden”, in that it implies a young woman who is in
the prime of her life, and not to a woman who is unfamiliar
To which, Saint Basil replied:
“Unless it is a tremendous
sign and a display of something different to the commonplace
people, what is there so wondrous about one out of many
women who cohabits with a man, to become the mother of a
child? How then can it also be, for a child born of fleshly
desire to be called Emmanuel? (Emmanuel=the Lord is amongst
that, if the event was indeed a "sign", the birth would
also be paradoxical. If the manner of the child's
birth was commonplace, it would neither be called a
"sign", nor would the child be called "Emmanuel".
Likewise, if the woman who gave birth was not a virgin,
what kind of "sign" would that be? And if the birth was
not divine -as many claim- then how is the presence of
Essentially, what Saint Basil is saying is:
"where is the miracle, if a married woman became the mother
of a child? And if that was considered the “sign” (in other
words the miracle), then, the way it was born must
have been uncommon. If it was the commonplace kind of birth, then
it would not have been called a miracle. If it wasn’t a
virgin who was going to give birth, then where is the miracle?"
Saint Basil also provides us with
other examples: in Deuteronomy
22:27 and Kings III 1:3-4, where virgins are referred to
Even if Isaiah had used the word “almah” instead of “bethulah”, he still implied
the same thing, i.e., that a virgin was to give birth to a son. Otherwise, the
prophesying of this miracle (the wondrous sign) would not have made any sense. The
Septuagint translators had very appropriately translated the word “almah” as
“virgin”, because that is precisely what Isaiah wanted to stress: that a woman,
who had no carnal relations, was to bear a son. That is what constitutes a
miracle and a “sign”.