One of the methods you used in your tape series to refute missionary claims is to point out the context of the prophecy. For example, you point out that the seventh chapter of Isaiah cannot be a prophecy about Jesus’ virgin birth because it suggests that the prophecy was to have been fulfilled in Ahaz’s lifetime, some 700 years before Jesus.
Still, maybe this is a “double prophecy,” a prophecy about a boy to be born in the days of Ahaz and also a prophecy to the birth of Jesus. The context is only for the first application of this double prophecy. Rabbi, do you have any comments?
When missionaries are confronted with the glaring problem that the context of Isaiah 7:14 is unrelated to the messiah or a virgin birth, they frequently argue that Isaiah 7:14 is a “dual prophecy.”
In order to fully grasp the massive theological problem missionaries are seeking to escape with using this response, let’s begin by exploring the traumatic circumstance that is unfolding in the seventh chapter of Isaiah. This event is completely inconsistent with Matthew’s application of these passages to his virgin-birth story.
As mentioned earlier, the word “virgin”does not appear in the seventh chapter of Isaiah. The author of the first Gospel deliberately mistranslated the Hebrew word הָעַלְמָה (ha’almah) as “a virgin.” This Hebrew word, however, does not mean “a virgin.” It simple means “the young woman,”with no implication of sexual purity. Most modern Christian Bibles1
have corrected this erroneous translation, and their Bibles now correctly translate this Hebrew word as “the young woman.”
Matthew, however, not only changed the meaning of the word הָעַלְמָה to apply this verse from the Jewish Scriptures to the virgin birth, he also completely ripped Isaiah 7:14 out of context and utilize it to support his infancy narrative of Jesus.
The seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah begins by describing the Syro-Ephraimite War, a military crisis that threatened Ahaz, King of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
In about the year 732 B.C.E. the House of David was facing imminent destruction at the hands of In about the year 732 B.C.E. the House of David 732 B.C.E. the House of David was facing imminent destruction at the hands of two warring kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Syria. These two armies had laid siege to Jerusalem. The Bible relates that the House of David and King Ahaz were gripped with fear. Accordingly, God sent the prophet Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz that divine protection was at hand – the Almighty would protect him, the deliverance of his citizens was assured, and the formidable armies of Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel would fail in their attempt to subjugate Jerusalem. In Isaiah 7:1-16 we read,
And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, king of Aram, and Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel, marched on Jerusalem to wage war against it, and he could not wage war against it. It was told to the House of David, saying, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim,” and his heart and the heart of his people trembled as the trees of the forest tremble because of the wind. The Lord said to Isaiah, “Now go out toward Ahaz, you and Shear-Yashuv your son to the edge of the conduit of the upper pool, to the road of the washer’s field, and you shall say to him, ‘Feel secure and calm yourself, do not fear, and let your heart not be faint because of these two smoking stubs of firebrands, because of the raging anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. Since Aram planned harm to you, Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, saying: “Let us go up against Judah and provoke it, and annex it to us; and let us crown a king in its midst, one who is good for us.” So said the Lord God, “Neither shall it succeed, nor shall it come to pass….”‘ The Lord continued to speak to Ahaz, saying, “Ask for yourself a sign from the Lord, your God; ask it either in the depths, or in the heights above.” Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not test the Lord.” Then he said, “Listen now, O House of David, is it little for you to weary men, that you weary my God as well? 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. Cream and honey he shall eat when he knows to reject bad and choose good; for, when the lad does not yet know to reject bad and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread, shall be abandoned.”
It is clear from this chapter that Isaiah’s declaration was a prophecy of the unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem by the two hostile armies of the Kingdoms of Israel and Syria, not a virgin birth more than seven centuries later.
If we interpret this chapter as referring to Jesus’ birth, what possible comfort and assurance would Ahaz, who was surrounded by to overwhelming military enemies, have found in the birth of a child seven centuries later? Both he and his people would have been long dead and buried. Such a sign would make no sense.
Verses 15-16 state that by the time this child reaches the age of maturity (“he knows to reject bad and choose good”), the two warring kings, Pekah and Rezin, will have been removed. In II Kings 15-16, it becomes clear that this prophecy was fulfilled contemporaneously, when both kings, Pekah and Retsin, were assassinated. It is clear from the context of Isaiah’s seventh chapter that the child born in Isaiah 7:14 is not Jesus or any future virgin birth. Rather, it is referring to the divine protection that King Ahaz and his people would enjoy during the Syro-Ephraimite War.
This is where the Christian response of a dual prophecy comes in. Missionaries attempt to explain away this stunning problem of Matthew’s complete indifference to the biblical context of Isaiah 7:14 by claiming that Isaiah’s words to Ahaz had two different applications. They concede that the first application of Isaiah’s prophecy must have been addressed to Ahaz and his immediate crisis. That child that was born contemporaneously, and the first leg of this dual prophesy was fulfilled at the time of Ahaz, 2,700 years ago.
Missionaries insist, remarkably, that the second leg of this dual prophecy applied to Jesus’ virgin birth 2,000 years ago. Using this elaborate explanation, Christian apologists maintain that Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 is entirely appropriate. In short, these Christians claim that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled twice: The first, in 732 B.C.E., and a second time in the year 1 C.E. Problem solved?
The self-inflicted problems spawned by this adventurous dual-fulfillment explanation are staggering. The notion of a dual prophecy was fashioned without any Biblical foundation. Nowhere in the seventh chapter of Isaiah does the text indicate or even hint of a second fulfillment.2
This notion of a dual prophecy was contrived in order to conceal a stunning theological problem – the seventh chapter of Isaiah does not support Matthew’s virgin birth story. Matthew’s claim that Mary was untouched by a man when she conceived Jesus in unsupported by the Book of Isaiah.
The seventh chapter of Isaiah describes, in great detail, a contemporaneous, traumatic civil war which occurred 2,700 years ago, not the birth of a messiah many centuries later. Simply put, the Book of Matthew ripped Isaiah 7:14 completely out of context. Moreover, if, as missionaries argue, the Hebrew word almah can only mean a “virgin,” and, as they insist, Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled twice, who was the first virgin to conceive during Ahaz’s lifetime? Were there two virgin births?
In other words, if Christians claim that the virgin birth of Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled on two occasions, who was the first virgin to deliver a baby boy during the lifetime of Isaiah, in about 732 B.C.E.? Bear in mind that these missionaries zealously insist that the word almah can only mean a “virgin.” Are they then suggesting that Mary was not the only virgin in history to conceive and give birth to a son?
Furthermore, if missionaries argue that the seventh chapter of Isaiah contains a dual prophecy, how do the verses that follow, Isaiah 7:15-16, apply to Jesus where the prophet continues to discuss this lad? The following passages state,
Cream and honey he shall eat when he knows to reject bad and choose good; 16 for, when the lad does not yet know to reject bad and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread, shall be abandoned.
If the seventh chapter of Isaiah contains a dual prophecy, at what age did the baby Jesus mature? Which were the two kingdoms identified by the prophet Isaiah that were abandoned during Jesus’ lifetime? Who, during the first century C.E., “dreaded” the Kingdom of Israel when there had not been a Northern Kingdom of Israel in existence for 700 years? When did Jesus eat cream and honey? Does this biblical somersault make any sense? This argument is devoid of reason because this wild assertion of a dual prophecy was born out of a hopeless attempt to explain away Matthew’s transparent mistranslation of the Jewish Scriptures.
Very truly yours,
Rabbi Tovia Singer
Numerous Christian translators do not support Matthew’s misquote of Isaiah 7:14 and correctly translate almah as “young woman” in Isaiah 7:14. These Christian translators include:
- Revised Standard Version
- New English Bible
- Revised English Bible
- New Revised Standard Version
- The Message of the Bible
- The Layman’s Bible Commentary
- The Bible: A New Translation
- The Bible: An American Translation
- The New Jerusalem Bible (Catholic)
- International Critical Commentary
- Good News Bible
- World Biblical Commentary
- The Bible in Basic English ↩
I once heard a missionary try to explain away the problem of the unbiblical nature of a dual prophecy by claiming that in the seventh chapter of Isaiah, the prophet addressed himself to King Ahaz in both the singular “you” and the plural “you.” (Although in the English language no such distinction exists, in the Hebrew language “you” can be expressed in both the singular and the plural.)
He went on to explain that at times the prophet addressed Ahaz alone, and in other places in this chapter, the prophet addressed the House of David, employing a plural pronoun. He concluded, therefore, that whenever the prophet addressed the House of David or spoke in the plural”you,” he was addressing the future virgin birth of Jesus seven centuries later. On the other hand, whenever the prophet addressed Ahaz or spoke in the singular “you,” he was addressing the immediate crisis regarding Ahaz and the two kingdoms who were poised to defeat him. In Isaiah 7:14, he argued, the Hebrew word “la’chem” is a plural “you” and it therefore was addressing the future virgin birth of Jesus which was associated with the House of David, not Ahaz and his immediate military crisis.
I replied to him that this chapter quite clearly declares that it was both the House of David and Ahaz who were threatened by the immediate crisis, not just Ahaz alone. Every reference to the House of David and plural “you” which was addressed to the entire Davidic House referred only to the military crisis described in this chapter.
In fact, in the second verse in this chapter, Isaiah relates that both Ahaz and the House of David were informed of the immediate crisis of the two warring kingdoms. This verse, therefore, goes on to say, that both his heart (Ahaz — singular) and the heart of the people (the House of David — plural) trembled with fear. It was not Ahaz alone who was terrified of these two hostile armies, but the entire House of David as well.
The reason that the prophet saw fit to repeatedly address Ahaz as the House of David and in the plural “you” throughout this chapter was because Ahaz was a wicked king. As such, Ahaz did not merit God’s merciful intervention. Nevertheless, the Almighty did save Ahaz in the merit of the covenant that He forged with King David (II Samuel 7:12-16). The reason these two kingdoms laid siege to Jerusalem was to undermine the throne of David (Isaiah 7:6). As mentioned above, the Almighty promised King David that the House of David — his dynasty — would be preserved regardless of the worthiness of the king. God rescued King Ahaz in the merit of the House of David – the Davidic Covenant – not as a result of Ahaz’s own piety. Accordingly, the prophet delivers this profound message by addressing King Ahaz both as the House of David and in the plural “you.” ↩