Some commentators feel that the prophecy of the virgin birth appears within a longer prophecy that runs from Isaiah 7 through Isaiah 12. A theme that holds this seemingly disjointed prophecy together is a string of Messianic prophecies, of which the virgin birth is merely the first (see Isaiah 7:14; 8:16; 9:2, 6-7; 11:1-5, 10). This is important in debunking a popular argument that the virgin-birth prophecy was only for the particular situation in Ahaz's day. The other nearby Messianic prophecies weaken this contention considerably.
Like many Old Testament prophecies, the sign of the virgin birth has both a typical and an antitypical—or a near and a later—fulfillment. Ahaz (c. 731-715 BC) was afraid that the recent alliance between Israel and Syria would tip the balance of power and spell Judah's doom. God, however, assures Ahaz through Isaiah that no such thing would happen—in fact, within 65 years, Israel itself would be completely gone from the land (Isaiah 7:8)! The virgin birth, thought by some to be by a maiden within Ahaz's house, was a sign from God that He would surely bring this to pass. Further, before the child could distinguish good from evil, both kings of Israel and Syria would be dead (verse 16; see II Kings 15:30; 16:9)!
Unfortunately, neither Isaiah nor the authors of the books of Kings and Chronicles document the fulfillment of this prophecy in Ahaz's time. We are left to assume that it indeed happened, or it would be a worthless sign to Ahaz. The virgin and her son Immanuel remain unknown in history.
The only other significant debate regarding this prophecy is the Hebrew word 'almâ, translated "virgin." The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament comments:
Since betûlâ is used many times in the OT as a specific word for "virgin," it seems reasonable to consider that the feminine form of this word ['almâ] is not a technical word for a virgin but represents a young woman, one of whose characteristics is virginity. This is borne out by the fact that the LXX translates it as parthenos in two of its seven occurrences, and that its use in Isa 7:14 was quoted to Joseph by the angel as a prediction of the virgin birth. . . . There is no instance where it can be proved that 'almâ designates a young woman who is not a virgin.
The Greek term for "virgin," parthenos, which Matthew uses in Matthew 1:23, has exactly the same meaning and nuances. Spiros Zodhiates writes in The Complete Word Study New Testament, "Generally it refers to a maiden or damsel of marriageable age," yet "particularly in the sense of one who has not known a man." The plain sense of both usages is that a literal virgin is meant. Otherwise, the sign becomes "no big deal"—thousands of young women have sons every day! But how often does a virgin bear a son?
Unlike the Catholic Church, the church of God, though believing in the virgin birth, does not make it a major doctrine. It is important as a proof of Jesus' Messiahship, and it adds detail to the transcendental nature of the Son of God. In the end, however, like Luke, we must place our focus on Him and the wonderful works He performed as a human being like us, as well as all the many things He does for us still as our High Priest before the Father.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Behold, A Virgin Shall Conceive . . .'