Have you ever thought you were so familiar with something, only to find out later you’d been overlooking some important details? This happens to me with songs, books, and movies. I hear, read, or see them so many times, only to be amazed when, out of the blue, I notice something in them I didn’t see before. Sometimes this happens to us with familiar Bible passages too.
Here’s the familiar: Jesus was born of a virgin, and Isaiah 7:14 prophesied about it. Nothing shocking yet. But let’s look at the details surrounding Isaiah’s statement about the virgin birth.
King Ahaz of Judah was having a bad day. Ephraim and Syria were attacking Jerusalem and trying to overthrow the king. So, God sends Isaiah to King Ahaz to tell him these attackers won’t be successful but will be destroyed. Then God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refuses. God gives him one anyway. Here it is: “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
Wait a second. How is the prophecy about Jesus being born of a virgin a sign for Ahaz? Jesus won’t be born for another 700 years. Let’s keep reading.
He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken. (Isa. 7:15–16)
These verses explain the sign God is giving Ahaz. A baby named Immanuel will be born, and before the kid is very old, the kings attacking Ahaz will be gone. This was fulfilled in Ahaz’s day, and the little boy named Immanuel was an ongoing sign that God delivered Ahaz and Judah. We find in the very next chapter of Isaiah that Immanuel was living during Ahaz’s reign (Isa. 8:8).
The main point of this sign in Isaiah is that a child would shortly be born, and his mom would name him Immanuel (God with us). If your city were under siege by Ephraim and Syria, you most likely wouldn’t name your kid “God with us”—maybe “God help us,” but not “God with us.” The sign of a baby being given the name Immanuel indicated that in a very short time, the war would be over.
Now, I know what you are thinking. Isn’t Isaiah 7:14 about Jesus’ virgin birth? Are there two virgin births in the Bible? The short answer is no. Let me explain.
The word used for “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 is the Hebrew word alma. This word refers to a young woman, a maid, or a newly married woman. Though young women were usually virgins (if unmarried), this Hebrew word didn’t refer specifically to a virgin (someone who hasn’t had sex). That word is betula, and it’s frequently used in the Old Testament (Gen. 24:16, Deut. 22:19, Est. 2:2).
The Isaiah 7:14 sign given to Ahaz wasn’t about a miraculous virgin birth. It was about the name of a child soon to be born, which signified the war would be over.
So, was Jesus born of a virgin or just a young woman? To answer this question, we need to see something new in the familiar. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Greek, not Hebrew. When Matthew quotes Isaiah 14:7 in Matthew 1:23, he quotes the Septuagint version of this verse.
The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was completed prior to Jesus’ birth. The reason it’s important for our question is that it shows us the Greek word the translators used for the Hebrew word alma. That word is parthenos.
Here’s where things get interesting. When the Septuagint was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the word parthenos meant “a young woman of marriable age,” much like the Hebrew word alma. However, by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, the word parthenos had come to mean “one who has never engaged in sexual intercourse.”
So, what does all this mean? Matthew tells us that “all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matt. 1:22). This sign, given by God to Ahaz, was fulfilled in the child Immanuel, who was born to a young woman during Ahaz’s reign. But Matthew tells us there’s a further fulfillment of this sign in the virgin birth of Jesus.
This shows us that God, the true author of Scripture, not only can accurately predict future events but is also sovereign over the development of language. God knew Isaiah 7:14 would be further fulfilled by Jesus’ birth to a virgin, even though the original sign wasn’t about a virgin, but a young woman giving birth to a son and naming him Immanuel.
I hope these new details to these familiar passages leave you in awe of our God. He not only knows the future, but he also knows how language will develop over time. He inspires human authors of Scripture to record signs that will have a fuller meaning 700 years in the future. What a powerful, awesome, and intelligent God we serve.
 For an in depth look at alma, betula, and parthenos, see “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible? (ISAIAH 7:14): A Prophetic Pattern Approach.”