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14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Mary knew but Joseph only knew after a dream from God.

If something is a sign, it is meant to be verified but how could anyone verify that Mary was a virgin when she conceived (and therefore a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14)?

UPDATE
Someone suggested this as a duplicate but this does not answer my question: Why does Luke call the birth of Christ a sign in Luke 2:11-12?

The birth of a child is a sign because it can be witnessed: look a baby is being born and . . . now He's born.

Whether or not Mary was a virgin ... well that can be verified but only awkwardly. It would be like saying

I will give you a sign: the mother's heart will be on the right side (dextrocardia)

It can be verified but not easily.

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  • 2
    The Isaiah passage is not explicitly about Jesus. The word often translated as virgin is better as ‘young woman’, and there are other details that don’t align with the Gospels
    – Steve
    Oct 10, 2022 at 7:04
  • 2
    Even those who think Jesus is a fulfilment of this prophecy recognise that there was an initial partial fulfilment as explained in the next chapter.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 10, 2022 at 12:10
  • Does this answer your question? Why does Luke call the birth of Christ a sign in Luke 2:11-12?
    – Michael16
    Oct 10, 2022 at 17:31
  • check sefaria for some jewish commentaries like Rashi on the verse to see the exposition on the meaning of "sign".
    – Michael16
    Oct 10, 2022 at 17:32
  • 1
    Also, Mary affirms to be a virgin in front of the angel (Luke 1:34) and she isn't corrected. This means the angels didn't see anything wrong from what Mary said / did. The same didn't happen with Sarah in Genesis 18:12-15, or with the apostle John in Revelation 22:8–9. Oct 12, 2022 at 7:27

7 Answers 7

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This verse has nothing to do with Jesus. And you can see that new translations by christian scholars of this verse translate עלמה into 'young woman', and no longer into 'virgin'. The hebrew word for virgin is actually בתולה (See for example Gen 24:16 in Hebrew).

And if you would read it within context, you could understand it by yourself that it has nothing to do with Jesus.

“The LORD again spoke to Ahaz: "Ask for a confirming sign from the LORD your God. You can even ask for something miraculous." But Ahaz responded, "I don't want to ask; I don't want to put the LORD to a test." So Isaiah replied, "Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate. The LORD will bring on you, your people, and your father's family a time unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah - the king of Assyria!"” (Isaiah 7:10-17, NETfree)

Jesus lived so many years (about 400 years) after the king Ahaz, so how could these events relate? How can Jesus be a sign to the king Ahaz?

So you must say that this prophecy was fulfilled already in the days of Ahaz.

The OP asked how can the virgin birth be a sign, if you cannot verify it.

Well since the prophecy refers to the wife of Ahaz, the actual sign is that she will name the child Immanuel, without knowing of this sign and prophecy, and by that, Ahaz could verify the sign, since he could know that he did not told her about the sign and what name the child should be given. It might also refer to Ahaz' daughter rather than his wife... but one thing is sure, that "THE young woman" must refer to a relative of Ahaz (either wife or daughter or daughter in law). Otherwise it cannot be called a sign for Ahaz.

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  • Matthew 1:22-24 directly refutes you: he quotes Isaiah 7:14. Oct 11, 2022 at 0:39
  • 2
    @Maximus1987, I know Matthew quotes this verse. Matthew is well known for bringing scriptures out of their context, and changing their meanings. It is like a magic show, that when you look behind the scenes you see the truth.
    – Kapandaria
    Oct 11, 2022 at 4:42
  • 1
    While Kap. has answered correctly, there is no magic! Many OT meanings, titles and applications are reapplied with greater meaning and purpose in the NT. God does nothing without having a deeper revelation to follow and has no need to discard an older intention. The Isaiah passage is one of these magnified and re-applied prophecies.
    – Steve
    Oct 11, 2022 at 7:44
  • 1
    @Maximus1987, clearly the author is not hebrew origin as during jesus time, holy scripture are written in hebrew language.
    – VNPython
    Oct 11, 2022 at 8:15
  • @VNPython it is possible that he knew Hebrew, but he intended it to be read by audience who do not know Hebrew. I am not saying that, but it is a possibility.
    – Kapandaria
    Oct 11, 2022 at 8:26
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The actual sign is below:

By the time he is old enough to make his own decisions, people will be drinking milk and eating honey. Even before that time comes, the lands of those two kings who terrify you will be deserted. Isaiah 7:15‭-‬16 GNT https://bible.com/bible/68/isa.7.15-16.GNT

People who quoted Isaiah is not of Hebrew origin and if the author is a Hebrew, definitely will not use this verses at all.

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It was not a sign for Ahaz. Usually, the Bible prophecies are not applied on a single dimension. First of all, it was a sign for the house of David:

"Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign" - Isaiah 7:13-14, NIV

In other words, God has had enough of the unbelief, doubts and hesitations of the leaders from the house of David, and He Himself will give a sign.

It will be a sign for everyone (in a dimension), and with this sign will end the disbelief that God does not care and is not with us, because He Himself will come down and be with us (Immanuel = God with us).

It will also be a special sign for the house of David (in another dimension), whose representatives were both Mary and Joseph (both were descendants of the house of David). Mary saw the fulfillment of that sign and for that she rejoiced and praised the Lord in her speech from Luke 1: 46-55.

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  • typo: first line sing => sign
    – Kapandaria
    Oct 11, 2022 at 17:55
  • @Kapandaria, Thanks. Fixed it. :)
    – Leonard
    Oct 11, 2022 at 18:17
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The sign was indeed originally a sign for Ahaz, and it was verified. It was also interpreted by Matthew to refer to Mary. I will discuss the verification of that below.

The Child in Isaiah

That the sign was initially given to King Ahaz of Judah is shown in the following passage from Isaiah 7, in which Ahaz is worried that the kings of Israel and Syria will make war against Judah:

the Lord himself will give you [King Ahaz] a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.’

The child is born in the next chapter. Assyria's invasion of Syria and Israel is confirmed in historical records and well as in the bible. So the sign to Ahaz was confirmed. There is nothing in the text of Isaiah that necessitates checking to see that the mother was a virgin, because the Hebrew word is "young woman" not "virgin." Quite the contrary Isaiah 8 states:

I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother’, the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.(3-4)

Here we may think of the two names of the child as parallel to the two names of Jesus (Immanuel and Yeshua). The two names clearly refer to the same child, and the mother is clearly NOT a virgin, for a sexual relation between her and her mate, the prophet, is implied.

The Child in Matthew

Mary's case is different because Matthew has used the Greek word for "virgin." Mary's virginity is indeed not confirmed in the text. This was a problem for early Christians, as it opened the door to the accusation (which even Joseph considered) that she had committed adultery. Indeed, this was the actual opinion expressed by certain rabbinical authorities of a later century.

But Christians did not let the challenge of proving Mary's virginity go unanswered. One author dealt with it directly in the 2nd century work known as the Infancy Gospel of James, chapters 19-20:

And Salome [otherwise unidentified] said, "As the Lord my God lives, unless I insert my finger and investigate her, I will not believe that a virgin has given birth." And the midwife went in and said, "Mary, position yourself, for not a small test concerning you is about to take place." When Mary heard these things, she positioned herself. And Salome inserted her finger into her body... And Salome went to the child and lifted him up, saying, "I worship him because he has been born a king to Israel."

The infancy Gospel of James is not canonical scripture, but it was well known and is the source of more than a few legends believed by Christians. If one accepts its claims as historical, the confirmation of Mary's virginity is there, in rather graphic detail.

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  • Wow, not so fast, if a virgin gives birth, than her hymen is no longer there, because the baby tears it as he gets out. This book is very likely written much later to try settle the problem, and is not authentic
    – Kapandaria
    Oct 13, 2022 at 20:14
  • As I mentioned Infancy James is from the 2nd c. But many people do believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. "...since Mary’s soul was entirely consecrated to God, so too was her body. Her physical virginity was a perpetual sign of that consecration. ...Doing that took a miracle, but no more of a miracle than it took for Jesus, after his resurrection, to enter the room where His disciples awaited Him even though the door was locked." Oct 15, 2022 at 0:43
  • see this question on Chr.SE for more info Oct 15, 2022 at 0:49
  • There is still a logical fallacy in this story. The fact that Salome actually went to check her. What did she expected to find after birth. What is the rational to check a woman for virginity after she gave birth. The story could be better if it happend during pregnancy. This story is just a scandal. Besides why such important story written so late, and why did this story find its way into the canon. And many christians agree that this story is a fake. coldcasechristianity.com/writings/…
    – Kapandaria
    Oct 15, 2022 at 18:09
  • The story is not canonical. What she was was doing is something akin to what science does: verification through attempts at falsification. But I agree there are problems with the story. I mentioned it because it constitutes at least an apocryphal account of verification. (by the way, I think Salome instructed the midwife to check and didn't perform the test herself, but it's possible to read it so that Salome is the same person and the midwife) Oct 15, 2022 at 21:06
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Background
Like English, Hebrew, and Greek have a distinct word for virgin:

English       Greek                  Hebrew
Virgin        παρθένος - parthenos   בְּתוּלָה - bethulah

Since the Hebrew is not בְּתוּלָה bethulah, one approach is to say the sign will not come from a virgin but from a young woman:

Assuredly my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.
(Isaiah 7:14 NJPS)

Commenting on Chapter 7 of Isaiah, Benjamin D. Sommer in the Jewish Study Bible says:

14-17: The Immanuel passage. Isaiah provides a sign, the point of which is either to clarify his message (cf. his sign in chapter 20) or to verify it (cf. the sign in Judges 6.17-23). It is not clear whether the sign is the woman's pregnancy, the child's birth, his name, or his diet; nor is it clear when the sign comes to pass - immediately (if the sign is his name), soon (birth), or several years into the future. Similarly ambiguities occur in the case of other biblical signs; cf. Exodus 3.12.

14: Young woman (Hebrew "'almah"). The Septuagint translates as "virgin," leading ancient and medieval Christians to connect this verse with the New Testament figure of Mary. All modern scholars, however, agree that the Hebrew merely denotes a young woman of marriageable age, whether a virgin or not.1

Sommer's makes two important observations:

  1. When read as "young woman" the exact nature of the sign is not clear, and, if this is so, the fulfillment would likewise be unclear.
  2. The Septuagint translators understood the sign to be a virgin with child giving birth to a son.

In fact, Matthew's citation of Isaiah follows how the LXX understood the sign:2

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanouel. (Isaiah 7:14 LXX-NETS)
διὰ τοῦτο δώσει κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῗν σημεῗον ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ

In order to fully understand the sign, it is necessary to determine why Jewish scholars who translated Isaiah into Greek, about 200 years before the birth of Jesus, chose to understand הָעַלְמָה not as the young woman, rather as ἡ παρθένος, the virgin.

נַעֲרָה naarah and עַלְמָה 'almah
It is true the Hebrew of Isaiah lacks the specific word for virgin. It is also true the word used is not the common word used to identify a young woman.

  • Common: נַעֲרָה naarah
  • Isaiah: עַלְמָה 'almah

A good translation should recognize the actual text: neither virgin, בְּתוּלָה bethulah, nor נַעֲרָה, naarah, were used to describe the sign. Simply saying the "young woman" on the basis of the absence of bethulah, fails to explain why the sign would be from from an 'almah, not a naarah. At a minimum, a proper translation should not mislead the reader by presenting a description of the sign which fails to accurately convey the atypical choice of words used to describe the sign.3While it is easy to critique the LXX's choice of virgin as a mistake, at least it alerts the reader to the fact there is something unusual about the woman.

'almah is used only to describe Rebekah (Genesis 24:43), Pharaoh's daughter (Exodus 2:8), women playing tambourines (Psalm 68:25), a woman (Proverbs 30:19), and women (Song of Solomon 1:3 and 6:8). Based on the limited use, one may make a reasonable case that within the vorlage of the Old Testament, 'almah never refers to a young woman who is not a virgin. Restated in positive terms: 'almah always describes a woman who is both young and a virgin.

In addition to Isaiah, the LXX renders 'almah as parthenos in Genesis because Rebekah is an 'almah who is also a virgin. The others4are rendered as neánis, a word not used in the New Testament. Based on the New Testament vorlage, it is reasonable to conclude the LXX never renders 'almah using the typical word for "young woman."

As Sommer's notes, modern scholars agree the text describes a young woman who is of marriageable age, but not necessarily a virgin. Yet stopping at that is superficial since it fails to recognize and address the difference between a young woman who is called 'almah and one called naarah.

Virginity is independent of age. A virgin may be young or old, and neither the Hebrew bethulah or the Greek parthenos says anything about a woman's age. The "virgin birth" is understood in terms of a young woman, because that is what Christians believed happened, and arguably, that belief was based on a Second Temple understanding of the sign found in the LXX. In other words, the Jewish scholars who translated the LXX believed the sign would a miraculous birth from a young woman who was a virgin, in contrast to Isaac and Jacob, miraculous births to barren and older women.

Moreover, the sign is from the Lord. This highlights two additional considerations:

  1. A young woman giving birth is an extremely common event: in what way could such an event be a sign from the Lord? [Note: "young woman" also leads to the OP's question. How is an everyday event verified as a sign?]
  2. Since an 'almah is a young woman of marriageable age (like Rebekah, the first use of the word), what in the text precludes the Lord from using a virgin as the sign?

If one replaces "virgin" with "young woman," what is/was the sign? Those who would dismiss the LXX's understanding of a virgin birth not only fail to explain the difference between a young woman called naarah and almah, they present a text which, for practical purposes, renders the divine sign as meaningless. It is something so common, it could easily be missed, ignored, even counterfeited.

The Word of the YHVH
Later, Isaiah describes how the Word of the YHVH works:

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55 ESV)

This passage gives two examples to illustrate how the Word of YHVH works:

  1. Rain and snow to water the earth
  2. Seed for the sower and bread for the eater

Both examples describe a two-fold work; one of which happens before the other.

Therefore, the LXX translation follows a correct historical understanding of a sign from YHVH: the fulfillment of the sign at that time was partially accomplished. The rain had fallen, but the snow had yet to melt. The seed had been sown but it had yet to become bread. The people were waiting for the final fulfillment of the sign: a young woman who was also a virgin would give birth to a son.

Conclusion
How is the sign of a virgin birth verified? The subsequent answer is Matthew wrote it was. Since Scripture is inspired, then the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth, recorded this truth.

During the time Jesus was alive, only Mary could say for certain she was a virgin. However, there are secondary facts which fall into what would be called hearsay evidence which affirm Mary's testimony:

  1. The angelic appearance (cf. Luke 2:8-14). The shepherds knew the baby was special and unique.
  2. The Gospels record accusations which imply it was public knowledge Jesus' earthly father was not Joseph and/or unknown. He was born of sexual immorality (cf. John 8:41); He could be a Sarmatian (cf. John 8:48). A virgin birth would, of necessity, result in public questions on the identity of the father.

Note, these two complement one another. Claiming Jesus was born of sexual immorality conflicts with a Savior from God. On the other hand, if God were to send a unique Savior, it is not unreasonable to expect a unique birth.


1. Benjamin D. Sommer, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 798-799
2. The pertinent portion of Matthew follows the LXX verbatim with one minor change: ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσουσιν (for καλέσεις) τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ. The change, "you shall call" (3rd person singular) for "they shall call" (2nd person singular) is insignificant.
3. As Sommer's states, when understood as "young woman", scholars are unable to identify the sign.
4. The LXX treats Proverbs 30:19 differently: ...the ways of a man in youth.

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Sure it can be verified. Verified by the siege they were in, no longer being in effect by the time Isaiah's own son who will be named Immanuel is old enough to know right from wrong. He will be eating cream and honey because that will be available as the siege will be no more.

You are right that the ridiculous christian explanation of a virgin birth is no sign. Yoy can't see any thing different with a virgin birth. Also makes no sense isaiah would tell King Achaz hey don't worry about the siege you are under because in 700 years a woman will have a virgin birth birth. Ignore that from the NT. They just tried to insert a virgin birth in tanach. There is none in tanach not here or elsewhere.

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“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

“Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” (‭‭Galatians‬ ‭3:7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

God doesn’t lie, we know we are His children when we believe what He says at His Word.

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  • That doesn’t answer the question. Oct 10, 2022 at 15:38
  • Accusing Mary of possibly not being a virgin is calling God a liar. This was fulfilled as previous comments said in the next chapter when the “young woman” or prophetess conceived and bore a son. Prophecy is a pattern, not linear with a single start and end. When it happened again the second time it was a virgin, because that is what the angel said.
    – Twhi
    Oct 10, 2022 at 16:15
  • you’re still not answering the question. How is this a sign when no one can verify it? What if God had said and her blood type shall be AB+? That could not be verified by anyone so how can it be a sign? Oct 10, 2022 at 16:20

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