Thursday, December 15, 2011

Isaiah 7:14 - CEB

Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.” (Common English Bible)

The Revised Standard Version (full Bible released in 1952) was the first translation to challenge the KJV reading of Isaiah 7:14. The Hebrew word ha'almah was translated “young woman” rather than the traditional “virgin.”
The word ha'almah appears in the Old Testament seven times. Of those appearances, the Septuagint had translated it as “virgin” (parthenos) two times, one of which was Isaiah 7:14. Another Hebrew word, batulah, appears some fifty times in the Old Testament. The Septuagint and English translations agree that batulah means “virgin” in almost every case. (One can argue if Isaiah meant to definitively indicate a virgin, he should have used batulah.)

Part of the issue is philosophy of translation. Does one interpret ha'almah purely on the word's meaning, or does one keep in mind Matthew 1:23?

Dennis Bratcher, in an online article, notes that “research reveals” that it is likely ha'almah means “a young woman of marriageable age” (old enough to bear a child). He also notes that in Isaiah 7:14, harah ( masculine verb in the perfect tense, “he conceived”) must modify the feminine noun ha'almah. It is an adjective that should be translated, “pregnant [young woman].”
He gives suggested translations based on the Hebrew text, including “the pregnant woman is about to give birth to a son...” He also notes that the linking verb (“is”) can be understood. This would yield “the young woman [is] pregnant” and says this is how Luther understood the phrase.
(Dennis Bratcher's material was taken from and is copyrighted © 2011 CRI/Voice Institute.)

Here are how other translations have interpreted this passage:

The Message: “A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant.”
The Holman Christian Standard: “The virgin will conceive.”
Amplified: “Behold, the young woman who is unmarried and a virgin shall conceive...”
Contemporary English Version: “A virgin is pregnant...”
English Standard Version: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive...”
King James Version: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive.”
New American Standard Bible: “Behold, a virgin will be with child...” (Footnote “or maiden”)
New King James Version: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive...”
Young's Literal Translation: “...Lo, the Virgin is conceiving...”
New Century Version: “The virgin will be pregnant...” (Footnote: “The Hebrew word means “a young woman.” Often this meant a girl who was not married and had not yet had sexual relations with anyone.)
The Good News Translation: “...a young woman who is pregnant...” (Footnote: The Hebrew word here translated “young woman” is not the specific term for “virgin”, but refers to any young woman of marriageable age. The use of “virgin” in Mt. 1.23 reflects a Greek translation of the Old Testament, made some 500 years after Isaiah.)
New Revised Standard Version: “Look, the young woman is with child...” (A footnote does acknowledge that the Septuagint reads “virgin.”)

A quick Google search revealed many articles about this issue.

How would you have translated this phrase?

I am taking part in a blog tour of the Common English Bible. I'll be blogging more about this Bible as the days go by.
You can see the blogs of others taking part of this tour here:

I received a complimentary copy of the CEB from its publisher for the purpose of this blog tour.

1 comment:

Brant Clements said...

Hi, Joan.

Thanks for this post. I've been thinking about posting on this verse myself. Personally, I prefer that alma be translated as "young woman" at Isaiah 7:14, possibly with a footnote saying something like "'Virgin' in the LXX."

To translate almah as "virgin" at Isaiah 7:14 ignores the verse's meaning in its historical context. The sign of Immanuel, a normal, natural birth was an oracle of reassurance to Ahaz in his own time.

That Matthew could use the Septuagint's translation of this verse in reference to the extraordinary birth of the Christ shows that the NT use of prophecy is more on the lines of typology than prognostication.

To translate almah as "virgin" in this verse is a sort of dishonesty in the service of doctrine.