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The prophecy

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

The fulfilment of the prophecy

Matthew 1:20-23 (NIV)

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

There is some controversy surrounding these passages where Jewish and some Christian faiths believe that the virgin in Isaiah 7:14 may not be a virgin, and not only that, but she names her son.

Isaiah 7:14 (RSV)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el.

Interestingly, the RSV quotes Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23 to say

Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emman′u-el

How does the Protestant faith view these passages? Was Jesus' birth foretold in Isaiah 7:14?

  • So I can possibly correct any misdemeanors, can I ask why this question is receiving downvotes? I don't see this as a truth question because I am asking what Protestants believe. – Chris Rogers Feb 19 at 6:58
  • I think it is an excellent question. +1 – Mac's Musings Feb 19 at 9:14
  • I think the question is fine but perhaps the title could be improved. 'How do Protestants view the relationship between the Isaiah birth prophecy and birth of Jesus' is a little long but clearer. – disciple Feb 19 at 19:58
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Speaking as a Protestant:

One of the core tenants of our faith is Sola Scriptura. As it says in the scripture:

2 Peter 1:19-21

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

Peter here is saying that the scriptures are more sure, more trustworthy, than the voice of God booming directly from heaven (see the passages context). Moreover, he states that scripture has no private interpretation; in which he communicates that God Himself wrote the scriptures with a specific intended meaning in mind. This principle declares that there is an absolute truth, and only one correct understanding of the scriptures.

While this principle has been largely lost sight of, the application of this principle to the matter at hand becomes quite easy to understand. Matthew, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, applies the prophecy of Isaiah 7 to Jesus' birth; and so it is not Matthew, but God rather who is divinely interpreting His own prophecy for us through His servant.

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This very question is important for understanding some of the subtleties of how protestants, at least some of them (there are numerous views about this), understand how the Bible works and the art of hermeneutics.

Isa 7:14 is a simple prophecy about a sign concerning the certainty of what was predicted about the future of Judah. The sign itself involves a woman conceiving and giving him the name "Emanuel". The operative word is set out below.

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This word "almah" occurs 9 times in the OT and this is the last of them (See Gen 24:43, Ex 2:8, 1 Chron 15:20, Ps 46 (superscription), Ps 68:25, Prov 30:19, SS 1:3, 6:8, Isa 7:14). The meaning of this word is highly debated as to whether it means "young woman of child bearing age", or "young virgin woman". Most of the occurrences are debatable but Isa 7:14 is NOT. It concerns (very probably) Isaiah's young wife (see Isa 8) who had already given birth to a son (Isa 7:3) and as a result of the prophecy would bear a second son. Despite this (to add to the confusion) LXX renders this words, "Parthenos" (= virgin).

Therefore, based on the immediate circumstances in this passage, "almah" does NOT mean virgin. If that had been the extent of the material on this subject, no one would have suggested Isa 7:14 to be a Messianic prophecy.

It is only because of Matt 1:20-23 (and its quoting of the LXX) that a NT writer under divine inspiration takes this OT incident and uses it to become a Messianic prophecy; and in doing so uses a Greek word which definitely means "virgin". In the absence of the NT reference, no ordinary writer would have been justified in making such a Messianic claim but the NT inspired writers can.

The pulpit commentary gives a VERY brief overview of the raging debates around his verse which I have greatly simplified with the simplest solution.

  • Thanks for your interesting write-up, but it doesn't quite answer the main part of the question. Do the protestant faith agree with what you said or do they take it that Isa 7:14 prophesied the birth of Jesus? If so is it because of Matt 1:23? – Chris Rogers Feb 19 at 9:40
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    Protestantism is NOT uniform and there are a variety of understanding. The explanation I have given above is how some protestants understand the passage. – Mac's Musings Feb 19 at 9:46
  • @Mac'sMusings Could you please document your proof that Isaiah 7:14 refers to Isaiah's wife and could you please document your assertion that this is how 'some Protestants' understand the passage. Thank you. – Nigel J Feb 19 at 16:31
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    You left out an important element, that translators of the Septuagint chose to translate 'almah' with the Greek word for virgin, many years before Jesus' birth. – disciple Feb 19 at 20:02
  • True - I should add that and edit the above. – Mac's Musings Feb 19 at 20:04
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I don't see how one can sincerely call Mahershalalhashbaz the referenced Immanuel, since that prophecy was directed to the house of David, specifically that they would call him that. When otherwise did they, the house of David, ever call Mahershalalhashbaz, 'Immanuel'? How or why also would Isaiah have been calling his own son 'Immanuel' in Isaiah 8:8, given that that would suggest that he was by implication calling his own son 'Mighty God', 'Prince of peace'(Isaiah 9:6), one that should reign(Isaiah 9:7)?

To this latter point also, it should seem that Isaiah was responding to the attempts of Rezin king of Syria and Pekah king of Israel to place a king(other than the house of David) in Jerusalem(Isa 7:6), by referencing the Messianic tones of 2 Samuel 7, and telling them thus of the spiritual kingdom which should someday rule and reign, according to the order of those things as they began(1 Sam. 12:12).

Lastly, this idea should leave the latter phrase of verse 16 to be understood in a context where the land was still occupied by at least one king, namely the king of Judah, the 'forsaking' thereof not to be at all interpreted as referencing the captivity, but the Assyrian occupation, that is, during's Pekah's reign only, the king of Judah still being in the land.

Given this then one is left to interpret Isaiah 7:14 not according to what is possible(as said above Song of Solomon 6:8 already proves it can mean 'virgin'), but what is probable to the context. Would Isaiah really be calling his own son king or God? No, these are two different people being referenced, the first is Messianic and the second is not. I'm not sure I've answered the question with regard to Protestantism, however hopefully I have partly addressed the second.

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The key word of Isaiah 7:14 is "sign". Understanding that word will clarify the sign itself.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isa 7:14

David was a man after God's own heart [1 Ki 15:3, Act 13:22]. In contrast is this king Ahaz to whom Isaiah is speaking. Isaiah offers him a sign from God, but Ahaz, while feigning piety, rejects it. So, Ahaz rejects Isaiah and now has rejected God. God, however, says He will nonetheless provide a sign.

With that in mind, the question arises what kind of sign from God will this sign be? Some doubt God that a virgin will conceive. Some instead feel that the sign would simply be a young woman getting pregnant in the normal way. But obviously, a normal conception in the normal way can hardly be taken as a sign from Almighty God.

Matthew and countless future Christians understand this. A sign is a miracle, a token, a mark, a signal, a beacon. A sign is not something normal.

So yes, Isaiah 7:14 is a prophecy of Immanuel; that is, God with us who is Christ Jesus.

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