Addressing the Use of "Almah"
In these web pages I strive to only present the strongest points, whether they
be for or against Christianity. This is because the process of finding the
truth can only be clouded by inaccurate statements. One of these murky issues
is the use of the Hebrew word "almah" in the old testament. Some have said that
the word was mistranslated in the Septuagint as "virgin" when it should have
been "young woman". Then, as the story goes, the New Testament was written with
the Septuagint as a reference, and Jesus was born of a virgin. Here's a quote:
As many have noted, the Hebrew word translated as "virgin" in this verse is
"almah," which is more accurately translated simply as "young woman." The
Hebrew word "bethulah" means "virgin." In the book of Isaiah, "bethulah"
appears four times (23:12, 37:22, 47:1, 62:5), so its author was aware of the
word. In the New American Standard translation of the Bible, all other
appearances of "almah" are translated simply as "girl," "maid," or "maiden"
(viz: Genesis 24:43, Exodus 2:8, Psalms 68:25, Proverbs 30:19, Song of Solomon
1:3, 6:8). (Response
to the Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah).
I personally have backed off of this point of view, partly because I feel that
I can not make any definitive judgement on the use of a language that I do not
know, and mostly because of good arguments to the contrary. Here is one that
was presented to me by Marc LiVecche (email@example.com):
Evidence demonstrates that, based on the words used, there is no conclusive
evidence that "bethulah" would have been a more precise word. (This
information is taken from Basic Theology, by Charles Ryrie, Victor
Press) Ryrie goes further to say that "almah" "is not a techinical word for
virgin but refers to a young woman, one of whose characteristics is virginity.
(Genesis 24:43) There is no instance where it can proved that almah designates
a young woman who is not a virgin". Ryrie cites other direct references to
Mary's virginity. But also remember the indirect: Joseph was going to leave
the woman when he found out she was pregnant. Why would he unless he knew it
couldn't be his? I think we can say that the Bible holds that Mary was a virgin
For an interesting discussion of this topic by people who are more knowledgable
than I, see the exchange between Jim Lippard, Rob Berry, and James D. Price:
Back to Thoughts on Christianity and God.