The word virgin is one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible. It also provides a great example of how confusion can arise — it is mentioned numerous times in the OT. Without understanding the formative type, the NT is easily misrepresented. The word virgin builds upon the ancient writers’ prose when used in the NT. One has to be very careful as the essence of types does repeat. The original is the best guide to consistency in later recurrences.
A good point to start is the early part of Isaiah. The word virgin changes its nature in latter Isaiah, and that change must be fully clarified. The only way to interpret the word virgin independently is by consulting lexicons to gain a preliminary insight into the writers’ intent:
The word virgin in this first instance is derived from the Hebrew
word almah, which means “concealment,” “unmarried female.”
“A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.” (Isa. 7:14)
Church fathers and theologians over the centuries insistently taught this statement of Isaiah pointed to one event only, that being the birth of Jesus. That made me start questioning. Once it became doctrine, it did not have to be questioned. However, a red alert should immediately be raised. Any thinking being would ask how this commentary in Isaiah, written in a book dealing with events well over half a millennium before, could possible stretch out to the first century AD. Why did the NT sing of the OT verses? In the OT, virgin never literally denoted a virginal woman. How it was transmogrified to refer to a literal virgin, when it was always highly symbolic, has never been answered but has instead been hushed and effectively sidelined. Silence is no answer.
This starting type in the Old Testament was drawn from the experiences of a pre-Babylonian society. Such community was all knit as one, together, under a divine cosmos. Governance had transitioned from judges to kings, and the writers were looking carefully at the result. Especially concerning to them was the division between Israel and Judah. Jewish society was deeply concerned that their new dual regal governance might not be able to save them from warring barbaric forces, especially ones from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Assyria. Disquiet is evident throughout all books of the Old Testament.
To have a reasonable insight into this word virgin, the following is proposed. In the days of Ahaz (740–724 BC), king of Judah, the nation had slid back into old ways. It was said to have degraded from the time of David’s command to build the temple, practicing the worship of idols, smelting molten images for Baalim, burning incense, incinerating children, and committing unmentionably terrifying brutalities. All such activity was said not to be, “right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 28:1). It was due to this degraded condition that Judah was promised a deliverer — “Behold a virgin (almah, meaning “unmarried” or “concealed”) shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Why do we avoid this recording in our concentrated repertoire?
After the escape from bondage, typified as Egyptian, the new nation had entered an everlasting covenant, heralded by David’s decree to build the temple. But the nation apostatized under the three kings, Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. Early chapters of Isaiah descriptively explained that this concealment came from God. This alienation was said to be “unmarried” (almah) from God. To save readers from needing to refer to Isaiah, here are the disturbing signs of the times:
“Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity” (Isa. 1:4)
“a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters … forsaken the Lord” (Isa. 1:4)
“gone away backward” (Isa. 1:4)
“bruises, putrifying sores” (Isa. 1:6)
“Your country is desolate” (Isa. 1:7)
“as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers” (Isa. 1:8)
“a besieged city” (Isa. 1:8)
“vain obligation; incense is an abomination unto me” (Isa. 1:13)
“Your new moons, your appointed feasts … I am weary to bear
them” (Isa. 1:14)
“Land shall be utterly desolate” (Isa. 6:11)
“Hear ye indeed but understand not; and see ye indeed but perceive not” (Isa. 6:9)
“Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant” (Isa. 6:11)
In this context, the use of the word virgin from almah means “young, unmarried woman.” However, and less appreciated, it means “concealment,” as the young nation had degenerated. The nation had reverted to hideous abominations and thus was unmarried, concealed from God. This decadent condition, based on vanity, was hypocritically said by the nation’s leadership to portray truth. The nation was unmarried, concealed, “gone away backward.”
A full appreciation of this first type is a prerequisite for the later borrowing by the writers of the New Testament. There is a degree of consistency in types. They are verifiable, although circumstantial events change. Why would a young woman conceive and bear a son under the kings of Judah? Why call him Immanuel?
After scrutinizing the text, one can see that at this juncture, under Ahaz, Jerusalem, the daughter of Zion, was not married to God, Jehovah. They were not joined. Jerusalem was concealed, or unmarried. Jerusalem had a youthful zeal and was distracted, had regressed, and was lodged in a bed of cucumbers — an aberrant state with nature, so to speak. The daughter of Zion had apostatized, mishandling the beacon and dropping the baton. The governance of Judah had been dimmed; darkness was upon the face of the deep. And so a virgin, one who was concealed, would give birth, bear a son, and call his name Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” Regeneration or resurrection would come; the nation would bloom. The nation again would be in harmony and be protected.
If this hypothesis is correct, our interpretation of the New Testament’s replication will need thorough investigation and explanation. This testament’s antitype surely cannot stand solitary with a strict, literalizing usage of the word virgin. But if virgin in the New Testament is consistent with virgin in the Old Testament, then the New Testament will need to be reinterpreted for one to be able to grasp its intended meaning.
Conveniently, New Testament theological exegeses have highlighted Mary to exonerate the feminine giving birth to the masculine. All commentators have problems saying whether Jesus was God or human. Their quandary arises as they have bypassed the Old Testament’s portrayal. We will cover the New Testament’s messianic birth and bring that story back to its roots with the Old Testament’s transition from almah when commenting later in detail on the New Testament. Briefly stated, one would think likewise that it must relate to the cultural hegemony of the Pharisees and Sadducees (akin to that of Ahaz’s idolatry). We will return to this transgression in the synoptic Gospels.
The Jewish leadership was condemned time after time in the Old Testament’s books of Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. But first let’s go on to examine this next word-type, Isaiah’s Immanuel, and the change in inference of the word virgin (from the Hebrew almah to bethulah) so that we can later appreciate the convolution of the Emmanuel story in the New Testament. It will be a while before we make headway to the archetype. Step by step, precept upon precept, we have a long road to travel over rocky, steep, hilly terrain.