Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 7, 1953

The Meaning Of "Alma" In Isaiah 7:14

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

(Dear Brother Tant: I have sent several articles to you pointing out the modernism in the Revised Standard Version. I feel that modernism is one of our most deadly foes, and the RSV is still being bought and read by brethren. Some are still even trying to defend it. When the sectarians attacked baptism, we studied and restudied the word. We emphasized the meaning of "baptidzo." Now the attack is by liberals on the Hebrew word "alma" and other words. I feel that this should be carefully considered until the truth prevails. — G.P.E.)


The man who has made the most thorough and complete study of the word "alma" is Robert Dick Wilson. The following remarks are taken from his article in the Princeton Theological Review, 1926, pp. 308-316.

Mr. Wilson begins by giving the translation of the word "alma" in the passages of the O.T., in which it occurs as follows: Genesis 24:43 (virgin); Exodus 2:8 (maid); Pro. 30:19 (maid); Cant. 6:7 [sic] (virgin); Cant. 1:3 [sic] (virgins); 1 Chro. 15:20 (alamoth); Isaiah 7:14 (virgin); Psalm 46 — heading — (alamoth); Psalm 48:26 (damsels).

Under each verse he gives the translation of "alma" into other languages and versions: Jerome's Latin Vulgate (4th century A. D.); Coptic, Armenian, Peshitto (Syriac); the Targum; into Greek by Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion (2nd century A. D.); the Greek Septuagint; Arabic and others.

After giving this complete list of how noted Bible scholars translated the word, he gives the root meaning of "alma" which is "hide." Then two O.T. Hebrew words are given which are similar in meaning: "n'ara" (young woman, damsel) and "bethulah" (virgin, maid, maiden).

After a careful study of this material, Dr. Wilson comes to the following conclusion:

1. None of the ancient languages or versions gives any evidence to show that "alma" ever meant a young married woman.

2. There seems to be no doubt that "bethulah" is the specific and unambiguous word for virgin.

3. A "n'ara" may not have been a virgin. Otherwise it would scarcely have been necessary to define her five times by the word "bethulah" (virgin).

4. An "alma" must have been presumed to be a "virgin" since it is never defined by "bethulah."

5. Since the Septuagint version was made in the case of Genesis 280 years B. C. and in the case of Isaiah 200 years B. C., it is to be presumed that their rendering of "alma" by "parthenos" (virgin) in Genesis 24:48 and Isaiah 7:14 was in their minds a justifiable rendering. So far as we have any evidence, the citation of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23 is thus justified by the Jewish interpretation up to the time when Matthew was written.

6. Since the Peshitto Syriac version of the Old Testament was probably made by Jews, their rendering of the word "alma" by "bethulah" in Isaiah 7:14 must have been considered proper even as late as the second century A. D.

7. Jerome, who studied Hebrew under Jewish rabbis of his time (about 400 A. D.), still thought it possible to render "alma" by "virgo" (virgin) in Genesis 24:43 and Isaiah 7:14.

8. Since Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus were all probably renegades from Christianity, and Jewish proselytes, their rendering of "alma" in Isaiah 7:14 by "neanis" (young woman) instead of "parthenos" (virgin) is easily understood.

The rendering "ulemta" of the Targum to Isaiah 7:14 cannot possibly argue in favor of the meaning "young married woman" in view of the following facts:

a) "Alma" in the O.T. never has this meaning anywhere else.

b) "Ulemta" translates not merely "alma" but also "n'ara," "yolda," and "bethulah," none of which means young married woman.

c) "Ulemta" is used of Rebecca when she came to the well and met Eliezer; of Miriam when she was set to watch the infant Moses; of the 400 virgins of Jabesh Gilead (Judges 21:12); of Esther and the other virgins who were selected for the choice of Xerxes as wife.

10. The feminine noun is not found in the Koran; but the masculine is used of the as yet unborn Isaac and John the Baptist, and of Jesus the son of the virgin Mary, of Joseph in the pit and of two young men who are expressly said to have been killed before they reached the age of puberty.

11. All the versions of the Greek "parthenos" (virgin) — Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Harklensian, Syriac, and Arabic — render the word in both Isaiah 7:14 and Matt. 1:23 by the best word for "virgin" which they possess.

12. The evidence that Mary was a virgin does not after all depend on the meaning of the words "alma" and "parthenos" alone; for it is said, also, of Mary that "she had not known man." This phrase is used in the Old Testament of Rebecca "a virgin that had not known man" (Gen. 24:16); of Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11:39); and of the virgins of Jabesh Gilead (Judges 21:12).

Finally, two conclusions from the evidence seem clear: first, that "alma," so far as known, never meant "young married woman"; and secondly, the presumption in common law and usage was, and is, that every "alma" is virgin and virtuous, until and unless it shall be proven that she is not. If Isaiah 7:14 is a prediction of the conception and if the events recorded in Matt. 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 are true, and the Holy Spirit really overshadowed the virgin Mary, all difficulties are cleared away. The great and only difficulty lies then in disbelief in predictive prophecy and in the almighty power of God; or in the desire to throw discredit upon the divine Sonship of Jesus.

In the third Sura of the Koran, Mohammed represents Mary as saying to the angel: "Lord, how can I have a son when man has not yet touched me?" And the angel said: "Thus God creates what He pleaseth; When He decrees a matter He only says, BE, and it is." Mohammed was a better Theist than many who profess to follow Christ today."

The above represents the conclusion of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, one of the greatest linguistic and Biblical scholars of all time. To his fine thoughts I add the following: The RSV cannot be right in rendering "alma" by "young woman" in Isaiah 7:14; therefore their rendering of it so was a result of liberalistic and modernistic bias. Let not my brethren be deceived by the modernists and their apologists.