Does Isaiah 7:14 Foretell the Messiah?
Scott's comments will be interjected in this font and color.

One of the points of contention between Christians and Jews is the proper interpretation of Isaiah 7:14. If you read the New Testament, in Matthew 1:22-23, it’s easy to see why:
 

Matthew 1:22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, [23] Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, G-d with us. (KJV)


Firstly, a small issue with this is the proper interpretation of the name Emmanuel (also spelled Immanuel). It does not mean "G-d with us," but rather, "G-d is with us." (Modern Christian Bible translations will corroborate this, such as The Message of the Bible, The Bible: A New Translation, The Bible: An American Translation, and The Layman’s Bible Commentary.)

God with us vs. God "is" with us? What's the big deal here? They both say essentially the same thing, and in fact, the translation that Mike prefers is even more clear that "God IS with us."

The author of the Gospel of Matthew was quoting Isaiah 7:14. Let us examine this verse:
 

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (KJV)


This seems pretty cut and dry, does it not? Matthew listed out the genealogy of Jesus, and in accordance with a standing prophecy, the Messiah is born of a virgin birth. (The New International Version also provides this, or similar, rendering.) Or is he? Let’s further examine Isaiah 7:14 in greater detail.

Chapter 7 of Isaiah relates the tale of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Syria laying siege to the Kingdom of Judah. G-d sent Isaiah to Ahaz to let him know that divine intervention was at hand. Isaiah related to Ahaz that this intervention was at hand and he would know it to be so when given the sign named in Isaiah 7:14. Let’s look at the prophecy in its proper context.
 

Isaiah 7:11 Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy G-d; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.  [12] But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.  [13] And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; [Is it] a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my G-d also? [14] Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  [15] Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.  [16]For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. (KJV)


Verses 11 and 16 do a perfect job of putting verse 14 in its proper context. "Before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings." This means that after the child is born, the conflict will shortly be resolved. This is an immediate prophecy, to take place within Ahaz’s lifetime, some 700 years before Jesus was born. What sense does it make to offer a sign to Ahaz if it wasn’t going to come to pass within his lifetime?

An interesting note: I was looking up Matthew 1:22 in the NASB. Normally the NASB, when it quotes another verse, it has a footnote as to where that verse is quoted from. No such reference is included in this verse. Also, this version places a "star" in the margin when the verse is fulfilling a prophetic statement from the Old Testament regarding the Christ. Whereas, if we look just a couple verses further, we see such a reference in Matthew 2:1 and 2:6, both pointind to Micah 5:2.

This is not to belittle Mike's research on Matthew 1:23, but I would question him taking a verse that, to me, is not as clear as others. It is a common tactic of apologists to attack their opponent's weak spot, but just because this "quote" might not be very strong doesn't mean that others are not stronger and better references.

There are three other keywords here:

  1. "Behold!" – This is to tell us that the fulfillment of the prophecy would be imminent. Had this been a Messianic prophecy, it would have been in long term language, such as "In those days to come…"
  2. "Therefore, the Lord Himself shall give you a sign…" – The word "sign" is also important here. We are not dealing with a miracle here. We are dealing with a sign, something that all can see. A sign would be of the nature of "Behold, and you shall see three concentric rainbows" or something along that line. A miracle, however, is something that defies physics in most cases, and is visible for all to see, also. Had Mary claimed that she was a virgin who was with child, she would have been mocked and disregarded for her claims, no matter how virtuous she was thought to be. Something that required a gynecological examination for verification doesn’t fit seamlessly into this definition.
  3. Mary didn’t name her boy Immanuel, which is the fulfillment of the prophecy to completion. Christians object, saying it’s the meaning of the name that counts, but this is not the case. Divine inspiration was a part of this prophecy, and that inspiration was to lead to the boy’s naming. Mary named her boy Yeshua, which became translated into Greek and then anglicized into Jesus.

Jesus is known by many names, "Morning Star, Son of God, Son of Man, the Christ, the Messiah, etc." Jesus was and is "God (is) with us!" We still remember Him as Immanuel and sing carols to that effect at every Christmas season, especially in Advent. Yes, He is called Yeshua or Jesus, and He is called many other things. We don't get the whole list of names everytime Jesus is mentioned in the Bible.

Next Mike goes into a litany on the debate of "virgin" or "young maiden" which is not really relevant and doesn't change the fact that Mary was and remained a virgin. For this reason I am deleting this section from my reply, but if you are interested, there is a hotlink to Mike's homepage at the bottom of this response.

Dual Prophecy?

The general Christian defense when forced to confront the reality of Isaiah 7:14 is to conjecture the notion of the dual prophecy. Isaiah was in fact delivering two prophecies, the one that occurred approximately 2,700 years ago as well as the birth of Jesus. There are two problems with this claim:

  1. If we are to go with KJV’s mistranslation, then in order for us to assume that we are dealing with a dual fulfillment, there must have been a virgin birth 700 years prior to Jesus. This certainly would have risen some attention had this been the case.
  2. Dual fulfillment is a concept completely alien to scripture. In no way is it indicated by the text that it concerns the Messiah, nor is it indicated by the text that it would occur hundreds of years later. Verses 11 and 16 makes it crystal clear how we should interpretthe verse in question.
The problem I have with this sort of solution is that the only reason someone would believe in dual fulfillment is to satisfy the needs of Christian theology. Christian theism depends on the verses that the New Testament quotes to be quoted accurately. The belief in dual fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 comes strictly from the Christian need for it to be so, and is not provided by the context. For it to be true, more than just the need has to be present. Is there another reason to believe this conjecture?

Who Is Immanuel?

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Beginning of inserted reply
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Mike added this section after I made my initial response, so I am inserting it here, in the same place it is now in his essay:

Is Immanuel mentioned anywhere else other than Isaiah 7:14?
 

Isaiah 8:5 The LORD spake also unto me again, saying, [6] Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son; [7] Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, [even] the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: [8] And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach [even] to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. [9] Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. [10] Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for G-d [is] with us.  (KJV)


So, we see Immanuel mentioned in the very next chapter of Isaiah!  How about that?
 

Yes, Immanuel is mentioned in the very next chapter, but is it the same Immanuel from the previous chapter? Isaiah himself is referred to as "God is with us" but 7:14 seems to be talking about another Immanuel that will come in the future. So, while this "very next chapter" is interesting, to say the least, it does nothing to further Mike's case.

Isaiah 8:18 Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me [are] for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion.  (KJV)


How about that.  The Lord gave Immanuel to Isaiah to use as a sign for Israel, just like chapter 7 of Isaiah indicated.  Isn't it fascinating when you read scripture in its proper context?

Yes Mike, it is fascinating! But again, is the "Immanuel" the same "Immanuel" that is mentioned in 7:14? No, this one is another reference to Isaiah himself who has God with him. It is not a prophetic statement of someone who will be born of a virgin (or even a young maiden), but a statement of the present.

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In Summation

The author of the Gospel of Matthew mistranslated and pulled Isaiah 7:14 out of context in order to create the fašade that Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of a virgin birth. This is clearly provable given the language in Isaiah’s prophecy, and the context therein.

If the Christian were to accept Mike's arguments here as true, and I am not saying one has to, then one obscure verse in Matthew that may or may not be a direct reference to Isaiah 7 is not the entire basis for the Messianic prophecies in the book of Matthew.

One thing that is a bit problematic to me in Mike's essay here is that he says this prophecy was fulfilled centuries earlier, but he never stated by whom or gave the biblical reference to this fulfillment. So with regard to this "dual prophecy" argument, Mike leaves us hanging. If it was not Jesus who fulfilled this, who was?

Mike also spends a lot of time making a case toward a "possibility" that this verse does not refer to a "virgin" but a "young maiden." The reader might get a bit lost in the verbosity of this claim, but this does nothing to disprove that Mary was/is a virgin and gave birth to Jesus while yet a virgin!

All in all, this entire argument is then rather weak. It says nothing to deny the Christian his faith, and only raises a couple weak possibilities for the Jew to question Christian integrity. It by no means refutes the Christian claims or position regarding the Messiah.

Other Prophetic References in Matthew fulfilled by Jesus:
bullet Matthew 1:6 [2 Sam. 11:27]
bullet Matthew 2:1,6 [Micah 5:2]
bullet Matthew 2:14-15 [Hos. 11:1]
bullet Matthew 2:16 [Isaiah 59:7] {weak}
bullet Matthew 3:17 [Ps. 2:7; Is. 42:1]
bullet Matthew 4:4 [Deut. 8:3]
bullet Matthew 4:6 [Ps. 91:11-12]
bullet Matthew 4:7 [Deut. 6:16]
bullet Matthew 4:14-16 [Is. 9:1]
bullet Matthew 7:23 [Ps. 6:8]
bullet Matthew 8:11 [Is. 49:12; 59:19]
bullet Matthew 8:17 [Is. 53]
bullet Matthew 11:10 [Mal. 3:1]
bullet Matthew 12:18-21 [Is. 42:1-3]
bullet Matthew 12:40 [Jonah]
bullet Matthew 24:29-31 [Dan. 7:2]
bullet Matthew 26:31 [Zech. 13:7]
bullet Matthew 26:67 [Is. 50:6]
bullet Matthew 27:9 [Zech. 11:12]
bullet Matthew 27:43 [Ps. 22:8]
The book of Matthew was written with the Jewish people in mind, which is why Matthew goes into so many prophecies and statements fulfilled in Jesus. Some are stronger than others, but all point to Jesus.

The next section, Mike responded to me in email:

Text only email without color prevents me from exphasizing the proper points. You are correct, that I should have shown the "first fulfillment," and that's what I did today in updating that essay. Take special note of Isaiah 8:8, where the true Immanuel is mentioned by name.

First, thank you for acknowledging that you left out that important fact. Your inserted reply seems to deal more with it - but it also cites two sources that seem to be pointing to Isaiah himself (which I concur) but 7:14 is prophetic, pointing to Someone who will be born in the future.

Scott, I didn't invite you to my site for your circus games. Attack my points head on or not at all. I've no patience for parlor tricks and distractionary techniques.

Mike

This was no "circus game" but an honest response in the same format as your essays. If the color seemed a bit too bold, I will tone it down. I is not my intention to grandstand you but to do exactly as you ask, take your points on, head on. So, let us continue and be mindful of each other's feelings.

Scott

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