The BAR article, “How the Septuagint Differs,” BAR 02:02, states as follows:

In the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, an angel comes to Joseph in a dream, telling him that his betrothed Mary is with child, conceived of the Holy Spirit, that she will bear a son who will save his people from their sins. “All this took place,” the Evangelist tells us “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken to the prophet (Isaiah): ‘Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:22–23) The passage which Matthew quotes is Isaiah 7:14 as it appears in the Septuagint, rather than in the Hebrew Bible. The difference in this passage from Isaiah between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible is explained by Père Benoit:

“The thought of the Evangelist is not in doubt: for him the oracle of the prophet (Isaiah) foretells that very virginal conception the story of which he has just told. And indeed the text of the Septuagint which he quotes and which contains the word parthenos (i.e., virgin) fully justifies his line of argument. But does the same apply to the Hebrew text? It is common knowledge that the term ’almah (the Hebrew word) does not mean specifically a ‘virgin’. For that, Hebrew has a special word, bethulah. The word ’almah designates a girl who is marriageable but not yet married, hence normally a virgin although this qualification is not expressly asserted.

“When, therefore, Isaiah adopts this term in announcing the birth of the Messiah, Emmanuel, he does not describe that birth as of itself miraculous it can be understood to mean that a girl will conceive in the usual way of the union of husband and wife. If he had wanted specifically to assert that the birth was virginal he would have used the word bethulah. He did not do so and it seems that the point of (Isaiah’s) prophecy must be sought elsewhere.

“But the Septuagint did make the distinction: they chose the term parthenos, instead of neanis which is what they normally use to translate ’almah. This translation certainly adds something to the original, and the additional significance has been consecrated by the use made of it by the Gospel and the tradition of the Church. Finally, the Jewish translators Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion (each of whom also translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek) were not wrong from a purely philological point of view when they preferred neanis as a literal translation of ’almah in Isaiah 7:14.”


Our article, which will be published shortly, is titled “Virgo Intacta in the Bible: A Reconsideration,” and includes a study of the Biblical words bethulah, ’almah, and parthenos as background to a discussion of the Biblical attitude towards virginity, the function of a virgin, etc.


Not only Hebrew bethulah, but the cognate word in Akkadian, Aramaic, Ugaritic, etc., functions similarly as well.


See, for example, Judges 11:39; Judges 21:11–12; Genesis 19:8, etc.


Cf. Paragraph 130, Code of Hammurapi.


This is not to say, of course, that Matthew implies that Mary was not a virgin, but only to admit that the question of her pre-marital sexual status is never considered and thus never defined at all in the first Gospel. It is even quite probable that the virginity of a young Jewish girl about to be married was assumed as normal by Matthew and everyone else in that day.