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2.10.2005    |    Almah
Almah is the English transliteration of the (modern) Hebrew word for "young woman." Likewise, betoolah is modern Hebrew for "virgin." The Hebrew Scripture, in Isaiah 7:14, the classic verse foretelling us of the coming of The Christ, uses almah. And therein lies a needless source of division among Christians.

When Isaiah wrote, it is likely that there was no linguistic distinction between an unmarried and young woman, and "virgin." At the time, and, frankly, up until relatively modern times (in my lifetime), "young unbetrothed woman" was synonymous with "virgin." How wrong we were, you might say.

Now Jewish translations that I've seen always use the words "young woman" to translate almah. Fair enough. But, since the word really connotes "virgin", evangelically-informed translations seem to all use "virgin", while those striving for linguistic if not theological purity will use the first, modern Hebrew meaning of "young woman."

Herewith, Isaiah 7:14 in three Christian versions:

KJV
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.


NIV
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

RSV
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el.


Note the changes, from "a virgin" to "the virgin" to "a young woman." The "the" (no, not the alt rock group) would seem to prophesy Mary, the Mother of God. "A" virgin certainly does not rule out Mary. "A young woman" doesn't either, in point of fact. The point of all this? The particular wording does not affect my faith. Not one little bit.

My preference is to read a version that adheres most closely to what I believe to be the truth of Christ Jesus. This I find in the NIV (not, repeat not, a third time not Today's NIV), the English Standard Version, and, thanks to a recommendation from Jim at Stones Cry Out, the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

That being said, if the pew Bible I find is the Revised Standard or even Today's NIV, I'll read it prayerfully. And have charity towards those who think these more "modern" (read: politically correct) are somehow, better.

Either way, the Bible I read will not change my faith -- just that some versions will enhance it more than others.

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About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.