The Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, most fully understood as flowing from her place at the foot of the cross, is a mystery cherished by all who find themselves under her motherly care, protection, and overabundant love. Dr. John Roskoski, in this article, traces this mystery through scripture and shows it wondrously fulfilled on Calvary in the words of the dying Lord. Dr. Roskoski is an Adjunct Lecturer at both St. Peter’s College and Middlesex Community College, and is a professor of Theology, Exposition, and Exegesis at the Omega Bible Institute and Seminary. –Assistant Ed.

Roman crucifixion was a brutal method of executing prisoners. It was designed to illustrate the power of Rome and humiliation of the crucified. The places of crucifixion were always heavy with intense emotions and the drama of the last moments of life. All four Gospels reflect these aspects when they recount the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the Gospel of John, 19:25-27, places a particular focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus and the “Beloved Disciple.” In his last moments, Jesus speaks a powerful couplet of phrases; “Woman, behold your son” and to the Beloved Disciple Jesus states “Behold your mother.”


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Throughout the Christian Era many scholars have studied and debated about the connection between the Virgin Birth, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-25, and the Immanuel prophecy recorded in Isaiah 7:14.1 Generally, the focus of any argument is on the Hebrew terms for “virgin”; עלמה(almah) and בתולה(betulah). While these word studies are invaluable, they may not properly indicate the scope of the Matthean use of the Hebrew Scriptures. Matthew was not just describing a historical event. Rather, as we will argue, Matthew was placing the Virgin Birth in his perspective of Jesus and His ministry fulfilling the Hebrew Scripture and prophecy. Matthew was connecting the Virgin Birth to a very specific theological theme found in the Hebrew Scriptures, typified by the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. This connection is why Matthew used a text in which (almah) appears and not the more common term for virgin (betulah). Furthermore, as we will discuss, Matthew moved away from the famous “child of promise” tradition as found in the accounts of Isaac (Genesis 18:1-15), Samson (Judges 13), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25).

Therefore, we will argue that Matthew had a distinct purpose for depicting Mary as an almah. Matthew saw Mary as a pivotal figure in Salvation History. The occurrences of the term fit well into his theology of fulfillment. Moreover, Mary’s virginity will also be a factor in the theology of the Kingdom of God, as presented in his Gospel.



The virgin held a somewhat complex place in the culture of the Ancient Near East. According to J.L. McKenzie, in the popular Semitic cultures “the virgin was endowed with great desirability and greater fertility than the woman who had known man…Socially the virgin was the unmarried daughter who was still under the power of her father.”2 In common usage, the term betulah, like the Greek parthenos, did not always emphasize the “physical integrity” of the woman in question. However, the term did designate her as unmarried. Furthermore, McKenzie argues, the woman would not lose this “technical designation” before marriage, even if she lost her physical integrity. Generally, the girl was married shortly after she reached puberty. In the ancient Semitic cultures, virginity was not a quality to be maintained. This is illustrated in the account of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11). However, Israelite Law places virginity in a bride in high esteem (Exodus 22:15; Leviticus 21:3, 14; Deuteronomy 22:13-21).3


The most common term for “virgin” is betulah, which is usually translated as “maiden” or “young girl”. Based on a study of Biblical texts, Akkadian and Ugaritic cognates, G. Wenham concludes that the term means “girl of marriageable age”. The term Betulah “came to include within its range those features which may usually be presumed in an unmarried girl, and may even, in context, be used to express this narrow meaning of virginity”. However, Wenham argues that this is not a technical term for “virgin”.4 On the other hand, Wenham allows for the possibility of the term, like the Greek parthenos, gradually losing its broader meaning of “girl of marriageable age” and acquiring a more restricted connotation of virginity.5

According to C. Miller, the “connotation of virginity is not inherent in this word, although it can be demonstrated that the word does sometimes specifically connote a virgin”. Usually, the specific connotation arises in the context of laws concerning a betrothed woman. Furthermore, the term betulah is often used in a generic or general sense. While it may take on aspects of almah, this term simply means a young girl, usually, of marriageable age. It can also have connotations of maidservant or a newly married woman.6

J. Schmitt points out that “the writers of the OT use the word in a variety of situations. From significant passages, one sees that the word’s meaning is not that of the modern English word, one who has not experienced sexual intercourse. The Hebrew is usually qualified by a phrase such as “who has never known a man” (e.g. Gen. 24:16, Num. 31:18) when the word is used specifically to mean what the word “virgin” means today.” Generally, the word refers to a young woman who has not yet married.7


B. Waltke suggests that the term betulah derives from the unused verb, bātal, meaning “to separate.” He argues, following Wenham, that a “strong case can be presented that betulah is not a technical term for virgo intacta in the OT, a conclusion that has important bearing on the meaning of almah in Isa. 7:14.” Waltke points out that “whether betulah is used in a general sense, ‘young woman’, or a more particular sense ‘virgin’ cannot be decided for Ex. 22:16f; Deut. 22:28-29; Lev. 21:2-3; etc. But in Lev. 21:13-14 and Ezk. 44:22 where betulah is contrasted with various classes of women who have had sexual experience, it seems the concept of ‘virgin’ is in view.” He continues to state that is Joel 1:8 the betulah is called upon to lament the death of her husband. Also, in Job 31:1 the term seems to designate a “young married woman.” Overall, Waltke argues for the somewhat ambiguous nature of the term betulah and makes the following comment; “What is clear is that one cannot argue that is Isaiah (7:14) in his famous oracle to Ahaz had intended a virgin he could have used betulah as a more precise term than almah.8


C. Lattey suggests the opposite of Waltke. Lattey states that “where it is certain that the sense ‘virgin’ is required the word is not almah but betulah.9 However, he argues that “the right conclusion to be drawn…seems to be that, of itself, almah does not imply virginity in the strict sense, but also that there is no instance in which it is applied to woman already married. It appears, also, to signify a fairly young woman.”10


Overall, the term, almah, seems to connote a girl that has reached or passed puberty, is of marriageable age, but might still be under the protection of her family. The term is somewhat elusive and difficult to focus because, as A. Macrae points out, there is not certain root for the word. Also, because of the number of occurrences of betulah, as opposed to the scant occurrences of almah, the exact connotation of the word is hard to comprehend. However, Macrae states that “since betulah is used many times in the OT as a specific word for ‘virgin’, it seems reasonable to consider that the feminine form of this word is not a technical word for virgin but represents a young woman, one of whose characteristics is virginity.” However, consistent with Lattey, Macrae, he points out that “there is no instance where it can be proved that almah designates a young woman who is not a virgin.”11

Vine’s “Dictionary” states that almah “appears to be used more of the concept ‘virgin’ than that of ‘maiden,’ yet always of a woman who had not borne a child.”12E. Young argues that almah is the only word in Hebrew unequivocally signifying an unmarried woman.13 Z. Glaser, similary, points out that “although almah does not implicitly denote virginity, it is never used in the Scriptures to describe a ‘young, presently married woman’. It is important to remember that in the Bible, a young Jewish woman of marriageable age was presumed to be chaste.”14

R. Niessen comments that almah incorporates the elements of the concepts of youth and virginity. Therefore Niessen sees the word עלמהas a “more restrictive term” which refers to a “young woman of biological virginity.”15 Niessen suggests that a clearer depiction of almah might be rendered in a look at גלה, which is the antonym of עלם, the root of almah. The meaning of גלהis “to remove, uncover, or uncover the nakedness.” This connotes having illegal intercourse (Lv 20:11, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21). Therefore, almah, according to Niessen, implies the concealment of a girl until a lawful marriage has taken place. A virgin was called almah “because as a woman she had not been uncovered – she had not known man.”16


Waltke points out that “in the Piel [form] it always denotes ‘to uncover’ something which is normally concealed…But it is used most frequently in this stem for designating proscribed sexual activity. It occurs twenty-four times in Lev. 18 and 20 in the expression ‘to uncover the shame’ which denotes sexual intercourse in proscribed situations, usually incest, also Deut. 22:30; 27:20. It is also used of uncovering or removing that which covers: the woman’s skirt (Isaiah 47:3; Nah. 3:5)…In many passages, then, it has the connotation ‘to shame’ ”.17

Westermann and Albertz discuss the term גלה, “to uncover” at length. They agree that the Piel “always indicates the disclosure of something normally hidden…The chief use of the Piel refers, however, to the forbidden sexual realm (40 x of the uncovering of private parts or of that which covers them: skirt, veil, cover). Twenty-four passages in this group occur in Lev 18 and 20. They are legal prescriptions treating forbidden sexual relations; ‘to uncover the shame’ here is primarily an expression for engagement in sexual intercourse. In many passages it has the meaning “to rape”.18


Occurrences of the term Almah

It would be appropriate at this time to take an overview of the occurrences of the term almah. We are not going to present a full exegesis of each pericope, however in this way we will be able to see how the term and the context of each occurrence combines to present a depiction of the almah which Matthew deemed appropriate to use in his Virgin Birth account.


Genesis 24:16, 43

In the famous account of the introduction of Rebekah to the Abraham-Isaac traditions we see a significant occurrence of both terms, betulah and almah . In v.16 we read the phrase, “a betulah, a man not knowing her.” E. Maly points out that Rebekah “corresponds to ideal sought in a wife – beautiful and a virgin, the last followed by the parallel expression ‘undefiled’.”19 However, in v.43 we read the phrase, “the almah” with no qualifying descriptions.

This account suggests that betulah, in v. 16, is the more common term for any girl of marriageable age. The assumption of a chaste state cannot be made, so the qualifying or parallel phrase had to be employed. Expanding on Maly’s point, Rebekah was the wife of the son of Abraham and the mother of Jacob, or Israel, the father of the twelve progenitors of the Tribes of Israel. Such a pivotal character in the Patriarchal Age of Israel would be presented as an ideal.

Moreover, the placement of almah, after the initial description of Rebekah’s virginity is significant. Instead of using the common term for “virgin”, the author switches to almah. This might suggest that the author is trying to emphasize the important role of Rebekah by using an unusual term to describe her virginity. On the other hand, the use of this term, occurring after the occurrence of betulah, suggests that almah contains all the attributes of betulah in addition to a chaste state. Therefore, in this instance the term almah is used with exact precision to denote the ideal wife of Isaac.

Exodus 2:8

This is the account of how Miriam, the sister of Moses, approached the daughter of Pharaoh with the offer of finding a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby which has just been drawn from the water. The text refers to Miriam as “the almah”. It is generally accepted that this occurrence simply means “the girl”. Likewise, it is accepted that the narrative context plainly indicates that this young girl had to be a virgin. However, it must be pointed out that Miriam, though a young girl, was an integral and vital part of a key point in Israelite history; the life of Moses.


I Chronicles 15:20

This is a debated verse among scholars. However, it is generally agreed upon that it is some sort of musical notation. Knoppers suggests that the term “alamoth” refers to “singers or musicians involved in the cult.”20 On the other hand, R. North argues for a different context for the verse. He, similar to Knoppers, contends that alamoth refers to “girls”, possibly meaning “soprano”. North goes on to point to the context in which this verse is placed; the inauguration of the Davidic tabernacle. He provides the following summary:

“The Chronicler suppresses the suggestion of 2 Sm. 6:12 that David set about securing the Ark because it brought blessings to its possessor. In its place, he introduces an entirely original emphasis on the tent, set up by David in imitation and continuance of the desert situation (Num. 1:50). The Mosaic ritual has not been hitherto acknowledged by the Chronicler as preferred by YHWH; cf. 2:16”.21

J.L. McKenzie argues for the probability of a very early portable tent shrine. Premonarchic Israel was a tribal confederation “organized about a central shrine; the traditions of Israel indicate that the earliest form of this central shrine was a tent and not a building, and these traditions are found in documents earlier than the late Priestly source.” Furthermore, the Oracle of Nathan “presupposes that a tent was the normal and traditional dwelling for the Ark (2 Sam. 7:6).”22

R.E. Friedman points out that, according to Biblical narrative, after the destruction of Shiloh, the Tabernacle “somehow comes to be located at the High Place of Gibeon.” When King David brings the Ark to Jerusalem, he inaugurates a new tent. However, he still sends the Chief Priest Zadok, and his officials, to Gibeon to conduct the proper sacrifices, as directed in Leviticus 17. Friedman continues to argue that the Chronicler depicts David offering sacrifice at the threshing floor of Ornan only because he is unable to travel to Gibeon (1 Chronicles21:28-30). Interestingly, “the Chronicler history also reports that this division of locations is the case at the beginning of King Solomon’s reign, stating the ark is in Jerusalem, in David’s tent, but that Solomon and the people go to sacrifice at the Tabernacle at Gibeon (2 Chr.1:3-6).” How the situation of division was resolved is unclear. However, “both Chronicles and Kings report that when Solomon dedicated the Jerusalem Temple, he not only brought the Ark to the Temple but also to the tent of meeting as well (2 Chr. 5:5-1 Kgs. 8:4).”23 This passage seems to suggest that, under Solomon, the religious center of Israel was completely unified in Jerusalem.

The context of this passage is entirely Davidic. However, the Biblical author keeps Mosaic authority as the theological and historical backdrop of David’s actions. For the purposes of this study, we have to note the occurrence of a derivative of the term almah taking place in an integral moment in Israel’s history.


Psalms 46:1

This Psalm has been the subject of much conjecture and debate. Some scholars, following S. Mowinckel, argue that this is an “Enthronement Psalm”.24 However, R. Murphy contends that it is “a hymn of praise, or song of Zion.” He argues that there “is a clear structure of three strophes, each ending in a refrain: With God as a refuge there is nothing to fear (4, 8, 12). He supports this argument by pointing out that the second strophe “singles out God’s presence in Zion, which preserves it from the nations.” Furthermore, in the third strophe there is a consideration of the powerful deeds of YHWH and the “Oracle of Supremacy” is quoted in v.11.25

However, on the other hand, one can make a strong argument that this is a “Hymn of Victory”. In sharpening the point made by Murphy, one must look at the refrain of this Psalm; The Lord of Hosts is with us, our stronghold is the God of Jacob. The reference to “hosts” means an army that is ready for war. The army, or hosts, to which is referred is unclear and the identity has been debated among scholars. J.L. McKenzie points out that this term appears in Exodus 7:4, a text considered to be an early tradition. He states that this text is perhaps the “best and earliest witness to the identification of the hosts in the title YHWH of hosts. It seems therefore more probable that the original title designated YHWH, God of the hosts of Israel.26

Such a powerful Psalm is introduced by an attribution to the “virgins”. Most scholars render the Hebrew term עלas “according to”. Therefore, the Psalmist seems to suggest that the “virgins”, possibly cult singers, have offered this “Hymn of Victory” and the powerful deeds of YHWH in some sort of liturgical setting.27 In a liturgical context, one could argue that the “sopranos”, the female singers were showcased in this recital. However, such a musical direction or notation is rare among the Psalms. Therefore, its presence seems to indicate that there is a special, cultic, significance to these singers.

Psalms 68:26

Although a majestic Psalm, this Psalm is problematic for the interpreter. Although some of the Hebrew is poorly preserved, it seems as though this Psalm was written to be sung as the Ark of the Covenant was solemnly processed into the Temple. If this Psalm was to be used in the procession of the Ark into the Temple of Jerusalem, we must date its origin or compilation to the reign of Solomon.

Murphy categorizes this Psalm as a “Hymn of Praise”. However, it summarizes the scholarly debate surrounding the Psalm. He states:

“This obscure psalm is difficult to classify; it has been called a collection of incipits, or opening lines of various songs [Albright], an ‘eschatological hymn’ [Gunkel], and a ‘song of enthronement’ [Mowinckel]. The hymn betrays no particular structure, and in many places the translation must remain uncertain. It is perhaps best understood as part of a liturgy that commemorates Yahweh’s saving deeds of the past, and that accompanies procession and enthronement in the Jerusalem Temple.”28

For our purposes, the placement of the reference to the “virgins” may be significant. Unlike Psalm 46:1, the placement of these singers or musicians is in the description of the procession.

It would be fruitful, at this time, to work toward an understanding of the importance of these Temple processions. P. Duff explains that “processions, a significant part of the cultus of ancient Israel, are depicted throughout the OT…The processions portrayed in the Bible grew out of the ritual practices of the ANE culture and the Hellenized culture of the E. Roman Empire.” P. Duff goes on to state that the “focus of the Israelite procession was the ark. This is clearly evident in 2 Samuel 6, the most detailed processional account in the OT. Music figured prominently in these processions. 2 Samuel 6 depicts musicians playing lyres, harps, tambourines, systrums and cymbals: whereas the procession in Ps. 68: 25-27 is accompanied by singers, musicians, and the young women playing tambourines.”29

The Ark of the Covenant was the symbol of the presence of YHWH. It was the introduction of the Ark into the Jerusalem Temple which acted as its formal dedicaton (1 Kings 8). In 1 Kings 8:1-11 we read of the ceremonial transfer of the Ark from Zion, the “City of David” to the Jerusalem Temple. It should be noted there is a special reference to the Priests carrying the Ark and, with the Levites, the sacred vessels. This notation seems to follow the Davidic order of procession. The clearest example of this is found in 1 Chronicles 15.

G. Knoppers offers a compelling discussion of Davidic processions. He points out the following:

“In the ancient Mediterranean world monarchs were expected to attend to the infrastructure and to be efficient builders, beneficent rulers, and capable administrators. Monarchs were also expected to support the cult…In Chronicles, the monarch’s persistence and punctilious care for the Ark [were] a credit to him, to his administration, and to the city he founded.”

However, the Chronicler must address the problem of the first attempt at bringing the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-10). Knoppers points out the distinct differences between the accounts.

“In the first story David convenes all Israel, invites the Priests and Levites, retrieves the Ark, and leads a joyful procession, but he does not personally attend to the care of the cultic symbol itself. When the first procession fails dramatically with Uzzah’s death, David suspends the operation, becomes angry, and is distraught. But he does not abandon the quest. As a resilient leader, he presses on. The Chonicler’s David is an astute expositor of the Torah. In conformity with Pentateuchal (Deuteronomy and Priestly) Law, the king concludes that the reason for the first debacle was the noninvolvement of priests and Levites in carrying the Ark. In this manner, the Chronicler casts David as a devout and resourceful leader. The king accepts the divine verdict, adapts to the changed circumstances and rectifies matters…Precisely because David analyzes the root cause of the earlier disaster and directs the second procession, the second attempt is successful in bringing the Ark to its new home.”30

Building upon Knoppers’ argument, it seems likely that the processional sequence established by David was still used in the Solomonic era. Furthermore, it seems likely that the processional notation is Psalm 68:26 is a piece of a larger or different composition. As earlier scholars have described this Psalm as a collection of incipits, we would suggest that verses 26-27 were the opening couplet of a stanza of another composition inserted into this composite text. It is interesting to note that this is the only reference to the order of procession in the Psalm. Perhaps the Psalmist did not see any cause to mention the obvious; that the Ark was carried by the priests and Levites.

For purposes of this study, we would point out that the alamoth, “virgins” are in the midst of the singers, who lead, and the minstrels, who were following. The notice of the “virgins” or “maidens” is intriguing. It is possible that this is a special musical arrangement for the high soprano voice of the maidens. It is also possible that this reference indicates a special designation in, at least, the music of the cult for these girls. It is easy to overstate the case, but once again we see virgins depicted as playing an important background role for a dramatic moment in OT history.


Proverbs 30:19

This verse has often proved problematic for scholars. However, M. Fox advances a compelling analysis. Proverbs 30:19d is the epigram’s culmination. The cohesion of the epigram is built upon the fourfold repetition of the term Derek or “way”. The phrase, “way of a man…” is “usually understood as aeuphemism for sexual intercourse.” The term almah refers to a “young woman, married ornot”.However, the epigram speaks of an unmarried one. The term geber (“man”) and almah (“maid”) are not equivalent in status. A geber is a mature, robust man, whereas almah is closer to ‘girl’. The preposition be, meaning “in” or “by” or “with”, is somewhat ambiguous. Fox comments that “despite the possible ambiguity, it is very likely that the man’s deed in Prov 30:19d is sex with a girl, a maidservant perhaps, rather than courtship.” However, according to Fox, the act to which this phrase refers does not specifically denote adultery, the violation of another man’s marriage. The act could be licentious or wondrous, in the sense of surprising.31

Supporting Fox’s contention that this is not an adulterous affair is the allusion to the adulterous woman in verse 20. Many scholars have argued that this verse stands outside of the epigram, concluding in verse 19, based on the different pattern of syntax. Fox, and others, have suggested this is the “first interpretation of v. 19.”32 If this is the case, then two possible conclusions arise; verse 20 is an explanation of the girl in v.19 or that a contradiction or irony is presented between the maid and the adulterous woman.

The context of the epigram seems to support the latter idea. The things talked about are “wonderful”, פלה, pala. V. Hamilton states that “preponderantly both the verb and substantive refer to acts of God, designating either cosmic wonders or historical achievements on behalf of Israel.” The root refers to events that are unusual or beyond human capabilities. According to Hamilton;

“We may add that it is essential that the miracle is so abnormal as to be unexplainable except as showing God’s care or retribution…There is to be a public sharing of what God has done and not just a private musing. It is of interest to note that the function of God’s wonders is ultimately to make mercy available to the recipient or reciter, and not just to make a demonstration of power.”33

R. Albertz points out that two-thirds of the occurrences of this root are found in the “psalm genres.” Albertz states;

“In the large, major category of its usage, the root [פלה] indicates an event that a person, judging by the customary and the expected, finds extraordinary, impossible, even wonderful. [The meaning] never hinges on the phenomenon as such but includes both the unexpected event as well as one’s astonished reaction to it. Consequently, the language of [פלה] is the language of joyous reaction (praise). The wonder, the astonishment, includes the recognition of the limits of one’s own power to conceptualize and comprehend…it is predominantly understood as God’s activity.”34

Albertz also points out that “in the vast majority of cases,פלהcharacterizes Yahweh’s acts of deliverance, both the great acts of deliverance of the people in the early period of Israel’s history and the various acts of deliverance experienced by individuals.”35Therefore, these wonders relate predominantly to God’s historical action. Albertz will argue that “the primary relationship of פלהto God’s act of deliverance demonstrates that wonders in the OT do not refer to the breach of an objectively established order (e.g. natural law) but to exceeding one’s specific expectations or what one considers possible in one’s situation.” Proverbs 30: 18, according toAlbertz, “links the astounded observation of nature with the hymnic praise of God’s wondrous acts.” While the association with historical acts of deliverance may be lessened, God’s activity is seen in “natural processes.”36

Song of Songs 1:3

The context of this verse is an introduction speaking of love’s desires. Verse 3 initiates a shift in the object of the speech. R. Murphy points out that this introductory passage begins with a dialogue between the girl and the daughters of Jerusalem. However, in v.3 “the girl addresses her lover as though he were present and speaks of the intoxicating effects of his love.” We also see an example of the “vitality of the name in OT thought.”37

J.L. McKenzie presents a compelling explanation of this vitality. He states;

“It is a widespread cultural phenomenon that the name is considered to be more than an artificial tag which distinguishes one person from another. The name was a mysterious identity with its bearer; it can be considered a substitute for the person, as acting or receiving in his place.The name is often meaningful; it not only distinguishes the person, but it is thought to tell something of the kind of person he is…For the name not only suggested its proper meaning, but also words of similar sound; it was part of the mysterious fullness of the power of the name that it should signify more than the word itself, and when such assonances could be observed they were taken as instances of the power of the word. The name was not merely an identification mark; the name must be known, and in this sense it is fame or reputation.”38

According to M. Rose, the name of someone or something is a “distinguishing mark”. This “distinguishing mark makes it possible to differentiate, to structure, and to order…the knowledge of the name opens up specific human dimensions for communication and for fellowship. The one who knows the name of a god or a human can appeal to them. The knowledge of the name can thereby have effective power.” 39

This verse reads that the “virgins” (alamoth) love this man, who is a King (v. 4). Clearly, the virgins have a close connection with this King and they enjoy free communication with him. Based on this connection and communication one might assume that the virgins hold a special status or garner particular favor with the King.

Song of Songs 6:8

In this verse we see the special status of the virgins, already suggested in 1:3, sharply illustrated. The overall context of the verse is the incomparable beauty of the beloved one. Murphy comments that even “the royal harem that would be compared to her is forced to admit her superiority.”40 For our purposes, one should look to the position of the “virgins” in the comparative note. The verse notes the sixty queens and eighty concubines. According to many scholars, that concubinage existed as a cultural institution is clear. However,the legal status, if any, of concubines is unclear. Scholars also agree that there existed a distinction between wives (in this case, queens) and concubines. But this is not a subordinate relationship as the concubines were not regarded as wives of lower or secondary status. R. de Vaux comments about the royal household and harem. “In a society which tolerated polygamy, the possession of a large harem was a mark of wealth and power. It was also a luxury which few could afford, and it became the privilege of kings.”41According to the argument of de Vaux, and others, it seems that the royal harem was comprised of the queens and the concubines.42 Women were introduced into the harem to satisfy the king’s pleasures and, often, to solidify his policies with other nations or peoples. Yet, this verse makes a further separation in the women connected to the king, the “virgins”. The specific connection to the king is impossible to discern. However, the virgins are depicted as having a special, distinctive, place in the royal assembly. By their status, and beauty, the virgins serve to illuminate and illustrate the relationship between the King and his beloved.43

Isaiah 7:14

Possibly the most debated and analyzed of the almah passages. It is the text which Matthew used to describe the Virgin Birth of Jesus (1:23). Therefore, our consideration of this verse will be a bit more involved than with the previous almah passages. The historical context of the passage, the well-documented Assyrian crisis, need not be rehearsed here. However, the use of the term almah is critical to one’s understanding and interpretation of the text.

Clearly, the almah is nameless, which opens the way for a wide array of identifications, but this does not undermine her role in the bringing forth of this sign to the House of David. However, the characteristics of this person are the core of the debate surrounding this passage. Because of the anonymity of the almah, some have speculated that this person is only representational in nature. However, C. Feinberg discredits this position. He states that “first of all, it must be noted that the noun has a definite article. For many this phenomenon is without significance…The better interpretation of the passage would see a significance in the Prophet’s use of the definitearticle, pointing to specific person.”44Therefore, it is justified to look for a historical person as the almah.

The question then shifts to the girl or woman’s virginity. The fact that Isaiah used the term almah has aroused much scholarly interest and argument. The issue is made more complicated by the occurrences of the term for “virgin”; that almah is used rarely while betulah is much more common. Due to the scarcity of occurrences of the term almah and the many occurrences of the term betulah some scholars have come to question the virginity of the Isaian almah. J. Owens typifies this argument. He states that “almah is used only nine times in the entire Old Testament whereas betulah is used (50) fifty times. If Isaiah had intended to convey the idea of virginity he could have used the word which was more specific and in more common usage than the word he employed.”45

R. Wilson argues in a way contrary to Owens’ assessment. Wilson states the following:

“…two conclusions from the evidence seem clear; first that almah, so far as known, never meant ‘young married woman’; and secondly since the presumption in common law and usage was and is, that every almah is virgin and virtuous, until she is proven not to be, we have the right to assume that Rebecca and the almah of Isaiah vii 14 and all other almahs were virgins, until and unless, it shall be proven that they were not.”46

Wilson’s argument is compelling because, unlike Owens, he is not basing his assessment on the number of occurrences. Furthermore, he is not denying the virginal qualities that can be associated with a betulah. He, like Matthew did, is looking at the overall depiction of almah, as presented by the Biblical passages.

R. Reymond makes a complementary argument to that of Wilson. He argues that “God’s ‘sign’ to the House of David entailed the announcement that a virgin would both conceive and while still a virgin bring forth a son- definitely a miracle and answering thereby the demands [contained] in the word ‘sign’ which was God’s characterization of the future event.”47 Reymond then draws a comparative argument between the Isaiah text and Matthew: “A careful reading of both Isaiah 7:14and Matthew 1:22-25 will disclose that the עלמהwas to be a virgin not only at the time of her marriage but also at the time of her conception and delivery.”48

Possibly, Matthew has tapped into a very ancient annunciation formula in his use of Isaiah of Isaiah 7:14. C. Gordon argues for the antiquity of such a formula. He states:

“The commonly held view that ‘virgin’ is Christian, whereas ‘young woman’ is Jewish is not quite true. The fact is that the LXX, which is the Jewish translation made in pre-Christian Alexandria, takes almah to mean ‘virgin’ here. Accordingly, the New Testament follows Jewish interpretation in Isaiah 7:14. Therefore, the New Testament rendering of almah as ‘virgin’ rests on older Jewish interpretation, which in turn is now borne out for precisely this ‘annunciation formula’ by a text that is not only pre-Isaianic but is pre-Mosaic in the form that we now have it on clay tablet.”49

Gordon’s argument is compelling. The existence of such an ancient “annunciation formula” might help to shed further light on the Immanuel passage of Isaiah and the entire “Child of Promise” motif, which is strongly connected to it.50

F. Moriarty advances an argument which enlarges the context of Isaiah 7:14. He argues that a trilogy of passages exists; Isaiah 7:14-17, 9:1-6, and 11:1-5. This trilogy has one common theme, Royal Messianism. This trilogy has one application; one royal messianic figure.51 He continues to argue that “to these oracles the prophecy of Micah 5:2 has a close relation because the mother occupies the same special place already vindicated of the almah in 7. Some authors identify the almah of Isaiah with yôlēdā of Micah, his contemporary.52Also, according to Moriarty, “the formula of the oracle in v.14 has parallels elsewhere in the OT (Gen. 16:11, Jg. 13:3).53 This argument is similar to that of H. Wolf, who contends that the girl was not pregnant at the time of the announcement. This aspect parallels the birth account of Samson (Judges 13:3-5) and is similar to the birth account of Ishmael (Genesis 16:11). Furthermore, the close similarity in structure between the birth announcements ofIshmael and Samson and that of Immanuel underscores the significance of the child.”54

J. Motyer also argues for the significance of the child. He states:

“The content of Isaiah 7:14 does not dwell in isolation. It belongs to a connected and indeed interwoven series. Immanuel is the possessor of Judah (8:8); he is the ultimate safeguard against the machinations of the nations (8:10).Isaiah could not have used the reassuring words ‘God is with us’ unless with a direct reference to the child whose name this was; Immanuel, consequently, the great ‘Prince of Four Names’, the heir and successor of David (9:6,7)…one born in David’s line is unequivocally divine.”55

Overall, the almah of Isaiah 7:14 must go unnamed. However, from Biblical evidence and scholarly argument, it seems that she was a young, unmarried, chaste girl. As with the other almah passages, we see this virgin playing a significant role in a saving act of YHWH, this time bearing the actual “sign” of God’s presence among His people- Immanuel.


The Depiction Of The almah

Although the occurrences of the term are relatively few, the above texts allow us to move toward an understanding of the role the almah played in OT thought. The first characteristic of the almah which emerge is the role which she plays. In each case, the almah in question is a participant in or a witness to significant events in Biblical history. Rebecca was a key player in the progeny of Abraham and, therefore, the fulfillment of the Covenant made between him and God. Miriam was an integral factor in the life of Moses, the mediator of the First Covenant. The almahs were a witness to the inauguration of the Davidic Tabernacle in 1 Chronicles 15. The almahs offer up the “Hymn of Victory” celebrating the power of YHWH in Psalm 46. Likewise, in Psalm 68, we see the almahs taking part in a “Hymn of Praise” commemorating the saving deeds of YHWH. In Proverbs 30:19 the text places the almah in the context of something “wonderful”, a term connected to the great acts of deliverance performed by YHWH. The two references in Song of Songs points to the special relationship that exists between the almah, possibly Israel, and the King, possibly YHWH. Finally, in the Isaiah passage the almah plays a vital role in bringing forth the sign for the House of David. The Biblical writers knew the gravity and significance of the events which they narrated. It seems doubtful that they would use a common, possiblyambiguous, term to designate the witnesses to Divine acts of power. The common term, betulah, would not be fitting to describe these uncommon events. However, we see the almah always in a supportive, if not foundational, role to the acts of YHWH as He reveals His salvific will upon the historical stage. This illustrates the special role of the almah in the Salvation History of YHWH and, perhaps, speaks to the scarcity of occurrences of the term in OT usage.

We must now address the virginity of the almah. From the OT passages is seems that she was undoubtedly a chaste, young girl. Factoring out the Matthean interpretation for now, we can find support for this statement in controllable evidence found in our aforementioned occurrences. Generally, scholars agree that any maid in question will be young, so youth is not a major focus for debate. Now we must look to see if any indications of chastity are present. We find our first supporting text in the account of Rebecca. Following Maly, it should be observed that the term betulah needed a qualifying comment regarding any chaste state.56 As already pointed out, the term almah comes after the term betulah which suggests that only the term, almah, is being depicted as containing the connotation of chastity. The other clear example of the chaste state of the almah is Songs 6:8. As we have noted, the idea of separation from the queens and concubines denotes a special role of the virgins. While the queens and concubines, the harem, serve as political power instruments and objects of kingly pleasure the virgins seem to be removed from this sort of designation. Yet, while removedfrom these roles, the virgins still seemed to have enjoyed close communication and contact with the King.57 Finally, the text of Isaiah 7:14 provides more support to our contention of the chaste state of the almah. To paraphrase Wilson’s argument, based on common law and custom we can assume the virtue of any almah. In his prophecy, Isaiah could use the term almah without the need to qualify it to his audience. Isaiah used a term which contained special connotations to illustrate the magnitude of this sign for the House of David. The more common term, betulah, might lessen the impact of the prophecy because of the needed attending explanations.

Therefore, the almah can, and should, be understood a young girl, usually of marriageable age – Miriam in the Exodusaccount being a notable exception. She is a chaste witness and, sometimes, factor in the saving acts of God. The OT, by the scarcity of occurrences of this term, depicts a special nature and role of this young woman. We will now argue that this depiction is what Matthew picked up in his birth account of Jesus.



The uses of the image of the “virgin” in the Gospel account of Jesus’ birth differ greatly. Luke, in a masterful piece of writing, firmly embeds Jesus’ birth account in the literary and theological traditions of the OT. He does this by presenting the birth in the “Child of Promise” format. As we have noted, Luke uses all of the classic elements of this format or motif; announcement of imminent pregnancy, an obstacle to this pregnancy which is stated in the account, and the fulfillment of God’s word in the recording of the birth of the child. The announcement passages in Luke seem to culminate this tradition as we see the angel Gabriel making the announcement, not an unnamed angel or messenger, Mary specifically stating her virginal status, which is the ultimate obstacle to pregnancy, and the mission of the son who was to be born. Depicting this event as a culmination allows Luke to develop a forward orientation, illustrated in Mary’s Canticle-The Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55).58

Although the great “Children of Promise” were undoubtedly known to Matthew, he used the image of the almah in a different way. Many attempts to explain and interpret Matthew 1:23 have been made. Several “logical” explanations, as distilled by J. Willis, have emerged; allegory, accommodating reason to methods of argumentation, analogy between Immanuel and Jesus, double-fulfillment, type-antitype, midrash, pesher or commentary, and sensor plenior or a fuller sense of Isaiah.59 While these explanations all have merit, none of them seem to capture the singular quality of Matthew’s birth account.

It has long been argued by scholars that Matthew is the most “Jewish” of the Gospels and wrote for a specifically Jewish Christian audience. Therefore, we can presume that he knew the Hebrew meanings attached to the terms betulah and almah. As important as the denotations and connotations of these terms are, the true significance of Matthew’s description of the Virgin Birth of Jesus rests in his use Scripture and OT prophecy. J.L. McKenzie offers a summary of the role of Scripture in the Matthean Gospel:

“The Jewish Christian character of Mt is evident in his conception of Jesus as the fulfillment of the OT, a theme which is more prominent in Mt than in Mk-Lk…The idea of fulfillment is basic in Mt and perhaps original with him; but it would be a misconception to understand fulfillment in terms merely of prediction of future events. Jesus fulfills the OT by being the reality which is initiated in the OT, which, because it is the earlier phase of a single saving act, exhibits a community of character and traits of Jesus.”60

Therefore, Matthew seems to depict the idea, as we suggested above, that the theme of witnessing or participating in God’s saving acts runs through the almah passages.

H. Creager points to the messianic character of the Matthean account. Matthew makes extensive use of messianic prophecies. There are three major types of OT messianic prophecies. First, there are explicit or direct predictions of the Christ, as found in Micah 5:2. Second, there are general statements about the messianic era and the blessings connected to it, without any reference to a personal Messiah (Isaiah 2:2-4). Third, there is an extensive group of passages whose primary significance is in their connection with situations or events that transpired in OT times but have a secondary reference and application to Christ. In the OT passages the NT writers found “illustrative parallels” to events pertaining to Christ.61

In Mt 1:22-23, according to R.E. Brown, the OT is cited directly. Brown states that this is the first instance in the Gospel of “formula citations or fulfillment citations”. These are citations of Scripture that are “introduced by a formula which indicates that the NT event took place in order to fulfill the OT passage which is being cited”. He continues:

“That Jesus is to be related to the Scriptures is commonplace in early Christianity, but Matthew has uniquely standardized the fulfillment of the prophetic word. In finding this fulfillment, Matthew makes no attempt to interpret what we might consider the full or contextual meaning of the OT text that he cites; rather he concentrates on features of the text wherein there is a resemblance to Jesus or the NT event. His method of quoting the prophet directly rather than weaving an allusion into the wording of the Matthean narrative is an indication of a Christian effort to supply the story of Jesus with OT background and support.”62

Brown argues that the citations had a “didactic purpose”. They were meant to inform Christian readers and give support to their faith. The fact that some citations are connected to the “minutiae of Jesus’ career” seems to indicate that the whole of Jesus’ life “lay within God’s foreordained plan.” Noteworthy is the fact that there is an uneven distribution of citations throughout the Gospel, with the highest concentration being in the Infancy Narratives. Brown attempts to explain this distribution.

“This concentration of formula citations may mean that the evangelist regarded the infancy as a section of Jesus’ life still relatively unexplored in reference to the OT. In this it might be contrasted to the passion which had been studies against an OT backdrop from the beginning of Christian preaching. The readers of the passion story would not have been in such need of Matthew’s nota bene technique of formula citations.”63

The above arguments of Creager and Brown are supported by Wolf, who states that “Matthew’s use of this passage [Isaiah 7:14] in the New Testament is consistent with his references to other OT verses. On occasion he employs a secondary interpretation which differed considerably from the primary meaning.”64 If we may restate Wolf’s position; the primary focus and fulfillment of the Isaiah passage may have been in the historical period of Assyrian ascendancy. However, Matthew cares little about this historical context, although he most probably knew it very well, and sees a second fulfillment or trajectory of the prophecy. This trajectory brings it to the birth of Jesus.

Some scholars, such as Z. Glaser, give credibility to the Matthean passage because he is not trying to fit Jesus’ birth and life into a traditional mold, such as the “Child of Promise” motif. Rather, Matthew is relying on Scripture to explain the Virgin Birth. This supports Brown’s stance that the purpose of the Infancy Narratives was didactic in nature.

Motyer argues strongly for Jesus being the object of the trajectory of the Isaiah passage. He states:

“The Biblical claim that the Immanuel prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ is not only and obviously justified…It is clear that Jesus alone has the credentials to claim the Divine-human ancestry and nature, the righteous character and worldwide rule prophesied for Immanuel. Clearly, also in Him the full implications of Immanuel’s birth of the עלמהare realized. As an examination of Biblical usage will show, עלמהis the only Hebrew word which without qualification means an unmarried woman- however marriageable she may be. Its rival in this discussion, בתלוה, too often requires some such additional description as ‘neither touched by man’ (Gen 24:16; Judges 11:37-39) to merit serious consideration as a technical term for virgo intacta. Matthew, therefore, performed no exegetical sleight of hand in translating Isaiah 7:14 with the word parthenos.65

Therefore, Matthew presents a well defined depiction of the almah. He draws upon the imagery presented in the OT. She is a young chaste girl of marriageable age. She bears witness to the saving acts of God, often as a vital factor in these acts. These acts, as described in Proverbs 30:19, are wonderful. They are seen as God’s activities, historical events on behalf of Israel, therefore often beyond human capabilities and comprehension. Yet, the almah is part of the sweeping events of Salvation History. These qualities, seen in varying degrees in all the almah passages of the OT, come together, are culminated, and embodied in Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Through his use of Biblical imagery, Matthew reveals his belief that Mary was indeed a chaste virgin at the birth of Jesus. However, even though he supports his view with powerful OT texts he still is careful how he presents the Virgin Birth. He states that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:18). Brown argues that “neither in Matthew or Luke does the divine begetting of Jesus become a sexual begetting. The Holy Spirit is the agency of God’s creative power, not a male partner in a marriage between a deity and a woman (hieros gamos)”.66 One reason for this emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit is that he must guard against confusion with the Greco-Roman gods, Zeus and Hercules. One has to note that in 167 CE, the Seleucid ruler of Judaea, Antioches IV formally “rededicated the Jerusalem Temple as a shrine of the supreme Greek deity, Olympian Zeus.”67 Also, by the time of the Gospels the original Grecian oaf, Herakles, developed into the Roman god, Hercules. Herakles was deified before the time of Jesus (2 Maccabees 4:19) in the Hellenic pantheon. According to classical mythology, Hercules was the son of the father-god, Zeus/Jupiter and a mortal woman. He had special powers which derived from his father. Upon his death, Hercules was taken up to Olympus by the power of his father, where he became fully divine. In short, Hercules occupied a similar in the Hellenic religion as Jesus now occupied in Jewish Christianity. Quite possibly, this possible confusion was a catalyst for Christian preaching to shift its emphasis from being “less missionary” to “more didactic”.68 Therefore, Matthew, as did Luke, guarded against such confusion.69


Matthew and the question of Mary’s perpetual virginity

Regarding what is, possibly, the most controversial issue about Mary, we must now turn our attention to the idea of Mary being a chaste virgin after the birth of Jesus. Admittedly, Matthew does not confront this question directly. However, the argument will be made that he sets the foundation for this theological teaching.70

We would suggest that Mary preserved her virginity as a continuation of her role in the saving act of God. The idea of sexual abstinence, within the confines of marriage, in service of the Lord has its roots in the OT. P. Staples contends that there are at least two contexts in which normal conjugal activity must cease: Theophany and Holy War. In each context, one is attempting to achieve the “highest degree of personal holiness” possible in light of the “unusual intensity” of God’s presence.71

The text of Exodus 19:15 commands complete sexual abstinence in preparation for the great Theophany at Sinai. However, we see the practice of sexual abstinence, most prominently, in the accounts which speak of the warrior’s preparation for battle. Such abstinence occurs twice in the Davidic traditions; 1 Samuel 21:6, wherein David speaks of the consecration of his men in the “Holy Bread” event, and 2 Samuel 11:11, wherein we see Uriah the Hittite refusing to sleep with Bathsheba.

While it is not necessary to envision Mary as a Holy Warrior, one must see that her life was built around the presence of God, in the person of Jesus, her son. Jesus, according to Matthew, fulfilled the Isaiah prophecy of Immanuel, roughly translated a “God is with us”. This would constitute the “unusual intensity” of God’s presence, of which Staples speaks, and prompt her to live in a state of the highest degree of holiness possible throughout her lifetime- that of a chaste virgin in service to the Lord.

There is another passage in the OT which might provide a Scriptural background for Mary’s perpetual virginity; Numbers 30. 72 The context of this chapter deals with vows and oaths of unmarried people. The passages dealing with women begin in v.4 and state that the verbal commitments of a woman may be disavowed by the man who exercises legal control over her, her father or husband.73It is well documented that the virginity of a girl is to be protected by the parents, primarily the father. According to vss. 7-8 the husband takes up the “previously held responsibilities of the father.” Any commitments made by the girl will remain in place if the husband, as applied to the father, remains silent at the time of his hearing.74 Therefore, Matthew seems to be applying this set of laws to the situation of Mary and Joseph, as in 1:19 we read that Joseph did not want to expose her to the law and wanted to divorce quietly when he found out about her pregnancy during the betrothal period. Mary had made a commitment, or had it conferred on her, to the service of God when she became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. By his silence and subsequent marriage to Mary, Joseph is honoring the commitment entailed in the pregnancy.Moreover, he is taking up the responsibilities of her father by now becoming the caretaker and protector of her virginity.

The significance of Joseph emerges in this passage. As Brown argues; by taking Mary who was with child, into his home “rather than divorcing Mary as he had proposed (1:19); Joseph assumes public responsibility for the mother and the child who is to be born.” This responsibility is further emphasized by Matthew in the naming of the child. Again, following Brown, “by naming the child, Joseph acknowledges him as his own, the law prefers to base paternity on the man’s acknowledgement…Joseph, by exercising the father’s right to name the child (cf. Luke 1:60-63), acknowledges Jesus and thus becomes the legal father of the child.”75

A major concern of Matthew is that Jesus is the “son of David”. One must remember that Matthew’s key prophetic passage, Isaiah 7:14, is in the context of a sign to the “House of David.” This sonship is through the agency of Joseph. However, according to Brown;

“Matthew takes great pains to stress that his descent was not communicated through normal sexual relations between husband and wife… Matthew refuses to allow the reader to misunderstand Mary’s situation the way Joseph does in 1:19. Rather he tells the reader ahead of time in 1:18 that Mary’s pregnancy is through the Holy Spirit. If Matthew rules out any human sexual agent in the begetting of the child, he goes further by denying sexual relations between Mary and Joseph after the child has been conceived (1:25). Davidic descendancy is to be transferred not through natural paternity but through legal paternity.”76

Therefore, Matthew has composed this birth account in such a way that there can be no question or scandal involving the birth and legitimacy of Jesus. Matthew embeds the birth account in Jewish Law and, in doing so, depicts Joseph as the one who will safeguard Mary and Jesus. Moreover, by taking over the role of patriarch of the family, assuming the role of Mary’s father, it is understandable that Joseph would help to preserve Mary’s chastity after the extraordinary conception which occurred.



Mary, the perpetual virgin

Many theological arguments over the centuries have been forwarded about Mary’s perpetual virginity. Theologians have suggested, starting with the Protoevangelium of James that Mary was under some form of vow of chastity. However, there is little evidence for such arguments.

However, beginning with Origen, there is another line of argument that is supported in the Gospels. Origen argued that once Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit she would not have engaged in marital intercourse with a man. Therefore, “she thus becomes the model of all those who would choose virginity or celibacy as a way of life for the sake of the Kingdom of God.”77

The idea of celibacy, foregoing sexual relations, for the sake of the Kingdom of God is an idea found in Matthew 19:12. This passage is unique to Matthew but fits in well with his recurring theme of the Kingdom, or reign, of God. M. Pamment supports this as she argues that Jesus is advocating celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, thus abrogating Genesis 1:28. Pamment states that this teaching is consistent with the Matthean emphasis on complete dedication to God and His Kingdom.78

F. Moloney claims that 19:12 “can take us back to the ipsissima verba Jesu used by Matthew or his source, in which Jesus speaks of the purpose and function of his own celibate life.”79 Moloney argue that Matthew 3-9 did not formulate one message, about marriage and divorce being directed at the Pharisees, followed by another separate statement in vss 10-12, about voluntary celibacy directed to the disciples. On the contrary, vss 3-9, which were taken from Mark and rearranged for his own purpose by Matthew, constitute the preface for the dialogue of question and answer found in vss 10-12.80 The passage 19:9-12, save the question in v. 10, “are directed to the same problem: the regulation of the marriage of the newly- arrived gentile converts.” Verse 12, specifically, continues and concludes the argument on divorce.81 Matthew, according to Moloney, argues that celibates should be “swept off their feet by the overwhelming presence of God’s Lordship that there can be no possibility of committing themselves to a further marriage relationship.”82 This argument applies, particularly, to Mary as she had a unique experience with the presence of God; she felt the power of the Holy Spirit again at Pentecost. Throughout her life, Mary was enveloped in God’s presence. She did not need a vow to win divine favor; it was already conferred on her. The presence of God was a fulfillment to the prophecies. Her perpetual chaste status was the culmination, not mere fulfillment, of the role of the almah in the OT. The text of Matthew 19:12 seems to support Mary’s role. Moloney was correct in his assessment that this text regulates marriage. But, this text goes beyond concerns over converts and clarification of the Law and looks to the Kingdom of God. Mary was the embodiment of this unique Matthean teaching and the ethics of the Kingdom was consistent with such a life as hers.

H. Kvalbein contends that accepting the reign, Kingdom of God, was not a passive undertaking and argues:

“Jesus has performed the Reign of God in his time in the form of miracles and parables, in actions and in words…so that we can come under his rule and participate in this performance. To live in the Kingdom of God is to live in a fellowship where the values of the Kingdom are performed in living life.”83

Also consistent with the ethics of the Kingdom is the renouncing of marriage, and the accompanying sexual obligations. Kvalbein states that such actions constitute an “ethos far beyond the demands of the Law. Marriage is in accord with God’s will according to the Creation story. But the call to the Kingdom ministry has an even higher priority…[It] is not linked to the demands of the Law, but to the demands of the Kingdom.”84 Kvalbein concludes:

“The Kingdom is the ultimate motivation for a life according to God’s will…Discipleship may imply demands far beyond the Commandments of the Law, e.g. renouncement of marriage and family life, of profession and economic security. A willingness to such renunciation is in principle demanded from all disciples or all Christians.”85

B. Wiebe argues in a similar way. Wiebe states [that]:

“To participate in the Kingdom is to anticipate the end of evil and the vindication of God’s righteousness…Response does not take the form of waiting simply for the coming of a future event but of participation in the Kingdom of God as it has begun and is to be revealed at the end in glory.”86

Also, the Kingdom of God, unquestionably, has a future orientation but is “effective already in the present. This calls for corresponding action in human response…Active response is the only way to participate in it. Those who, for the sake of the Kingdom, leave behind everything participate in a new family [community].”87

Following Kvalbein and Wiebe, we can say that Mary, and Joseph, did not renounce the Law. Rather, for the sake of the Kingdom of God they went beyond the constraints and obligations inherent in the Law. By her lifelong chastity, Mary became the model of response to the call of the Kingdom.Therefore, it seems very likely that she was paradigmatic or foundational to Jesus’ teaching as recorded in Matthew 19:12.



As we have noted throughout this study, Matthew uses an interesting method in explaining the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Instead of using the “Child of Promise” format, favored by Luke, Matthew works to embed the birth of Jesus in the Law. This creates a powerful complement to Luke, as he embeds the birth account in the literary and theological tradition of the OT. Matthew, probably because of his Jewish background, insists on legal propriety and prophetic fulfillment regarding the birth of Jesus. Part of this fulfillment is to insist that Mary was a chaste virgin, almah, at the time of the birth of Jesus.

However, based on the Scriptural evidence we can say that although Matthew never explicitly stated that Mary was a perpetual virgin he definitely laid the foundation for the theological teaching of the Church. He presented Mary as the culmination and fulfillment of the OT almah passages. She was not only a witness but a vital participant in the greatest saving act of God, the bringing about of the Kingdom as embodied in the ministry of Jesus, her son. The Kingdom of God is tied to the “eschatological hope of Israel. For the hope of Israel was the hope of the coming Kingdom of God.”88

From the moment of conception, Mary’s life was inextricably bound to that of her son and, therefore, the Kingdom of God. J. Bright argues that the call of the Kingdom is not “a call to honor or to victory, as the world understands those terms, but to utter self-denial. Over and over again we hear of the tremendous cost of it. One leaves father and mother, home and family, at its summons.”89 Moreover, the “ethics of Jesus are the ethics of the Kingdom; and Jesus expected his followers to take them seriously, not only in his generation but in all generations.”90 Mary was the original model of response to the call of the Kingdom of God. Mary’s perpetual virginity was the sign and seal of her response.

Mary provided the human element of the Incarnation, the moment when the Word of God became flesh. With the Incarnation humanity was forever dignified. The Incarnation also glorified Mary’s virginity. Let us end with Article 499 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as it bases it teachings on Lumen Gentium:

“The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth ‘did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.’ And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the ‘Ever-Virgin’.”




Dictionaries, Commentaries

Brown, R.E., Fitzmyer, J., Murphy, R., ed. The Jerome Biblical Commentary 2vol Englewood Cliffs: Pentice-Hall, 1968.

Freedman, D.N., editor-in-chief. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 volumes. NY: Doubleday, 1992

Harris, R. Archer, G., B. Waltke, ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.

Jenni, E., Westermann, C., ed. Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997.

McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible. Chicago: Bruce, 1966.

Vine, W.E., Unger, M., White, W., ed. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville: Nelson, 1996.



Bright, J. The Kingdom of God. Nashville: Abingdon, 1953.

Brown, R. E. The Birth of the Messiah. NY: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, R. E. The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus. NY: Paulist, 1973.

Fox, M. Proverbs 10-31. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Grant, M. The History of Ancient Israel. NY: Scribner’s, 1984.

Knoppers, G. Chronicles 10-29. NY: Doubleday, 2004.

Young, E. The Book of Isaiah – A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1997.


Articles, Journals

Creager, H.L. “Immanuel Passage as Messianic Prophecy.” Lutheran Quarterly 7 #4 (1955): 339-343.

Feinberg, C. “The Virgin Birth in the Old Testament and Isaiah 7:14.” Bibliotheca Sacra 119 #475 (1962): 251-258.

Glaser, Z. “Almah: Virgin or Young Maiden.” 1 Sept. 1993. Issues: A Messianic Jewish Perspective.http://jewsforjesus.org/publications/9_1/almah (30, July 2009).

Gordon, C. “Almah in Isaiah 7:14.” Journal for Bible and Religion 21 #2(1953):106.

Kvalbein, H. “The Kingdom of God in the Ethics of Jesus.” Communio Viatorum 40 #3 (1998): 197-227.

Lattey, C. “The Term Almah in Is 7:14.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9 #1 (1947): 89-95.

Miller, C. “Maidenhood and Virginity in Ancient Israel.” Restoration Quarterly 22 #4 (1979): 242-246.

Moloney, F. “Matthew 19:3-12 and Celibacy: A Redactional and Form Critical Study.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2 Ja (1979): 42-60.

Moriarty, F. “The Emmanuel Prophecies.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 19 #2 (1957): 226-233.

Motyer, J.A. “Content and Context in the Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14.” Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970): 118-125.

Niessen, R. “The Virginity of the Almah in Isaiah 7:14.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 #546 (1980): 133-150.

Owens, J. J. “The Meaning of Almah in the Old Testament.” Review & Expositor 50 #1 (1953): 56-60.

Pamment, M. “Singleness and Matthew’s Attitude to the Torah.” JSNT 17 (1983): 73-86.

Reymond, R. “Who is the יlmh of Isaiah 7:14.” Presbyterian 15 #1 (1989): 1-15.

Staples, P. “Occasions for Sexual Abstinence in the Bible.” Modern Churchman 11 #1 (1967): 26-29.

Wenham, G.J. “Betûlāh, A Girl of Marriageable Age.” Vetus Testmentum 22 #3 (1972): 326-348.

Wiebe, B. “Messianic Ethics: Response to the Kingdom of God.” Interpretation 45 #1 (1991): 29-42.

Willis, J.T. “The Meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and its Application in Matthew 1:23.” Restoration Quarterly 21 #1 (1978): 1-18.

Wilson, R.D. “The Meaning of ‘almah in Isaiah vii.14.” Princeton Theological Review 24 #2 (1926): 308-316.

Wolf, H. M. “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22.” JBL 91 #4 (1972): 449-456.

1 The Gospel of Luke also records a Virgin Birth narrative but, as we will discuss, this was of a very different purpose and writing style than the one found in the Matthean Gospel.


2 J.L. McKenzie, “virgin”, Dictionary of the Bible (Chicago: Bruce, 1965), 913.


3 McKenzie, “Dictionary”, 914. McKenzie also points out that virginity was considered an ascetic ideal in the NT, but explicit recommendations of the ideal are scarce. Jesus Himself recommends virginity only in Matthew 19:12. However, Paul, throughout 1 Corinthians 7, proposes the ideal explicitly.


4 G. Wenham, “Betûlāh, a Girl of MarriageableAge” Vetus Testamentum 22#3 (1972), 347.


5 Ibid., 348. This would raise the possibility, in NT Aramaic, that betulah may have supplanted almah. However, the Hebrew texts would still retain almah, so his point, while perhaps valid, would not impact Matthew.


6 C. Miller, “Maidenhood and Virginity in Ancient Israel” Restoration Quarterly 22#4 (1979), 243.


7 J. Schmitt, “Virgin”, Anchor Bible Dictionary (NY: Doubleday, 1992), 6:853.


8 B. Waltke, “בתולה, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 1:137-138.


9 C. Lattey, “The term Almah in Is. 7:14” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9 #1(1947), 92.


10 Lattey, 89.


11 A. Macrae, “ עלםTheological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 2:672.


12 W.E. Vine, “virgin”, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville: Nelson, 1984), 277.


13 E. Young, The Book of Isaiah- A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1997), 288.


14 Z. Glaser, “Almah: Virgin or Young Maiden” Issues: A Messianic Perspective 9:#1 (9/1/1993- online archives).


15 R. Niessen, “The Virginity of the ‘Almah’ in Isaiah 7:14” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 #546 (1980), 147.


16 Niessen, 134.


17 Waltke, “גלהTheological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Bruce, 1980), 1:161.


18 C.Westermann/E. Jenni “גלהTheological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), 1:317.


19 E. Maly, “Genesis”, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 1:25.


20 G. Knoppers, 1Chronicles 10-29 (NY: Doubleday, 2004), 623.


21 R. North, “The Chronicler: 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah”, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice-Hall, 1986), 1:410.


22 McKenzie, Dictionary, 863.


23 R.E. Friedman, “Tabernacle”, Anchor Bible Dictionary (NY: Doubleday, 1992), 6:293.


24 For a detailed discussion of this point, cf. S. Mowinckel, “Psalm Criticism Between 1900 and 1935”, Vetus Testamentum 5 (1955), 13-33.


25 R. Murphy, “Psalms”, Jerome, 1:584.


26 McKenzie, Dictionary, 375.


27 If this theory is correct, an argument may be made which uses this Psalm as a model of sorts for Mary’s “Magnificat”, found in Luke 1:46-55. Although one must use caution so as not to overstate the similarities between the two texts. However, the general context of a virgin reciting a hymn praising the might of the Lord is undeniable.


28 Murphy, “Psalms, 1:588.


29 P. Duff, “Processions”, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:470-471.


30 Knoppers, 631-633.


31 M. Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 870-872.


32 Ibid., 873.


33 V. Hamilton, “wonder”, Theological Wordbook, 2: 723.


34 R. Albertz, “to be wondrous”, Theological Lexicon, 2:982.


35 It should be observed that this root occurs in the birth account of Samson (Judges 13:8), when Manoah asked the angel of the Lord his name and the angel replied that it is “wonderful” or, as often translated, “mysterious”. In this account we see God’s activity in the early history of Israel, beginning the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Philistines (Judges 13:5). We also see the dramatic reaction of Samson’s parents, particularly Manoah, who thought he has seen God and was now going to die. Furthermore, we see the exceeding of the parents expectations; a son given to a barren mother(Judges 13:2), who was going to help liberate Israel. Therefore, this is a classic example of the properties of פלה and how God’s activities were, and are, often beyond human understanding and explanation.


36 Albertz, 2:982.


37 R. Murphy, “Canticle of Canticles”, Jerome, 1:508


38 McKenzie, Dictionary, 603.


39 M. Rose, “Names of God in the OT”, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:1002.


40 Murphy, “Canticle”, 1:509.


41 R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Social Institutions (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 1:115.


42 It is interesting to note that this verse is the only use of the term “queen” in connection with Israel, as most scholars interpret the female beloved’s identity. One should also note that often concubines were originally slave girls who found favor with the master or king.


43 We must also point out that in v. 9 we see the queens and concubines being grouped together again. The virgins are not specifically mentioned. This further supports our contention that the virgins comprised a special group within the royal assembly.


44 C. Feinberg, “The Virgin Birth in the Old Testament and Isaiah 7:14”, Bibliotheca Sacra 119 #475 (1962), 255.


45 J.J. Owens, “The meaning of ‘almah in the Old Testament”, Review & Expositor 50 #1 (1953), 60.


46 R.D. Wilson, “The Meaning of ‘almah (a.v. virgin) in Isaiah vii.14”, Princeton Theological Review 24 #2

(1926), 316.


47 R. Reymond, “Who is the ‘lmh of Isaiah 7:14”, Prebyterion 15 #1 (1989), 6.


48 Ibid., 10.


49 C. Gordon, “Almah in Isaiah 7:14”, The Journal of Bible & Religion 21 #2 (1953), 106.


50 We suggest that more study is needed on this topic, but we can only its rich potentialities as a close examination would take us too far afield of our topic.


51 F. Moriarty, “The Emmanuel Prophecies”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 19 #2 (1957), 226.


52 Ibid., 231.


53 Ibid., 230.


54 H.M. Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22”, Journal of Biblical Literature 91 #4 (1972), 456. Wolf’s argument supports our contention that Annunciation formulae are connected to the “Child of Promise” traditions of the Old Testament. The birth account of Samson is the fullest OT example of this tradition. It is possible that the Child of Promise traditions grew from the annunciation traditions. The Child of Promise traditions always contain the fulfillment of the announcement, whereas the simple announcement formula does not. Therefore, this incongruity might indicate the Isaiah passage echoes a tradition which precedes the Child of Promise traditions.


55 J. A. Motyer, “Content and Context in the Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14”, Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970), 123.


56 It should be observed that the Lukan account of the “Annunciation” also contains such a qualifying comment, from Mary herself (1:34). We suggest that this attending, qualifying, comment was made to avoid any ambiguity and confusion with the Gk term parthenos, which denoted only “virgin” or “maid”, with no implication of chastity. Luke was Gentile and saw the need to avoid confusion with the stories that abounded in Hellenistic mythologies. It is difficult to determine the significance which the term almah contained for Luke. However, the Gospel of Matthew, undoubtedly written by a Jewish Christian for a Jewish audience, encompassed the attending issues of the term and the connotations of almah would be known and of great importance to it.


57 One has to wary not to overstate this argument as, due to the scarcity of occurrences, a full depiction of this role is neither given nor possible to determine. However, we contend that this text provides a strong indication and evidence for the role of the almah.


58 Luke’s use of the “Child of Promise” motif deserves much more study and comment; we make reference to it here as a contrast to the Matthean account.


59 J.T. Willis, “The Meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and its Application in Matthew 1:23”, Restoration Quarterly 21#1

(1978), 15-16.


60 McKenzie, Dictionary, 555.


61 H.L. Creager, “Immanuel Passage as Messianic Prophecy”, Lutheran Quarterly 7 #4 (1955), 339.


62 R.E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (NY: Doubleday, 1993), 97.


63 Ibid., 99.


64 Wolf, “Solution”, 456.


65 J.A. Motyer, “Content and Context in the Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14”, Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970), 125.


66 Brown, “Messiah”, 137.


67 M. Grant, The History of Ancient Israel (NY: Scribner’s, 1984)), 208.


68 Grant, 99.


69 Matthew knew well the Greek influences in Jerusalem. Judaism was corrupted by Hellenism, as a gymnasium was constructed, as part of the Hellenization of the city (1 Mc 1:14; 2Mc 4:12). Many scholars comment that this was an essential feature of the Greek city, or polis. Moreover, Antiochus IV, “Epiphanes”, proposed the name “Temple of the Olympian Zeus for the Jerusalem Temple (2 Mc 6:2). Therefore, there was a viable danger of the traditions surrounding Jesus, and Judaism, being absorbed into Hellenism.


70 The first extended theological treatise advocating the inviolable and perpetual virginity of Mary was the Protoevangelium of James. Herein the author argues that Mary was vowed into lifelong chastity by her mother, as in the OT traditions if 1 Samuel1:11, 2:22, and Luke 2:36-37. While this argument fulfills all the conditions presented in the Gospels concerning Mary’s virginity, there is little evidence to support the vow made by Mary’s mother, St. Anne.


71 P. Staples, “Occasions for Sexual Abstinence in the Bible”, Modern Churchman11 #1 (1967), 27.


72 Brant Pitre, in his online commentaries also connects the Matthean depiction to this OT text.


73 B. Levine, Numbers 21-36 (NY: Doubleday, 2000), 431.


74 Ibid., 432.


75 Brown makes the following comment in his notes; “legal father is a better designation than foster father or adoptive father. Joseph does not adopt someone else’s son as his own; he acknowledges his wife’s child as his legitimate son, using the same formula by which other Jewish fathers acknowledged their legitimate children”.


76 Brown, Messiah, 138.


77 R.E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (NY:Paulist, 1973), 39.


78 M. Pamment, “Singleness and Matthew’s Attitude to the Torah”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament #17 (1983), 80.


79 F. Moloney, “Matthew 19:3-12 and Celibacy: A Redactional and Form Critical Study”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament #2 (1979), 42.


80 Ibid., 46.


81 Moloney, 48.


82 Ibid., 49.


83 H. Kvalbein, “The Kingdom of God in the Ethics of Jesus”, Communio Viatorum 40 #3 (1998), 200.


84 Ibid., 215.


85 Ibid., 227.


86 B. Wiebe, “Messianic Ethics: Response to the Kingdom of God”, Interpretation 45 #1 (1991), 35.


87 Ibid., 41.


88 J. Bright, The Kingdom of God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1953), 18.


89 Ibid., 210.


90 Ibid., 223.


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