Francesca Stavrakopoulou was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 live about a variety of things related to the Christmas story: “Hebrew expert: ‘Virgin Birth a Mistranslation’”. One of those things is Matthew 1:23′s use of Isaiah 7:14 to argue that Jesus’ “virgin birth” was foretold by the prophet. She argues that since the Hebrew עלמה means “young woman”, unlike the LXX’s παρθένος, which means “virgin”, that the whole concept is based on a “mistranslation”.
T. Michael Law contest this claim, arguing that παρθένος is used in the LXX of Genesis to describe “young woman”, not necessarily “virgin”, and therefore it is an acceptable translation. You can read his response here: “Was the Virgin Birth a ‘mistranslation’?”
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel”, which translated means, “God with us”. (Matthew 1:23)
As he wrote down the story of the birth of the Christ-child, the author of the First Gospel found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah (7:14) the words that would allow him to describe his own understanding of what had happened. The prophet had spoken of a child being born who would be called “Emmanuel”, which translated from Hebrew (עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל) means “God with us”.
As the author pondered this passage he must have thought to himself that the immediate fulfillment of the prophet’s words hardly do justice to such a title. Especially since the tradition which he had received spoke of Jesus being born from the womb of a virgin (παρθένος). If the first child born from a young woman could be named “God with us” how much more so the one who was said to have been born of a virgin?
This one is the Son of God! This one is the Messiah! This one has been raised from the dead!
The prophet had no idea what he was saying when he spoke of a child who would be called Emmanuel, but those who saw Jesus’ face understood what such a name really means. In Jesus we have not been left alone. The heavens are not silent. Jesus Christ is Emmanuel. Jesus Christ is God with us.
See also: Doug Chaplin’s short, yet insightful, discussion on the differences between the Matthean and Lukan virgin birth traditions here.