Matthew’s Use of Isaiah | Ken Klein

by | May 1, 2024 | Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics


In chapter two of The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament, the authors state,

“For a variety of reasons, many scholars argue that Jesus and the New Testament authors did not cite the Old Testament in accordance with its original meaning. These scholars contend that, on occasion, the New Testament writers do not respect the original meaning of Old Testament quotations or allusions.”[1]

In fact, there are many scholars who believe New Testament writers freely disregarded the original contexts of many Old Testament passages or followed Jewish interpretive processes in arriving at correct doctrine using out-of-context quotations. Either way, their position endangers orthodox hermeneutics and cast doubts on the inspiration of New Testament writers.

This question of whether New Testament writers cited the Old Testament out of context could be approached from many different angles. I would like to use Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 7:14 in chapter 1, verses 22 and 23 of his own Gospel. Matthew writes, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” This is a quote from Isa. 7:14, which says, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Many scholars object that Isaiah refers to an event that has nothing to do with Jesus. They say it refers to a son to be born of some maiden, hundreds of years before, as a sign to King Ahaz that Jerusalem shall not fall to Samaria and Syria. They say Matthew erred, either intentionally or unintentionally, in interpreting that event as referring to Jesus Christ.

By accusing Matthew of an illegitimate hermeneutic, they cast doubt on some important systematic doctrines. For example, McCasland says,

“It is now well known that this saying of Isaiah refers to an event of his own time, and that the Hebrew word ‘almāh, for the mother of the child, does not mean a virgin but only a young woman. This makes it evident that Matthew transfers the event to his own time and follows, not the Hebrew text, but a Greek translation, which renders the Hebrew by parthenos, usually meaning a virgin.”[2]

And Gray, in his seminal commentary, says,

Thou shalt call would, of course, imply that the child was to be a son of Ahaz—Immanuel. This name, God is with us, no more implies that the child will be God, as Christian exegetical tradition kept affirming, or that he will in any other way be remarkable, than do other names, which predicate something of God or Yahweh, assert anything in reference to those who bore them.”[3]

In his best-selling book, Bart Ehrman implies that although Matthew meant well, he was misguided by the prevailing midrashic exegesis of his day. “And so he [Matthew] thought that Isaiah was predicting something not about his [Isaiah’s] own day but about the future Messiah (though the term “Messiah” does not occur in Isaiah 7). So Matthew wrote that Jesus was born of a virgin because that’s what he thought scripture predicted.”[4]

These examples should concern anyone who cares about orthodoxy because Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 buttresses more than one key doctrine of the historic Christian faith, including the inspiration of Scripture. For how could an inspired writer mistakenly claim that the Lord was speaking through Isaiah? If Matthew misunderstood Isaiah, then he also misunderstood the Lord.

The orthodox doctrine of original sin requires the virgin birth of Christ in order that he be fully man, yet without sin.

“Jesus’ birth is expressly understood in Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts not only to be miraculous but to be the fulfillment of the prophecy announced in Isaiah 7:14: ‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.’ This prophecy was essential to the Christian understanding of the place of Jesus in the economy of salvation from the New Testament onward.”[5]

If Matthew didn’t believe in the virgin birth, why would he quote Isaiah? And if he did believe in the virgin birth, then why shouldn’t we who also believe the same?

It would be confusing and disingenuous to accuse Matthew of twisting the context of Isa. 7:14 while at the same time holding to these truths. Orthodox Christianity requires the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth, as well as his dual natures, and belief in both, strongly implies that Isaiah referred to Christ even if he did have an additional contemporary referent in mind as well. Both the book of Isaiah and the Gospel of Matthew were inscripturated by human authors under the inspiration of God. As a matter of fact, Matthew tells us this is the case in the very passage in question! “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet” (Mat 1:22). What makes Isaiah and Matthew inspired is they are words “spoken of the Lord by the prophet.” Why would Matthew believe Isaiah’s writings were inspired but not his own? Why would Matthew’s contemporaries believe it? The truth is, God knew what Matthew was going to write even as he inspired Isaiah hundreds of years before. God used two different human authors to reveal one primary truth: Jesus Christ is the Immanuel—a truth required of orthodox Christianity.


About the Author

Ken Klein serves as the Pastor of Redeemer Reformed Baptist Church in Redlands, CA. He has been pastoring churches in the Southern California area since 2006. Ken is a MATS student at CBTS with an emphasis in Biblical Theology. He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with six children and five grandchildren.





[1] G. K. Beale, and Benjamin L. Gladd, The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), chap. 2, par. 4, Kindle.

[2] S. V. McCasland, “Matthew Twists the Scriptures,” In The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New, ed. G. K. Beale (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 147.

[3] G. B. Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Isaiah, I-XXXIX (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1912), 127,8.

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) (United States: HarperCollins, 2009), 74.

[5] Jonathan Warren P. (Pagán), “Jesus’ Virgin Birth,” in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).

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