The Abominable Translation of To’evah

I keep running into various articles that will take a “scholarly” look at the Hebrew word to’evah.  Now this word is at the heart of one of the major issues that the Church is struggling with, so I fully understand why the interest in the word is so great.

I do not mind that people are taking the time to research the Hebrew words that cause confusion.  Scripture can be difficult to understand, so by taking the time to research the meanings behind these difficult words, the person is actually doing themselves a great service.

My issue with the scholarly works is that they are generally spending the time to build a case against the King James version of the Bible.

When many Christians  know and willingly admit that the KJV Bible has many mistranslations and is outdated, why spend the time and effort trying to prove what many of us already hold to?

To’evah or toevah was mistranslated to read abomination in the English language.  Many people take offense at that word, so I fully understand why they would want to discredit the message that it conveys.

Instead of rehashing the same arguments against the word abomination, why not spend the energy making a case against the translation of detestable that is present in the NIV and NET versions of the Bible.

If the argument is strong enough, it should be able to stand up to any of the translations of this word.

almah vs. betulah: Battle of the Virgins

I was using Vines and came across these entries and found them interesting.


`almah (H5959), “virgin; maiden.” This noun has an Ugaritic cognate, although the masculine form also appears in Aramaic, Syriac, and Arabic. The feminine form of the root appears 9 times; the only 2 appearances of the masculine form (`elem) are in First Samuel. This suggests that this word was used rarely, perhaps because other words bore a similar meaning.

That `almah can mean “virgin” is quite clear in Son_6:8 : “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins [NASB, “maidens”] without number.” Thus all the women in the court are described. The word `almah represents those who are eligible for marriage but are neither wives (queens) nor concubines. These “virgins” all loved the king and longed to be chosen to be with him (to be his bride), even as did the Shulamite who became his bride (Son_1:3-4). In Gen_24:43 the word describes Rebekah, of whom it is said in Gen_24:16 that she was a “maiden” with whom no man had had relations. Solomon wrote that the process of wooing a woman was mysterious to him (Pro_30:19). Certainly in that day a man ordinarily wooed one whom he considered to be a “virgin.” There are several contexts, therefore, in which a young girl’s virginity is expressly in view.

Thus `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. This makes it the ideal word to be used in Isa_7:14, since the word betulah emphasizes virility more than virginity (although it is used with both emphases, too). The reader of Isa_7:14 in the days preceding the birth of Jesus would read that a “virgin who is a maiden” would conceive a child. This was a possible, but irregular, use of the word since the word can refer merely to the unmarried status of the one so described. The child immediately in view was the son of the prophet and his wife (cf. Isa_8:3) who served as a sign to Ahaz that his enemies would be defeated by God. On the other hand, the reader of that day must have been extremely uncomfortable with this use of the word, since its primary connotation is “virgin” rather than “maiden.” Thus the clear translation of the Greek in Mat_1:23 whereby this word is rendered “virgin” satisfies its fullest implication. Therefore, there was no embarrassment to Isaiah when his wife conceived a son by him, since the word `almah allowed for this. Neither is there any embarrassment in Matthew’s understanding of the word.

Maiden, Virgin

betulah (H1330), “maiden, virgin.” Cognates of this word appear in Ugaritic and Akkadian. Its 50 biblical occurrences are distributed throughout every period of Old Testament literature.

This word can mean “virgin,” as is clear in Deu_22:17, where if a man has charged that “I found not thy daughter a maid,” the father is to say, “And yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity [betulim]. The text continues: “And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.” The husband was to be chastised and fined (which was given to the girl’s father), “because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel” (Deu_22:19). If she was found not to be a “virgin,” she was to be stoned to death “because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house” (Deu_22:21).

In several passages this word merely means a grown-up girl or a “maiden”; it identifies her age and marital status. The prophets who denounce Israel for playing the harlot also called her the betulah of Yahweh, or the betulah (daughter) of Israel (Jer_31:4, Jer_31:21). The other nations are also called betuloth: Isa_23:12— Zidon; Isa_47:1—Babylon; Jer_46:11  Egypt. These nations are hardly being commended for their purity! In Ugaritic literature the word is used frequently of the goddess Anat, the sister of Baal and hardly a virgin. What was true of her and figuratively of these nations (including Israel) was that she was a vigorous young woman at the height of her powers and not married. Thus betulah is often used in parallelism with the Hebrew bachur, which signifies a young man, regardless of his virginity, who is at the height of his powers (Deu_32:25). In such contexts virility and not virginity is in view. Because of this ambiguity Moses described Rebekah as a young girl (na`arah) who was “very fair to look upon, a virgin [betulah], neither had any man known her” (Gen_24:16—the first occurrence of the word).

Both the masculine and feminine forms appear in Isa_23:4 : “…I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men (betulim), nor bring up virgins (betulot). A similar occurrence is found in Lam_1:18 : “…Behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity” (cf. Lam_2:21; Zec_9:17).

The standard edition of William Gesenius’ lexicon by Brown, Driver, and Briggs (BDB) observes that the Assyrian word batultu (masc. batulu) is a cognate of betulah. This Assyrian word means “maiden” or “young man.”

Most scholars agree that betulah and batultu are phonetically related; yet they disagree as to whether they are true cognates. Various Old Testament contexts indicate that betulah should be translated “maiden” more often than “virgin.” If this is true, the BDB etymology is probably correct.