Are there bible verses that Jews and Christians disagree on the translation?

So this came up on my social media:

What verses is it referring to? Are there old testament verses where the traditional Christian translation is drastically different from the traditional Jewish translation?

That is specifically the actual translation from the Hebrew, not how its is viewed or contextualized. There is obviously tons of stuff in the Old Testament where the Christian view is radically different to the Jewish view, e.g. Kosher food commandments, supposed prophetic predictions of the coming of Jesus, etc. But that has nothing to do with the actual translation.

I’m sure there are differences between Jews, never mind between Christians and Jews.

There is no King James equivalent where the English version was “guided by the hand of God” to be the truth and only the truth. The official version is the original Hebrew, there are many different translations, never mind the commentary on the original Hebrew which has possible explanations of the text based on the understanding of various rabbis. Here’s a Reform translation of one portion (parshat) of Genesis

New International Version (Christian)

ETA, not a biblical scholar I picked this parshat randomly

That doesn’t not particularly different. Certainly no more than the differences between Christian translations. e.g. the KJV is:

The meme in the OP seems to imply that the translation of certain Hebrew words and passages is fundamentally different in a way that changes the meaning.

One I’m familiar with is “And the young woman shall conceive and bear a son”. The Hebrew word doesn’t imply virginity.

IIRC, the word in question is ‘alma’. Again, IIRC, it translates roughly as ‘maiden’. It could mean virgin, but more likely just means ‘youngish woman’. IIRC for the third time, the Hebrew word for virgin id ‘bethula’.

Ah yes, I guess that’s the one the meme in the OP referred to (Isaiah 7:14 specifically.) There are a few sites discussing it as a difference between “Jewish” and “Christian” translations:

Or denying it is different in the case of Jews For Jesus (aside: am I the only one who thinks it’s weird they have have a AI chatbot who asks if you are Jewish or not?)

Some Christians believe there are many disputed verses

Disputes amongst Christians about translations of the bible have gone on for as long as there have been translations of the bible, what I’d not heard of is passages where the Jews and Christians disagree about translations of the old testament.

This isn’t, though, a straightforward Jewish vs Christian thing, as I understand it. The translation which implies or asserts virginity here is the Septuagint, a Greek-language translation of the Hebrew scriptures produced by Jews. Obviously, Christians have taken the idea that Isaiah is talking about a virgin here and run with it in a fairly extravagant fashion, but the translation suggesting this was a Jewish translation, not a Christian translation.

Apparently its a bit more complicated than that…

The original meaning of the word parthenos in the Septuagint (i.e., the Hebrew Bible translated by Hellenistic Jews in Koine Greek) is “young woman”, not “virgin”,[1] but the word changed meaning over the centuries;

The word in question means that the youth is sexually mature. (It does seem reasonable that if the author meant virginity then he would have explicitly said so?)

That’s not quite a “disputed verse”, though, is it? That makes me imagine two Hebrew recensions with distinct wordings.

What I am aware of are places where Masoretic text differs from other sources, which some scholars (many Christians) believe are better. The Masoretic text was one that was traditionally used by many Hebrew translations. And, while I don’t know the specifics offhand, I do remember many situations where footnotes would give an alternate reading based on the Masoretic text.

I’m also, of course, aware of the verses that Christians consider Messianic and to refer to Jesus, where, of course, Judaism disagrees. But I cannot think offhand of Scriptures that come from the same source but which are translated differently, let alone ones where Christian scholars say that something is unknown while Jewish scholars say otherwise.

One thing that I think they might be referring to be referring to is some situations where the Oral Torah or Talmud explain the underlying meaning of an ambiguous verse. Christians tend to ignore these when interpreting things, so they might retain the ambiguity where a Jewish person wouldn’t. Then it wouldn’t be so much a translation issue, but one of interpretation.

However, I don’t know if such a situation exists, as I am not very familiar with those Jewish sources.

Well, possibly. On the other hand, there are a lot of passages in the scriptures that are not very explicit at all - full of poetic, elliptical or figurative language, leaving much unstated, etc. We can’t impose our assumptions about what literary genre the author should have used, or should be assumed to be using.

And of course, read in context, the whole point about this conception is that it’s a sign given by the Lord; it’s supposed to be something remarkable. There’s nothing inherently remarkable about a woman of childbearing age giving birth to a child; something more must be implicit in the text. And this might help to explain a (pre-Christian) interpretive tradition in which the language is taken to imply virginity.

NB: I’m not saying that that’s the correct or authentic interpretation; just that the different interpretation of this passage aren’t a simple Jewish/Christian dichotomy, and don’t spring from the different beliefs of Jews and Christians. (More the other way around, really.)

I don’t know. The word almah appears nine times in the Hebrew Bible. On seven of those occasions, the (Jewish) translators of the Septuagint use the Greek word neanis or neotes, which mean “young woman” and “youth” and come from the Greek word for new. On two occasions, the translators use parthenos, which has been associated with virginity for some time, see generally the statute of Athena Parthenos (the Virgin Goddess), which would have been constructed about 100 years prior to the translation of the Septuagint.

I’m no expert in Hebrew or Greek, but presumably there was a reason that the word was translated differently in those two locations.

(Which sort of gets to the silliness of this thread, there’s always a chance that two translators disagree on the best way to render a text into a new language, even if there is no dispute over the source words. The Septuagint translators rendered the same Hebrew word into three different Greek words.)

Regardless of the rights and wrongs, there is nothing particularly extravagant about it. As in most languages, ‘Maiden’ is an English word meaning virgin (French), as in ‘maiden over’, ‘alas a maid no more’, etc, based on the clear understanding that there are two kinds of women: Miss, unmarried, virgin, and Mrs, married, not a virgin.

maiden | Origin and meaning of maiden by Online Etymology Dictionary (

I may be missing something here, but how are the meaning and connotations of the English word “maiden” at all relevant? The passage concerned was written in Hebrew and translated into Greek; the competing interpretations of it stem from that, and were current long before there was a language called “English” into which the passage could be translated.

Arguments about ‘which word the source should be translated to’ are the same as arguments about ‘what is the meaning of the Hebrew word’.

It is both interesting and relevant to point out that, prior to the introduction of the Birth Control Pill in the 20th Century, most languages had multiple words and phrases to discuss or avoid the concept, but didn’t make a clear distinction between ‘virgin’ and ‘unmarried woman’

The English word ‘maiden’ is a traditional and historic alternate translation for ‘virgin’ in the text under discussion. Since I read English, I’ve read English discussions of the dispute, which always use ‘maiden’ as part of the discussion (as well as Spanish/Latin/Greek terms). I didn’t introduce the term to this thread, and @DocCathode didn’t miss-recall what he had read or learned.

I’m not sure to what extent “maiden” really is “a traditional and historic alternate translation for ‘virgin’ in the text under discussion”. English translations of the passage concerned overwhelmingly use either “virgin” (for older translations) or “young woman” (for newer translations). The one “maiden” that I can find is in one version of Wycliffe, and that was a translation of the Vulgate, which has “virgo” in this passage. Which is not to say that “maiden” might not have been used by people discussing or paraphrasing the passage, but I don’t know to what extent.

Assuming that “maiden” is a reasonable translation for “almah”, I take the point that “maiden” would suggest someone who is likely or expected to be a virgin, without insisting that she absolutely is a virgin. Per the OED the primary meaning of “maiden” is “a girl; a young, unmarried women”. While a maiden in this sense may be either assumed or expected to be a virgin, she isn’t necessarily a virgin and the use of the term doesn’t call attention to her virginity in particular, and doesn’t explicitly assert it. There’s a secondary sense which does emphasise virginity, but the OED notes that (a) this is used with particular reference to the Virgin Mary, which in this context is no help, and (b) when not used with reference to the Virgin, it can often be unclear whether the primary or the secondary sense is intended.

So, translating this passage with “maiden” would lead to ambiguity, basically. Which is why I think a Christian tradition that reads this as a prophecy of a virgin birth may be a bit extravagant. It’s not at all clear that the prophecy involves virginity.

I took out Melbourne’s mention of a specific time, but only because I’m not savvy enough to know whether or not that is indeed when it occurred. But I agree most emphatically that these words are understood very differently today than back when. Nowadays, nowadays, when the word “virgin” appears, most people automatically understand it to be referring to sexual activity. But long ago, it could just as likely have referred to her marital status.

We moderns are thus in a dangerous position of misunderstanding the author’s intent, because a word which plainly refers to one thing from our perspective, had meant something rather different to the author. Similar comments could be said about “maiden” and other words.

Example: When an old text (Bible or not) talks about evil invaders who round up all the local virgins for their nefarious purposes – Do you really think they checked out who had a hymen and who didn’t? I suppose that in some cases they might have, but in other cases it might simply mean “the girls”.

There is an overall difference in the way Christians and Jews approach biblical translation. To Jews, the Masoretic text IS the original. That’s the text of every Torah. Studies of old texts have found it has been amazingly consistent going back to the oldest extent holy books. I’ve read that there are a handful of places that look like small transcription errors, and a Reform or Conservative translator might take that into account, but an Orthodox one likely wouldn’t.

But Christians also give a lot of weight to the Septuagint. That was the officially approved translation, at the time of Jesus, from the Hebrew bible to the lingua Franca of the age, Greek. (and the Hebrews of that time didn’t speak Hebrew, it was already an obsolete language used mostly for prayer. They spoke Aramaic and often Greek.) One legend claimed that 700 scholars all independently translated the Hebrew bible into Greek, and miraculously, they all agreed on the same text, which was published as the Septuagint.

So when the Septuagint and the Masoretic text disagree, Jewish scholars tend to look at the Septuagint to understand how Jews around the time of Jesus understood the Bible, but not as “truth”. Now… It is Jewish tradition to assume that those in the past were closer to the original than we are, and to give weight to their understanding. But… not so much weight as to actually outweigh what’s written in the (Masoretic) Hebrew Bible. Whereas Christians look at the (Greek) text that Jesus and his contemporaneous followers read, and give that a great deal of weight in translations.