Likewise, the context does not help us to understand the meaning in Ps.68.25 and Song.1.3. Prov.30.19 is best taken as a reference to the mystery of sexual attraction leading to courtship and marriage, in which case the ‘almâh is a virgin. In Gen.24.43 and Exod.2.8 the girl is unquestionably a virgin and so also in Song.6.8, where there is a contrast with queens and concubines, i.e., married women. The evidence so far, then, is that ‘almâh is a virgin, not a woman of some indefinite sexual state; and it may be worth mentioning here that ouside of the Bible, as far as is presently known, the cognates of ‘almâh are never used of a married woman.

Turning now to bethûlâh, and leaving aside metaphorical uses (such as references to cities and tribes; e.g., Isa.37.22), there are fourteen occurrences that are noncommittal (e.g., Deut.32.25), grouping girls and young men simply as “young people,” without any more implying that the young women are married or unmarried than that the young men are bachelors. There are twenty-one cases where the girls certainly are virgins (e.g., Exod.22.16; Judg.19.24). All that this means is that bethûlâh can mean “virgin” where the context requires it; but there are three cases where it is especially important to know that the girl in question is a virgin, and in these the word bethûlâh apparently was not by itself sufficient but needed to be amplified by saying that she had never had sexual intercourse (Gen.24.16; Lev.21.3; Judg.21.12). If bethûlâh were, as is so confidently claimed by many, a technical term for a virgin, why would the amplifying words ever be needed? By comparison, ‘almâh is never qualified or amplified.

Special importance attaches to Gen.24.1-Gen.24.67, which is the only passage in which the words occur so as to enable comparison. Concerned to find a bride for Isaac, Abraham’s servant first prays about the “girl” who would turn out to be the right one. He uses the term na’arah (Gen.24.14). In Gen.24.16 Rebekah arrives and, knowing only what his eyes tell him, she is described as female (na’arah), as of marriageable age (bethûlâh), but as unmarried (whom no man had known). If bethûlâh necessarily meant “unmarried,” no definition would be needed. But in Gen.24.43 the servant, recounting all that has happened, simply describes Rebekah as ‘almâh, i.e., using it as a summary word for all he now knows: female, marriageable, and unmarried.

This conclusion has great bearing on the NT use of parthenos, especially as it occurs in Matt.1.23, and on the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. See also Virgin Birth.——JAM

VIRGIN, one who has not experienced sexual intercourse. The word is commonly fem. and used of young women of marriageable age.


Virgin in the OT.

Virgin in the NT.

All of the teachings about virginity in the OT are carried over and restated in the NT. The primary discussion of the subject has rested upon the statements concerning Mary in the gospel narratives. It is abundantly clear that the virginity of Mary is taught in Sem. terms in Luke 1:34, ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω, “since I have no husband.” This phrase is nearly identical to that in Genesis 24:16, the variation being accountable in the shift from third to first person. The LXX of that passage reads, ἀνὶρ οὐκ ἔγνω αὐτήν, “a man had not known her.” A variant of the Lukan text is poorly attested which reads ἄνδρα μετέχω, “enjoy a man,” and refers to sexual experience. The RSV rendering “since I have no husband,” is a clear paraphrase and without warrant in the ancient MSS, while the common tr. of the variant “have a husband” is also specious.

At no point in the NT is the term parthenos ever used apart from virgins. The only ambivalent passage is 1 Corinthians 7:36, which can easily be explained from the context. The term is used in the masc. pl. only in Revelation 14:4, which is an oblique reference to Genesis 6:2, the sons of the covenant line marrying the daughters of the fallen human race outside of the covenant. The defilement mentioned is in the religious sphere.

The church as bride is a theme which first appears in 2 Corinthians 11:2 but is alluded to in Jesus’ parables (Matt 25:1). However, the image did not achieve the apocalyptic impact of certain others since it is not used in Revelation which utilizes a derivative notion, the bride and bridegroom (Rev 18:23; 21:2, 9, 17). The world of the 1st Christian cent. was still rocking under the disruption caused by Hellenism. The age-old social castes and mores were gone, and unbridled hedonism was the order of the day. In such a world the constraint of the Early Church for morality and purity in sexual relations was radical and abrasive and so its import in the apostolic age was foremost. It is this necessity which pervades Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:25-37.


W. G. Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ (1932); D. Edwards, The nodetitle in History and Faith (1943); E. J. Young, Studies in Isaiah (1954); S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh (1956).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

vur’-jin; vur-jin’-i-ti:

(2) `almah, rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) by either "damsel" (Ps 68:25), "maiden" (so usually, Ex 2:8, etc.), or "virgin" with margin "maiden" (So 1:3; 6:8; Isa 7:14). The word (see OHL) means simply "young woman" and only the context can give it the force "virgin." This force, however, seems required by the contrasts in So 6:8, but in 1:3 "virgin" throws the accent in the wrong place. The controversies regarding Isa 7:14 are endless, but Septuagint took `almah as meaning "virgin" (parthenos). But in New Testament times the Jews never interpreted the verse as a prediction of a virgin-birth--a proof that the Christian faith did not grow out of this passage. See Immanuel; nodetitle.

(3) parthenos, the usual Greek word for "virgin" (Judith 16:5, etc.; Mt 1:23, etc.). In Re 14:4 the word is masculine. In 1Co 7:25 ff the Revised Version (British and American) has explained "virgin" by writing "virgin daughter" in 7:36-38. This is almost certainly right, but "virgin companion" (see Lietzmann and J. Weiss in the place cited.) is not quite impossible.

(4) neanis, "young woman" (Sirach 20:4).

(5) Latin virgo (2 Esdras 16:33).

The Old Testament lays extreme emphasis on chastity before marriage (De 22:21), but childlessness was so great a misfortune that death before marriage was to be bewailed (Jud 11:37,38). Paul’s preference for the unmarried state (1Co 7:29 if) is based on the greater freedom for service (compare Mt 19:12), and the Greek estimate of virginity as possessing a religious quality per se is foreign to true Jewish thought (such a passage as Philo Mund. opif., section symbol 53, is due to direct Greek influence). Some have thought to find a trace of the Greek doctrine in Re 14:4. But 144,000 lst-century. Christian ascetics are out of the question, and the figure must be interpreted like that of Jas 4:4 (reversed).