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Virgin, Virginity

VIRGIN, VIRGINITY

vur'-jin; vur-jin'-i-ti:

(1) bethulah, from a root meaning "separated," is "a woman living apart," i.e. "in her father's house," and hence "a virgin." Bethulah seems to have been the technical term for "virgin," as appears from such a combination as na`arah bhethulah, "a damsel, a virgin," in Deuteronomy 22:23,28, etc. An apparent exception is Joel 1:8, "Lament like a virgin bethulah .... for the husband of her youth," but the word is probably due to a wish to allude to the title "virgin daughter of Zion" (the translation "a betrothed maiden" is untrue to Hebrew sentiment). and the use of "virgin" for a city (Isaiah 37:22, etc.; compare Isaiah 23:12; 47:1) probably means "unsubdued," though, as often, a title may persist after its meaning is gone (Jeremiah 31:4). The King James Version and the English Revised Version frequently render bethulah by "maiden" or "maid" (Judges 19:24, etc.), but the American Standard Revised Version has used "virgin" throughout, despite the awkwardness of such a phrase as "young men and virgins" (Psalms 148:12). For "tokens of virginity" ("proofs of chastity") see the commentary on Deuteronomy 22:15.

(2) `almah, rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) by either "damsel" (Psalms 68:25), "maiden" (so usually, Exodus 2:8, etc.), or "virgin" with margin "maiden" (Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8; Isaiah 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 Song of Solomon 6:8, but in 1:3 "virgin" throws the accent in the wrong place. The controversies regarding Isaiah 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; VIRGIN BIRTH.

(3) parthenos, the usual Greek word for "virgin" (Judith 16:5, etc.; Matthew 1:23, etc.). In Revelation 14:4 the word is masculine. In 1 Corinthians 7:25 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 (Deuteronomy 22:21), but childlessness was so great a misfortune that death before marriage was to be bewailed (Judges 11:37,38). Paul's preference for the unmarried state (1 Corinthians 7:29) is based on the greater freedom for service (compare Matthew 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 Revelation 14:4. But 144,000 lst-century. Christian ascetics are out of the question, and the figure must be interpreted like that of James 4:4 (reversed).

Burton Scott Easton


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'VIRGIN, VIRGINITY'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.