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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Virgin, Virgin Birth

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One who has not engaged in sexual intercourse and thus particular reference to the belief that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the miraculous action of God without a human father.

In the Old Testament two words are generally translated virgin or maiden. The more common word, bethulah , (used about 60 times) is used in a literal way to refer to such virgins as Rebekah (Genesis 24:16 ), the daughter of Jephthah (Judges 11:37-38 ), and Tamar (2 Samuel 13:2 ). Specific command was given that the high priest must marry a virgin (Leviticus 21:13-14 ). The word was also used in a spiritual sense to refer to the nation, especially in the prophets (Isaiah 23:12 ; Isaiah 37:22 ; Jeremiah 14:17 ). In other places the word is often translated maid or maiden (Psalm 78:63 ; Psalm 148:12 ; Ezekiel 9:6 ). In these instances the word means girl, although the idea of chastity may still be involved.

The other word in the Old Testament, almah , sometimes translated “virgin” occurs only seven times. Translators differ in their treatment of it. It is translated virgin four times in KJV (Genesis 24:43 ; Song of Song of Solomon 1:3 ; Song of Song of Solomon 6:8 ; Isaiah 7:14 ). Only one of these is translated virgin (Isaiah 7:14 ) in NAS, and two, in NIV (Song of Song of Solomon 6:8 ; Isaiah 7:14 ). Some versions like REB do not translate this word as virgin in any passage. Isaiah 7:14 is of special interest because of its use in the Gospel of Matthew. Some believe the prophet wrote of a son to be born to his wife or to some other woman of the day and only then with a further reference to the birth of the Messiah. Others claim that the prophet had no reference to anyone in his day but only spoke of the coming Messiah. However, in its context in Isaiah, it seemingly was a message for King Ahaz. The word itself referred to a young woman, usually of marriageable age. God inspired Matthew to interpret Isaiah 7:14 for his day and ours in light of God's miraculous new work in Christ.

The word for virgin occurs fourteen times in the New Testament. It could refer to unmarried maidens (Matthew 25:1 ; Acts 21:9 ; 1Corinthians 7:34,1 Corinthians 7:36-37 ) or to the unmarried in general (1 Corinthians 7:25 ). In these passages, the virginity of the unmarried is assumed. The word is also used in a spiritual sense (2 Corinthians 11:2 ). The word is used of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:23 ; Luke 1:27 ). Mary was a young woman betrothed (engaged) to Joseph. From these passages the doctrine of the virgin birth is derived.

Matthew gave the account from the viewpoint of Joseph. He was betrothed to Mary. Before they were married, she was discovered to be pregnant. Joseph planned to divorce her without public scandal. Only then did God reveal to Joseph that the child was conceived through the Holy Spirit. This was seen as the fulfillment of the prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be named Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14 ). Luke gave the events from the viewpoint of Mary. An angel appeared to her while she was still a virgin betrothed to Joseph. It was revealed to her that she would bear a son who would be called “the Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:32 ). As in Matthew, no room is left in the account for human agency in the conception of Jesus.

Belief in the virgin birth is a central doctrine of Christian thought. Its basis lies in the two passages in Matthew 1:1 and Luke 1:1 . The writers stated that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived and when He was born. However, the real emphasis is upon the miraculous conception of Jesus. There was no human father. He was the Child of God. The new creative act of God is seen in His bringing His Son into the world.

One must not look upon this in a crude materialistic way. There is no thought of sexual relations between God and Mary, an idea which can be found in some pagan religions where the deities were thought of as engaging in such practices. Rather, God worked in a hidden, secret way which is beyond our ability to understand or explain.

Some believe the New Testament teaches that Mary remained a virgin, but it appears that she and Joseph had several children after the birth of Jesus: James, Joses, Judas, Simon, and sisters (Mark 6:3 ). Adherents of Mary's perpetual virginity believe Mark was referring to children of Joseph by a first marriage.

The virgin birth is not an explanation of the incarnation, that God became man in Jesus. The Gospels teach that it is the way that God chose to bring about the incarnation. It cannot be proved or disproved by human reason. See Ahaz ; Christ; Divorce ; Incarnation ; Isaiah ; Jesus; Joseph ; Maid; Marys of the Bible; Messiah .

Clayton Harrop


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Virgin, Virgin Birth'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/v/virgin-virgin-birth.html. 1991.

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