The Hebrew word bethu·lahʹ (from ba·thalʹ, meaning “to separate”) signifies, in a literal sense, a woman in a separated position, that is, one who has never been united to a man in marriage and has never had sexual intercourse. (Gen. 24:16; Deut. 32:25; Judg. 21:12; 1 Ki. 1:2; Esther 2:2, 3, 17; Lam. 1:18; 2:21) The Greek term par·theʹnos, however, can apply to both single men and single women.—Matt. 25:1-12; Luke 1:27; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 7:25, 36-38.
According to the Law, a man who seduced an unengaged virgin had to give her father fifty silver shekels, was to marry her (if her father permitted), and was not allowed to divorce her “all his days.” (Ex. 22:16, 17; Deut. 22:28, 29) But an engaged virgin, being viewed as already belonging to a husband, was to be stoned to death if she did not scream when sexually attacked. Her failure to scream would have denoted consent and thus would have constituted her an adulteress. (Deut. 22:23, 24; compare Matthew 1:18, 19.) The fact that an engaged virgin was regarded as being ‘owned’ by a husband also explains why Joel 1:8 could refer to a “virgin” as wailing over “the owner of her youth.”
As greater freedom in the Lord’s service is enjoyed by those retaining their virginity, the apostle Paul recommended singleness as the better course for Christians having self-control. (1 Cor. 7:25-35) However, regarding those lacking self-control, he observed: “If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, if that is past the bloom of youth, and this is the way it should take place, let him do what he wants; he does not sin. Let them marry.”—1 Cor. 7:36.
The Greek word rendered “virginity” at 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 literally means “virgin.” For this reason the thought has been advanced that Paul was talking about a father’s or guardian’s duty toward a marriageable daughter. Thus The Jerusalem Bible reads: “If there is anyone who feels that it would not be fair to his daughter to let her grow too old for marriage, and that he should do something about it, he is free to do as he likes; he is not sinning if there is a marriage.” Another view is that this text pertains to a man’s deciding to marry the girl to whom he is engaged. An American Translation states: “If a man thinks he is not acting properly toward the girl to whom he is engaged, if his passions are too strong, and that is what ought to be done, let him do as he pleases; it is no sin; let them be married.”
The context, however, suggests that the reference is not to a virgin girl but to a person’s own virginity. Commentator Matthew Henry observed: “I think the apostle is here continuing his former discourse, and advising unmarried persons, who are at their own disposal, what to do; the man’s virgin being meant of his virginity.” (A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VI, p. 1036) Since the Greek word par·theʹnos can include single men, the rendering “virginity,” as found in the translations by J. B. Rotherham and J. N. Darby as well as in the New World Translation, is appropriate and seems to fit the context best.
Even as Israel’s high priest could take only a virgin as his wife (Lev. 21:10, 13, 14; compare Ezekiel 44:22), so the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, must have only a “virgin” as his spiritual “bride” in heaven. (Rev. 21:9; Heb. 7:26; compare Ephesians 5:25-30.) Hence, the apostle Paul was deeply concerned about the purity of the Corinthian congregation, desiring to present it “as a chaste virgin to the Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2-6) The bride of Christ is evidently composed of 144,000 spirit-anointed persons who individually maintain their ‘virginity’ by remaining separate from the world and by keeping themselves morally and doctrinally pure.—Rev. 14:1, 4; compare 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 6:15-20; James 4:4; 2 John 8-11.
CITIES, PLACES AND PEOPLES
Often the term “virgin” is used in connection with cities, places or peoples. Reference is made to the “virgin” or “virgin daughter” of “my people” (Jer. 14:17), of Israel (Jer. 31:4, 21; Amos 5:2), Judah (Lam. 1:15), Zion (2 Ki. 19:21; Lam. 2:13), Egypt (Jer. 46:11), Babylon (Isa. 47:1) and Sidon (Isa. 23:12). The sense of this figurative use appears to be that the various peoples or locations thus referred to either had not been seized and ravished by foreign conquerors or at one time enjoyed an unsubdued state like a virgin.
While the Hebrew word bethu·lahʹ means “virgin,” another term (ʽal·mahʹ) appears at Isaiah 7:14: “Look! The maiden [ʽal·mahʹ] herself will actually become pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son, and she will certainly call his name Immanuel.” The word ʽal·mahʹ means “maiden” and can apply to a non-virgin or a virgin. It is applied to the “maiden” Rebekah before marriage when she was also called a “virgin” (bethu·lahʹ). (Gen. 24:16, 43) Under divine inspiration, Matthew employed the Greek word par·theʹnos (“virgin”) when showing that Isaiah 7:14 found final fulfillment in connection with the virgin birth of Jesus, the Messiah. Both Matthew and Luke state clearly that Jesus’ mother Mary was then a virgin who became pregnant through the operation of God’s holy spirit.—Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-35.