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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Virgin

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‛Almâh (עַלְמָה, Strong's #5959), “virgin; maiden.” This noun has an Ugaritic cognate, although the masculine form also appears in Aramaic, Syriac, and Arabic. The feminine form of the root appears 9 times; the only 2 appearances of the masculine form (‘elem) are in First Samuel. This suggests that this word was used rarely, perhaps because other words bore a similar meaning.

That ‛almâh can mean “virgin” is quite clear in Song of Sol. 6:8: “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins [NASB, “maidens”] without number.” Thus all the women in the court are described. The word ‛almâh represents those who are eligible for marriage but are neither wives (queens) nor concubines. These “virgins” all loved the king and longed to be chosen to be with him (to be his bride), even as did the Shulamite who became his bride (1:3-4). In Gen. 24:43 the word describes Rebekah, of whom it is said in Gen. 24:16 that she was a “maiden” with whom no man had had relations. Solomon wrote that the process of wooing a woman was mysterious to him (Prov. 30:19). Certainly in that day a man ordinarily wooed one whom he considered to be a “virgin.” There are several contexts, therefore, in which a young girl’s virginity is expressly in view.

Thus ‛almâh appears to be used more of the concept “virgin” than that of “maiden,” yet always of a woman who had not borne a child. This makes it the ideal word to be used in Isa. 7:14, since the word betulah emphasizes virility more than virginity (although it is used with both emphases, too). The reader of Isa. 7:14 in the days preceding the birth of Jesus would read that a “virgin who is a maiden” would conceive a child. This was a possible, but irregular, use of the word since the word can refer merely to the unmarried status of the one so described. The child immediately in view was the son of the prophet and his wife (cf. Isa. 8:3) who served as a sign to Ahaz that his enemies would be defeated by God. On the other hand, the reader of that day must have been extremely uncomfortable with this use of the word, since its primary connotation is “virgin” rather than “maiden.” Thus the clear translation of the Greek in Matt. 1:23 whereby this word is rendered “virgin” satisfies its fullest implication. Therefore, there was no embarrassment to Isaiah when his wife conceived a son by him, since the word ‛almâh allowed for this. Neither is there any embarrassment in Matthew’s understanding of the word.

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Virgin'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/v/virgin.html. 1940.

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