Was the Virgin Mary really a virgin?

I was watching the movie Snatch tonight, and at the beginning there are a group of robbers dressed as Rabbi’s debating biblical philosophy as they enter the building they are about to rob. On their way into the elevator, one rabbi talks about how “they mistranslated the Hebrew word for ‘young woman’ into the Greek word for ‘virgin’”. (hope I got the quote right)

I’m not taking Guy Ritchie’s word on this, but the whole virgin birth scenario was always one of those biblical tenants which I had trouble accepting as historical fact. Is there any truth to this?

I would like to believe that Jesus was a real person, a carpenter living during the first century AD in Israel, who had some pretty enlightened ideas about how to live one’s life, but I’m far more interested in what really happened than what four centuries of word-of-mouth and sixteen centuries of translation would tell us. Where did Jesus get his Y chromosome from anyways?

First of all: prerequisite statement to “virgin” poster about forums. This is probably one that will elicit replies containing the O-word. Therefore, I have heard the O-word that Jesus may have been the son of a Roman Centurion or somesuch. Far more erudite posters than I will be in to refute/agree, I’m sure. I have also heard the O-word that, like the dialogue you quoted, “young woman” (the word is something like "p-a-r-t???) was indeed mistranslated into “virgin.”

Now that I think of it, this may go to the forum with the D-word.



This is a debate that’s been going on for 2001 years and you expect us to solve it now? :rolleyes:
The Straight Dope is this: you either believe that Jesus was divinely conceived or you don’t. That’s as much of an answer as you’ll ever get.

Now about what was said in the movie: both Luke’s and John’s gospels were not written in Hebrew, so in 50% of the possible cases this theory must be false. There are alot of theories, and damn near every one of them is complete speculation.

Here’s a helpful hint: never, ever, believe anything Hollywood says is a “fact.” Not with any subject. 90% of the time, it’s wrong.

If I may…

The word that is translated as “virgin” in the English gospels comes from a Greek word that can also mean “girl.” In fact, in ancient Greek there is only one world for the two; that is, there isn’t a world for “girl” and another word for “virgin.” They’re both the same word.

Likewise, there is only one word for both “woman” and “wife.”

Looking at the culture of the day, it makes perfect sense. First of all, girls were married shortly after puberty in those days. Therefore, there was no need for a word for both “virgin” and “girl,” as they were one and the same. If a girl was a little girl (pre-pubescent), she was by default referred to as a “virgin.” And no, I don’t know if there was an exception for the pre-pubescent girl who had been raped. And I’d rather not go there anyway.

Likewise, since it was unheard of for a grown woman not to marry (apart from those who chose to remain virgins for religious reasons, such as the Roman Vestal Virgins), there is no word for just plain “woman.” There were words for “prostitute,” “concubine” and “widow,” these three being the only alternatives for grown women in that culture that I can think of now.

SO, bringing all this information back to the OP:

The word that we read as “virgin” in the gospels basically tells us that Mary was a girl/young woman of around marryin’ age. I’m thinking (and I’m certainly not alone in this) that Mary was probably no younger than around 14 and no older than around 16.

Matthew 1:18 tells us that Mary became pregnant before she and Joseph “had come together” (New International Version). The words “had come together” is a polite euphemism for “had made sweet love down by the fire.” So clearly Matthew is telling us that she was a virgin in the physiological sense, not just in the sense of “young woman of marryin’ age.”

As for whether or not Mary was truly a virgin and became pregnant without benefit of intercourse, regardless of what the gospels say: that is a matter of great theological debate, and I, for one, am not going to try to answer it.

My $.03

A while back, I started a thread on this very subject, after I read “The Selfish Gene” by Dawkins. He states as fact that “virgin” was a mistranslation. I can’t find the thread now for some reason.

Lucky for us, there are a few people on the board who know Hebrew, and if I remember correctly, they stated that the word could mean both “young woman” and/or “virgin”.

Wish I could find that damn thread…

For what it’s worth, as a fairly young lad long ago I stumbled across a book my grandmother owned that made exactly the same point: that one of the primary foundations of Christianity was built on a mistranslation of “virgin,” from its simple meaning of “young girl” to the meaning we now attribute to it.

I don’t recall any other details, other than it seemed to be a scholarly work and not some crackpot tome. But it has stuck with me all these years.

Are you trying to imply that Luke and John make up 50% of the Bible? Did no one notice the fact that Rabbis were discussing mistranslations of the Bible? Why would they be discussing mistranslations of the NT? Here’s the Straight Dope, guys. Note the seventh paragraph: it was Isaiah that was mistranslated.

When it means virgin or young girl, clearly Mary states that she has not had sex. Why is this such a difficult tenet to believe? “For nothing is impossible with God.”

rastahomie said:
"Matthew 1:18 tells us that Mary became pregnant before she and Joseph “had come together” (New International Version). The words “had come together” is a polite euphemism for “had made sweet love down by the fire.” "

This is a matter of faith too, but Mary remained a virgin throughout her life.

Yes, we’ve established that the NT refers to Mary as a virgin when she conceived Jesus. I don’t see how anyone would conclude, however, that Mary remained a virgin after she got married. What possible reason would she have?

and here’s some of the “logic” used by the Catholic Church

Since some pagans didn’t believe in the possibility of virgin birth, none of them did? Faith presented as faith is one thing, but faith masquerading as logic is dishonest.

Other Virgin births (not exhaustive):

Alexander the Great

If it would help to have any corroboration from a non-Christian source . . . The Qur’ân does not use the word “virgin”, but certainly does convey the idea of virginity:

As to the Catholics’ issue of whether Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus, the Qur’ân is silent. Neither is there any mention of Joseph the carpenter. The Qur’ân goes on to say that after Mary gave birth to Jesus under a palm tree, she brought the babe back to her people. They were surprised, given that she had always been chaste. Silently she pointed to baby Jesus. He spoke from the cradle so that everyone could see his birth had been miraculous.

No. What makes you think that I am? When you’re discussing the Virgin Mary, the relevant texts are the gospels. Last time I checked, there are four of them. In Luke’s and John’s cases, there couldn’t possibly be mistranslation from Hebrew because they were written in Greek. That eliminates 2 of 4 gospels right off the bat. Regardless, I agree that it’s pretty silly to have rabbis discussing the New Testament.

The quotes from the Bible like Luke 31-35 show God telling Mary she **will ** conceive that means she was not pregnant at that time, just that she will become pregnant. By Mary saying she had not been with a man - she was refering to her past.

The General Question here is what the original Biblical texts said, and whether what they said was the result of a mistranslation. That question has been answered. If you want to discuss the rest of the issue, take it to Great Debates.