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Was Mary a Virgin Until After the Birth of Jesus?

Following our two-part series, entitled: “Was Jesus Really Born in Jerusalem?”, we will in this Q&A answer the question as to whether Mary was a virgin.   We had touched upon this question in our last Q&A, under “(1) Mary was a virgin,’ but we will address this issue here in more detail.

For example, one writer penned the following:

“The virginity of Mary, as Matthew claims, depends on an incorrect reading of a prophetic text (Isaiah 7:14). The original Hebrew reads ‘a young woman shall conceive’, but Matthew has chosen an inexact Greek translation which renders it ‘a virgin shall conceive’. At this point, Matthew agrees with Luke; yet he is the only one amongst all the other biblical writers who knows anything of Mary’s alleged virginity.”

Wikipedia has this to say on the matter:

“Isaiah 7:14 is a verse in the seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah in which the prophet Isaiah, addressing king Ahaz of Judah, promises that God will destroy the king’s enemies before a child born to an almah (young woman) is weaned.  Scholars agree that the word ‘almah’ has nothing to do with virginity, but the 2nd century BCE Greek Septuagint translated it as ‘parthenos’, meaning virgin, thereby allowing the author of the gospel of Matthew to use the verse as a prediction of the virgin birth of Jesus.”

They then claim that a literal translation would read as follows: “…therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: the maiden is with child and she will bear a son, and will call his name Immanuel.”

They go on to say: “A sign, in this context, means a special event which confirms the prophet’s words. Ahaz’s sign is to be the birth of a son to an almah, who will name him Immanuel, ‘God is with us’; the significance of the sign is not the identity of the child or his mother (scholars agree that ‘almah’ refers to a woman of childbearing age and has nothing to do with virginity) but the meaning of his name (‘God is with us’) and the role it plays in identifying the length of time before God will destroy the Ephraimite-Syrian coalition (before the child learns right from wrong).”

As we will see, Wikipedia and others questioning the virgin birth are wrong for a multitude of reasons. At this point, we just want to point out that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 was not even meant foremost for the time of Isaiah, but for a future time, and ultimately, for the very end time. The Child to be born would have the name “Immanuel”—clearly a description of Jesus Christ and not of an ordinary person. In addition, we read in verse 18 that the destruction of Israel through the Assyrians would come to pass “in that day”—a reference to the very end time and the very last days.

We also need to point out that when the Hebrew uses the word which some say means young woman, rather than virgin, this objection fails for the additional reason that the young woman of childbearing age was in fact assumed to be a virgin.  If it were otherwise and if the young woman was no longer a virgin, then Scriptures would clearly state this.

It is the case that most translations use the phrase “virgin.” The Bible Gateway list of different translations shows that there are 40 who do so.  However, there are a number of translations that use the phrase “young woman” , for example,  Amplified Bible Classic Edition (AMPC), Common English Bible (CEB), Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), Easy to Read Version (ERV), Good News Bible Translation (GNT), New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE), New English Translation (NET), New International Version (NSV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and The Voice Translation.

Wikipedia further observes: “When the Revised Standard Version translators rendered ‘almah’ as ‘young woman’ in 1952 it immediately became a center of controversy for conservative Christians, who believed that this passage predicted the virgin birth of Jesus.  The RSV quickly replaced the KJV in many churches across America, but fundamentalist American Christians argued that nowhere in the Old Testament was an almah anything other than a young unmarried girl, and one pastor publicly burned a copy of the RSV.  Isaiah 7:14 became a litmus test of orthodoxy among conservatives, but most modern Bible translations use ‘young woman’.

“On his blog, New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman has argued that the original meaning of the word parthenos in the Septuagint (i.e., the Hebrew Bible translated by Hellenistic Jews in Koine Greek) is ‘young woman’, not ‘virgin’, but the word changed meaning over the centuries; thus the authors of Matthew and Luke believed instead that Isaiah had predicted a virgin birth for the coming Messiah, using the common understanding of the term in their time.”

It is interesting that many German translations use the word “virgin” or “young woman,” but remark in either case that the words are interchangeable, for the obvious reason as explained above; that a young woman was supposed to be a virgin. Compare revidierte Lutherbibel 2017; neue Lutherbibel 2009; Elberfelder Bibel; Hoffnung für Alle; Schlachterbibel; Menge Bibel; and many others.

The Schlachterbibel includes the following annotation:

“The Hebrew word describes an unmarried woman and means indeed ‘virgin.’… That is why the birth of Isaiah’s own son could not be the total fulfillment of this prophecy.”

Similarly the Ryrie Study Bible:

“The Hebrew word that is here translated ‘virgin’ is found elsewhere in the O.T. in Gen. 24:43; Exod. 2:8: Psalm 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Song of Sol. 1:3;6:8, and in these instances refers only to a chaste maiden who is unmarried.”

But surely it is quite simple when other Scriptures are read.  For example, let us review Matthew 1:20 which reads: “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

Note that Joseph, when he discovered that Mary was pregnant, was willing to leave her (Matthew 1:19), because being her betrothed husband and knowing that they did not have any sexual relationship together, he assumed that Mary must have committed fornication or adultery with someone else.

Denying the virgin birth, as some theologians do, must lead to the inevitable conclusion that he had a human father i.e. Joseph or someone else.   If that was the case, Jesus could not possibly be the Son of God whom the Father sent to the earth, and Scripture would be unreliable.   Anyone who rejects the virgin birth must also by extension, reject the veracity of the Word of God.

It is interesting that many did not believe in the virgin birth at the time of Jesus, accusing Him of having been born in fornication (John 8:41).

Looking at different translations of Matthew 1:25, we read:

“… and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS”  (NKJV).

“… but he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (NIV).

“But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus” (New Living Translation).

“And he did not know her sexually until she delivered her firstborn son, and she called his name Yeshua” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English).

Therefore, if Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary until after the birth of Jesus, Mary would have been a virgin.

Luke 1:26-35 is a revealing passage of Scripture where the subheading is “Christ’s Birth Announced to Mary”:

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’”

In verse 34, Mary said “How can this be, since I do not know a man?,” clearly indicating that she was a virgin. In addition, Luke identifies her clearly as a virgin in verse 27: “…the virgin’s name was Mary.”

We know that the Catholic Church believes that Mary was a virgin all her life and denies that she had other children.  This is another error as we point out in our Q&A entitled “The international press recently reported that Catholics, Orthodox and many Protestants believe that Mary was a virgin throughout her life. It is claimed that those called ‘Jesus’ brothers’ in the Bible were in fact His cousins (Zenit, May 15, 2003).  Is this also your understanding? Please see https://www.eternalgod.org/q-a-3799/ In addition, please read our free booklets, Jesus Christ—a Great Mystery and “Do You Know the Jesus of the Bible?” 

We know that the meaning of words can change over a period of time; e.g. “wicked” used to mean “morally wrong,” but today has been used by many as meaning “great” or ‘wonderful.”   Whether the term used for Mary is virgin or young woman, we can certainly see that she was a virgin until after the birth of Jesus. Later on, she would have several other children with Joseph.

It is, once again, an example of the Bible interpreting the Bible, which is the divine Word of God and infallible in its original writing.

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link