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sami -
SuziQ1513 -

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Was Mary a virgin/chaste when Joseph took her to his home? Why do Matthew and Luke use the word Almah instead of Betulah in describing Mary?

I’ve read many internet posts that deny and make a mockery of the virgin birth of Jesus. It seems they use as evidence for their theoretical position, the Hebrew word used to depict Mary as a virgin as ALMAH instead of Betulah.

In the Bible books of Matthew and Luke, when compiling and penning their histories, used the term ALMAH ( maiden) or HA ALMAH (the maiden).

Those opposed to the biblical account, take that to infer that Mary was not a virgin – chaste. One must understand that under the ancient Hebrew system, a woman who was betrothed was looked upon as married. However, they were not to have sexual relations until the man took her from the home of her parents to his home.

To further define the betrothed state, if a betrothed woman had sexual relations with a man whom she was not betrothed, she was looked upon as an adulteress and the two who committed such an offence were to be executed. It is in this light, because of the binding nature of engagement, Joseph planned to divorce Mary, although no ceremony had united them in wedlock. Joseph could plan to give Mary, his betrothed, a certificate of divorce after he took her to his home. The engaged woman (virgin) had a legal standing different from an unengaged virgin. (Ex. 22:16, 17; Deut. 22:23-29)

The controversy or issue arises because neither Matthew nor Luke used the Hebrew word BETULAH (fem.)VIRGIN: An unmarried young woman who is absolutely chaste. Strong's #: 1330

But used ALMAH - most often used to depict a female who has moved from child to young adult and of the age to marry. The Hebrew word NA-ARA can also be applied to a young unmarried woman-virgin.

The base of their argument is in their understanding or lack thereof, of these Hebrew words.

There is an example found in the Hebrew texts which sets a standard for defining BETULAH and ALMAH.

This example is that of Abraham who sent his servant (Eliezer) to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. Genesis chapter 24

When Eliezer reached the land of Abraham’s relatives, he prayed to Jehovah for a sign that his choosing would be in harmony with God’s will. Genesis 24:13,14

Verse 16 describes her (Rebekah) as betulah (virgin) Strongs 1330 “An unmarried young woman who is absolutely chaste.” Eliezer asked her for a sip of the water she had just drawn from the well. (the sign he had prayed for) She responded exactly as he had prayed.

In verse 22 when the camels had finished drinking “, the man took out for her a gold nose ring weighing a half shekel and two bracelets of gold weighing ten shekels.” –
In verse 23 he inquires “Please tell me, whose daughter are you? Is there any room at your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

In vss. 24 - 27 She responds “I am the daughter of Be·thuʹel the son of Milʹcah, whom she bore to Naʹhor.”
25 And she added: “We have both straw and much fodder and also a place to spend the night.”
26 Then the man bowed down and prostrated himself before Jehovah
27 and said: “May Jehovah be praised, the God of my master Abraham, for he has not abandoned his loyal love and his faithfulness toward my master. Jehovah has guided me to the house of the brothers of my master.

In vss. 28 - 31 And the young woman (Hebrew, han na ara - virgin, girl; Greek, par·theʹnos ) ran to tell her mother’s household about these things.
29 Now Re·bekʹah had a brother whose name was Laʹban. So Laʹban ran to the man who was outside at the spring.
30 When he saw the nose ring and the bracelets on the hands of his sister and heard the words of his sister Re·bekʹah, who was saying, “This is the way the man spoke to me,” he came to meet the man, who was still there standing by the camels at the spring.
31 At once he said: “Come, you who are blessed by Jehovah. Why do you keep standing out here? I have made the house ready and a place for the camels.”

Eliezer proceeds to tell Laban and his family the entire story vss. 32-52… notice that in verse 43 Rebekah is referred to as “the maiden” or in some translations “young woman” (Strongs 5959) in Hebrew ha-almah, the same designation used in relation to Mary in the accounts in Matthew and Luke.

So what was it that changed her status from BETULAH (verse 16) and ALMAH (verse 43)? The answer lies in vss. 22 and 47. When the nose ring and the bracelets were placed upon her she agreed to the marriage, she was then engaged, betrothed to Isaac. Had she had sexual relations between vss. 16 and 43? No, she was a virgin, but her status changed from BETULAH ( not betrothed, engaged) to ALMAH (betrothed, engaged).

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A couple of years ago, I was witnessing to a Jewish couple from Israel.   They referred me to a Rabi on the internet regarding the "young woman vs virgin" debate.  The Rabi was mocking the interpretation of the NT using "virgin" when the original word in Hebrew meant young woman.  I did some research and took them the information (which I knew they probably wouldn't read), but I verbally explained that when the 70-72 Jews who translated Hebrew to Greek for the benefit of the Greek speaking Jews (Septuagint LXX), they had to take into consideration the difference in cultures.   The Hebrew culture would assume a young unmarried woman would be a virgin, especially if she was living in her father's household and under his protection.  But in a Greek environment, that assumption could not be made.  They seemed to accept that explanation.   

I appreciate your (Sami) extensive research and logical conclusions.   Thank you.

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