Was Mary a Virgin?


My first semester of college I took a lecture hall class called Folklore and Mythology from Dr. Glickman, a rock star educator if there ever was one. At the start of each session, 350 students would hush as Dr. G entered, wind from nowhere ruffling his graying fringe. “A myth is something that cannot be proven,” Dr. G proclaimed, “therefore this class is about everything!”

The biggest myth of all, according to Dr. G, was Christianity, especially the myth of Jesus’ divine birth. So right before Christmas (oops, “Holiday”) Break, he treated us to a spiritual debunking:

For centuries, he said, the Church had taught that Jesus was divine—due almost entirely to the mistranslation of a single word! They’d translated the Hebrew word almah (in Isaiah 7:14) and its Greek equivalent parthenos (in Matthew 1:23) as “virgin,” when, in fact, the words simply meant “young woman.” Thunderous applause rewarded the stately pedagogue’s surgical extraction of this false fact from our poor, religiously inflamed consciousnesses. And then Dr. G sent us off to have appropriately belief-free “happy holidays!”

Having never read the Bible, and being a devoted atheist at the time, I was delighted to acquire this new bit of ammo to use on my deluded Christian friends. I’ve seen many atheists use it since.

Jesus-ChristSeven years later, however…

I read the Bible for the first time, and everything—including my opinion of Dr. Glickman—changed. I was becoming increasingly impressed with the life and teachings of Jesus. But suddenly Dr. G’s “proof” that Mary wasn’t a virgin came back to me. So I began to study the passages Dr. G had used.

And here’s what I learned:

The Hebrew word almah literally means “hidden” or “veiled.” Used only a handful of times in the Old Testament, it can be translated “maiden” or “young woman,” but always signifies celibacy, since those who had lost their virginity were no longer allowed to wear a veil; in fact, according to Jewish law, they were to be stoned to death. Its Greek equivalent is identical in meaning. Hence, Greece’s Parthenon was called that because it was served by parthenos—young virgins–and later became a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

But does everything hang on the words almah and parthenos? Hardly. In Luke 1:28-34 the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, telling her she is going to conceive a child. Her response? “How can this be, since I have never known a man?” (Apparently Dr. G missed this passage.) “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” Gabriel explains, “and that which shall be born shall be called the son of God.”

And what about Joseph, the poor-but-honorable carpenter to whom Mary was betrothed? According to Matthew 1:18-23, “Before they came together (in other words, they hadn’t had sex yet), she was found to be with child.” Oops! Joe prepared to quietly break it off so that Mary wouldn’t be disgraced (or stoned to death). But then an angel appeared to him, saying, “That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” in order that Isaiah’s prophecy of “Emmanuel, ‘God with us’ might be fulfilled.”

Nativity_SceneYou may choose to disbelieve the Bible, Dr. G. But let’s not have any more of this nonsense about what it actually says, okeedokee?

And “Merry Christmas!” by the way,

From your formerly atheist student, Mitch

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to Was Mary a Virgin?

  1. Awesome! Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I know your article was about Mary’s virginity, but it was also about atheism. Young people think being an atheist is “cool”. But old people grow into it. A couple weeks ago I met two atheists while selling my books at a market. One old man said, “Sorry, I’m an atheist.” I just looked him in the eye and sad, “I understand.” He stared back a minute and wandered away. Half an hour later another old man came up and glanced at my books and announced, “Sorry, I’m an atheist.” I replied, “I understand.” He stared at me, then stayed for more. I said, “The church is so embroiled in politics and people vying for position or something that gets public praise, I wish they would tear down all church buildings, meet in homes, and return to the intimacy Christianity was meant to be.” He said, “even the atheists are getting organized!” Then he added, “People just don’t know themselves anymore.” I said, “This would give them that chance.” I then said, “Why don’t you buy one of my novels about one of the men in the Bible; they are mostly about what made these men tick to get them to do the things they did.” He said “No, thank you,” smiled, and left. Next month I’m going back there to sell my books again. I wonder if he’ll stop and talk to me again. (BTW, I have found among older people that the women atheists are noticeably bitter and treat Christianity as though it were poison while the men are sad and approachable.) Just saying…

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Juliajewell says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. A lot of people like to take only what they want out of the bible without looking at everything

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Absolutely perfect!!! Merry Christmas Mitch.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Been there, believed that – and was similarly set straight by the Word of God! Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I have never been concerned about her being a virgin but so amazed by her acceptance of what God asked her to do. Her YES resounds over the ages.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Yes, amen, she was a virgin! It says so in the bible. While that particular conception was mysterious, miraculous, and Divine, a virgin birth is completely possible even today, which we know because of science, artificial insemination, and test tube babies. Also, natural accidents, while extremely rare and quite unlikely, are still possible in theory.

    Regardless, Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Tina says:

    Loved this! It was very informative, interesting and it fills in some important details! It helps to know the full story! It’s kinda, sorta, a peeve of mine when people isolate a detail and don’t bother to read the rest of the story!

    Liked by 4 people

  9. anitashope says:

    Wonderful read. From the people that I have known, some of the stronger and fist pounding plus researching Christians have been former atheist or those not brought up in the church but learned it as truth from digging and living. Have a fabulous Christmas.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Great read. I wonder though. Would Joseph’s departure have made matters worse? You know, leaving her all single-motherish.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. grAnnie Roo says:

    Long ago in a land far away (Hacienda Heights), in a church for the first time in decades, I debated with a pastor for hours. Mostly I could not accept the scientifically impossible immaculate conception. Still, I listened carefully as he prayed for me. Hours later I accepted the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and asked Jesus to take over my life. Days later I survived a heart attack. Bless God, I still marvel over the timing. Merry Christmas Mitch and family.

    Liked by 3 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      We have had parallel journeys in many ways, haven’t we, Roo? Merry Christmas to you and yours, as well! (P.S. The term immaculate conception is frequently used in reference to Jesus, but it’s actually a Roman Catholic teaching about Mary being born without original sin.)


  12. notdonner says:

    a wonderful post, Mitch!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Hey Mitch. I find it especially cool that the Holy Spirit (terms for which are often feminine, sometimes even translated as “she”) is the one who “came upon Mary.” An unwed teen who willingly engaged in a kind of intimacy with God we cannot possibly grasp….

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Reblogged this on Peculiar Grace Fellowship and commented:
    An excellent article which deals with one of the popular criticisms leveled against Christmas and Christianity. A pleasant read!

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Pingback: Was Mary a Virgin? — Mitch Teemley – Goddamn Media

  16. Happy to read your explanation! God bless and Happy Christmas!

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I’ve always wondered about the atheist off-ramp. I was raised a devout Catholic and had a very brief spell on that exit, more wondering how God could test me as He did back then. Awakening is a gift and one that allows your first glimpse of ego. Dr. G saw the story through the lens of this ego and played god. Applause applause, thunderous but empty. Better to inspire awe and let the youngins find their path–for they all lead HOME. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Great post Mitch. The info was great, and I will stick with the story that has been offered in the Bible.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. It’s annoying (and sad) that a college professor can say something with a tone of authority and have it be accepted without question. I’m glad you found the evidence to the contrary. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 3 people

  20. numrhood says:

    isaiah 32:39
    matthew 1:43-48
    luke 1:53-09

    Liked by 2 people

  21. cat9984 says:

    I remember a conversation in the car one Christmas Eve many years ago when my grandmother was pointing out that the Bible t said that Mary and Joseph were betrothed. (Not married.) Up until that point, no one had really worried about the marital status thing. It was just the virgin Mary being impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Merry Christmas

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Pingback: Five Interesting Facts About Christmas | The Gospel Network

  23. Interesting how when someone wants to discredit the bible they tend leave out full context.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. U choose to believe; I choose not to believe.  Both choices are honest.  On the other hand, Dr G chose to misrepresent the meanings of words like *parthenos* so as to mundanize (neologism alert!) the Biblical account.  That choice was dishonest.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Love this post, Mitch. Have a blessed holiday season! God bless!

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      Thank you, Nancy. Wishing you the same!
      (P.S. I’ve been wanting to do a Featured Blogger article on you, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to reblog any of your posts. Also, I find my comments on your posts sometimes just disappear–thought you’d want to know.)


  26. ages74 says:

    Love reading stories of faith 🙂 Those who truly seek out the truth for themselves, not just regurgitating others belief system and teaching. Without doing some research, theres always a danger in believing a lie if no research is done. God’s Word can stand on its own, but believing it to be true is still a choice, an act of Free-Will. Hard hearts will most likely reject it, but soft hearts have the strength to embrace it.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Art Mealer says:

    Good detective work. And I’m sure you know that whatever we do to another or want for another will be given to us in our lives. The story of birth, death resurrection is the result of God causing Abraham to be committed to sacrificing his only son, born of a miracle birth (to a a 90 year old woman – as compared to a miracle birth to a virgin). Abraham was told to sacrifice his son on Mt. Mariah – the same mount where Jesus was sacrificed. Abraham’s son was to be sacrificed for Abraham’s sin. Jesus was sacrificed for his Father’s sins (taken from mankind and placed on Jesus who would suffer the pain for those sins and cause them to be forgiven.) God told Abraham to have Isaac carry the wood up to Mt. Mariah for his sacrifice. Jesus carried the wood (cross) for his crucifixion. Abraham was told to substitute his sons sacrifice for a ram that was caught in the throns and brush. The Soldiers fashioned a crown of thorns for Jesus and placed it on his head. Abraham went along with God, knowing that God would resurrect his son that he sacrificed to fulfill God’s prophecy of a great nation and being a blessing to the gentiles. Jesus fulfilled that prophecy and the world is blessed. The Soldiers fashioned a crown of thorns for Jesus and placed it on his head. The birth, death and resurrection can be explained by physical evidence and also by spiritual evidence

    Liked by 2 people

  28. You gave it a good amount of respect.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Pingback: Was Jesus’ Birth a Miracle? | Mitch Teemley

  30. Pingback: Five Interesting Facts About Christmas – TGN

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