Biblical Virginity

The old testament primarily only defines physical virginity, which is defined by a woman having an intact hymen, so men have not ever labeled virgins in scripture, nor in most ancient cultures. However, as I will explain further that there are some spiritual principles revealed in ritual purity laws of the old testament that feed into the definition of sexual immorality in the new testament. Eunuchs are recognized as not interested in marriage, but that doesn’t mean they are all virgins, some may have had sex before getting castrated. Only procreative sex acts deal with virginity, so same-sex intercourse and beastiality didn’t count but those were violations of the moral laws and punishable by death. Some may use this to argue that they can escape virginity loss by having oral or anal sex, however, the spiritual aspects of this apply to what happens in the heart and mind regarding the subject of sex.

Women are primarily associated with virginity because of the physical representations of it in the hymen. In addition, women are the child bearers, and virginity is a guarantee to a man that a woman is not pregnant with another man’s child when they get married. While men are not considered virgins or non-virgins in scripture, this doesn’t mean men can fornicate sin-free since they are taking a woman’s virginity in the process (for virgin women) and promoting sexual promiscuity for women (virgin or not). In essence, a woman can’t lose her virginity by herself, it takes two. This is why in the old testament men would have to marry them after being caught in the act of fornication (Deut 22:28-29), with the father’s permission of course (Ex 22:16-17).

Many cultures around the world view virginity this way. In fact, in various Middle Eastern, Central Asia, and African countries, women are given hymen tests to confirm they are still virgins for the purpose of arranged marriage. Some girls buy fake hymen blood kits from the internet to cover up their broken hymen. Some women even get hymenorrhaphy or hymenoplasty, to repair or replace their hymen. Women who do these things live in cultures that subject non-virgins to ostracism or even honor killings. We know today that it is possible for a woman’s hymen to break without sex, from exercise, or other physical activities. For this reason, Saudi Arabia prohibited women from riding bikes until around 2018. It’s also possible for some women to be born without a hymen, or even have completely sealed hymens (which need to be surgically cut for menstruation). Male virginity is often the subject of ridicule in various cultures, and in some cultures in Europe, young men/teenage boys are encouraged to have sex with prostitutes by their fathers to gain experience. This hypocrisy is NOT biblical, and men are accountable for sexual integrity just as much as women are from God’s perspective.

It wasn’t sinful for a man to marry a non-virgin woman unless he was the high priest (Lev 21:13-15). Non-virgin women included promiscuous women, prostitutes, rape victims, divorcees, and widows. The widows, divorcees, and rape victims were not sinners on the subject of virginity. Some examples: David married Abigail, the widow of Nabal (1 Sam 25:39-40), and Boaz married the Moabite widow Ruth (the Book of Ruth). Men throughout the bible have even married prostitutes. Judah married Tamar who prostituted herself in Genesis 38 and Salmon married Rahab the Canaanite prostitute from Jericho (Joshua 6, Matt 1:5). Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth all ended up in the lineage of Jesus (Matthew ch. 1). Hosea also marries a prostitute, named Gomer, who cheats on him multiple times (Hosea 1-3). This was used as an analogy for Israel’s covenant breach with God through idolatry. God then told Hosea to forgive her and take her back, because God would likewise take Israel back when they repent (Hosea ch. 1-3).

The old testament ritual purity laws suggest that sexual activity makes you ritually impure, even for married couples. Being ritually impure was not a sin, but a person was not allowed to go to the Tabernacle or Temple while in an unclean state. Contact with sexual fluids via intercourse, menstruation, or seminal emission made a person unclean until the next evening (in the case of sex and semen), or for the whole week (in the case of menstrual fluid). This ritual impurity implies that there is a spiritual aspect to sex. The moral laws on sex, are punishable by death and involve adultery/incest, as well as same-sex and animal-human intercourse. These are carried forward into the new testament because moral laws are based on controllable behaviors and actions, unlike ritually purity laws, which are not sinful but just a required caution on a person’s purity status in God’s presence. We have to follow the Holy Spirit to keep these laws (Gal 5:16, Gal 6:7-8). In addition, the Holy Spirit is only available to those who enter the new covenant by receiving Jesus as Lord (John 14:15-17, Rom 8:5-11).

In the new testament, the focus is more on the spiritual component of sexual sin. Jesus said it was still adultery if you do it in your hearts (Matt 5:27-29). Since adultery in one’s heart cannot be proven or seen by witnesses, it couldn’t be punishable by the death penalty in the old covenant system. Yet Jesus still counted it as sin, meaning that our corrupt hearts need to be fixed to be free from sin, and Paul makes it clear that the law could not change us on the inside (Heb 10:1-4, Romans 7:13-24, Rom 8:3). That is what the holy spirit is for, to “circumcise” our hearts (Deut 30:6, Jer 4:4, Ez 36:25-27, Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:16-21, Rom 2:29, and Col 2:11). We can also extrapolate from this that sin (sexual or otherwise) in the new testament doesn’t require capital punishment because Jesus died in our place. This is why we don’t stone people to death in the new covenant. In 1 Cor 6:18, Paul says we sin against our own bodies when we commit fornication (unmarried sexual activity). Paul further indicates that believers’ bodies are purchased by Christ and we are made living temples, in verses 19-20. A temple is the house of a deity, so the Holy Spirit makes us temples of God. In the new covenant, believers are made ritually pure because of Jesus’ sacrifice. The Holy Spirit (God’s presence) inside of believers is the result of this ritual purity, and this makes us the new temple. Therefore, we should aim to keep our bodies holy no matter what sex we are. Fornication is a sin, and believers should not engage in it, but how we treat people that do fornicate should not involve abuse, bullying, or death.

Furthermore, in Christianity, women don’t need to be shamed (via hymen checks) or threatened for their lack of virginity, no matter why they aren’t virgins. Christ made it clear that what is in people’s hearts is what defiles them (Matt 15:16-20). That means a religious virgin woman who is hard-hearted and refused God’s commands on loving their neighbor and participates in gossip and slandered, is considered wicked. On the other hand, a prostitute who comes to God in repentance accepts Jesus, receives the holy spirit, and lives a holy lifestyle will be counted among the righteous. We can see the framework for this in the old testament, which tells us that God doesn’t enjoy punishing the wicked but will show mercy to those who repent (Ezekiel 18:23-32). Similar ideas can be found in Isaiah 57:15-21, Jeremiah 18:1-10, Ezekiel 33:10-12, 33:17-20, Psalms 7:1-17, and Psalms 32:1-11.

In the new testament, this concept is also explored with the parable of the two sons in Matt 21:28-32 and his parable of the tax collector and the pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). In the parable of the two sons, the father gives both of his sons a task. One of them said no, but did the job anyway, and the other said yes but disobeyed. Jesus asked the Pharisees which one obeyed his father they replied the first one. In verses 31-32, Jesus said that is correct and explained the meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.”

In the other parable, a tax collector and Pharisee are praying at the temple. The Pharisee uses his prayer to brag about all the sins he doesn’t commit and then puts down the tax collector with passive-aggressive insults. Meanwhile, the tax collector is so ashamed that he keeps his distance and keeps his head bowed in humility. He prayed to ask God for mercy. Jesus confirms that the repentant tax collector is forgiven because of his humility and honesty, meanwhile, the Pharisee is wrong. He ends by saying, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” This phrase is repeated multiple times throughout the gospels (Matt 23:12, Luke 14:11). This is in line with Proverbs 3:34 which says God scorns the scornful but gives grace to the humble. This scripture is repeated by Peter (1 Peter 5:5-6) and James (James 4:6).

A final note in regards to women, the obsession with defining and controlling women’s sexual value to men is all objectification, which is a form of idolatry. Idolizing people dehumanizes them because they have to meet inhumane expectations. A person’s value is not based on whether or not they’ve had sex. Our value comes from the fact that we are image-bearers of God (Gen 1:26). The issue with using hymen as a metric for sexual purity is that hymens can break even without intercourse and some people are born without them. This was all they had in the old covenant but I don’t believe God, who would have known all the science behind this, intended for this to be an absolute standard forever. This is why the new covenant it’s more focused on spirituality and what’s in the heart. I believe a woman who’s lost her virginity from fornication, who turns away from it is forgiven (1 John 1:9), and if she receives Jesus, she will have access to the holy spirit which will help her live holy. People who receive God’s Holy Spirit can follow the spirit rather than their flesh to maintain a life of holiness and sanctification (Gal 5:16, Gal 6:7-8). Jesus came so that we would no longer be slaves to sin, he is the one that promises to set us free from it, he says so in John 8:31-35.

John 8:31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.