Revelation 14:4 (KJV)

4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.

Nestle GNT 1904

οὗτοί εἰσιν οἳ μετὰ γυναικῶν οὐκ ἐμολύνθησαν· παρθένοι γάρ εἰσιν. οὗτοι οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες τῷ Ἀρνίῳ ὅπου ἂν ὑπάγῃ· οὗτοι ἠγοράσθησαν ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀπαρχὴ τῷ Θεῷ καὶ τῷ Ἀρνίῳ,

The virgins mentioned in the above text, are they literal or metaphorical?

  • Since the Lamb is Christ, and since they are said to follow him, the question boils down to whether Christ's virginity was literal or metaphorical. – Lucian Dec 13 '17 at 20:07
  • Apostle Peter was married .1 Corinthians 9:5 (NRSV) Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Also Mark 1:29-31 The verse refers to SPIRITUAL VIRGINS – O . Nicolas Jan 6 at 19:01
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Revelation 1:5 (DRB)

1 And I beheld, and lo a lamb stood upon mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty-four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the noise of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard, was as the voice of harpers, harping on their harps. 3 And they sung as it were a new canticle, before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and the ancients; and no man could say the canticle, but those hundred forty-four thousand, who were purchased from the earth.These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb: 5 And in their mouth there was found no lie; for they are without spot before the throne of God.

While "who were not defiled with women" precludes a purely metaphorical meaning, the proper understanding, I think, is that which takes into account the objective and ideal kind of Christian 21:27 by whom the whole of the redeemed are here called; so that whereas some of the redeemed falter, the redeemed as a whole are nonetheless called by the term 'saints' and 'virgins' for the reason that it is their calling to be such.1 Pt 1:15; Heb 12:14; 2 Pt 1:10-11

There is also the fact that the saints, or, the redemmed who end up in heaven, it is true, were not defiled (where "were defiled" implies a finality, or describes the end of the damned in contradistinction to the saints triumphant) 2:10 by women unto damnation.

Being carried away by the world is typified here by the example of giving in to the lusts of the flesh, and going after women. This leads to death.Rom 8:13 The elect, by contrast, have not given into such, but are typified rather by following the Lamb, Jesus Christ, wherever He goes.Jn 10:27 And have become victorious.Jude 1:12 That is,

"And in their mouth there was found no lie; for they are without spot before the throne of God." cf. Eph 5:27; Jude 1:24

In other words, they should be taken literally, as describing the elect, who by definition, were destined not by compulsion but by foreknowledge and the plan of God as a whole, to inherit salvation, where 'virgin,' 'blameless' and 'followers of Christ,' describes the kinds of people who are true Christians, in an objective sense.Eph 1:4

  • 1
    Any question or answer on this subject needs to be very precise and careful about definitions. In the last paragraph of your answer you conclude the term is "literal". And yet, based on any definition of literal/metaphorical that makes sense to me, you have argued persuasively for a metaphorical meaning. (You're not arguing that the elect are actual virgins; you're arguing that the elect are pure in the same way that a virgin may be considered pure. That's the classic example of metaphor.) – Peter Kirkpatrick Dec 13 '17 at 3:13
  • "precludes a purely metaphorical meaning" is to recognize that there is a metaphorical meaning. All I want to recognize is that a metaphor isn't usually this explicit; or, if it were a metaphor, the phrase added "were not defiled by women" would seem to be redundant as part of said metaphor. I favor the taking of them literally; that it applies them to the entire elect by way of generalization, that is, these are the kinds of people who make it to heaven: those who don't lie, those who don't indulge their lusts etc. Such a generalization could well be called a metaphor in this case. – Sola Gratia Dec 13 '17 at 11:05
  • It could also include priests, who are literally virgins/celibate, and of which there are many. – Sola Gratia Dec 13 '17 at 11:06
  • Your argument seems to be "I wouldn't have written the metaphor in that style, therefore it's not a metaphor." I don't see how you can say it's literal and metaphorical at the same time. – Peter Kirkpatrick Dec 14 '17 at 7:27
  • I'm specifically not saying that. Perhaps 'metaphor' is not strictly the right word. Perhaps 'generalization' is better. My answer takes the position that it is a literal 'virgins' applied as a generalization to the objective elect. Just as all are called generally in the NT 'saints,' while they differ in their sanctitty. I cited the redundancy of specifics in metaphor to militate against an exclusively metaphorical understanding. 'Be pure of heart; clean all the dirt off it so that it looks shiny' starts quickly to look less and less metaphorical. So does 'virgins' because 'no sex with women' – Sola Gratia Dec 14 '17 at 14:30

It is metaphorical. The setting is the marriage to the Lamb, those that follow Christ. The opposite would be those that do not follow Christ, and therefore follow after "idols". Many times Israel had fallen away from God to worship idols, and were charged with being adulterous and whores. That is the opposite of a virgin bride.

See the answers to a previous question on this site here.

It's clearly metaphor.

This question is important because it has a wider significance than this specific verse. Almost every sentence in Revelation has language which raises the same question. How do we read particular words? Literal or metaphorical?

First, it's important to lay down some definitions. Other answers to this question have concluded that "virgins" is literal, but they have given reasons which I consider make the word metaphorical. We are bound to reach different answers if we start with different assumptions and definitions.

So what makes a word literal or metaphorical? Let's consider an example:

  1. "The tramper found it difficult to keep his balance as he forded the stony river bed."

  2. "During the job interview the young woman felt intimidated by the stony glares of the men in the appointment panel."

Now in sentence 1, 'stony' is literal; in sentence 2 it is metaphorical. Note that the difference is not found in the meaning of the word. Stony means having the qualities of a stone, and that basic idea is evident in both sentences. Rather the difference is in the application of the word. What thing is being described as stony? In sentence 1 the river bed is stony. It is a reasonable deduction that this is because stones are involved. A stony stream has stones; a sandy stream has sand; a mossy stream has moss. The literal meaning is thus the most obvious and direct meaning. Suppose we compiled a list of things that are stony. Surely a stone will head the list. Can there be anything in the whole world more stony than a stone?

On the other hand, stony in sentence 2 is applied to a person's glare. Here we have an example of metaphor, because "stony" refers to something other than a stone. The writer describes the glare as stony; the glare thus has some of the same features as a stone. Perhaps it is hard ("hard" used this way is itself a metaphor). Perhaps it a fixed stare. Perhaps the hardness suggests opposition. These are all possible interpretations of the metaphor, because an undefined metaphor is to some extent open. We know that an analogy is intended by the writer; we don't know, other than by common sense interpretation, the precise scope or focus of the analogy.

Now let's apply these ideas to the OP. The question is whether "virgin" is literal or metaphorical. Suppose we take the text as literal. We would then be reading "virgin" as a person who has never had sex. That is the raw, primary, natural, literal meaning of the word. Or we might take the text as metaphorical. Then we are drawing an analogy between followers of Jesus and virgins. The scope of the analogy is open to interpretation, but the most obvious link is purity. A disciple is pure as a virgin is pure. That also explains why there is an additional sentence. "They are not defiled with women" is included to assist with the interpretation of the metaphor. It doesn't turn a metaphorical meaning into a literal meaning. It helps us know what scope of meaning the author intended by his metaphor. It's aim is precision or clarification.

In the same way, the context of the whole paragraph will influence the reading of particular words. Whatever the meaning of "virgins", it describes the 144,000. So our interpretation of that number will influence our reading of other phrases. If the 144,000 is a precise counted number of people, that might be a reason for reading "virgin" literally. Conversely, if the 144,000 is symbolic of all the (countless) disciples of the Lamb, then other elements of the description (virgins; name on the forehead) will probably also be metaphor. Personally, I find it hard to read the paragraph taken as a whole in any way other than symbolism and metaphor.

I came to this website looking for answers to Revelation 14:4; for a Christian, and a woman, the verses are disturbing. No where does Jesus Himself reveal such misogyny. Thus, half the world's population would be locked out of heaven, the only prerequisite to entering being shunning a heterosexual union. So the Catholic abusive clergy is welcome? On the other hand Muslims won't have a problem, having been promised 72 virgins for every male in paradise.

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For those who understand there will be more souls in heaven than 144,000, these are "literal virgins" -- just like Jesus.

1And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: 3And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 4These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. 5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
-- Revelation 14:1-5 (KJV)

These men were first mentioned by John in Revelation 7, where he identified them as being from "all the tribes of the children of Israel" (Revelation 7:4). But, clearly, they are not the sum total of all who will be redeemed because immediately following their identification as children of the tribes of Israel, John also says:

9After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
-- Revelation 7:9-10 (KJV)

Peter and the other apostles with wives will have their white robes, and they will sit upon thrones judging the nations, but they are not of the 144,000 -- they are not virgins.

The 144,000 are all male descendants of the tribes of Israel that have been called out by Jesus for special service. It is unlikely they appeared at any one time on the earth, but rather were deployed at various times and places, being the first-fruits of the Gospel in new places and at new times -- exceptional souls necessary to keep humanity familiar with the reality of the Christ, and to keep his Gospel alive and growing.

They are the stem cells of the body of Christ.

I understand the word "virgins" to be metonymy for all vices. That is, these "virgins" had self control and they were never of the lawless, idolatrous gentiles.

It is difficult to speak with much authority about the cryptic imagery of Revelation but speaking speculatively I would say that the 144,000 are the faithful Jewish remnant that were saved under the old covenant. This would include of course Moses, David, Matthew and Peter. These were Yehovah's sheep until he committed them into Jesus' care. They were the little flock. The remnant of the Jews. The reason they are called "virgins" (I believe, tentatively) is that they were never gentiles.

For some background on a group of elect being extracted prior to judgment consider Enoch, Noah, Lot, etc. and here:

https://biblehub.com/niv/ezekiel/9.htm

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