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Virgin, using the language of the author of Revelation, John (surnamed Mark) who also authored 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John as well as the Gospel according to John. Suppose the author spoke Hebrew, virgin then becomes Strong's #5958 'elem which is the feminine version of #5956 'alam (aw-lam'), meaning "to veil from sight" i.e. conceal. Strong's #1330 bethuwlah, (beth-oo-law) means "to separate".

Two other points: What is meant by not defiled with women?

They were redeemed from the earth. So though they were not defiled with women; what caused the need for them to be redeemed? Was it some other form of defilement or sin?

(I also like the play on the chapter number and verse (14.4))

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5 Answers 5

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Chastity

"Not defiled with women" is a reference to chastity, as the very next word (in Greek) indicates. The men spoken of have not been defiled with women, and they are παρθένοι.

Thayer's Lexicon identifies 2 principal meanings of παρθένοι:

  • A virgin...i. e. either a marriageable maiden, or a young (married) woman
  • "a man who has abstained from all uncleanness and whoredom attendant on idolatry, and so has kept his chastity" (source)

It is evidently the latter meaning being employed here--these men may well be married (this detail is not given), but they are not guilty of sexual sin.

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Need for redemption

Although these men are chaste, it does not mean they are perfect.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

They still need a Redeemer. Earlier in Revelation those arrayed in white robes are not those who never made a mistake, but those who had been washed clean through the blood of the Lamb (see Revelation 7:13-15).

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Which John?

Note that John Mark and John the son of Zebedee are different men. John Mark was a missionary companion of Paul and of Peter and is recognized as the author of the 2nd Gospel. John the son of Zebedee was one of the 12 apostles, and is recognized as the author of the 4th Gospel, 3 epistles, and Revelation.

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    Even though I have given a slightly different take in my answer, this answer too is also very pertinent, + 1. Mar 4 at 12:16
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Who says the 144,000 in Revelation 14:4 are virgins the way we understand the word?

Strong's Greek: 3933 parthenos

Properly, a virgin, a woman who has never had sexual relations; a female (virgin), beyond puberty but not yet married; (figuratively) believers when they are pure (chaste), i.e. faithful to Christ their heavenly Bridegroom (2 Cor, 11:2; Rev, 14:4).

144,000 'not defiled with women.'

In Revelation 14: 1-4, the 144,000 described as standing with the lamb on Mount Zion are said to have been "bought from the earth. These are the ones that did not defile themselves with women; in fact, they are virgins." These are shown as having a more intimate relationship with the Lamb than any others do, being the only ones to master the "new song." (Rev, 14:1-4) This would indicate that they make up the "bride" of the Lamb. (Rev, 21:9) They are spiritual persons, as revealed by the fact that they stand on the heavenly Mount Zion with the Lamb. Therefore their 'not defiling themselves with women' and their being "virgins" would not mean that none of these 144,000 persons had ever been married, for the Scriptures do not forbid persons on earth who are to be joint heirs with Christ to marry. ( 1 Ti 3:2; 4:1,3) Neither would it imply that all the 144,000 were men, for "there is neither male nor female"" as far as the spiritual relationship of Christ's joint heirs is concerned. (Ga 3:28) The "women" therefore must be symbolic women .....

The above "blockquote" is taken from "Insight on the Scriptures, Vol 2" p. 1199, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1988. The passage goes on to suggest that Babylon the Great and perhaps her 'daughters' (whoever these may be), the joining of and participation in which would prevent one from being spotless. (Rev, 17:5) This symbolic description harmonizing with the requirement in the Law that the high priest of Israel take only a virgin for his wife, for Jesus Christ is Jehovah's great High Priest.- Le 21:10, 14; 2 Co 11:2; Heb 7:26.

Redemption

As already succinctly pointed out by our own 'Hold to the Rod' all mankind, because of the original "perfect" man's sin, became subject to inherent sin and therefore all (of us) are in need of Redemption.

As to the author of Revelation, again our 'own' has that determined perfectly.

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The Bible itself gives the meaning in this case. Consider these other references to virginity:

The virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee, 2 Kings 19:21. Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel, Jeremiah 31:4. Set thee up waymarkers, make thee high heaps: set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou went: turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities, Jeremiah 31:21. Clearly, these are allegorical, spiritual references. Here is an explanation on Revelation 14:4:

"Virginity is not meant to be taken literally in this place. If it were, the five foolish virgins, Matthew 25:1-13, would be included on the ground of their virginity, not excluded on the basis of their folly. Besides, even in the spiritual sense here intended, the integration of each characteristic with every other is implied, in order to bring forth the sevenfold perfection indicated. No one feature can be singled out as in itself a sufficient characteristic.

Then, not virginity literally. Were that so, it would exclude the worthies so highly commended for their faith in Hebrews chapter 11. For they were married. They begat children. Then they were not virgins literally. But they must have been virgins spiritually, else they would not have been set forth by the Holy Ghost as those whose example we should follow. That is, men such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Samson, Jephthae, David, and the prophets. And will any dare exclude these? But they were not virgins literally.

Then they must have been virgins spiritually. They must have cleansed themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. This must have been their virginity... of purity and chasteness in being wholly separated to God and to his things...

Indeed, if literal virginity were intended, it would be essential to salvation. [But] 'Concerning virgins I have no commandment', 1 Corinthians 7:25?... Again he sayeth, 'And if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.' And to conclude the matter, hear the Hebrew epistle: 'Marriage is honourable in all' - mark that: all - 'and the bed undefiled' - notice: undefiled - 'but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge', Hebrews 13:4.

Then the passage 'for they are virgins', like the former introductory clause, must be spiritual, after this manner: 'For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.' 2 Corinthians 11:2. Here the apostle refers to the entire - it is you, plural - ecclesia or church, gathered at Corinth. But I speak concerning Christ and the church." The Revelation of Jesus Christ, John Metcalfe, pp. 356-8 http://www.johnmetcalfepublishingtrust.co.uk/contact_us.htm

Now the query about what it means for those symbolic 144,000 people not being defiled with women. Consider...

"The form of the defilement is not specified, but, from plain new testament exhortatory passages, one would naturally suppose such defilement to be limited to fornication, adultery, uncleanness, and suchlike fleshly lusts. But this is not a plain new testament exhortatory passage, it is the mystical Book of the Revelation, with a text couched in symbolism, allegory, and imagery...

The meaning to the spiritual Israelite, or to the prophets or seer in the old testament, went further and deeper than fornication, adultery, or uncleanness... being 'defiled with women' had a far more specific meaning than the general condemnation of fleshly lusts. It was precise. It focussed particularly upon what became a snare to Israel again and again." (Ibid. pp. 350-1)

Then follows many examples of how the people of Israel kept being lured into idolatry by the surrounding pagan nations. They formed marriage alliances that God had forbidden. Even some of the kings of Israel led the nation into spiritual defilement, setting a bad example themselves by allowing pagan wives to set up idolatrous worship, right inside Israel. See 1 Kings 114-8 & Ezra 9:1-14.

"With Ezra, or with the old testament saints, it was a question of defiling that which was holy... This was a matter for the men of Israel, to keep the charge. They were not to defile that which was holy with women from the nations about them. They were not to mingle the holy seed with the heathen. It was not that women were defiled with men. The men had the charge, and were not to defile themselves... (Ibid. p. 354, bold emphasis mine)

In the new testament generally the spiritual answer to this appears in such passages as 1 Corinthians 6:18,19 & 3:16,17 & 6:15 & 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. Please study those passages to get the spiritual meaning that applies in Revelation.

"In Revelation, fornication, defilement, must be seen as spiritual. Regarding women, [this] passage seems to have application: 'Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols,' Revelation 2:20. Now to suffer this, to sit under or submit to the teaching of women as such and particularly those in the character described as 'Jezebel', with their abandon and wanton licence in defiance of all fear of God and true worship, this is to be defiled with women." (Ibid. p. 356)

As for your third query, "what caused the need for them to be redeemed? Was it some other form of defilement or sin?" - all sinners need to be redeemed from all sin. All who will be redeemed to stand before the throne of God in heaven, whether of the 144,000 class, or the "great crowd that no man could number", have to be redeemed from their sin first.

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    + 1. Nicely put indeed. We may often be at odds but sometimes we can cross the isle and come together. Mar 5 at 16:28
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The fornication of the Harlot in ch17 is best understood as spiritual unfaithfulness, that is idolatry.

For that matter, so is the adultery of the adulterous wife in Hosea ch2 and Ezekiel ch16.

Since "spiritual unfaithfulness" is such a well-established metaphor, I'm inclined to see the chastity of these people as the reverse side of the same metaphor. That is, they are the persevering faithful, who have not been deceived by the "temptress".

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This issue has been much debated, so rather than offering a personal opinion I will provide arguments on several sides of the question. On the question of their need for redemption, see @Hold to the Rod's answer. For the meaning of being defiled with women, this is a reference to ritual impurity contracted by sexual relations. Even married couples became "unclean" temporarily by sex, even if no sin was involved. (Leviticus 15:18) Here are three possible interpretations of the text.

Literal virgins

The text says they are virgins - παρθένοι (parthenoi) - and it means what it says. This fits with other NT ideas such as Paul's teaching in 1 Cor. 7: "It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman... I wish everyone to be as I am." It also conforms to Jesus' own saying that "some have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:12)

Figurative virgins

Although the text does say virgins, it means this figuratively. The men may be married but they have not committed sexual sins.

Holy warriors

The term "not defiled themselves with women" is a reference to the requirements of holy war (Ex. 19:15, Deut. 23:10-14). The Book of Revelation describes several such battles. One is described in chapter 19:9

They [God's enemies] invaded the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city.

Conclusion: The men may or may not be virgins. In either case, however, they must stay away from women for they are bound by the God's law of holy war.

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