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Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?

Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?During the Christmas season, people are absolutely fascinated by the extraordinary virgin birth described in the Bible (Matthew 1 & Luke 1). For many, Mary’s status as a virgin didn’t end once she gave birth to Jesus some 2,000 years ago. For others, Jesus was, indeed, born of a virgin, but Mary went on to have marital relations with her husband and bore other children.

It’s like a championship sports match – and one group has to be right and one group has to be wrong. So, what’s the correct answer?

The Backstory

The virgin Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, living with her parents, still waiting for Joseph to prepare for their marriage. Mary is highly favored (Luke 1:28), not because of anything she had done, but because God chose her. Gabriel tells Mary who Jesus will be: God’s son and Mary’s son (1:32-33). This was prophesized in verse 35: “the most high will overshadow you,” or, as Gabriel says in verse 37, “nothing is impossible with God.”

That’s the point: God is omnipotent. The eternal Creator can take on the form of man and come down to live among His creation.

The cost for Mary was high. She was pregnant, and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. Mary had a humble response when she said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Joseph could have believed Mary’s unique story, or he could have considered her to be an adulteress. Mary is a good example for us. Her faith was strong and she accepted the role that God wanted her to play (1:38). It was not an easy role. Under Old Testament law, she could have been stoned for being an adulteress.

And, yet, God Himself became a man and He suffered. That’s why we can trust Him with our lives on this earth.

Before we get to the question of whether Mary was a virgin the rest of her life, we should consider: Why was it significant that she was a virgin in the first place?

First, Christ’s birth represents the uniting of full humanity and divinity (John 1:14; Col. 2:9.  So, we can see that Christ was both fully man and fully God.

Second, the virgin birth enabled Jesus to be born human without inheriting our sinful nature.  Luke 1:35 says that the Christ child will be “holy.”

Third, the virgin birth reminds us that salvation is solely by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9).  Our human efforts can’t bring about our salvation—only God can. Our salvation is a miracle just like the virgin birth (John 3; Titus 3:5, etc.).

The Answer to the Question

Alright, but was Mary a virgin forever?

First, we must ask, “What biblical evidence there is stating she remained a virgin?” Simply put, there’s little biblical evidence that Mary remained a virgin. If we believe in sola scriptura (Scripture alone), then we must consider what the Bible does say and not trust tradition or mere human opinion.

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Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?Second, we must ask “What does the Bible actually say?” The plain reading of Matthew 1:25 is that Joseph didn’t have sexual relations with Mary until after the birth of Jesus. The word “know” in the Old and New Testaments is a word that, contextually, refers to the sexual union of two persons. If there were other Bible verses to mean something else, it would seem that Matthew or Luke would have given them. There’s no reason to reject the simple reading of Matthew 1:25 as stated.

Third, other verses suggest that Jesus had brothers and sisters.  Mark (3:31-32; 6:3), Luke (8:19-20), John (7:5), Paul (Gal. 1:19), and Matthew (12:47; 13:55-56) all record this. Since there are no other verses that state Mary remained a perpetual virgin, we shouldn’t take liberty to stretch the literal meaning of “brother” or “sister” in these passages.

One common objection to these verses about Mary’s other children is that Joseph might have been an elderly widower, not been interested in sexual relations with a younger Mary, and had previous children from his first (now deceased) wife that became step-brothers and sisters to Jesus. While this is an interesting theory, there’s no biblical or historical evidence to corroborate this.

Finally, we have to ask, “Honestly, were Joseph and Mary really married? Or, was it just a front?” Yes, the Bible says that Joseph took Mary as his wife (Matt. 1:24b). A marriage, much like it is today, was official by way of a verbal witness in front of family and friends, as well as the physical consummation in sex. Unless both the verbal and physical aspects are involved, no biblical marriage is maintained.

What’s more, according to the Lord’s command to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, one duty of every married person is to engage in sexual intercourse with their spouse. If Mary failed to do this, she would have been in sexual sin—as would have Joseph.

Conclusion

When we think of Mary, we should admire her humility and faith but not allow ourselves to idolize or worship her. Like every human, she was a sinner in need of saving grace found only in the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Remember, too, that in Luke 11, Jesus said it is not so much the one who bore Him who is blessed, but rather those who hear and obey the Word of God. Similarly, in Luke 8:19-21 when His mother and brothers came to Him, Jesus taught that those who hear and obey God’s Word are His true family.

The story of God being born of a virgin and killed by men is the most unbelievable story ever told, and one only God Himself could tell. And we’d do well to speak not only of the virgin birth of Jesus, but of his virgin conception.

In short, it’s essential that we stick to the Bible as our sole authority in matters of faith and life—including on this issue. When we cut ourselves from the moorings of Scripture, we are susceptible to any whim and idea.

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5 comments

  1. As a Catholic, I just wanted to clarify for those who may think we “idolize or worship” Mary. We have a “devotion” to her. Very different. I admire my husband, ask him to pray for me, and am “devoted” to him – I do not worship my husband. It is the same with Mary. Even the Hail Mary prayer is a act of petitioning her to pray for us, with the first half of it being completely quoting scripture and the second half asking her to pray for us. As for the question of Mary’s perpetual virginity, if you read the early Church fathers always believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity, from James to Jerome to Augustine to Cyril of Alexandria.
    Just wanted to clarify the Catholic position. God bless.

  2. It would take an extremely long comment to rebut fully the issues with this post. Let me first summarize what Catholic doctrines this post is attacking:

    – The doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.
    – The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
    – Sacred Tradition as a source of Divine Revelation

    Additionally, the article indirectly accuses those who disagree with its conclusions of idolatry by the worship of Mary. For the record, we Catholics DO NOT worship Mary.

    The basis for the argument of the article is Sola Scriptura, which was invented by Martin Luther. Yet Luther himself was not of the opinion that Mary had other children. So we are immediately into territory where we are relying on the author’s conclusions about scripture. Yet before we can even start our rebuttal, we must ask ourselves if Sola Scriptura is worthy of belief.

    “If we believe sola scriptura…” the author posits. If sola scriptura is true, sola scriptura must itself be in the scriptures. For if it is not in the scriptures, we are being asked to believe a doctrine opposed to sola scriptura. In fact, sola scriptura is not in the scriptures, for the scriptures give ample evidence of Divine Revelation that is not written. For example, St. Paul exhorts, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:14)”. Or the words of Christ Himself: But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you. (John 14:26) And again: I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth… (John 16:12-13).

    Even pointing out the scriptural problems with sola scriptura, I have learned that it is pretty fruitless to talk to most Protestants about Catholic doctrine except with reference to the Bible. The opinions of the Church Fathers, the teachings of the Church, etc., are simply dismissed as human invention, so I will stay away from them as much as possible.

    Coming to the question at hand, if Mary had other natural children, why would the Lord entrust her care to St. John, saying to the disciple, “Behold thy mother”. Why would St. John take Mary into his own home if there were other of Mary’s children still living in the area? It would be strange, indeed.

    Next, while it would be cumbersome to reference the entire thing in the comment box, please see St. Luke 1:26-38 (http://drbo.org/chapter/49001.htm). Note the greeting of the Angel Gabriel, “Hail, full of grace”. A strange greeting indeed. How, prior to the redemption, could the “sinful” Mary be “full of grace”? Is it not grace that makes us holy? And what is grace but a share in God’s own life? Note that it is not we “idolatrous” Catholics who came up with this greeting. These words are spoken by the angelic messenger from God.

    We can see that Mary was *already* espoused to St. Joseph when the angel appeared. If Mary was entering into marriage anyway (a point the article makes…it was a “real” marriage), it should not have caused any difficulty for Mary when the angel told her she would conceive a child. However, Mary does have an objection, that she “does not know man”. (Again, how would this be a problem if she was soon to marry St. Joseph anyway, and the angel doesn’t specify exactly when she would conceive?) We Catholics understand that Mary had taken a vow of celibacy, to remain a virgin. She challenges the angel to verify that he is of God, for God would not require of her that she break a vow she made to God. The angel then explains that the conception of Jesus would be accomplished by the Holy Spirit, without the intervention of a man. The permissibility of consenting now understood, Mary said yes: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”

    At that instant the incarnation was accomplished, and Mary became Mother of God. We are not wrong to use this title, nor are we wrong to call Mary blessed: “Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” (Matthew 1:48). The title Mother of God can be arrived at using the most simple logic. Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son. If Mary is the Mother of Jesus, then she is the Mother of God the Son, a Divine Person. It’s really all about Jesus.

    As Eve is our natural mother (mother of all the living), Mary, the second Eve, is our spiritual mother (mother of all the living, who live because of Christ). We can further see the role of Mary as the Queen Mother, in light of the role of Bathsheba, the mother of King Solomon (1 Kings 2:16 -20). Hence we Catholics look to her for intercession. While it might incite some angst, I will conclude with this quote from St. Louis de Montfort:

    “Just as in the natural and corporal generation of children there are a father and a mother, so in the supernatural and spiritual generation there are a Father, who is God, and a Mother, who is Mary. All of God’s true children have Him for their Father and Mary for their Mother. He who has not Mary for his Mother has not God for his Father. This is the reason why heretics, schismatics and others, who hate our Blessed Lady or regard her with contempt and indifference, have not God for their Father—they have not Mary for their Mother. For if they had her for their Mother they would love and honor her as a true child naturally loves and honors the mother who has given him life.”

  3. I am not a believer that Mary was a virgin her whole life. Paul writes of Jesus’ brothers and specifically, writes that he goes to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18-19) to visit James, the Lord’s brother – why single him out?. Early Christian writer’s were of the thinking that Jesus had siblings. The Gospels all make reference to family members of Jesus. The Gospels even mention that Joseph and Mary had no relations until she bore Jesus. Why word things that way? I also understand that there’s the argument that the brothers and sisters of Jesus may have been half brothers/sisters or that followers were referred to as such, but there is no evidence of that. Mark and John make no mention of a virgin birth. Mark is believed to be the oldest of the Gospels and Paul never makes mention of it – these are the two earliest written sources.

    The perpetual virginity of Mary is a later developed tradition as the orthodoxy movement within the early church began to coalesce. The first 300 years of Christianity is highly diverse with many beliefs. It wasn’t until 325, at Nicea, did a written, mostly agreed upon orthodoxy become recognized about how the church would view Jesus. Even then, it took a couple hundred years for other views to finally fade away.

  4. You forgot two things of the bible:

    1. Jesus is mentioned as having a brother named James that Paul writes about. We know this because James is mentioned in several letters of Paul’s and is actually mentioned in the gospels as being one of the diciples. We also know that Jesus looked at one of the apostles and told him “Mother behold your son, son behold your mother”

    2. People often forget that the term virgin did not have the same context as it does now. In my studies, I believe it was the 1300’s, prior to the 1300’s virginity was not a woman who did not have sex before marriage, but simply a women who had yet to be married. Very similar to how the term rape, in the time of roman rule, meant to kidnap not what it means now. That being said, her being a virgin does make sense, as she was not yet married to Joesph. If she was we as the readers are never told that she is, just that we are told Joesph lineage and we are told Mary’s lineage.

    As an interesting side note, the Quran also contains the story of Mary and Jesus under the 19th chapter Maryam.

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