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 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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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.
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.