Perpetual Virginity of Mary
The perpetual virginity of Mary is a Marian doctrine, taught by the and held by a number of groups in Christianity, which asserts that Mary (the mother of Jesus) was “always a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus Christ.” This doctrine also proclaims that Mary had no marital relations after Jesus’ birth nor gave birth to any children other than Jesus. While the Bible mentions brothers of Jesus, Catholic, Orthodox, and some traditional Protestant interpretations offer various explanations that align with the doctrine of perpetual virginity of Mary; that these siblings were either children of Joseph from a previous marriage, cousins of Jesus, or were closely associated with the Holy Family.
By the fourth century, the doctrine was widely supported by the Church Fathers, and by the seventh century it had been affirmed in a number of ecumenical councils. The doctrine is part of the teaching of Catholicism and Anglo-Catholics, as well as Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, as expressed in their liturgies, in which they repeatedly refer to Mary as “ever virgin” (ἀειπάρθενος, translit. aeiparthenos). The Assyrian Church of the East, which is derived from the Church of the East, also accepts the perpetual virginity of Mary by titling her the “Ever Virgin”, after the “Second Heaven”.
Some early Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther supported the doctrine, and founder figures of Anglicanism such as Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer “followed the tradition that they had inherited by accepting Mary as ‘ever virgin'”. Reformed teaching, however, largely abandoned it. The doctrine of perpetual virginity is currently maintained by some Anglican and Lutheran theologians. In addition, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary.
Doctrine and representations
The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, which is believed de fide (i.e. held by Catholics as being an essential part of faith), states that Mary was a virgin before, during and after giving birth for all her life. The threefold nature of this doctrine (referring to before, during and after) thus subsumes the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus.. Since the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381 AD, the virgin birth of Jesus has been affirmed in the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed by the statement “who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, and was made man”.
The doctrine of perpetual virginity is also distinct from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which relates to the conception of the Virgin Mary herself without any stain (macula in Latin) of original sin.
The Greek term Aeiparthenos (i.e. “Ever Virgin”) is attested to by Epiphanius of Salamis from the early 4th century. It is widely used in the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodox liturgical prayers typically end with “Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (item 499) also includes to the term Aeiparthenos and referring to the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium (item 57) states: “Christ’s birth did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” The doctrine of perpetual virginity is also held by some Anglicanand some Lutheran churches, but not all of those churches endorse the doctrine.
The virginity of Mary at the time of her conception of Jesus is a key topic in Marian art in the Catholic Church, usually represented as the annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel that she would virginally conceive a child to be born the Son of God. Frescos depicting this scene have appeared in Roman Catholic Marian churches for centuries. The oldest fresco of the annunciation is a 4th-century depiction in the Catacomb of Priscillain Rome.
Mary’s virginity even after her conception of Jesus is regularly represented in the Christian art of both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox (as well as in early Western religious art) by including in Nativity scenes the figure of Salome, whom the Gospel of James presents as finding that Mary had preserved her virginity even in giving birth to her son. In many icons, Mary’s perpetual virginity is signified by three stars that appear on her left, her right, and above her or on her head, which represent her virginity before, during and after giving birth.
As of the second century, interest developed within the early Church regarding the conception of Jesus and the virginity of Mary. The majority of early Christian writers accepted the virginal conception of Jesus via reliance on the accounts in the gospels of Luke and Matthew, yet, the focus of these early discussions was of virginity before birth, not during or afterwards.
The interpretation of the statement in Matthew 1:25 that Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son” and of the various New Testament mentions of the brothers (and sisters) of Jesus is discussed below under the heading “Scripture”. The “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels, and the “James, the Lord’s brother”, mentioned in Galatians 1:19, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”, mentioned by Josephus were thus interpreted by many texts as not being children of Mary. The use of the word “brother” in Scripture is, in addition, not only used to refer to biological brothers but also to relatives (Genesis 14:14, 29:15), close friends (2 Samuel 1:26, 1 Kings 9:13) or even allies (Amos 1:9).
A second-century document that paid special attention to Mary’s virginity was originally known as the Nativity of Mary, but later became known as the Protoevangelium of James. The document tells of Mary’s virginity before giving birth, the miraculous way in which she gave birth, and her physical virginity even after giving birth. The work also claims that Jesus’ “brothers” and “sisters” are Joseph’s children from a marriage previous to his union with Mary. However, this text does not explicitly assert Mary’s perpetual virginity after the birth of Jesus.
There was no full consensus on the doctrine of perpetual virginity within the early Church by the end of the second century, e.g. Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225) did not teach the doctrine (although he taught virgin birth), but Irenaeus(c. 130 – c. 202) taught perpetual virginity, along with other Marian themes. Origen (185–254) was emphatic on the issue of the brothers of Jesus, and stated that he believed them to have been the children of Joseph from a previous marriage. However, wider support for the doctrine began to appear within the next century.
Some writers from 4th century, Helvidius and Eunomius of Cyzicus (one of the Arians leaders), interpreted Matthew’s statement to mean that Joseph and Mary did have normal marital relations after Jesus’ birth, and that James, Joses, Jude, and Simon were the biological sons of Mary and Joseph, a view held by Helvidius and Eunomius. Helvidius appealed to the authority of Tertullian against the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, to which Jerome(c. 340–419) replied that Tertullian was “not a man of the church”. Basil of Caesarea denied Eunomius’ view since Basil sees Matthew 1:25 as evidence for, not against, Mary’s perpetual virginity.
Epiphanius held too that the brothers of Jesus were Joseph’s sons from (an unrecorded) former marriage. He adds that
When the Virgin was entrusted to Joseph she was not entrusted to him for marriage, since he was a widower. He was called her husband because of the Law, but it is plainly follows from the Jewish tradition that the Virgin was not entrusted to him for matrimony. It was for the preservation of her virginity in witness to the things to come … For because she had been betrothed to Joseph Mary appeared to be the wife of a husband, but she had no sexual relations with him.
By the 4th century, the doctrine of perpetual virginity had been well attested. For example, references can be found in the 3rd century writings of Hippolytus of Rome, who called Mary “the tabernacle exempt from defilement and corruption”, and the 4th century works of Athanasius, Epiphanius, Hilary, Didymus, Ambrose, Jerome, and Pope Siricius continued the attestations to perpetual virginity – a trend that gathered pace in the next century.
Church Fathers and the Middle Ages
John Chrysostom (347–407) defended perpetual virginity on a number of grounds, one of which was Jesus’ commands to his mother in Calvary: “Woman, behold your son!” and to his disciple “Behold, thy mother!” in John 19:26–27. Since the second century these two statements of Jesus from the cross had been the basis of reasonings that Mary had no other children and “from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home” because after the deaths of Joseph and Jesus there was no one else to look after Mary, and she had to be entrusted to the disciple.
By the time of Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo, with the increased emphasis on Marian piety, a wider role for Mary began to appear in the context of the history of salvation. Augustine himself presented a number of arguments in favor of the doctrine of perpetual virginity. By the end of the 4th century, Luke 1:34 (How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?) was read as a passage that indicated a “vow of perpetual virginity” on the part of Mary. The Fathers argued that Mary’s obfuscation arose since she had already taken the vow to remain a virgin.
The concept of Mary’s vow of virginity had already appeared in the Protoevangelium of James (4:1) which asserted that Mary’s mother, Anne, gave Mary as a “virgin of the Lord” in service in the Temple, and that Joseph, a widower, was to serve as her guardian (legal protections for women depended on their having a male protector: father, brother, or, failing that, a husband). Early in the 7th century, in the Short Book on the Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary Isidore of Seville connected the Mariological and Christological themes by linking the virginity of Mary to the divinity of Christ in a single line of argument. Another book from the late 6th or early 7th century, The History of Joseph the Carpenter, presents Jesus as speaking, at the death of Joseph, of Mary as “my mother, virgin undefiled”; this writing probably composed in Greek, but surviving only in Coptic and Arabic language translation. The Lateran Council of 649, attended by Maximus the Confessor, explicitly affirmed the teaching of Mary’s virginity before, during and after birth. This was further affirmed at the sixth ecumenical council in 680.
Over the centuries the interpretation of Mary as an ever virgin bride of the Lord who had taken a vow of perpetual chastity spread and was in full vogue by the time of Rupert of Deutz in the 12th century. By the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas had fashioned long and detailed theological arguments in defense of the doctrine and stated that a denial of the perpetual virginity of Mary would be derogatory to the perfection of Christ, an insult to the Holy Spirit, and an affront to the dignity of the Mother of God.
Mary, the Second Eve
As of the fourth century, in discussing God’s plan of salvation, a parallel theme began to appear in which Mary’s obedience (“be it unto me according to thy word” in Luke 1:38) and the doctrine of perpetual virginity were counter-positioned against Adam and Eve, just as Jesus’ obedience was counter-positioned against that of Adam in Romans 5:12–21.
The concept of Mary as the Second Eve was first introduced by Justin Martyr around 155 AD. In this perspective, which was discussed in detail by Irenaeus, supported by Jerome, and then grew further, the vow of obedience and virginity of Mary positioned her as the “Second Eve” as part of the plan of salvation, just as Jesus was positioned as the Second Adam.
The theme developed by the Church Fathers ran parallel to the theme developed by Apostle Paul in Romans 5:19 when he compared Adam’s sin with the obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father: “For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” In the same manner, Mary’s obedience to the statements of the angel, and her adherence to her vow of perpetual virginity, was seen as a remedy for the damage caused by Eve.
The Second Eve teaching continued to grow among Catholics, and in discussing perpetual virginity, the 1566 Catechism of the Council of Trent explicitly taught that while Eve by believing the serpent brought malediction on the human race, Mary by believing the angel brought benediction to mankind.
The concept of the Second Eve has continued to remain part of Catholic teachings, e.g. Pope Pius XII referred to it in the encyclical Mystici corporis Christi and Pope John Paul II referred to it in a General Audience at the Vatican in 1980.
The start of the Protestant Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century did not immediately bring about a rejection of the doctrine of perpetual virginity and several leaders of the Reformation provided varying degrees of support for it, at times without directly endorsing it.
The early Protestant reformers felt that Scripture explicitly required the acceptance of the virgin birth of Jesus, but only permitted the acceptance of perpetual virginity. Over time, some Protestant churches stopped teaching the doctrine and other Protestant churches even denied it. However, many believers in other Protestant denominations, such as the Anglican Church and Lutheran Church, continue to uphold the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.
Martin Luther believed that Mary did not have other children and did not have any marital relations with Joseph. The Latin text of the 1537 Smalcald Articles, written by Martin Luther, used the term “Ever Virgin” to refer to Mary.The perpetual virginity of Mary was Luther’s lifelong belief, even after he rejected other Marian doctrines except “Mother of God”.
Huldrych Zwingli directly supported perpetual virginity and wrote: “I firmly believe that [Mary], … forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.” Like Zwingli, the English reformers also supported the concept of perpetual virginity, but often varied on their reasons for the support. Luther and Zwingli’s support of perpetual virginity was endorsed by Heinrich Bullinger and was included in the 1566 Second Helvetic Confession.
John Calvin “was less clear-cut than Luther on Mary’s perpetual virginity but undoubtedly favored it”. He cautioned against what he thought as “impious speculation” on the topic. In his commentary of Luke 1:34, he rejected as “unfounded and altogether absurd” the idea that Mary had made a vow of perpetual virginity, saying that “She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage; which could not have been done without mockery of God” and adding that there is no evidence of the existence of such vows at the time. Though celibacy or abstinencewithin marriage life was not unknown in Jewish tradition in response to God’s command and participation in His service. In the Commentary on a Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke, Calvin rejected the argument that Mary had other children due to the mention in Scripture of brothers of Jesus.
The Anglican reformers of the 16th and 17th century, such as Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer, supported perpetual virginity “on the basis of ancient Christian authority”. In the 18th century, John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, also supported the doctrine and wrote that Jesus was “born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.”
Later Protestant teachings
Diarmaid MacCulloch, a historian of the Reformation, wrote that the reason why the early reformers upheld Mary’s perpetual virginity was that she was “the guarantee of the Incarnation of Christ”, a teaching that was being denied by the same radicals that were denying Mary’s perpetual virginity. However, the absence of conclusive Biblical statements expressing the doctrine, in combination with the principle of sola scriptura and together with the tendency to associate veneration of Mary with idolatry, kept references to the doctrine out of the Reformation creeds. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, wrote in Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, took the “brothers” (ἀδελφοί) οf Jesus mentioned in the New Testament to be most naturally children of Mary, though it has left the “vexed question” why Jesus entrusted His mother to John if she still had other biological children then alive.
Some conservative Lutheran scholars such as Franz Pieper (1852–1931) refused to follow the tendency among Nonconformist Protestants to insist that Mary and Joseph had marital relations and children after the birth of Jesus. It is implicit in his Christian Dogmatics that belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is the older and traditional view among Lutherans. He stated, that “we should simply hold that (Mary) remained a virgin after the birth of Christ because Scripture does not state or indicate that she later lost her virginity”. He taught that “Christ, our Saviour, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb … This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that”; and that “Christ … was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him … I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers”. Against this view Vincent Taylor points out that if they were actually cousins the word ‘adelphoi’ (brothers), was unnecessary linguistically, because the word ‘anepsios’ (cousin, as in Col 4:10) “lay ready to hand”, and inappropriate metaphorically, because they were opposed to Jesus’ ministry. Though the word ‘anepsios’ could also be used for nephews or nieces.However, as cited by Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica (III.39.14), Jesus and Matthew’s native language was not Greek, but Aramaic (as in Matthew 27:46; Mark 5:41, 15:34) which does not possess any words exclusively meaning “cousin”, further complicating translation if it only relied on what is written in Scripture.
Many current Protestant churches teach the virgin birth of Jesus, without teaching that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life. However, some Protestants are becoming more open to the theological study of Mary, especially after the Second Vatican Council, marked by the formation of the Ecumenical Society of Our Lady in 1967.
The New Testament refers to Jesus’ brothers and sisters; they are mentioned in such verses as Matthew 12:46-47, Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke 8:19, John 7:3, Acts 1:14, and 1 Corinthians 9:5 and include James, Joses, Simon, and Jude (also referred to as Judas and Judah). Prima facie these verses argue against Mary’s perpetual virginity, but there are possible explanations which lead to the conclusion that “it cannot be said that the NT identifies [Jesus’ brothers and sisters] without doubt as blood brothers and sisters and hence as children of Mary”.
Galatians 1:19 directly calls James the “Lord’s brother.” Also, Mary is referred to as “Mary the mother of James” in Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, Mark 15:47, Mark 16:1, and Luke 24:10. Both Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 name James, Joses, Simon, and Judas as Jesus’ brethren after mentioning Jesus’ mother Mary. The next verse in Matthew (and the same verse in Mark) mention Jesus having sisters.
Cousins, siblings, half-brothers
In relation to Mark 6:3 Jerome, “apparently voicing the general opinion of the Church” about the perpetual virginity of Mary in opposition to the view put forward in about 382 by Helvidius that they were children of Joseph and Mary, proposed that they were cousins of Jesus, the sons of Mary the wife of Clopas and sister of the Virgin. This new view, “strongly coloured by [Jerome’s] belief in the perpetual virginity, [is] almost universally rejected except by Roman Catholic scholars”. The view with most support in the Fathers, and with some support in modern writers such as Lightfoot, is that of Epiphanius: they were children of Joseph by an earlier marriage, the view generally accepted among Eastern Christians. A more recent hypothesis is that they were children of Cleopas, a brother of Joseph according to Hegesippus, and of “Mary, the mother of James and Joses” seen as sister-in-law, not blood sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Leon Morris said that, in relation to 1 Cor 9:5, the “most natural interpretation is that [the unnamed “brothers of the Lord”] were the children of Joseph and Mary”. C K Barrett agrees, arguing that this passage is “most naturally taken to refer to sons of Mary and Joseph”, however he allows that they are “conceivably … sons of Joseph by a former wife”. The concept, that they were the children of Joseph and Mary, is very likely rooted in Helvidius’ view as written by Vincent Taylor. And according to Taylor supported by Helvidius, who cites Tertullian, and by “many modern scholars”, he considers this view as “the simplest and most natural” one.
Karl Keating argues against this; in his book “Catholicism and Fundamentalism” he notes that Helvidius was the first Christian on record to claim that Mary had children. In his treatise on the perpetual virginity, Jerome referred to Helvidius’s theory as “novel, wicked, and a daring affront to the faith of the whole world”. “This [judging by Jerome’s reaction] was an entirely new interpretation, one nobody had ventured before,” says Keating, “and it was beneath contempt”. Helvidius was unable to find an answer to the defence made by Jerome, and his views did not resurface until modern times. In his treatise, Jerome cited Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons among others. The two Church Fathers whom Helvidius quoted in support of his claim were Tertullian and Victorinus, but Jerome claimed this was no support at all, since Tertullian was a Montanist and the writings of Victorinus turned out to have been misinterpreted. Elsewhere Keating defends Jerome’s hypothesis and concludes from the various Scripture passages referring to the women at the foot of the Cross that James and Joseph must be the sons of Cleophas, as the “other Mary” referred to in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 must be Mary the wife of Cleophas referred to in John 19:25. He counters an argument that James is elsewhere called the son of Alphaeus (Mt. 10:3) by explaining that Cleophas and Alphaeus are simply different renderings of the same name in the Jewish and Greek languages, like Saul and Paul.
Pseudepigraphic (i.e., bearing the name of an author who did not actually compose the text) second century gospels such as Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Peter, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas identify the brothers of Jesus as his stepbrothers from a previous marriage of Joseph.
Origen (184-254) wrote that “according to the apocryphal Gospel of Peter the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary”. The apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter describes how Joseph had with his first wife four sons and two daughters. Years after his first wife died he took Mary. The Protoevangelium of James explicitly claims that Joseph was a widower, with children, at the time that Mary is entrusted to his care.
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which was probably written in the seventh century, states that the brothers of Jesus were his cousins. Protestant historian Paul L. Maier accepts the view that “James the brother of the Lord” was not the biological son of Mary but instead her stepson. English Anglican scholar Richard Bauckham writes that “no NT text offers any further real evidence on this point, but the idea that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were children of Joseph by a previous marriage is found in three second-century Christian works (the Protevangelium of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter), which probably all derived from Syria. It looks as though this was an early second-century Syrian Christian tradition” and notes that “reliable tradition about prominent early Christian leaders like the Lord’s brothers could still have been available at this time and place.”
John Ankerberg says:
[T]here is a big problem in [claiming that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were actually cousins or other kinsmen]. The reason being that there was an exact term for cousin, anepsios, a very well known word in New Testament times. This word for cousin is not used in any of the passages [that refer] to Jesus’ brothers or sisters. On the other hand, the word for cousin is used in Colossians 4:10 where Paul writes, “Aristarchus sends you his greetings as does Mark, the cousin (anepsios) of Barnabas.” So the New Testament writers knew the exact word for cousin but didn’t use it in referring to Jesus’ brothers. In addition, the word for kinsmen (suggenes) occurs eleven times in the New Testament [such as in Luke 1:36 to identify Elizabeth as Mary’s “relative”]. But it never appears in any of the passages describing the children of Mary and Joseph. So, if the writers of the New Testament really meant to say that the brothers of our Lord Jesus were merely cousins or kinsmen, it seems strange that they never used the correct words to do so, words they used in other passages to describe other people’s cousins or kinsmen. Finally, the word for brother which is used in speaking about Jesus’ brothers is the word adelphos, and for “sister” it is adelphe. Adelphos and adelphe can sometimes be used in a wider sense. But their primary meaning speaks of a relationship of shared parentage. Unless the context suggests otherwise — and in none of these passages is that the case — this must be the primary meaning of the word that is intended.
Dave Armstrong says:
Adelphos is used because it is the closest Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ach. (precisely because it can be used for both siblings and more distant relatives; even for countrymen, etc.) Hebrew and Aramaic (unlike Greek) didn’t have words for “cousin.” So the Jews used ach in this wider sense of “brotherhood,” just as the English word “brother” has a wide latitude also (even though English does have the term cousin, too). … Thus the more common adelphos, or “brothers” was used, because this was how the terminology was used in Hebrew culture (indeed, often in Semitic or Middle Eastern culture, among both Jews and Arabs to this day). That was how ach was used in the Old Testament, so that the KJV never uses “cousin” a single time in the Old Testament. … It’s true that the Gospel writers could have used the words sungenis or anepsios. But their not doing so is not as strong an argument as it may seem at first, once we understand that sungenis also has a very wide latitude (such that Paul only uses it in that wider sense of race or nationalism). …
John F. MacArthur says, “Further evidence that these were Jesus’ actual brothers comes from Psalm 69. In this messianic psalm, Messiah says in verse 8, ‘I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother’s sons.’ [Psalm 69:8, NASB] Here, ‘brothers’ cannot mean ‘cousins’, or ‘step brothers’, since the term refers to Messiah’s mother’s sons.” Armstrong argues, “Prophecies and messianic scriptures, however, often have a double application, and not all particulars here apply to Jesus the Messiah. Hence, in context, David refers to himself in verse 5: ‘O God, thou knowest my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee.’ [Psalm 69:5, RSV] We know this with certainty, because Jesus never sinned.”
Matthew 1:25 states that Joseph had no marital relations with Mary “until” (ἕως οὗ ) she had borne Jesus. Writers such as R.V. Tasker and D. Hill argue that this implies that Mary and Joseph had customary marital relations after the birth of Jesus. Others, such as K. Beyer, point out that the Greek ἕως οὗ after a negative, as used in the verse, “often has no implication at all about what happened after the limit of the ‘until’ was reached”, and Raymond E. Brown observes that “the immediate context favors a lack of future implication here, for Matthew is concerned only with stressing Mary’s virginity before the child’s birth”. Karl Keating says that if the modern usage of the word “until” is forced on passages such as 2 Samuel 6:23, Genesis 8:7, and Deuteronomy 34:6, “some ridiculous meanings result”; also, when Jesus is lost in the Temple (Luke 2: 41-51), the text makes no mention of other children in the family. Keating notes that Jesus’ “brothers” are never referred to as Mary’s sons even when Jesus is referred to as “the son of Mary,” and he also argues that in Jewish culture younger brothers never rebuked, or even advised, their elders, for it was considered great disrespect to do so, while, according to him, Jesus’ brothers are shown doing just that on several occasions (John 7:3-4, Mark 3:21).
On this point, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, wrote “one cannot from these words [Matt. 1:18, 25] conclude that Mary, after the birth of Christ, became a wife in the usual sense; it is therefore neither to be asserted nor believed.”
The Annunciation and perpetual vow of virginity
Gregory of Nyssa interpreted Mary’s response to the angel, when told that she will conceive (“How will this be, since I am a virgin?) as indicating that Mary had taken a lifelong vow of virginity, even in marriage: “For if Joseph had taken her to be his wife, for the purpose of having children, why would she have wondered at the announcement of maternity, since she herself would have accepted becoming a mother according to the law of nature?”.Howard Marshall rejects this view: “It is impossible to see how the text can yield this meaning”. Taylor shares Marshall’s view and points to Lightfoot’s acknowledgement that the expressions used here and in Luke 2:7 “would have been avoided by writers who believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary”.
Keating shares Gregory’s view and says, “There is no reason to assume Mary was wholly ignorant of the rudiments of biology. She presumably knew the normal way in which children are conceived. If she anticipated having children and did not intend to maintain a vow of virginity, she would hardly have to ask “how” she was to have a child, since having a child the normal way would be expected by a newlywed”. Scott Hahn says the Dead Sea Scrolls give evidence that celibacy was a common practice of some Israelite sects, thus it does make sense that Mary could have vowed perpetual virginity before the incident of Annunciation.
“Woman, behold thy son!”
A passage used to support the doctrine of perpetual virginity is of the sayings of Jesus on the cross, i.e. the pair of commands first to his mother “Woman, behold thy son!” and then to his disciple “Behold, thy mother!” in John 19:26-27. The Gospel of John then states that “from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home”. Since the time of the Church Fathers this statement has been used to reason that after the death of Jesus there was no one else in the immediate family to look after Mary, and she had to be entrusted to the disciple given that she had no other children. This passage was one of the arguments Pope John Paul II presented in support of perpetual virginity. John Paul II also reasoned that the command “Behold your son!” was not simply the entrustment of Mary to the disciple, but also the entrustment of the disciple to Mary in order to fill the maternal gap left by the death of her only son on the cross. Taylor points out difficulties in this interpretation of the text: it ignores both the fact that Jesus’ ‘brothers’ opposed his claims, and the position of honour of John, the ‘beloved disciple’. However, it seems strange and remarkably out of character, says Keating, that Jesus would have gone out of his way to disregard family ties and commit a grave dishonor to his brothers by entrusting their mother to another man. “It is hard to imagine why Jesus would have disregarded family ties and made this provision for his Mother if these four [James, Joseph, Simon and Jude] were also her sons”.
In Surah 19 (Maryam), the Quran declares that Jesus was the result of a virgin conception (verses 20–22). There is no clear doctrinal belief one way or another, but some extend this to mean the perpetual virginity of Mary.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia