What is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary?

Question
What is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary?
Answer

"Ever Virgin" (Greek, aeiparthenos) refers to the perpetual virginity of Mary. This is a false doctrine taught by the Roman Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499) and others. This doctrine maintains that Mary, the mother of Jesus, never had sexual relations with Joseph, or any other man, during her lifetime. This false doctrine was ascribed to in the proto-Gnostic 2nd century writings (the apocryphal writings: The Protoevangelium of James, The Oedes of Solomon, and The Ascension of Isaiah, etc.), which are full of other fables, myths, and superstitions.

Surprisingly this doctrine was also ascribed to by other respected theologians: such as, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger, Latimer, Crammer, and Wesley. However, tradition, not Scripture, is the support for this error. While both Protestant and Catholics affirm the virgin birth of Christ (Matt 1:23; cf. Isa 7:14), most Protestants agree with Scripture alone that Mary indeed bore other children during her lifetime.

Mary's Children and Matthew 12:46

Matthew 12:46 states, "While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him." Compare Matthew 13:55-56, Mark 6:3, John 2:12; 7:3; 7:5, 10, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, and Galatians 1:19.

Here Catholics assume that the word "brothers" may be used as a general term to denote "cousins." However, if this is what Matthew desired to say why didn't he just use the Greek word for "cousin" (Greek, anepsios), as the Apostle Paul did in Colossians 4:10? Furthermore, Psalm 69 is a Messianic Psalm. In the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament), Psalm 69:8 uses the word "brothers" (Greek, adelphois) which cannot refer to mere "cousins," since the word clearly refers to the Messiah's mother's son. Some assert these brothers were "distant relatives." However, if they were "distant relatives," then why didn't Matthew just use the Greek term "suggenes," as Luke did for Elizabeth in Luke 1:36? Adam Clarke states:

It is possible that brethren and sisters may mean here near relations, as the words are used among the Hebrews in this latitude of meaning; but I confess it does not appear to me likely. Why should the children of another family be brought in here to share a reproach which it is evident was designed for Joseph the carpenter, Mary his wife, Jesus their son, and their other children? Prejudice apart, would not any person of plain common sense suppose, from this account, that these were the children of Joseph and Mary, and the brothers and sisters of our Lord, according to the flesh? It seems odd that this should be doubted; but, through an unaccountable prejudice, Papists and Protestants are determined to maintain as a doctrine, that on which the Scriptures are totally silent, viz. the perpetual virginity of the mother of our Lord. See Mt 1:25. (Clarke's Commentary, (New York: Carlton & Phillips, 1853), Matthew13:55).

So, Jesus' "brothers" (Greek, adelphoi) are mentioned in John 2:12; 7:3; 7:5, 10, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, and Galatians 1:19. And Matthew 13:56 and Mark 6:3 refer to Jesus' "sisters" (Greek, adelphai). Why would "mother" be translated literally, but "brothers" and "sisters" only figuratively? Paul's "sister" is referred to in Acts 23:16. What hermetical principle compels us understand the same term in a different sense in Matthew and Mark? Indeed, Mary carried Christ. She was indeed the Ark of the New Covenant (Matt 1:18). But the Ark made of "cursed" elements (Gen 3:17-18; Rom 8:22), but could still hold things that were set apart (made holy) by God: (1) the manna, (2) Aaron's rod, and (3) tablets stones (Heb 9:4). Moreover, as the Ark in Noah's day carried sinners (Noah and his family), so Mary did after she bore Christ when she had other children.

Others such as Origen claim that Joseph had other children before he was married to Mary. But this is not found in Scripture either. Still some assert that when Jesus committed his mother to the care of John (John 19:26-27) this implied Mary had no other children to care for her. However, where are the other children of Joseph's previous marriage ascribed to by Origen and other Catholics above? Catholics can't have it both ways.

So, why did Jesus sidestep his other brothers and put Mary under the charge of the Apostle John? Jesus simply put Mary under the adoptive care of the Apostle John, because Jesus' brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5) until after his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 1:14; cf. 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1:19; 2:9). Thus, adoption makes sense (cf. Exod 20:12), especially sense he considered John his brother (Matt 12:48-49; Mark 3:34). We observe a similar formula language illustrated in the Apocrypha book called the Tobit, which is not part of the true biblical canon, but is a part of Catholic Bibles. Tobit 7:11 NRSV states, "From now on you are her brother, behold she is your sister." Note: Though Catholics attempt to reverse the order and state that John is under the adoptive care of Mary, the text clearly states that John took Mary into his home (John 19:27). Clearly, the Catholic Church is incorrect.

Mary did not remain a virgin forever! "Ever Virgin" is Ever False.

Mary's Children and Matthew 1:24-25

Matthew 1:24-25 states, "When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus." The use of imperfect tense (Greek, eginosken, meaning "knew"), here is against the tradition of perpetual virginity (see, A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament). The imperfect tense means continuous or linear action. This means what is happening at a specific moment in time and not necessarily thereafter. This in no way indicates that Mary's virginity would continue into the future after Jesus was born, as intercourse is biblical and viewed as an integral part of marriage (Gen 1:28; 9:1; Prov 5:18; 1 Cor 7:3-5). Moreover, Matthew 1:18 affirms that Mary was found to be with child "before [she and Joseph] came together." The Greek term "came together" (synelthein) includes the idea of sexual intimacy (cf. 1 Cor 7:5). Joseph and Mary's intent was to "come together." No other Scripture refutes this.

In context, the Greek word "knew" (Greek, eginosken) refers to sexual relations (cf. Luke 1:34). The same term is used in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) in Genesis 4:1, 17, 25; 19:8; Numbers 31:17; 1 Samuel 1:19. Furthermore, the use of the word "until" (Greek, heos hou) strongly and naturally suggests that Joseph and Mary had sexual relations after the birth of Jesus. In Matthew 17:9; 24:39, and John 9:18 the phrase "heos hou" (meaning "until") followed by a negative, as in Matthew 1:24-25, always implies that the negated action took place later (Jack Lewis, The Gospel According to Matthew, Austin, TX: 1976)! Based upon the text, there is no reason to assume an exception here.

Jesus was Mary's "firstborn" - not last born (Luke 2:7). In context, the term "firstborn" may have two meanings: (1) it literally refers to a firstborn child (Luke 2:7; Matt 1:25; cf. Exod 11:5, etc.) and (2) it refers to one who has special rights and authority (Rom 8:29; Heb 1:6; cf. Col 1:15, 18; Rev 1:5). Both of these definitions apply to Jesus! Besides, if Jesus was Mary's "only" (Greek, monogenes) child, why didn't Luke just say so? Where is "anepsios" (cousin), "suggenes" (distant relations), and "monogenes" (only) to support this Ever Virgin doctrine? Did the Holy Spirit use the wrong words (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21)? He would have had to for the Catholic Ever Virgin doctrine to be correct!

Jesus was born under the law (Gal 4:4-5). Mary and Joseph's marriage was under the law (Luke 2:1-7). Joseph even thought to divorce Mary privately, before he was counseled by an angel (Matt 1:18-21). Intercourse was a necessary part of Jewish marriage (cf. Gen 24:67). According to the Talmud, the marriage would have been revoked if the marriage had not been consummated. So, Catholics assuming Mary had no other children would invalidate Joseph's and Mary's marriage! This makes Mary a sinner (Matt 19:8-9; Mark 10:4-5) and thus denies the Catholic doctrine of Immaculate Conception (see below). Frankly speaking, there would have been Jewish legal problems if Joseph and Mary never consummated their marriage after Christ's birth. However, no such record exists in Scripture.

Mary did not remain a virgin forever! "Ever Virgin" is Ever False.

Mary's Children and 1 Corinthians 9:5

The Apostle Paul refers to Jesus' brothers. Paul implies that they were all married in 1 Corinthians 9:5. By including the "Lord's brothers," in his argument it held more weight; much more than if they were merely cousins or distant relatives.

Mary did not remain a virgin forever! "Ever Virgin" is Ever False.

Mary's Children and Jude 1:1

Some, but not all commentators maintain that the author of the epistle of Jude was one of Jesus' brothers seeing that he indentifies himself as the "brother of James" (Jude 1:1). Who is this person called James? There are three possibilities: (1) James, the brother of John (Matt 10:1-3; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13; 12:2); (2) James, the son of Alphaeus (aka: James the Less or James the Younger); and (3) James, the brother of the Lord Jesus (cf. Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal 1:19).

James the brother of John is a much more prominent figure in the Gospels than James, the son of Alphaeus. After all he was in the inner circle with Peter and John (Matt 17:12; 26:36-37; Mark 5:37; 13:13; Luke 8:51, etc.). By comparison, James the son of Alphaeus is barely mentioned. So, between these two, James the brother of John is the most likely candidate.

However, James the brother of John died early in the history of the church (Acts 12:1-13); approximately 44 A.D. Since, Jude implies that James "is" known (not "was" known) by his audience this is more than likely not the James mentioned by Jude, which was written well after James the brother of John's death; approximately 65-67 A.D.

Since James the son of Alphaeus is a marginal figure this leaves James, the brother of the Lord Jesus as the most likely candidate. In addition, Matthew 13:55-56 mentions both James and Jude as Jesus' brothers. James, the brother of the Lord Jesus began as an unbeliever (John 7:5), even thinking Jesus was crazy (Mark 3:21), but later came to faith (1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1:19). Add to this the fact that the leader of the church at Jerusalem was James the brother of Jesus (Acts 12:17; 21:17-18), as confirmed by the Apostle Paul (Gal 1:18-19; 2:9) and we definitely observe that Jesus had brothers.

Mary did not remain a virgin forever! "Ever Virgin" is Ever False.

Mary the New Eve

The perpetual virginity of Mary is self-refuting if we carry the Catholic Church's "New Eve" doctrine to its logical conclusion. The Catholic Church believes that as the first Eve in the Garden brought sin into the world by one act of disobedience, so the New Eve (Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom they assert was sinless from conception), brought salvation and righteousness into the world by one act of obedience.

The New Eve doctrine of the Catholic Church is mindless rubbish (1 Tim 1:3-4). First, all have sinned (Rom 3:23), except Christ. Second, unlike Paul who limited the typology of the first and second Adam (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:22, 45, 47), the Catholic Church has no direct Scripture limiting the typology of the first Eve in the Garden and the New Eve; Mary the mother of Jesus. Put another way, there is not a single verse of Scripture, which mentions or supports the New Eve doctrine. The New Eve doctrine is not a biblical doctrine.

To what logical end does this Catholic New Eve typology lead? The first Eve had sexual relations with the first Adam. She bore several children (Gen 4:1-2; 25-26; 5:3-4). Therefore, in Catholic parallelism Mary the mother of Jesus bore other children. So, their doctrine is self-refuting. In addition, Eve never had a virgin born son or daughter. Moreover, if one ascribes to this Catholic thought, since the first Eve was married to the first Adam in the Garden (Gen 2:23-25), wouldn't the logical parallel be that the New Eve, Mary the mother of Jesus, was married to the Second Adam, Jesus? This is incest! But if Jesus was married to Mary and the Apostle Paul and others maintain that Christ's bride is the church (Eph 5:22-33; cf. Matt 9:15; 25:1-13; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34; Rev 21:2, 9-10), doesn't this make Jesus, who is absolutely sinless, an adulterer? Ultimately, in the Catholic's attempt to make Mary sinless, they in turn make both Jesus and Mary sinners (incest and adultery). In the words of the Apostle Paul, "May it never be" (Rom 6:2). See "What is Immaculate Conception" below for more information on a related heresy.

Mary did not remain a virgin forever! "Ever Virgin" is Ever False.

Related Topics:

What is the Immaculate Conception?
Praying the Rosary?
Catholics and Justification?
Is Purgatory Biblical?
Is Catholic Penance Biblical?
The Catholic Bible?
Apocrypha Accounts?
Transubstantiation vs. Consubstantiation vs. Memorialism vs Reformed?
Hahn's Hersey: The Four Cups?
Pre-Apostolic Succession ???
Can Catholics be Saved?
Are all Protestants going to Hell (Catholic Dogma)?
Was Peter the First Pope?
Who is the One True Church?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).