Mary: Virgin and Ever Virgin
All Christians believe that Mary was a virgin before and at the time of the birth of her son Jesus.
- Is 7:14
- The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
- Mt 1:18-25
- Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us." When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
- Lk 1:26-27
- In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.
- Nicene Creed (325), Constantinopolitan Creed (381)
- ... Who for us men and because of our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human.
Roman Catholic Christians and many other Christians also believe that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life.
Constant faith of the Church
Great teachers of the Church from at least the fourth century spoke of Mary as having remained a virgin throughout her life:
- Athanasius (Alexandria, 293 - 373)
- Epiphanius (Palestine, 315? - 403)
- Jerome (Stridon, present day Slovenia, 345? - 419)
- Augustine (Numidia, now Algeria, 354 - 430)
- Cyril (Alexandria, 376 - 444)
- and others.
Magisterium of the Church
Council of Constantinople II (553 - 554) twice referred to Mary as "ever-virgin."
The great protestant reformers affirmed their belief in Mary's perpetual virginity:
- German reformer Martin Luther's (1483-1546) writings often address the subject of Mary: On the Divine Motherhood of Mary, he wrote
- In this work whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such great good things were given her that no one can grasp them. ... Not only was Mary the mother of him who is born [in Bethlehem], but of him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father, from a Mother in time and at the same time man and God. (Weimer's The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 7, p. 572.)
- Luther, true to Catholic tradition, wrote on the Virginity of Mary:
- It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. ... Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact. (Weimer's The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v.11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510.)
- The French reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) also held that Mary was the Mother of God
- It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor. ... Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God. (Calvini Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Braunschweig-Berlin, 1863-1900, v. 45, p. 348, 35.)
- On the perpetual virginity of Mary, "Calvin routinely brushes aside the difficulties sometimes raised from "first born" and "brothers of the Lord."" (O'Carroll, M., 1983, Theotokos, M Glazier, Inc.: Wilmington, DE, p. 94.)
- The Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), wrote, on the divine motherhood of Mary:
- It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God. (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 6, I, p. 639.)
- On the perpetual virginity of Mary, Zwingli wrote,
- I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin. (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424.)
- In another place Zwingli professed
- I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary ...; Christ ... was born of a most undefiled Virgin. (Stakemeier, E. in De Mariologia et Oecumenismo, Balic, K., ed., Rome, 1962, p. 456.)
- The more the honor and love for Christ grows among men, the more esteem and honor for Mary grows, for she brought forth for us so great, but so compassionate a Lord and Redeemer. (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, pp. 427-428.)
Objections to Continued Virginity
There are some very common objections to the belief that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. The first considers the "brothers" of Jesus from the Gospels.
- Mt 12:46-50; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19
- While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers (adelphoi) appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. (Someone told him, "Your mother and your brothers (adelphoi) are standing outside, asking to speak with you.") But he said in reply to the one who told him, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers (adelphoi)?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers (adelphoi). For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother (adelphos), and sister (adelpha), and mother."
- Mk 6:3
- Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother (adelphos) of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters (adelphai) here with us?
First it is important to note that the Bible does not say that these "brothers and sisters" of Jesus were children of Mary.
Second, the word for brother (or sister), adelphos (adelpha) in Greek, denotes a brother or sister, or near kinsman. Aramaic and other Semitic languages could not distinguish between a blood brother or sister and a cousin, for example. Hence, John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus (the son of Elizabeth, cousin of Mary) would be called "a brother (adelphos) of Jesus." In the plural, the word means a community based on identity of origin or life. Additionally, the word adelphos is used for (1) male children of the same parents (Mt 1:2); (2) male descendants of the same parents (Acts 7:23); (3) male children of the same mother (Gal 1:19); (4) people of the same nationality (Acts 3:17); (5) any man, a neighbor (Lk 10:29); (6) persons united by a common interest (Mt 5:47); (7) persons united by a common calling (Rev 22:9); (8) mankind (Mt 25:40); (9) the disciples (Mt 23:8); and (10) believers (Mt 23:8). (From Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson, Publisher.)
A second objection to Mary's virginity arises from the use of the word, heos, in Matthew's gospel.
- Mt 1:25
- He (Joseph) had no relations with her until (heos) she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
The Greek and the Semitic use of the word heos (until or before) does not imply anything about what happens after the time indicated. In this case, there is no necessary implication that Joseph and Mary had sexual contact or other children after Jesus.
A third objection to the perpetual virginity of Mary arises from the use of the word, prototokos, translated "first-born" in Luke's gospel.
- Lk 2:7
- (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn son (prototokos). She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger ...
The Greek word prototokos is used of Christ as born of Mary and of Christ's relationship to His Father (Col 1:25). As the word does not imply other children of God the Father, neither does it imply other children of Mary. The term "first-born" was a legal term under the Mosaic Law (Ex 6:14) referring to the first male child born to Jewish parents regardless of any other children following or not. Hence when Jesus is called the "first-born" of Mary it does not mean that there were second or third-born children.
By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2004, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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Last Updated: July 16, 2004