Mary Ever Virgin: Why the doctrine should not be believed

The cousin argument

In order for anyone to believe that Mary remained a virgin, they first have to believe the Bible doesn’t really say what it appears to say. The apostles called Jesus’ relatives brothers and sisters, but they really meant cousins? Then why didn’t they say cousins? Luke, a Greek speaking gentile, referred to Elizabeth as Mary’s cousin (syggenēs); why did he not call her Mary’s sister (adelphē)? The cousin exegesis makes Luke out to be inconsistent.

The Mary at the cross argument

They also propose the idea that Jesus had no brothers because on the cross He gave His mother to John. Someone has told you that it would have been customary for Jesus to place His mother’s care in the hands of His brother, and since He did not do that He must not have had a brother. Sounds logical, but there is one major problem; had Jesus given His mother to one of His brothers, His actions would have contradicted His teachings.

Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” I think you would agree that there is enough evidence from the Gospels to conclude that Mary believed in Jesus, but we know with certainty that His brothers did not (John 7:5). So if Jesus were to give His mother to His brothers He would have contradicted His own teaching.

What about the obvious conclusion just from reading the Bible?

I am sure most would agree that if a person who never heard the Gospel read them for the first time, they would believe that Mary had other children based simply on the text. It would take someone to come in and tell them that what they read isn’t as it appears. That means the burden of proof lies with those who dispute the obvious conclusion drawn from the text.

The evidence that the doctrine of Mary remaining in her virginity perpetually is not orthodox

“For the one and the same Spirit of God, who proclaimed by the prophets what and of what sort the advent of the Lord should be, did by these elders give a just interpretation of what had been truly prophesied; and He did Himself, by the apostles, announce that the fullness of the times of the adoption had arrived, that the kingdom of heaven had drawn near, and that He was dwelling within those that believe in Him who was born Emmanuel of the Virgin. To this effect they testify, saying, that before Joseph had come together with Mary, while she therefore remained in virginity, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” (Against Heresies; 3:4)

“And depreciating the whole of what appeared to be His nearest kindred, they said, Is not His mother called Mary? And His brethren, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? They thought, then, that He was the son of Joseph and Mary. But some say, basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter, as it is entitled, or The Book of James, that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end.” (Origen; Commentary on Matthew; 17)

“Thus is the temptation about His birth unsuitable, for it might have been contrived without any mention of either His mother or His brethren. It is clearly more credible that, being certain that He had both a mother and brothers, they tested His divinity rather than His nativity, whether, when within, He knew what was without; being tried by the untrue announcement of the presence of persons who were not present.” (Tertullian; On The Flesh of Christ; 7)

How and when did the doctrine take hold?

The belief that Mary remained a virgin seems to have developed out of the Christology debates of the mid to late fourth century. A very large schism occurred over the notion of whether or not Mary was the mother of God, i.e. Jesus’ divinity and humanity, or merely the mother of His’ humanity. The idea that Mary remained in her virginity blossomed out of that controversy. The only group I have come across from the ante-Nicene period that believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity is the Mary-worshiping Callyridians. And in my personal opinion, they are the catalyst for the Marian doctrines that developed in the fourth and fifth centuries.

So the evidence really is stacked against the belief that Mary remained a virgin. Historically it’s a no-brainer. But no amount of evidence will ever persuade people who just choose to believe the doctrine. But this evidence does matter to people who are willing to let go of ideology and seek truth.

25 Responses to Mary Ever Virgin: Why the doctrine should not be believed

  1. David of MI says:

    Thank you Brian. I’ll try to look at those quotes in depth soon.

    Also, you said that you once were a Roman Catholic yourself Brian. Can I ask you if you were more devout or were you nominal?

  2. David,

    I was born into a very devout Catholic family. I went to Catholic grade school up to third grade. My older brothers and sister attended through eighth grade. I served as an alter boy a few times and had the basic education of a Catholic child. I went to mass regularly until I was about sixteen. I tried getting back into it when I was seventeen but found that I lost interest.

    To answer your question directly, I guess I was rather nominal. I really didn’t know anything different and I didn’t get all that involved with my religion. I became a Christian in 1997 when my wife and I were reading the Bible together. I don’t say that to demean Catholics it’s just that I never made a real connection to Jesus as a Catholic, so when I did later that is when I knew I was a Christian. A couple years later I began to study the early church writings because almost every person I am related to is Catholic and I wanted to understand the history that I so long assumed was Catholic. I needed to reconcile my assumptions with what I understood from the Bible in an unbiased way. That is why I am adamant about not adopting anyone’s theology.

    I love Catholics because they are my family, my friends and my past. I challenge Catholics because they are my family, my friends and my past. I want them to discover the things I have discovered, and the only way I know how to do that is to confront their doctrines and pit them against history and the word of God.

    I included an “about” page on my updated website, that speaks a little bit about this.

    I hope I answered your question. Thanks for asking it!

  3. […] But this evidence does matter to people who are willing to let go of ideology and seek truth. Mary Ever Virgin: Why the doctrine should not be believed | One Fold Blog __________________ " All that we have learned from our youth up must be tested and proved by […]

  4. Jim says:

    Because it is a Marian feast I thought I might enjoy correcting some of your errors of Our Lady.

    I see you deny the Perpetual Virginity. I am indeed overjoyed to see that you believe Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, all the big guns of the Deformation to have feet of clay.
    You may be edified by clicking on James Swan’s blog and scroll back about a year or so to when an especially astute Catholic apologist called “Guy Fawkes” asked him a bout the Marburg Colloquy. He and Swan discussed how Luther and Zwingli met to hammer out their differences on the Eucharist. Before commencing the fireworks, as proof they both interpreted scripture in an orthodox way, they both agreed to agree that the Bible does not deny the sublime doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. ( I am paraphrasing for brevity Google it for the full details. )

    Anyway, as you believe the Deformers erred on this doctrine so egregiously, we have a nice precedent set, don’t we? THEY ERRED.
    You don’t suppose those gentlemen just might have got JBFA or Sola Scriptura wrong too, do you? Maybe just a little wrong? How about a lot wrong? 100% wrong?

  5. Jim says:

    “The apostles called Jesus’ relatives brothers and sisters, but they really meant cousins? ”

    Says who? They meant “kinsmen”.

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