I was talking with my sister one day, who is basically a hardcore Baptist, along with my mother, and I said something about Mary always being a virgin, and my sister was saying “He had brothers…” then I said “There wasn’t a word for brothers back then.” and all my sister could say was “She was married…she was married…” Then sitting in church today(I’m still forced to go to a Baptist church, I’m hoping to get my own car so I can start attending RCIA, and go to Mass) the pastor was saying how James was Jesus’ half brother…can someone please explain to me…how we can know or at least assume that Mary was always a virgin and explain it to others?
There are several lines of attack used by Protestants who denie the perpetual virginity of Mary:
- The “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus.
- The word “until” in Matthew 1:25.
- The word “firstborn” in Matthew 1:25.
- Arguments regarding the validity of an unconsummated marriage of Mary and Joseph.
Since you have some familiarity with the issues surrounding the first argument, start here:
**The “Brothers and Sisters” of Jesus: Anything New? **
By François Rossier
By the way, no one seriously questioned the perpetual virginity of Mary until Helvidius did it in the fourth century whereupon St. Jerome crushed him thoroughly in a written response. Luther, Calvin, and John Wesley among other early Protestants all accepted that Mary was ever-virgin. The idea that she was not is a relatively modern novelty.
LUTHER, CALVIN, AND OTHER EARLY PROTESTANTS
ON THE PERPETUAL VIRGINITY OF MARY
“Christ, our Savior, 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.”
“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.”
“A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ…”
“Scripture does not say or indicate that she later lost her virginity…When Matthew says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her…This babble…is without justification…he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom.”
“Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s ‘brothers’ are sometimes mentioned.”
“The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband…No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words…as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called ‘first-born’; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin…What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us…No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.”
“Under the word ‘brethren’ the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity.”
“I have never thought, still less taught, or declared publicly, anything concerning the subject of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation, which could be considered dishonourable, impious, unworthy or evil…I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity.”
“The Virgin Mary…completely sanctified by the grace and blood of her only Son and abundantly endowed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and preferred to all…now lives happily with Christ in heaven and is called and remains ever-Virgin and Mother of God.”
“I believe…he [Jesus Christ] was born of the blessed Virgin, who, as well after as she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.”
Let me say here that like the subject of infant baptism, the matter of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity cannot be settled definitively by either side from the scriptures alone. For you, as a possible convert to Catholicism, this means that your sister cannot use the Bible to prove Catholicism wrong. Conversely, you will not be able to “prove” her wrong using scripture, either. The argument will eventually reach a stalemate that can be summed up like this:
Scripture provides no clear answer to the questions about Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. Consequently, you may follow the tradition of your denomination and reject the idea in good faith. Likewise, I may follow the tradition of the Catholic Church in equally good faith because the Bible does not contradict either of us.
As a Catholic, of course, I will look to the historical record and to the teachings of my Church to guide me on this matter, but I don’t expect you to do so because of your adherence to sola scriptura. I have tried to explain why I feel that the Catholic view is acceptable and to remove any impediments to your understanding and agreement. I may fail to convince you, but at least you know that Catholics have a strong case and solid reasons for their belief.
In summation, if you choose to deny that Mary was ever-virgin, that’s your right. However, you cannot point to any scripture as a proof-text of your position because the Bible simply does not teach anything contrary to the Catholic belief.
Now, if you really want to get to the heart of the matter, the REAL argument is whether Jesus established an infallible, authoritative Church built upon Peter, the Rock, and his successors, the Bishops of the Catholic Church, who have told us that Mary WAS ever-virgin.
Have fun with that!
Those who deny the PV have handled most all of the standard arguments so many times that I really can’t see going this route with much chance of success.
I take a somewhat different route…It still uses Scripture but kind of makes it come alive in a way that some of the other arguments might not.
Mary is visited by an angel, gives her fiat, and conceives…So far so good…
Joseph, we are told is a righteous man. When he finds out she is pregnant he plans to “divorce her quietly”.
He is then visited by an angel in a dream…What does the angel say to Joseph?
Matthew 1:20 - But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
So Joseph knew - before he Took Mary into his house, that she was carrying the son of God. She was - in effect the spouse of the Holy Spirit.
Add to this the events of the nativity…the Angels and shepherds etc…then the angel coming to warn him of Herod’s plot to kill the baby…
I then look at the person who claims that Joseph and Mary had sex and ask…
“If you were Joseph and knew what he knew…would you have sex with Mary?”
This usually gets them to think a bit…It might not change their mind…but it gives them something “real” to chew on…How would THEY act in Joseph’s place.
I would look at the Gospel of John when Jesus is dying and he talks to the disciple ‘whom he loved’ and he gave the care of his Mother over to this disciple. If he had siblings, by Jewish law, I am pretty sure that they would have been required to care for his by then Widowed mother. He didn’t have any siblings to care for His mother. Plus, in Luke’s gospel, Mary asked the angel “how can this be since I do not know man?” she was betrothed and obviously knew where babies came from. She was asking how a future conception would take place. The Angel explained it to her. Now, if she was intending to have children with Joseph, why would she have asked the Angel this question?
Also, there are two apostles named james - James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus. Neither are the “son of Mary and Joseph”.
Also, Paul often starts his letters with “Dear Brothers and Sisters” he was referring to his fellow believers, not biological siblings.
I usually always start off with saying, “Why did Mary ask how will she conceive?”, because if she’s betrothed, and the Angel said “You WILL conceive…” he did not say “You HAVE conceived…” Why did she ask to ask how she would conceive? Did she not know how babies are made? That being said, you can assume she’s made some vow to virginity. Also supporting that claim she says “I know not man.”(Now the KJV changed it to “I know not a man.”) When Mary says “I know not man.” It boils down to “I don’t have sex.” Yes, now a virgin can say “I haven’t had sex…” but when someone says “I don’t sex.” We assume they’re not planning to have sex…kind of like someone saying “I don’t smoke.” or “I don’t drink.” Do we assume that they’re going to start anytime soon?
Like you’ve already mentioned, there was no word for more distant relatives, “brother” does not always mean biological brother, and as another user has already pointed out, there was no “James, son of Joseph” There was a “James, son of Zebedee” and a “James, son of Alphaeus” What would really shut people up is if you asked “So who was Mary sleeping with? Zebedee or Alpaeus?” Or one thing that always shuts them up, may not change their mind, but I promise it works is when I ask “So, do you want to imagine Jesus’ mother having sex?”
Also, one thing I actually didn’t know is that early Protestants believed Mary was an ever virgin. Thanks to another user I learned that. Tell them that and ask them if their protesting the Catholic Church or the founders of their church as well.
Here are a few of the basic passages that support Mary’s perpetual virginity:
- Luke 1:34 - “Then Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, for I do not know man?”
There are two reasons this supports Mary perpetual virginity. First, the phrase “I do not know man” carries a sense of permanence, like “I do not smoke.”
Second, there is the context. Mary was betrothed to Joseph when the angel told her she would conceive a child. But her question shows that she knew she would not conceive a child with him. By asking how she was to conceive, she shows that she was not planning to.
- John 19:25-27 - “When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, Woman, this is your son! Then He said to the disciple, This is your mother!”
There are three reasons this supports Mary’s perpetual virginity. First, Jesus’ dying action was to do something to provide for Mary. That suggests that He had no brothers and sisters to take care of her.
Second, the fact that he chose St. John instead of a brother or sister suggests the same thing.
Third, in Greek the words Jesus uses contain a definite article: “This is the son of you,” not “this is a son of you,” suggesting that Jesus was Mary’s only son.
- Isaiah 7:14 - “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
There are two reasons this supports Mary’s perpetual virginity. First, Mary’s virginity is supposed to be a “sign.” The reason God chose a woman who didn’t have children is because the presence of other children would obscure Jesus’ divine origin. That same reason would continue if the children were born either before or after Jesus.
Second, the passage says she will still be a virgin once she has given birth to Jesus. That can only happen by a miracle. But this supplies us with an argument for Mary’s perpetual virginity: why would God have used a miracle to preserved Mary’s virginity at the time of Christ’s birth, if she was only to lose it soon after? This suggests she was not going to lose her virginity.