Importance of Mary's Perpetual Virginity

Hello friends, Merry Christmas! So as we all know a significant disagreement between Catholics and Protestants is the perpetual virginity of Mary. Catholics see her perpetual virginity as amply proven by scripture and tradition.

This thread is not so much about “how do we know she remained a virgin after Christ’s birth” but “why does this matter?” What are the implications of this fact on Christianity, and why is it so important that her perpetual virginity be acknowledged?

If she and Joseph were in fact married, there would be no sin in them consummating their marriage after the birth of Christ. Why does it matter that they didn’t do such a thing?

Why the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is Important

OBJECTOR: I still don’t see why the Church requires Catholics to believe that Mary remained a virgin instead of allowing them to have their own opinions. Does it really matter if Mary had other children?

CATHOLIC: Actually, it does matter. Every doctrine about Mary tells us something about Christ or something about ourselves or the Church. Mary’s perpetual virginity demonstrates her purity of heart and total love for God. In 388, St. Ambrose of Milan wrote that Mary’s virginity was “so great an example of material virtue” because it demonstrated her total devotion to Jesus. In Mary, we see an example of the purity our own hearts must have in total dedication to God. Her virginity also tells us something about the Church, which, like Mary, is both mother to the faithful and “pure bride to her one husband” (2 Cor. 11:2).

  1. If they had marital relations it would cast doubt on the uniquness of Christ’s Incarnation.

  2. Mary knew when the Archangel Gabriel came to her that she was betrothed, yes? Still, she asked him, “How can this be seeing I know not man?” If she had thought Joseph was to be her sexual partner she wouldn’t have asked that question–she would have assumed Joseph would be the father, just as other women to whom announcements of special births were made by angels assumed their husbands would be the fathers.

  3. Mary was created to be the Mother of God–set apart for God alone, which is why God preserved her from all stain of original sin at her conception. Joseph was to be her guardian, not her sexual partner. Many theologians have surmised that Mary and Joseph had taken vows before God to remain virginal in their marriage.

  4. Nowhere in the NT is Mary called the mother of anyone except Jesus. Those person listed has his brothers and sisters were cousins/tribal members, not the children of Mary and Joseph.

Sorry if this isn’t very eloquent, but IMO, It matters because Mary’s womb is the sacred tabernacle of the Lord. Sacred vessels are kept clean and pure and are for one purpose only.

Even when I was Protestant for 20 years, it seemed to me only “common sense” that Mary would remain a virgin. I believe Luther didn’t contest the perpetual virginity of Mary. Think about actually being the Mother of God. Would not that motherhood then be your one and only priority in life? How would such a person (full of grace and blessed among all women) even think along the lines of, “Well, that’s done, now life goes on as usual…” after giving birth to the Savior of all mankind?

The same goes for St. Joseph - he could not possibly be a husband in the physical sense with Mary–she literally carried God in her womb! She is the one and only human to have been so physically close to Jesus. St Joseph’s job was SO MUCH more important, as protector of both Mary and Jesus and foster father of Jesus. That was his one and only priority.

If Mary would have had other children after the birth of Jesus, imagine them being the siblings of God. That’s impossible to even think of. Mary and Joseph were chosen for a very Holy part in God’s plan for the Birth of HIS son.(and our Salvation). Mary was preserved from ALL sin as she was the first to receive Our Lord in the flesh. As the Angel said, “Hail FULL of GRACE”!! Joseph being the perfect choice for the Foster Father of Jesus. And YES, Joseph and Mary were MARRIED when the Angel appeared to Mary but they had not yet moved into their home together. Read Matt 1-19. Engaged is a modern word. Betrothed is the same as married. That was their custom in those days. Everything doesn’t center around our ‘modern’ way of thinking. God Bless, Memaw

Here is why it matters.

Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Together they conceived Jesus. To then have had relations with a man means that Mary is a promiscuous adulteress. Jesus would then be both the Son of God and the Son of an unfaithful adulteress. That is not possible.


There are several references in scripture that Jesus had siblings:

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” Mathew 13:55

Matthew 12:46
Luke 8:19
Mark 3:31
John 7:1-10
Acts 1:14
Galatians 1:19

I’ve never understood the argument on point 2. Didn’t Mary understand that she would be impregnated at that very moment? So of course she knew it wasn’t Joseph. It’s not really an argument for latter virginity, although of course a penis wasn’t going where Christ was born from


Why would she assume she would be immediately pregnant? The angel had not yet revealed that the child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Read Luke 1:28-34. At the point in which she asks the question “how shall this be”, the angel had merely announced she would conceive and how great her Son would be. She would have assumed a natural conception would be occurring. She is confused because she had taken a vow of chastity. This is why it is an argument for her perpetual virginity. Mary certainly knew she was betrothed and yet she is perplexed that the angel is telling her she will become pregnant. Her response only makes sense in light of a vow of chastity. It is only after she expresses her confusion that the angel tells her of the supernatural event which will take place.

To the OP, why does truth matter? The Church teaches that Mary was perpetually a virgin because it is the truth. In my mind, that is why it is important. Now lots of people argue that the belief in the perpetual virginity, or immaculate conception or assumption of Mary have nothing to do with our salvation. I can only say this, the more we understand all of the truths that the Church teaches, the closer we are to Jesus Who is the Way, and the Truth and the Life.


Welcome to Catholic Answers Forum! I will be happy to address the verses you listed… But before we can really do that, we have to step back a bit to get the big picture first.

When Catholics call Mary the “Blessed Virgin,” they mean she remained a virgin throughout her life. When Protestants refer to Mary as “virgin,” they mean she was a virgin only until Jesus’ birth. They believe that she and Joseph later had children whom Scripture refers to as “the brethren of the Lord.” The disagreement arises over biblical verses that use the terms “brethren,” “brother,” and “sister.”

There are about ten instances in the New Testament where “brothers” and “sisters” of the Lord are mentioned (Matt. 12:46; Matt. 13:55; Mark 3:31–34; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19–20; John 2:12, 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5).

When trying to understand these verses, note that the term “brother” (Greek: adelphos) has a wide meaning in the Bible. It is not restricted to the literal meaning of a full brother or half-brother. The same goes for “sister” (adelphe) and the plural form “brothers” (adelphoi). The Old Testament shows that “brother” had a wide semantic range of meaning and could refer to any male relative from whom you are not descended (male relatives from whom you are descended are known as “fathers”) and who are not descended from you (your male descendants, regardless of the number of generations removed, are your “sons”), as well as kinsmen such as cousins, those who are members of the family by marriage or by law rather than by blood, and even friends or mere political allies (2 Sam. 1:26; Amos 1:9).

Lot, for example, is called Abraham’s “brother” (Gen. 14:14), even though, being the son of Haran, Abraham’s brother (Gen. 11:26–28), he was actually Abraham’s nephew. Similarly, Jacob is called the “brother” of his uncle Laban (Gen. 29:15). Kish and Eleazar were the sons of Mahli. Kish had sons of his own, but Eleazar had no sons, only daughters, who married their “brethren,” the sons of Kish. These “brethren” were really their cousins (1 Chr. 23:21–22).

The terms “brothers,” “brother,” and “sister” did not refer only to close relatives. Sometimes they meant kinsmen (Deut. 23:7; Neh. 5:7; Jer. 34:9), as in the reference to the forty-two “brethren” of King Azariah (2 Kgs. 10:13–14).

No Word for Cousin

Because neither Hebrew nor Aramaic (the language spoken by Christ and his disciples) had a special word meaning “cousin,” speakers of those languages could use either the word for “brother” or a circumlocution, such as “the son of my uncle.” But circumlocutions are clumsy, so the Jews often used “brother.”

The writers of the New Testament were brought up using the Aramaic equivalent of “brothers” to mean both cousins and sons of the same father—plus other relatives and even non-relatives. When they wrote in Greek, they did the same thing the translators of the Septuagint did. (The Septuagint was the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible; it was translated by Hellenistic Jews a century or two before Christ’s birth and was the version of the Bible from which most of the Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament are taken.)

In the Septuagint the Hebrew word that includes both brothers and cousins was translated as adelphos, which in Greek usually has the narrow meaning that the English “brother” has. Unlike Hebrew or Aramaic, Greek has a separate word for cousin, anepsios, but the translators of the Septuagint used adelphos, even for true cousins.

You might say they transliterated instead of translated, importing the Jewish idiom into the Greek Bible. They took an exact equivalent of the Hebrew word for “brother” and did not use adelphos in one place (for sons of the same parents), and anepsios in another (for cousins). This same usage was employed by the writers of the New Testament and passed into English translations of the Bible. To determine what “brethren” or “brother” or “sister” means in any one verse, we have to look at the context. When we do that, we see that insuperable problems arise if we assume that Mary had children other than Jesus.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would conceive a son, she asked, “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34). From the Church’s earliest days, as the Fathers interpreted this Bible passage, Mary’s question was taken to mean that she had made a vow of lifelong virginity, even in marriage. (This was not common, but neither was it unheard of.) If she had not taken such a vow, the question would make no sense.

Mary knew how babies are made (otherwise she wouldn’t have asked the question she did). If she had anticipated having children in the normal way and did not intend to maintain a vow of virginity, she would hardly have to ask “how” she was to have a child, since conceiving a child in the “normal” way would be expected by a newlywed wife. Her question makes sense only if there was an apparent (but not a real) conflict between keeping a vow of virginity and acceding to the angel’s request. A careful look at the New Testament shows that Mary kept her vow of virginity and never had any children other than Jesus.

In my previous post, I explained that there was no Aramaic word for “cousin”; therefore, these relatives were simply referred to as “brothers” or “sisters”. Still, it can be had to accept the idea that Jesus was an only child when it goes against the grain of what you’ve believed all your life. So, let’s take a look at the verse that you gave us above.

Consider the following:

  1. Jesus had a “brother” named James.

"Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55)

  1. James, the Lord’s “brother”, is an apostle.

“Then, after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19)

  1. There are two apostles named James.

“When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:13-16)

  1. One James (the brother of John) is not the uterine brother of Jesus; his father is Zebedee.

“James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder)” (Mark 3:17)

  1. The other apostle named James is not the uterine brother of Jesus; his father is Alpheus.

“And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he called apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter and Andrew his brother, and James and John and Philip and Bartholomew, and Matthew and James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:13-16)

  1. Therefore, neither apostle named James was a uterine brother of Jesus.

  2. The man named Joseph (or Joses) is not the uterine brother of Jesus; his mother is Mary and his brother is James. Therefore, this Mary is the wife of Alphaeus.

“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Matthew 27:55-56)

  1. Judas is not a uterine brother of Jesus because he is the son of James.

“When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” (Acts 1:13)

  1. While Matthew 15:35 declares James, Joseph and Judas to be the “brothers” of Jesus, it has been demonstrated from scripture that they are NOT uterine brothers of the Lord. From this, it is apparent that scripture must be using the term “brothers” to mean relatives other than sons of Mary.

ALL the founders of Protestantism not only believed Mary was a perpetual virgin but stated it publicly either in homilies or in writing. That applies to Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin, and Heinrich Bullinger. Much later John Wesley (founder of Methodism) also stated Mary was a perpetual virgin.

So when you say Protestants don’t believe this can you be more specific and tell us which Protestants say they don’t believe.

If you understood the language at that time you would know that our modern word ‘brother’ was not in their language. It was more like brethren or kinfolk or even the people from the same town, close friends. They had no word for brother or sister. That’s an English translation! And if I’m not mistaken, those people you mentioned had other parents! You can’t just take a verse or two and make it mean what you want it to. Why is it soooo important to you to think Mary had other children. Is it your way of putting her on the same level spiritually as us? Don’t you give God more credit than that, to belittle the Mother of HIS SON. HE created her for that very purpose and she totally consented to HIS will. We should be eternally grateful for her roll in our Salvation. Without her we would have no Savior. That is the very reason why we should love her and honor her and be thankful to God for her. And St. Joseph, her holy husband followed God’s Will also in being a foster father to HIS SON. What an honor. Everything else is unimportant to him except fulfilling the roll God asked of him. Many today try to put our modern obsession with sex into their lives. Shame! God Bless, Memaw

THANK YOU, God Bless, Memaw


Interesting. But can’t a married person who has sex be devoted to Jesus too?

I noticed this glaring inaccuracy in the OP too. The problem is Evangelicals (non-denominational “Christians”) that don’t believe in a visible Church, or the Sacraments, or Baptismal regeneration, or a human Authority instituted by Christ, or Tradition, but instead ONLY believe what they THINK the Bible means; THOSE are the ones that are MOST vehement about Mary’s “other” children. Oh, and don’t bother them with detailed accounts of Scripture disproving their “brothers and sisters of the Lord” theory. They are ADAMANT in their disbelief.

Ahah! The “Siblings of God” bit makes sense. But still, I’m not talking about having other children, I’m talking about marital relations.

Of course. The Church isn’t saying that we should ALL be perpetual virgins. :slight_smile:

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