The Virginity of Mary - Protestant positions

I was wondering what Protestant positions on the forum are regarding the Perpetual Virginity. It seems the obvious interpretation given, among other things, the facts that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit, and she expressed surprise when she was told she would bear a child. I’m particularly interested in @JonNC 's position, as Luther had extremely high opinions on the Blessed Mother.
PS. Please try to stay on topic. I know it’s tempting for both Catholics and Protestants to get onto other Marian doctrines, but unless it’s directly related, just start a new thread.

I think it is pretty much universally accepted among traditional mainline Protestantism that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Christ. All of Nicene Christianity accepts this. With regard to the Perpetual Virginity of Mary the majority of Protestants would reject this as a dogma of the Church, primarily because there are several places in scripture that lend very strong credence that this was not the case, and that Mary and Joseph were involved in a normal marriage which included intimacy. There would be a relatively small minority of Protestants that hold to the Perpetual virginity based on tradition. That being said, I know of no Protestant communion that takes a dogmatic stance on the Perpetual Virginity (for or against).


All mainstream and most a bit off kilter Protestant groups teach the Virgin Birth.

They deny the Immaculate Conception and the Perpetual Virginity. They believe that Mary was a sinner like the rest of us and that she had children with Joseph after Jesus was born.


My superficial impression confirms what @Hodos says. From my distant recollections of the Church of England, the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth are accepted exactly as they are in the Catholic Church, and “the Lord’s brethren” are not the offspring of Joseph and Mary. They are either cousins or Joseph’s children by an earlier marriage, but which of the two doesn’t matter. Apart from that, the subject simply isn’t talked about. As far as I can tell, Anglicans aren’t required to hold any specific view on the subject of the Perpetual Virginity, either for or against. And the same is true of the Assumption.


I presume you are referring to the mentions of “the Lord’s brethren” and the place where it said that Joseph “knew not Mary until she had borne a son?”

Interesting! I knew about the mainstream ideas, but I didn’t realize Anglicans were that similar (although I have heard of Anglo-Catholics). Actually, I’m more looking for rationale.

@Hodos summarized this well.

She was surprised because she was a virgin. She was a virgin because she was pledged to be married to Joseph but not yet fully married. The fact that she was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus does not rule out her having marital relations with Joseph during their marriage. Maybe they never did, but most Protestants don’t feel the need to make her perpetual virginity a doctrine.


Without exception ALL the founding fathers of Protestantism declared the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Thank you for the invitation.

First, let me say that belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary is not doctrine, not an article of faith in the Lutheran tradition.

That said, Lutheran theologians from the Reformation era to Walther affirm it, and I see no reason to disagree with them in their concurrence with the historic teaching of the Church.
From the confessions:

[24]]( On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed Virgin, bore not a mere man, but, as the angel [Gabriel] testifies, such a man as is truly the Son of the most high God, who showed His divine majesty even in His mother’s womb, inasmuch as He was born of a virgin, with her virginity inviolate. Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin.

The bold print is mine, but here we see under the appropriate heading, “The Person of Christ”, how important this is to even the second generation of Lutheran reformers.
They mention it right beside an affirmation of the doctrine of Theotokos.

From Luther and Chemnitz onward to Walther and Pieper, Lutheranism affirms this belief.


Growing up in the Episcopal Church, it was never even a topic of discussion. The Virgin Birth was really the only thing we ever talked about with respect to Mary.

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Thus, you never sang the Angelus.

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In Hebrew society, betrothal was actually marriage. Joseph would have had full conjugal rights. Even with our view, would a newly engaged woman act with surprise when she was told she would bear a son? With regard to the passages where it mentions brethren, Greek uses the same word for cousin or other close male relation as it used for brother. Another point is that it seems ridiculously presumptuous of Joseph to engage in marital relations with Mary when she had a child by the Holy Spirit.

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Again to be clear, belief regarding Semper Virgo is not an article of faith, but this is not how Luther viewed it.

Luther accepts the view that brothers and sisters refers to cousins. He sides with Jerome against Helvidius.

“Helvidius, that fool, was also willing to credit Mary with more sons after Christ’s birth because of the words of the Evangelist: ‘And [Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born Son’ (Matt. 1:25). This had to be understood, as he thought, as though she had more sons after the first-born Son.
How stupid he was! He received a fitting answer from Jerome.”

It is sometimes offered that “first born” implies there were more. Chemnitz, consistent with the Church Catholic, refutes this.

“Concerning the Firstborn the answer is easy. For in the law, when they are commanded to offer the firstborn to the Lord, the sense is not that one should wait until another one is born after the first one. Rather, he is called firstborn not only after whom others are born, but also before whom none is born, even if he should be the only-born; that is, even if he should afterward have no other brothers, he is still called firstborn.”

In other words, it confirms the past without predicting the future.

Finally, Walther claims the teaching is beyond question.

At the Milwaukee Colloquium between representatives of the Missouri and Iowa Synods, the following exchange took place:
Grossmann (Iowa): “When you subscribed to the Confessions, were you aware of the fact that they declared the permanent virginity of Mary?”
Walther (Missouri): “Yes, I can say so in the presence of God.”
Grossmann: “Do you still believe this to be true doctrine?”
Walther: “Yes, I can say so in the presence of God.”
Grossmann: “What are your reasons for considering this a true presentation?”
Walther: “Pardon me, but you have no right to ask this question.”
(quoted from Beyer, Colloquium of Milwaukee, p. 43 sq., in J. L. Neve, A Brief History of the Lutheran Church in America, 1916 edition, p. 289)

Walther held quia subscription to the confessions.


Is consummation required to form a ‘valid marriage’? If so, would Mary and Joseph have remained ‘unmarried’ without that?

Can you please give a reference for this statement.

This is the definition that I’ve read “During the time of Jesus, the Jewish marriage process involved two separate parts, the first of which was betrothal. This was an exchange of consent made between a man and a woman before witnesses. Betrothal was binding, and it could only be ended by death or divorce. After the betrothal, there was a period of several months in which the woman remained with her family. After that period was up, she would move into her husband’s home, where they lived together as husband and wife. So when the Gospels refer to Mary as being betrothed to Joseph, they are talking about the period of time after the exchange of consent but before they lived together as a married couple.

It is my understanding that during the betrothal period the woman would live with her family and remain celibate until the time of the marriage ceremony, after which the couple would “live as husband and wife”. That while betrothal was a binding agreement and could only be broken by death or divorce, it was not a full marriage with conjugal rights and a shared bed/home. While I assume it wasn’t uncommon for betrothed couples to jump the gun (just as it isn’t uncommon today) we can assume that Mary did her best to follow the Jewish Law.

And from another source "Something similar can be said about Mary and Joseph. “Betrothals” in ancient Judaism were not like modern “engagements.” A betrothal did stipulate that the couple refrain from sexual contact until after the wedding ceremony. But aside from this, the relationship it established was every bit as binding and permanent as what we normally think of as “marriage.” This explains why it would have required something like a legal “divorce” for Joseph to break off his agreement with Mary and her family (remember, “he was minded to put her away secretly,” [Matthew 1:19] when he learned that she was “with child” prior to their “coming together” [Matthew 1:18]).


On the surface level, it is difficult to tell. Some sources imply that I am right, and some that I am wrong. Since my original point stands without this claim, I see no reason to pursue it in detail.

No. Consider this; a newly married couple would not be validly married if this is true.

As stated by TheLittleLady, the same at my Baptist Church. Mary HAD to be a sinner like the rest of us, HAD to have other children by Joseph. To accept Immaculate Conception and Perpetual Virginity would have given Mary too much importance.

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Why? Since when has God shied away from giving humans importance? He sure gave Adam and Eve a lot. He has already given Mary a huge amount of importance in making her the Theokotos or God-Bearer. I’m curious to see on scriptural grounds why God cannot give Mary that much importance.
Edit: Also, saying she remained virgin isn’t exactly giving her a huge amount of importance. There are plenty of virgins.

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Sure, but your saying that suggests a misunderstanding of the nature of Protestantism. For better or worse, Protestants don’t consider themselves bound by the original Reformers any more than they do by the Church Fathers. If the Biblical text suggests an obvious default reading, then it doesn’t matter what Luther, Melanchthon, et al. made of it … any more than what Origen or Chrysostom made of it.

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