Why Must Mary Die a Virgin?

Why is it better if she dies a virgin?

Jerome, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Wesley’s heartfelt convictions notwithstanding (cuz, you know: whadda those guys know?), I never understood why it’s so important for Mary to remain a virgin after having Jesus. I get why people like the idea of Mary being a virgin before the birth of Jesus, since that would definitely be a bonafide miracle, and so would point, Springer Spaniel-style, to the divinity of Christ.

But why on earth would I care if Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ? I hate the assumption in which insistence on the perpetual virginity of Mary is, it seems to me, necessarily grounded, which is that it’s somehow ideal for a woman to spend her entire life as a virgin.

I just don’t see how to escape the conclusion that the insistence of Mary’s perpetual virginity sounds pretty exactly like good ol’ fashioned misogyny.

If, given a choice (and you better believe that the Bible’s utter ambiguity on the matter does, in fact, give us that choice), I choose to insist that the married Mary died a virgin, then what does that say about how I feel about women, marriage, and sex—which is to say about the sacred value of family?

Why would anyone who is pro-family values insist that Mary died a virgin? Isn’t that like someone being pro-weather, but then never  stepping outside?

Let Mary have, and know, sexual relations with her loving husband. Are we such idiots that we deny the divinity in that?

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  • Bruce Donaldson

    I don't think it's all that ambiguous (I'm no scholar, so correct me where I'm wrong)…until I read your post I was pretty sure Jesus had (a) brother(s)…adopted?

  • As I say in the post, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Wesley—the very cornerstones upon which Protestantism was built, of course—taught that Mary remained "ever virginal." That assertion is largely grounded in the argument that the Biblical word for "brothers" and "sisters" is synonymous with "cousins." (There is also a long tradition within Christianity of holding that Jesus' siblings were in fact the children of Joseph from an earlier marriage.)

    The perpetual virginity of Mary is still part of the teachings of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Christian churches.

  • lisa

    I don't think the reasoning or the history behind it is that simple, John. Tradition, which you most likely reject but which I hold in high esteem, talks about Mary being a virgin, not just in the physical sense, but in the sense that her life was to be spent at the temple, serving God. So, in essence, she was always meant to be peculiarly God's girl. Here's an interesting link that references something that was written only about 60 years after Mary's death. It explains why Joseph came into the picture too. Jesus's siblings were most likely Joseph's children from his first marriage. This stuff didn't come out of nowhere but was something the early church believed because it was told to them by people who knew Mary and knew a more complete story than scripture allows. This is why only relying on scripture for historical details might make your choice to reject this or that an uneducated one. (This is why sola scriptura can leave a person in the dark as to context and renders them incapable of filling in the gaps and knowing the entire story.) Believe it or not, there is a lot of documentation from the early church. When you start reading these writings, it's utterly fascinating. So while you might choose not to believe in the perpetual virginity, others are compelled to believe it, based on historical evidence not because they like it, or need it.


    As a woman, I'm scratching my head a little as to why the perpetual virginity of Mary is misogyny. To go along with your phrasing, what does it say about someone who thinks a woman is only a woman, only pro-family, if she's had a penis inside of her and was impregnated by a man? Is there room in the kingdom for both people who abstain and those who don't? Jesus abstained and I'd definitely call him pro-family. Why isn't her "Let it be done to me as you will" not considered pro-family? She had a child. She raised him with his earthly father. And she stood at the foot of his cross when most of the men fled. How is believing this misogyny? I'm not trying to be contrary, I really just don't get it! 🙂

  • I think it stems from the time of people like Augustine, who believed that sex was inherently sinful and that it was the reason for original sin. If Mary is the "Queen of heaven", Mother of God etc. then she must be sinless and therefore must have remained a virgin for her entire life. Poor Joseph!

    In this day and age, when it is increasingly understood that sex between a husband and wife is a good, beautiful and God-honouring thing, the idea that sex is inherently sinful is (thankfully) losing ground. With that in mind, there is no need to believe the silly idea that Mary, a married woman, never had sex with her husband.

  • Great post John, I've always had issues with the whole Mary was always a virgin thing. You've presented the argument against it beautifully.

  • laurie

    '“So while you might choose not to believe in the perpetual virginity, others are compelled to believe it, based on historical evidence …” Historical evidence is not the same as an opinion written early on in the game. On this matter the ancient fathers of our faith were still writing subjective analysis. Time doesn’t turn feelings and opinions into historical “evidence.” '

    If you doubt the beliefs of the majority of Christians throughout the millenia, how do you protect yourself from chronocentrism, the wet fish syndrome. As a 20th/21st century person you have been raised to believe that everything is ultimately about sex. Whereas most Christians at most times would tell you that the stories of Mary's eternal virginity is about holiness not sex.

    The old widower St. Joseph, protecter of the Virgin Mary (as he is identified in the Eastern Orthodox Church) was a man of his times and he knew that if the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies in an unclean manner he would die. Ask yourself if a man could die by entering the Holy of Holies how much more so would a man be afraid of putting himself into the place that the incarnation of the Holy of Holies had been formed.

    p.s.There are plenty of stories of husband/wife saints who chose to live part or all of their lives in chastity for various reasons.

  • John, can you just imagine growing up as poor James, et. al.? "Why can't you be more like your older brother?" Joseph would ask.

    "Right, like He's perfect," James snaps back. Then he realizes … yeah, He is. Darn!

    Seriously, John, I agree with you, though I can't say that it's an issue that warrants a lot of attention. I see your point about misogyny, but I'm not sure how much I'm worried in this case. I figure it's probably not something that will keep me on the wrong side of the gates if I've got that one wrong.

    The Joseph as widower back-story, though, troubles me as adding a bit too much to the Scripture without a solid basis for it. It might be a thing that someone thought up as an explanation, but … well, … someone took the time to write down the ring that Judah gave to Tamar when he hired her as a … well, … you know. It seems like it could have been mentioned that Joseph had a talk with his kids about why he was still marrying the pregnant girl if that was the case. It's a lot easier if Mary and Joseph went on to have a wonderful and blessed marriage.

  • laurie

    As somebody who loves a good point-counterpoint debate with a worthy opponent there is nothing that tingles my juices more than a Protestant apologist falling into the trap of "if it ain't in the

    Bible then it ain't true". For if you are going to live by Biblical literalism than you are going to go down with Bibilical literalism" And there isn't any Protestant tradition that doesn't contain extra or anti literal Biblical doctrines. The extra Biblical doctrine of the Trinity being the most universal. Even The Holy Bible itself says that if all the stories about Jesus were written down "even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (St. John 21:25)

    The oral tradition of St. Joseph being an old widower is not a central Truth of Historical Christianity, but it does help to humanize St. Joseph and the Mother of God. (And the mother of all Christians whether they honor their mother or not. (Rev. 12:17))

    The profound comments on Judah and Tamor not withstanding my argument about the historical doctrine of the everlasting virginity of the Theotokos remains. The doctrine is about holiness not sex and those who are attempting to throw out the doctrine should challenge their own chronocentrism before they challenge a belief that has withstood the test of time.

  • Laurie, if you've come for a fight, don't look to me … I've said my piece, and I have no desire whatsoever to get into a point-counterpoint argument, at the end of which neither of us will have said anything that the other hasn't already heard, so we're not changing each others' minds.

    The most likely result is that one of us will stoop to calling the other names (probably with some kind of "ism" word … ahem!), and I'd much rather agree to disagree than put in that much effort into making each other miserable.


  • Yeah, Ric.

  • laurie

    Debating and fighting are two totally different animals. According to the Patron Saint of The Boar's Head Tavern theology is like a map that helps us to get where we are going. According to that analogy discussing and debating doctrine is no different than discussing what route to take on a map.

    As far as name calling you did preface your article by saying that people who believe in the historical point of view need to grow up. You issued a challenge, if you feel you have lost you should apologize instead of falling back on the old line that it doesn't matter.

  • laurie

    On the home page of BHT it has a picture of C.S. Lewis with a caption that says Patron Saint. I was quoting Lewis.

    Michael Spencer's comments mix up the issues of perpetual virginity and Mary's sinlessness. Two seperate issues.

  • Laurie, you're confusing who's who.

  • Leonardo

    God says in Matt 1:25 (Sorry) "and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS." Let me just emphasize the word "till" and the word "firstborn". I think the answer is very clear.

  • Um…maybe this is too late and a bit off topic but why would "I certainly need Mary to be a virgin before the birth of Jesus, so that I will have zero reasons to question Jesus’ divine nature".?

    I've had this same discussion with plenty of folk.. Jesus virgin birth is not mentioned in all the Gospel accounts and not (I think) by Paul, the earliest Christan writer extant. So if there had never been any mention of the birth or perhaps it was sort of a biblical typo (as in the suggestion that the virgin in Isaiah meant young chaste woman) then would that really shake your faith in Jesus? Somehow I doubt it.

    And although Laurie makes a good point with the 'wet fish' syndrome, I think Barry is right.; Augustine's linking sex with original sin has a lot to do with this. I also think that there was a need to make Jesus into something more than a man- at all times. Something more like Hercules or any of the pagan gods who were the result of divine and human sexual intercourse. But that's just my opinion.

  • J.S. said "I certainly need Mary to be a virgin before the birth of Jesus, so that I will have zero reasons to question Jesus’ divine nature. "

    Is anyone aware of any other gods/messiahs/prophets that were born of a virgin, performed miracles, were executed, and rose from the dead?

  • Does all this in some way add up to the "proof" necessary to validate the authenticity of Jesus' mission? Because the only historical evidence we have, other than our holy scriptures, is his life and execution. Isn't it the experience that we have with the living Christ sufficient?

  • laurie

    Dear Winkle, et al, How am I confusing who's who?

    Nobody has yet to address the central argument that 20th /21st century people who have grown up in a sex saturated culture shouldn't condemn a doctrine that the majority of 2 millenia of Christians have certified. Ultimately the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos is about holiness not sex.

    My apologies to Spencer/ Merton and others but the word "until" doesn't necessarily mean that they did it afterward. Just ask any kid if Mom says don't even think about playing outside until you clean your room doesn't necessarily mean that you can play outside after you clean your room. I am told that the original language is even more obscure than the English. Besides it doesn't matter what the Bible says every intelligent Christian knows that the Protestants only use the Bible literally when they want to. Ideology always comes first and Bible verses second to a Protestant.

    An interesting off topic story to illustrate how blinded a typical 21st century christian is to sex saturation is a recent conversation with "Brenda". Brenda is related to some of the local christian protestant heirarchs and feels perfectly at home in any Evangelical church and regularly gives her testimony and Christian advice to anyone who will listen. She is also being abused to the point of hospitalization by her 3rd husband in the last 6 years.

    As I am trying to do the paperwork for her divorce she wonders if she is doing the right thing.

    "Afterall I just keep ending up with the same kind of guy what if the next one is even worse."

    "maybe there doesn't have to be a next one" I suggest. (the way she drinks and smokes she only has another 5 – 10 years left anyway)

    "Yeah right," she snorts, " and live like some kind of freaking nun."

  • Leonardo

    OK Laurie maybe Protestants (originated by an Augustine) do that "Protestants only use the Bible literally when they want to. Ideology always comes first and Bible verses second to a Protestant".

    But talking about Christians, their believes are based on Christ and His Word. The problem is when people merges Catholicism with Christianism. The Christian Doctrine was established in the first century, not in December 8,1854 by a man named Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti) who backed his sayings decreting the "papal infallibility" in 1870. These are totally different religions, it is not the same marianism and Christianism. The merging of these leads people to confusion.

  • laurie

    Dear Leonardo, cool 16th century name.

    sorry about the delayed response. Life happens.

    Am I to understand that you don’t think Catholics are Christians?

    And when did I ever use the term Catholic. I am not a Catholic apologist but an apologist for the historic church which includes the branch commonly known as the Roman Catholic church among others. The branches of the church that were founded before the 16th century renegade monk.

    And I guess ultimately I was saying that John Shore the brilliant 21st century Christian humorist should apologize for calling historical Christians immature in their beliefs that have lasted for 20 centuries.

    I am not Catholic and don’t know anything about any specific Pope (except for the last one). But I do laugh very hard when I am among other recovering Protestants and somebody repeats our favorite joke that Protestants believe in the infallibility of every Christian except the Pope!

  • Laurie said: “John Shore….should apologize for calling historical Christians immature in their beliefs that have lasted for 20 centuries.”

    But is it not immature and primitive to cling to a bronze-age interpretation of scripture in the light of advancing and genuine understanding of our world? The MOST dangerous thing is to NOT incorporate that understanding of our universe, our world and the life therein.

    Mike [a recovering Catholic since c.1970…all the guilt, none of the woo-woo]

  • And no one in all of this has quoted Chesterton. Sad.

    "It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasised celibacy and emphasised the family; has at once (if one may put it so) been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colours, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colours which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty gray. In fact, the whole theory of the Church on virginity might be symbolized in the statement that white is a colour: not merely the absence of a colour. All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colours coexistent but pure."

    — Orthodoxy, Ch. VI

    As pure as the perpetual virginity of Mary.

  • Robert D. Meek, Jr.

    That was exactly my thought.

    That, and also that without birth control in that era, it was inevitable that she bore him some siblings, in due time.

    I mean, either one believes the Bible or one doesn't, and that Scripture is pretty clear even to my feeble, old, antique, worn-out brain!

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Quite profound, laurie!

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Wow. You actually used the word "Theotokos". Excellent.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Need she have sex for Him to be but the Firstborn of the Ever-Virgin Mary?

    And the Greek phrase translated as "till" here just means prior to this, up through this moment—which the Evangelist wishes again to emphasize, as this moment of birth is miraculous—her husband hadn't had sexual intercourse with her.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Nope. I know of only One.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    "Mary’s perpetual divinity"?

    Awh… close enough.


  • Matthew Tweedell

    I see you don't really get it (for instance, in your equating the perpetual virginity of Mary to saying that she died a virgin), but even so, your derision of the immaturity of such belief and, not for the first time, playing the misogyny card where it isn't really applicable—even to the extent of pointing to the burka—is somewhat less than laudable.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    What does that have to do with this?

  • Sue Hulett via Facebook

    The Bible isn’t utterly ambiguous about it. His mother and BROTHERS came to see him, and later James, the BROTHER of Jesus was in charge of the church in Jerusalem after the resurrection. Church Tradition much later developed that required Mary to remain forever Virgin, probably because the Mother of God could not be seen as a mortal human. She must have been born by Immaculate Conception (without sin) herself. Mary’s Assumption directly into heaven completed the tradition.

  • Sue Hulett via Facebook

    Misogyny is a good word. Paul was full of it.

  • Susan Edwards Love via Facebook

    She didn’t. Very simple.

  • I think I like this Chesterton quote–and would know for sure, if I only had a half-hour to find out. But, generally speaking, I think it’s never sad when no one has quoted Chesterton, who never used one word when fifty would do.

  • Lily Fraser via Facebook

    She didn’t! Jesus was her firstborn, but she had other children, even one, I can’t remember his name (I’d have to look it up in the Bible) but he was referred to as the brother of Jesus.

  • if you’re unfamiliar with the theory of the perpetual virginity of Mary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_virginity_of_Mary

  • Susan Edwards Love via Facebook

    James. Jesus’ brother was James.

  • Yes, this post was for those who believe in … oh, never mind.

  • Sierra McConnell via Facebook

    The brothers they name could have very well been Joseph’s children. He was much older than Mary. Chances are he was already married once.

  • Perhap it is the view of Mary as the “wife of God” (since she is also the mother of God). For her to lay with Joseph would be awfully close to adultery in that thinking.

  • Susan Edwards Love via Facebook

    “Some early Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther supported the doctrine. However, later reformed teaching largely abandoned it.” I never heard that perpetual virgin stuff in my church. The Bible even refers to Jesus’ siblings. Lots of mythology ascribed after the fact to poor Mary. Wasn’t it good enough she was the mother of Jesus?

  • Lily Fraser via Facebook

    That “purpetual virginity” thing was a myth perpetrated by the Catholic Church so mental about human sexuality. Allowing priests as predators to vulnerable children for centuries among many other “problems” yet requiring women to accept their role as inferior and bound to abusive husbands and the tyranny of no access to birth control. To this day I have no clue as to why ANY woman would remain involved with such an institution! Misogyny as dogma? No thanks!

  • yowzer

  • SugarMags

    Where’s the “like” button?

  • There seems to be an elevation of a virginal Mary as the anti-Eve in the ‘Perpetual’ doctrine. Why would this be necessary, given that Jesus paid the price of the sin-bill run up by Eve?

    The idea of Mary being an ordinary Jewish woman in Palestine, having more children, and raising Jesus in an ordinary family, appeals to me on the level of Jesus being fully human as well as fully God. I like Mary as a human- and sexual- being. I can’t grok the perpetual virgin. There’s no connection for me.

  • if, biblically speaking, a woman is married to the first man she has sex with (and didn’t even Jesus say something about it?), she WAS God’s wife. But that’s the party line. It is also true that Mary took on a lot of the myths of the Goddesses she was replacing, many of whom kept their virginity regardless of how many times they had sex. The concept of Maiden/Virgin, before patriarchy, meant a woman in charge of herself, her life, her body, and her own decisions, not some man’s chattel.

  • Melody

    The perpetual virginity belief has always struck me as naive and ignorant. It conveniently ignores the verses that state Jesus had brothers and sisters, and the verse about Joseph having relations with her after Jesus’ birth. It reminds me of certain groups that believe Jesus is physically born every single Christmas. There is nothing in this idea that doesn’t invite derision. I don’t care what anyone says.

  • Bless you for this blog. I so agree with this post. Not only does it seem silly to me that Mary would not have had a natural wedded relationship with her husband, but the idea of virginity as perfection has led to so much condemnation of women over the years. I still remember the nuns teaching us the lives of the saints – many of the women were listed as “virgin and martyr”. What was drummed into us as girls was that it was better that these women martyred themselves rather than “submit to being defiled”. In how many cultures today are women still blamed for rape and/or murdered for their “dishonor”.

  • ….the wife of God who is also the mother of God is a deity concept that did not begin with Mary.

  • Literalness always leads us to a more narrow view as opposed to the broad possibilities of metaphor.

  • the whole “dishonor” thing means just one thing: men being able to prove that a child is theirs, and not another man’s. which it was necessary to subjugate women to achieve.

  • DR

    I’m so fascinated at the level of projection and selfishness reflected in these comments. I honestly don’t know how you do it.

  • DR

    That’s a theory as well. We don’t know if He had brothers or not the word used for James was also used for cousin.

  • DR

    The word used for cousin is the actual descriptor in the Greek Hebrew (they were interchangeable terms). So we really don’t know.

  • DR

    I’m catholic. I believe in the virgin birth and I think all of you who hijacked this thread in order to project your own emotionally fueled , defensive rants about whether Mary was a Virgin or not and how misogynistic the church is are assholes for moving the attention away from a young girl who needs help and the guy who just helped her.

  • DR

    I believe in the Virgin birth. Most of my faith. Immunity does. I certainly don’t care if you find it naive or ignorant, on another post in another conversation somewhere in the future you’ll be called ignorant by some atheist who will cl you silly for having faith in a magical sky god “. It’s weird to see this thread and the absolutism with which so many Christians here assign such severe meaning and when faced with atheists who mock the entire thing get up in arms! What a world

  • DR

    Community, not immunity. IPhone fail.

  • Cindy

    I thought that there were other children in Joseph and Mary’s family. I am not trying to be disrespecrtful nor am I claiming to know this answer for sure. Is there any documentation of other children? Maybe a dumb question as this would answer the first question with out a doubt. Now I am curious!!

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    I believe in the virgin birth and am fine with those who don’t. (I do think it’s important as it relates to original sin). That some here automatically equate believing in the virgin birth to misogyny is creepy but I get the argument.

  • Melody

    I didn’t say the virgin birth. I said perpetual virginity.

  • Melody

    Well, if you want to believe in perptual virginity in a literary sense, you can, but I see no merit in it. It just seems superstitious to me and pointless, something the Catholic church made up without any biblical support.

  • Melody

    No, you’re right. The Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters. It’s therefore absurd to suggest that she was perptually a virgin.

  • DR

    In most theological communities the two beliefs are the same. Regardless, that doesn’t really change my point.

  • Melody

    Really? That’s news to me. I thought it was only a Catholic thing. I have never heard that from anyone else in my life. That actually does make your point different to me, since you say most do (please tell me who does, besides Catholics). That said, I have no problem with the Virgin birth, but I stand by my assertion that the belief in perpetual virginity does not align with the fact that Jesus had brothers and sisters. They were not the Messiah, and therefore didn’t need to be conceived divinely. I fail to see why perpetual virginity would be important to Christianity, and am surprised that you say most communities do.

  • Melody, you have a lot to say and you say it with great passion. I can appreciate that. In this instance I believe DR is referring to your dismissive, absolutist tone on an issue about which some care very much. She is trying to say that if someone said in like manner to you that the specifics of your religious belief seem “naive and ignorant” you would likely take offense to that. DR’s point was that for a lot of people an invisible sky God impregnating a young girl from Nazareth 2,000 years ago in a mysterious beyond explanation way with his son (who is also himself) so that he, the son, could be executed in order to atone for the sins of all humans (which this God created with the capacity to sin and knew they would) in order to reconcile all of humanity back to himself so that he wouldn’t have to send them all to eternal damnation for the inborn sin of the two original people he created who chose wrongly at the dawn of time due in part to the deception of a talking snake….who while he was here worked miracles including walking on water and was raised from the dead and ascended into the sky…..maybe we could cut some fellow believers some slack on Mary somehow remaining a virgin her whole life.

    I’m in the how-much-does-this-matter-about-how-we-live-our-lives-according-to-the-Greatest-Commandment camp. Virgin, not a virgin, young girl, had to add the virgin narrative after the fact to assert Christ’s divinity, completely totally immaculate in the most literal of terms, perpetual virgin…does this change how we are or are not Christ followers?

  • Diana A.


  • Diana A.

    I love this!

  • Melody

    Fair enough, I see what you’re saying. I’m honestly not trying to be obstinate or disrespectful. I agree with you for the most part. I think the reason I’m so hung up on this is that I think that our beliefs should have coherence. They don’t have to be scientifically possible (per the atheist comments), but they should each have a purpose. I think the Virgin Birth is important because if Mary was still pure when Jesus was born, that made him pure while he was on earth. Mary remaining a virgin after serves no purpose to Christianity. As you said, it’s following Jesus’ teachings that matters. And that is the caveat I have with the veneration of Mary. There’s no biblical support for it, and I don’t know why it’s so important to Catholics. That said, I sing for a Catholic church in my area, and the church places much more emphasis on following Jesus than on theological issues. I really respect them for that.

  • Melody

    I should add that I would never pick a fight with people who believe this. I said what I did because it’s the subject at hand but you won’t catch me having theological arguments with my fellow choir members. I’m much more reserved about these topics in person. I guess you could say this is an outlet for me, since I’m not as free to speak my mind otherwise.

  • Will

    Have you ever wondered why it is so important to suicide-bombers that they be rewarded with virgins? It appears to me that the more primitive a culture the more virginity is valued. In the Gospel story Mary’s crime of pre-marital pregnancy is punishable by death. That practice is known to happen in today’s middle east with religious justification. Woman, how do you feel about that?

  • Will

    “..an invisible sky God impregnating a young girl from Nazareth 2,000 years ago in a mysterious beyond explanation way with his son (who is also himself) so that he, the son, could be executed in order to atone for the sins of all humans (which this God created with the capacity to sin and knew they would) in order to reconcile all of humanity back to himself so that he wouldn’t have to send them all to eternal damnation for the inborn sin of the two original people he created who chose wrongly at the dawn of time due in part to the deception of a talking snake….who while he was here worked miracles including walking on water and was raised from the dead and ascended into the sky…”

    Gee Christy, when you lay it all out like that, it seems so rationally and scientifically believable.

  • Exactly. It was about lineage. And absent DNA testing virgin = you know it’s your child. Adultery = you can’t be sure a resulting offspring is your child.

  • I believe in the virgin birth too, but I dislike so many of the subsequent interpretations.

  • Lymis

    Well, setting aside the idea that you are married to the first man you have sex with (as opposed to the first man you actually, you know, marry, who says Mary “had sex” with God?

    She became pregnant, says the Bible. The exact mechanism is not stated, and I think that’s a good thing. But to declare that the interpretation requires insisting that Mary “had sex” with God raises some strange questions. How do we know that Jesus was genetically related to Mary at all? And if so, are we saying that God just made Divine Sperm? And the “Mary had sex with God” idea sure raises some indelicate questions about the delivery mechanism.

    For that matter, since Jesus was a biological human male, the Y chromosomes came from somewhere. If God was going to divinely uniquely create those, then why bother with using Mary’s X chromosomes? And if not, God could just as easily used Joseph’s chromosomes, using whatever method God wanted (including the old-fashioned way.)

    If Mary was “God’s wife” then why did she marry Joseph? I think the whole situation is convoluted enough without having to deal with the idea that Mary was both a virgin and an adulteress.

    And, I’m sorry, but the idea that being perpetually virgin meant a woman wasn’t chattel is completely backwards. She belonged to her father until she was married, and to her husband after that. In fact, the only way a woman became “not chattel” was by being a (rich) widow, having passed through the chattel stage and derived standing from her (now dead) husband. If you want to go that route, then she derived her human “not-chattel” status from her marriage to Joseph, not her virginity.

  • Melody

    I want to apologize for coming off a bit harsh and condescending. That was not ny intention, I promise. Christy is right; I am indeed very passionate and can be very opinionated. I’ve been much more so lately, as I’ve been stressed and sleep-deprived due to a,hectic work schedule and dealing with Christmas shoppers day in and day out. So I misdirected my energies toward something that really doesn’t matter in the long run. If I offended anyone in my bluntness, you have my apologies. I think I’m gonna take a little break from this until I’ve caught up on sleep and relaxation. Peace, everyone.

  • Diana A.

    Peace to you as well, Melody.

  • Will

    Lymis, I like the way you think.

    I believe that God is pleased when we use the brain he gave us. Using one’s mind to question arbitrary beliefs and to use facts and knowledge to determine what is true, false and possible is what elevates humans from furniture.

  • Melody

    This is so full of win. Thanks, Will.

  • Trudy Ring

    The idea of the virgin birth (which I think was in some belief systems that predated Christianity as well) bothers me because it seems to sum up all the anti-sex dogma of the most conservative Catholics and some Protestant sects: it’s great to have children, but bad to have sex. The perpetual virginity thing is weird to me as well, but hey, I don’t have to believe it. It does all strike me as rather misogynistic–a woman’s worth is measured by whether or not she has engaged in sexual relations. And as for the Catholic veneration of Mary, fine, but if she can be venerated, why can’t women be priests?

  • Brooke

    In his book “The Journey” Adam Hamilton shares that in the second century, tales circulated that Joseph brought children to the marriage that he had with a previous wife before he became a widower.

  • Diana A.

    Perhaps, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean that Mary remained a perpetual virgin.

  • Lisa

    The bible stated that Jesus had brothers, whom I always believed were from Mary and Joseph. Am I mistaken in this assumption?

  • Allie

    Well, it matters quite a bit, actually, since it has fostered the idea that the ideal life for a woman is a sexless one and any woman who marries and has sex has fallen short of perfection. It denies God’s gift of sexuality, it causes misery, and it leads directly to both idolatry and oppression.

    Plus, saying, “We might as well believe something made up out of whole cloth as anything else,” is a bad habit to get into. Christians, hopefully, have REASONS to believe what they believe, and anything that makes Christians look stupid and silly makes Christianity as a whole look stupid and silly.

    The Bible is not really all that ambiguous on this point. Someone says, “Jesus, the Messiah? That guy, from Nazareth, with the brothers?” One whole book of the Bible is written by a guy who claims to be Jesus’s brother.

    If the writers of the Bible believed that Mary was a virgin her whole life, they sure as shooting didn’t see fit to mention it, or to clarify the statements which would lead any reasonable person to believe the opposite. And it’s kind of a thing that you might mention.

  • Allie

    Well, the angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, so either she was not God’s wife or God is unexpectedly cool about polyandry.

  • DR

    Melody the word in scripture was also used as “cousins”. If you’re interested in the details as to why that’s important you can check it out on the Catholic encyclopedia.

  • DR

    There’s no Biblical support for the Trinity either but we all seem to embrace that.

    To be honest I’m not going to get into a debate with a non-Catholic and justify why it’s important I’ve been there a thousand times and it never ends well. Nothing personal but it’s just weird for Catholics to have someone ask for justification on a doctrine that’s not essential to salvation in the first place.

  • DR

    I didn’t see you picking a fight! I know it’s unclear for lots of folks. The Catholic encyclopedia is a great resource for it!

  • DR

    Wow. The rants that non-Catholics can get into about Mary never cease to amaze me. Most of what you’ve written here is just total conjecture and actually throws the entire Christendom under the bus but I hope it made you feel better.

  • DR

    Melody I realize that non-Catholics believe they have this all figured out. And it’s fine that you and others believe that, Catholics kind of – don’t care if you agree with us or not, particularly because you don’t need to. 🙂 But it’s fine to have an opinion and express it and even be blunt! God knows that’s my reputation on this blog so I expect it coming back from others and I don’t take it personally (but like anything, I’ll counter an opinion aggressively too). I like those exchanges. You’re such an important part of the dialogue here, I don’t think anyone should feel they need to take a break because they were being honest. Even while being exhausted! xoxo

  • Baltezaar

    “There’s no Biblical support for the Trinity either but we all seem to embrace that.”

    You seriously mean this?

  • Ana v

    To address this issue (as well as the all-too-common objections raised by modern Protestants against the Blessed Mother’s perpetual virginity, such as the “but the Bible says Jesus had brothers”) I recommended reading the article The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God (please keep in mind that when we say “Mother of God” we do not mean she created God, or is the mother of the Holy Trinity. Either of those would be heresy. We mean, she is Mother of God [the Son], i.e. God incarnate (Jesus) was her biological son, dwelt in her womb, and passed through her birth canal, hence “Mother of God”.

    As to the article — it is written by an Eastern Orthodox priest, but bear in mind that the same explanations are put forward by Catholics (the Eastern Orthodox Church is schismatic, and has its areas of serious disagreement with the Catholic Church, such as the function of the Papacy, however, the two share largely the same faith, including but not limited to the seven Sacraments (referred to as the “Mysteries” in the Eastern Orthodox Church), intercession of the saints, perpetual virginity of Mary, the Assumption of Mary, Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. The perpetual virginity of Mary is orthodox Christian doctrine, and the novelty is the view that says she wasn’t ever-virgin.

    A portion of the article:

    “Mary became the vessel for the Lord of Glory Himself, and bore in the flesh Him whom heaven and earth cannot contain. Would this not have been grounds to consider her life, including her body, as consecrated to God and God alone? Or it more plausible that she would shrug it all off and get on with keeping house in the usual fashion? Consider that the poetically parallel incident of the Lord’s entry through the east gate of the Temple (in Ezekiel 43-44) prompts the call: “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut” (44:2).

    And then there is Joseph’s character to consider. Surely his wife’s miraculous conception and birthgiving (confirmed by the angel in dream-visions) and the sight of God incarnate in the face of the child Christ would have been enough to convince him that his marriage was set apart from the norm. Within Mary’s very body had dwelt the second Person of the Trinity. If touching the ark of the covenant had cost Uzzah his life, and if even the scrolls containing the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets were venerated, certainly Joseph, man of God that he was, would neither have dared nor desired to approach Mary, the chosen of Israel, the throne of God, to request his “conjugal rights”!

    (emphasis mine)

  • Ana v

    Whoops, I messed up in linking the article. Here it is:


  • Allie

    “Fear not to take Mary to you,” the angel said. So Joseph was specifically told not to huddle in terror or regard Mary as the Throne of God or anything other than his wife.

    There are a lot of novelties embraced by the Protestant church, such as the idea that we do not need an intermediary between ourselves and God. Yes, it’s possible that mostly everybody in authority for a very long time has gotten it wrong. Didn’t almost the entire Jewish priesthood get it wrong during the era in which Jesus came to earth?

  • Ana v

    I can’t help but smile and be amused when people point out that the Scriptures speak of Jesus’ brothers, as though this undermines the dogma of the Perpetual Virginity. The Catholic Church compiled the Canon (see Council of Hippo (393 AD), Council of Carthage (397 AD) do people really think that the Church and the Early Church Fathers are/were unaware of those verses. Honestly?

    Please keep in mind the New Testament was written in Ancient Greek, not English, and the geographical context was not the Western world. It was Palestine. Expect different mannerisms. So before concluding that Jesus’ brothers were his mother’s biological children, conduct a little investigation on the use of the word “brothers” as used in the original language, and that part of the world.

    (That Joseph had other children is found in the Protoevangelium of James).

  • Allie

    DR, I’ve read enough of your posts to know that you hit pretty hard and are not shy about telling people when you think they are espousing doctrine which is harmful to others. So I’m going to tell you straight up for the second time:

    The doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity leads to idolatry, which is a violation of the first part of the Great Commandment, to love God.

    The doctrine leads to women living in misery in the belief that virginity is better than sexuality, which is a violation of the second part of the Great Commandment, to love your neighbor.

    You would be outraged if anyone suggested that gay people should live celibate lives because their sexuality is evil. But stating the same thing about women is apparently okay.

  • Dallas

    I’m a virgin, just because I’m too young to have that kind of a connection with another person when I’m still finding that connection with my self. I don’t think anybody has to wait until marriage, or should, even. They can if they want to, but who wants it to hurt on their wedding night?

    Anyway, I definitely don’t believe in virgin birth. It’s scientifically impossible. My theory is that people of Mary’s age back then probably didn’t know a whole ton about the logistics of sexual activity, and so when Mary found out she was pregnant she told everybody that it was divine.

  • Dallas

    She probably t0ld that lie out of shame and fear, because virginity was so valued. It says so much about that culture.

  • Elaine

    “I think the Virgin Birth is important because if Mary was still pure when Jesus was born, that made him pure while he was on earth.”

    I’m guessing you didn’t choose your words carefully and are conflating two different meanings of “pure” – the first, a rather patriarchal euphemism that equates virginity with “purity,” as if women who have sex are “defiled;” the second with sinlessness (unless you mean to say Jesus’ virginity is somehow tied to his Mother’s).

    If that’s true, then I assume what you meant to say was that original sin is inherited through one’s father, not one’s mother, as if it’s on the Y chromosome. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, that’s a theory that has been fabricated only to make “sense” out of the Virgin Birth, following the logic that in procreation, the woman provides the substance and the man gives it form (even though this is an oversimplification of ancient belief). Roman Catholics believe that in order for Jesus to be sinless, his Mother also had to be: the dogma of the Immaculate Conception states that Mary, by a special grace and act of God that anticipated Christ’s saving work, was kept free of original sin. The Orthodox Church denies that dogma (which never existed in the undivided Church), and instead believes that Mary was perfected through practice of the Torah, God’s gift to Israel. Thus, she is the pinnacle of humanity, an offering to God from humanity – much like the people’s offering to God of bread and wine which are then made by God to be the Body and Blood of Christ. In neither case is Christ’s sinlessness dependent on Mary’s virginity, as far as I can tell.

    This is a great example of how different doctrines/beliefs work together, so that modifying one can modify others as well. For example, how one understands the saving work of Christ makes a huge difference. I personally believe it’s all about God joining the human and divine natures in Christ’s person, so that in Christ, “God became human so that humans might become divine” (St. Athanasius). Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father isn’t about a literal seating order in a place just above the clouds, nor simply about Christ’s authority, but rather about Christ’s bringing human nature into the very life of the Trinity. That saves us. His death and Resurrection destroy death—Christ infuses his immortality into our human nature. (Most of this I get from Orthodox theology; I’m an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian.) However, many Christians believe the Incarnation was merely a “plan B” to deal with human sin; that Christ needed a body to sacrifice either to pay our debt or to take our punishment. Why Christ needs to remain human in those models is beyond me. That Christ remains human suggests that God always intended to become part of the “very good” creation that God made, sin or no sin.

    As a liberal Christian, I don’t take the Genesis story literally, so I don’t think about the heritability of Adam and Eve’s sin. Rather, I think that we, as individuals and as a species, learn to sin before we can possibly think in terms of right and wrong. That goes along with my belief in evolutionary theory.

    So the effect on Mariology? I, like many here, remain agnostic about both the Virgin Birth and the Perpetual Virginity. To me, what they symbolize is what is important; but if it turns out they’re literally true, I’m OK with that. I’m open to being convinced one way or the other. And I really do appreciate what the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are saying with their dogmas – but you have to understand that they fit into whole systems of belief. To a degree, I pick and choose (as many of us do), but I try to keep a coherent system as much as any human being can. What the undivided Church believed, or what the Eastern and Western Churches hold in common, carries the most weight.

    If you find it all so puzzling, and can’t understand the veneration of Mary either, I would suggest that you have to get outside of your own culturally-bound way of thinking: for Western Protestants in particular, belief happens in the head. You have to make sense out of everything, and if it doesn’t make (logical, rational, intellectual) sense, then it goes out the window (usually under the rubric of “sola scriptura” or something similarly “biblical”). That’s probably due in large part to the Protestant Reformation’s coinciding with the “Enlightenment,” which impoverished our understanding of belief with its narrow rationalism. As human beings (and not just brains in vats floating around Alpha-Centauri, as the cliché goes), we are fully embodied and we believe with our bodies. The veneration of saints, especially Mary, and the veneration of icons (in the Eastern Churches) is something you have to understand with your body more than with your head, although there are good rational arguments out there (from the time of the iconoclasm of the 8th century; and it’s worth noting that although Orthodoxy triumphed over iconoclasm then, the Protestant Reformation dug iconoclasm back up again).

    The sacramental sensibilities of the catholic (Roman and Eastern Rite Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some other) traditions is also very embodied: Sacraments involve words and ritual but also physical objects: water, oil, wine and bread, laying on of hands, wedding rings, etc. Steep yourself in a sacramental tradition, and you’ll be surprised at how much starts to make sense from the catholic traditions! At the same time, much can be critiqued in those traditions on the very basis of sacramentality and Incarnation, I think. For example, we see Mary offering up the substance of her flesh (in her great fiat, “Be it unto me according to thy word”), and the Holy Spirit came upon her (epiklesis) and literally made, from the substance of her flesh, the Body and Blood of Christ. How is she not a priest?

    BTW, I also don’t quite understand how one can divorce following Jesus from theological issues. I doubt the church you sing with is doing that; they probably just aren’t preaching theology from the pulpit like many Protestant churches do. For Catholics, what you do is at least as important, if not more important, than what dogmatic statements you intellectually assent to, so they’re probably less likely to expound dogmatic formulas from the pulpit than Protestants are. It’s another part of the system: ecclesiology (theology about what constitutes the Church) is very different among catholic and Protestant traditions. The catholic traditions have carried forward the sense of belonging that Israel had: a covenant community. You belong to the Church if you’ve been baptized. For Protestants, you belong to the Church if you believe a certain way. It’s more of a “meeting-house” conception, the Church as a gathering of like-minded individuals. Again, it’s heavily influenced by the modernist conception of human beings as essentially atomistic individuals who relate to each other only through free association (the “social contract”). For catholic traditions, individuals belong to each other as a family formed by God. Church teachings then are part of the family identity.

  • I read what John Karnes had to say and realized these are the types of ppoele we need to pray for. These are the unbelievers that Jesus told us to go out and find and then teach by example. He doesn’t understand that the Virgin Mary intercedes on our behalf to her son Jesus and directly to God. If John would read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, it would do a lot to fill in the gaps of his missing faith. (He sounds so lost and lonely.)

  • PoweredByCoffee

    I don’t care whether she remained a virgin or not; it doesn’t matter. The Virgin Birth was to prove a particular point. (Namely, that her Child was the Divine in human form.) Whatever Mary did (or didn’t do) with her vagina after that is a) not important and b) not any of our business.