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The Myth of Mary's Perpetual Virginity

Apart from a belief in the virgin birth some Christian churches, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, hold that Mary remained a virgin for life. (Note that this belief does not simply say Mary never had sex throughout her whole life. It also maintains that Mary's hymen remained intact even after her birth!) Apart from this obvious impossibility, a natural reading of the gospel itself will show that none of its authors ascribed to Mary a perpetual virginity. For instance, it was Matthew's gospel that wrote explicitly about the virgin birth, yet even here it is implied that Mary had normal conjugal relations with her husband after the birth of Jesus:

Matthew 1:24-25
When Joseph woke up, he...took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.

A non Catholic reading the passage above will have no difficulty concluding that it obviously means that Joseph had sex with Mary after she gave birth to Jesus. For don't we always say things like "I did not go to college until I was nineteen.". This obviously means that I did go to college when I was nineteen. Someone who had not gone to college at all would not use "until" in the above sentence. He would probably have phrased it such: "I was already nineteen and still haven't gone to college" or "I never went to college." If Matthew wanted to make the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity clear, he would have simply wrote: "But he never had any union with her." A good examples of how theologian had no qualms twisting the normal linguistic meaning out of context is given by the passage below taken from the footnote in Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version Bible:

This [Matthew 1:25] means only that Joseph have nothing to do with the conception of Jesus. It implies nothing as to what happened afterwards. [1]

The pigheadedness (what else can I say?) of such an explanation simply astounds me. As I have shown above, the use of until does imply subsequent events. It only implies nothing because of theological preconditioning.

All the gospels, written long before the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity began to take hold of the popular imagination, had no qualms about Jesus having brothers and sisters. Luke, for instance say that Mary had more than one child:

Luke 2:6-7
While they [i.e. joseph and Mary] were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.

It should be remembered that Luke was writing long after both Mary and Joseph were dead. If Jesus was Mary's only child, with hindsight, he would not have used the word firstborn. In the context above, firstborn, obviously implies that Mary had other children. All the gospels said that Jesus had brothers and sisters:

Mark 3:31-32 (Matthew 12:46-50)
Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they get someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."

The passage below from Mark tells us that Jesus had a large family, at least 4 brothers and two sisters, when he makes the people of Nazareth ask of Jesus:

Mark 6:3 (Matthew 13:55)
"Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and his brother James, Joses, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?"

Even John, the most mystical of all the gospels, does not deny the fact that Jesus was not the only child:

John 2:12
After this they went down to Capernaum with his {i.e. Jesus's} mother and brothers and his disciples.
John 7:3
Jesus' brother said to him, "You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples can see the miracles you do."

Many explanations were tried by Catholic theologians to reconcile this passages with their own theology.

In one, the "brothers and sisters" mentioned were supposedly half-brothers and half-sisters of Jesus. They were Joseph's children from an earlier marriage. This stepbrothers and stepsisters explanation was first put forward by Origen (c185-254). This hypothesis is totally unsupported by any evidence and was put forward solely for reconciling the popular imagination with the gospels. In the first place, nowhere was it mentioned that Joseph was ever married previously. And the explanation still doesn't quite solve the passage in Luke 2:6-7 which says that Jesus was Mary's firstborn, implying later siblings.

The second explanation, still very popularly used by Catholic theologians and parish priests, is that these brothers and sisters were not brothers and sisters at all but were his cousins. This "cousin hypothesis" was first put forward by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea (c260-c340). The main thrust of the argument is that the Hebrew language lacks specific nouns for kinfolk. The Hebrew word ah (Aramaic: aha) can mean brother, stepbrother, cousin, nephew; in general it can mean any blood relative. This is true, but there is one small problem; all the four gospels were written in Greek not Hebrew. In that language there are separate nouns for brothers and cousins. The Greek word for brother is adelphoi and for cousin is anepsioi. All the evangelists used adelphoi to describe his brothers. Had they been convinced that James, Joses, Judas and Simon were not Jesus' brothers, they would have used the word anepsioi to avoid any confusion.

Moreover we see that in Paul's letters to the Galatians he too referred to James as Jesus' brother (Remember that Paul wrote in Greek):

Galatians 1:18-19
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles-only James, the Lord's brother.

Paul again referred to Jesus' brothers in his first letter to the Corinthians:

I Corinthians 9:4
Do we not have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles, and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?

In conclusion, there is absolutely nothing to suggests that Mary remained a virgin perpetually. [2]

The fact that Catholic theologians still insists on this doctrine should convince all that reason has very little to do with theology. Looking at the theological explanations for the genealogies and for the perpetual virginity, brings to mind what the American novelist Frank Yerby (b.1916) said:

Theology is a mild form of insanity [3]

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1.Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Catholic Truth Society, London 1965: New Testament p239
2.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p66-67
Fenton, Saint Matthew: p206
Guignebert, Jesus: p129-130
3.Yerby, Judas, My Brother: p504

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