Monday, March 30, 2020
MARY’S PERPETUAL VIRGINITY… REALLY?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:
“The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth ‘did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.’ And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the ‘Ever-virgin.’” (CCC #499)
The doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity teaches that Mary was a virgin before Christ was born, during His birth, and even afterward, all the days of her life. It is considered a dogma of the Catholic Church and therefore must be believed by the faithful Catholic. It is not optional.
By the way, the perpetual virginity of Mary is believed by both the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well.
The earliest witness to the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary seems to appear in the apocryphal (“hidden,” non-canonical writing) Protoevangelium of James at around 150 A.D. By the way, this is not one of the seven Apocryphal books in the Catholic Bible.
The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia also admits that the Protoevangelium of James is apocryphal, is of Catholic origin and that it contains “legendary and imaginative elements, which are sometimes puerile [childishly foolish or immature] or fantastic [remote from reality].” Yet, this Catholic encyclopedia claims that this apocryphal book is “based on the canonical gospels.” It also says that this book is the source of “various traditions current among the faithful,” and these traditions “are of value in indicating the veneration paid to Mary at a very early age.” So, in spite of its failings, the book is by no means rejected by the Catholic Church. See here:
According to J. Warner Wallace, author, speaker and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Biola University, the Protoevangelium of James cannot be trusted. It is considered to be written too late to be attributed to James or to any eyewitness of the things described. Wallace states that the author of the Protoevangelium “appears to know little or nothing about the Jewish customs of the 1st century.” The writing is even condemned by Pope Gelasius as one of the books to be avoided by Catholics. See here:
So why do Catholics believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity? On what basis do they accept this unusual belief? Here are some of the reasons…
“Because We Want it to Be True…”
An article by Catholic Answers (the largest apostolate of Catholic apologetics and evangelization in the U.S. run by lay people) says:
“According to the world-renowned patristics scholar, Johannes Quasten: ‘The principal aim of the whole writing [Protoevangelium of James] is to prove the perpetual and inviolate virginity of Mary before, in, and after the birth of Christ’ (Patrology 1:120-1).” See here:
Again, the book’s principal aim, its very purpose, is to promote one of the Marian doctrines, no matter how many errors are found in it, no matter how much inconsistency can be found in it, no matter how unbiblical it is - the Catholic Church will use this volume to continue pushing its false teachings on Mary.
One of the reasons that the Catholic Church accepts the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary is at least partly because of the information found in the Protoevangelium of James. It tells us that Mary had taken a lifetime vow of virginity.
It states that Mary’s mother (since she was supposedly barren), made a vow to God and promised to dedicate her child to Him if He chose to give her one, much like Samuel’s mother, Hannah, did in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 1:10-11). Supposedly, Mary’s parents brought her to the temple at age three and she mounted the temple steps and she, herself, made a vow of virginity at this time.
But how much does a three-year-old know about human anatomy and virginity? Or about sexual activity within the marriage relationship? A Catholic might say, “Maybe this knowledge was given to her supernaturally. Don’t you Protestants think that God is able to do this?” But that’s just begging the question, as this whole “perpetual virginity” issue does. We should not be expected to prove that it wasn’t supernatural. The Catholic Church bears the burden of proof to demonstrate that it was as they say.
Luke 1:34 – When Mary was told by the angel of her soon conception, she stated, “How can this be… since I am a virgin?”
Catholics take Mary’s statement here, as well, to somehow mean that a vow was in place beforehand, and they cling tightly to this idea.
It’s important to note what Mary didn’t say. She never said, “How can this be, since I will never know a man?” That would remove all doubt. And why would Mary ever pledge to be married to Joseph to start with if she had already made a vow of virginity for life? It just doesn’t make sense.
Besides, there was no such thing in that culture, historically or biblically, as a married continuous virgin.
Matthew 1:18 – Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
If Mary had made a lifelong vow to remain a virgin, why would the phrase “before they came together” even be there in this context if they never intended to come together in their marriage? It would just be pointless and would not make sense. In the gospels, as a whole, there appears to at least be an intent to consummate the marriage.
Furthermore, why not just say that Joseph NEVER knew her? But it doesn’t say that. We are left with the impression that they went on to have a normal marriage, which would include sex. Again, it is the burden of the Catholic Church to show her perpetual virginity.
According to an article in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:
“One might ask why Mary consented to her betrothal, though she was bound by her vow of virginity. As she had obeyed God’s inspiration in making her vow, so she obeyed God’s inspiration in becoming the affianced bride of Joseph.”
Notice here the statement, “As she had obeyed God’s inspiration in making her vow…” The New Catholic Encyclopedia is begging the question. They are not only assuming the vow was actually made in the first place, but they are also assuming that Mary’s supposed vow of virginity was under the inspiration of God. Yet, they admit that this same information is from these highly questionable “puerile” and “fantastic” apocryphal writings. Sorry, my Catholic friends, but I’m not buying it.
Matthew 1:24-25 - And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a son; and he called his name Jesus.
This particular passage has seen much debate over the years, but the word “until” is unnecessary and doesn’t make sense if there was a vow of virginity in place. If there was a vow, the sentence should simply read “…but kept her a virgin and she gave birth to a son.”
Moreover, there is a definite biblical responsibility for the husband in Jewish culture to, as the King James Version puts it, render “due benevolence,” i.e., to “fulfill his duty,” to his wife:
1 Corinthians 7:3-4 – The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
So this “Mary was a lifelong virgin” argument falls flat.
The Church Fathers
Besides the “support” for this doctrine from the Protoevangelium of James, the Catholic Church will also appeal to certain early fathers in the Church. But establishing doctrine through the teachings of the fathers is not always an accurate way to determine truth. Biblical evidence far outweighs tradition (Matthew 15:1-9). The church fathers got some things right and they got some things wrong. And they did not always agree with each other. Sometimes a certain church father would even disagree with himself, that is, he changed his mind on certain teachings. That’s because they were not inspired like the authors of Scripture were. Scripture tells us we need to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21), even the teachings of the fathers. See this article on the church fathers:
“Biblical” Catholic Arguments Versus the Bible
Catholics will also appeal to Scripture in an attempt to prove the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Here are some examples of their “biblical” arguments and my response:
Argument 1 – They will say that the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the Bible were actually cousins, and not blood brothers of Jesus. According to Catholics, these children were not born of Mary but were really close relatives. After all, that’s the way Jews spoke back then. For example, Lot was called Abraham’s brother (Genesis 14:16), even though Lot was actually his nephew. The Jews had no word for “cousin” and the word that was used for “brothers” in the New Testament (Greek “adelphos”) had a wide range of meanings. It could mean an actual blood brother, a step brother, a cousin, or a spiritual brother.
Response - While it is true that the Jews (who spoke mostly Hebrew and Aramaic) had no specific word for “cousin,” the Greek DOES have a couple of words that mean cousin, e.g., “suggenes” in Luke 1:36 or “anepsios” in Colossians 4:10). And it was in the Greek language that the inspired New Testament was written. So, if the biblical authors really meant to say “cousins,” these Greek words could have easily been used. But since they didn’t use them, the authors very likely meant to say that these children were actual blood brothers of Jesus, i.e., sons of Mary.
Just because a word has multiple meanings does not mean that you can simply transfer any one of those meanings to any other text which uses that same word. We must always consider the context in which it is used.
Matthew 13:55 – Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
If these four brothers named here are actually cousins, then why just name four of them? Surely, He had more cousins that that! Does anyone really think that he had only four male cousins?
Furthermore, if “brothers” means spiritual brothers here, we have to ask the same question. Did Jesus have only four believers following Him and all the rest of His followers were unbelievers?
Luke 21:16 – But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.
Notice that both “brothers” and “relatives” are in the same sentence here. Why would the author do this if he means the same thing? If there is no distinction between the words, why is there a distinction here?
Argument 2 – Catholics will also claim that these brothers of Jesus were actually sons from Joseph’s previous marriage before he met Mary.
Luke 2:41-51 – This is the story of Jesus at 12 years old when He was questioning the teachers in the Temple, when His family was worried and looking for Him. So, Catholics will ask, why is there no mention of these younger siblings here?
Response - But we can say the same thing: “Why are they (the older brothers from Joseph) not mentioned in the flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15) or when Jesus stayed behind in the Temple in Luke 2:44? This argument cuts both ways.
If he knew Mary had made a lifelong vow of virginity, what was Joseph’s intent in this betrothal? Was he only interested in finding a “babysitter” for all his children from his (supposed) previous marriage? That doesn’t seem likely.
John 19:26-27 – When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother…”
Here, Jesus, while on the cross, hands His mother over to the care of the apostle John. Catholics will ask Protestants, “But why would Jesus turn Mary over to John if Mary really had children of her own? Therefore, they must have not been actual siblings from the same womb.”
Response - Why indeed?!!! Good question. Why would Jesus favor John (a non-relative) over actual relatives, whether they came from Mary’s womb or whether they came from Joseph’s former marriage? Why turn her over to someone who was not even kin to her? It was for spiritual reasons. It was because Jesus wanted her to be with believers, not unbelievers. At this point, Jesus’ family was not believing in Him (Matthew 13:57; John 7:5). So, this argument doesn’t prove either side.
Furthermore, there seems to be no solid historical evidence that Joseph had children from a previous marriage. According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:
“The chief sources of information on the life of St. Joseph are the first chapters of our first and third Gospels; they are practically the only reliable sources… whilst… the apocryphal literature is full of details, the non-admittance of these works into the Canon of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents… it is in most instances next to impossible to discern and sift these particles of true history from the fancies with which they are associated.” (Emphasis added) See here:
So, we don’t know much about the life of Joseph with certainty. All we know with certainty about him is what we find in Scripture. And there is no mention here of children from a previous marriage.
Argument 4 – Catholics try to say that Ezekiel 44:1-3 is referring to Mary when it speaks of the “gate” that is never to be opened again. Ezekiel sees a vision in the temple where the east gate is entered by the Lord and it has been shut after this, never to be entered into again. This is pointing to Mary Ever-Virgin.
Response – To say this is to take liberties with typology. What about the other gates? Do these have anything to do with Mary, as well? That is highly doubtful.
This, I think is desperation by someone with an agenda. Old Testament typology can be, and often is, certainly abused. And many believe that this is one case.
Argument 5 – Catholics will sometimes place the brothers of Jesus as sons, not of Mary (Jesus’ mother), but of Mary, the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). These brothers were named James and Joseph (Matthew 27:56). Some also believe that the other two brothers, Simon and Judas were sons of Clopas from another wife. So this would explain why these four names of Jesus’ “brothers” demonstrate that they were sons of someone else, not Mary.
Response – But even if the wives of Clopas did have sons by the names of James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, this proves nothing about Mary’s virginity. It only proves that the names Mary, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas were very common names in that society.
Ok, let’s say that someone does a casual reading of Mark 1:16 with no agenda in mind. It says:
As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the Sea; for they were fishermen.
Let’s be realistic. In this verse, would anyone automatically assume that Simon and Andrew were cousins? Of course not. There is nothing in this context to suggest that. What about this verse:
Matthew 12:46-47 – While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.”
If someone told you this, would your first instinct be to believe that your cousins were waiting for you? This passage seems to forcefully suggest the actual immediate family of Jesus. When “brothers and sisters” are used in direct connection with father / mother, it would strongly imply closest relationship, i.e., blood brothers and sisters (e.g., Mark 6:3-4).
Now consider these last two quotes. If read apart from the context of the perpetual virginity of Mary, no one would question that these were blood brothers. The idea of relatives or cousins would almost have to be read into the context, i.e., injected from outside (this is called eisegesis).
Once again, it is those people (Catholics and Orthodox) who insist that Mary remained a perpetual virgin that bear the burden of proof.
Catholics will claim that the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity was not created to glorify and exalt Mary, but to actually highlight the uniqueness and holiness of Jesus. Ok, if that’s true, why stop there? Why not believe that God had given Mary’s mother the gift of perpetual virginity, as well? Why not believe that God made sure that ten generations of perpetual virgins in Mary’s line existed, with Mary as the grand finale? What would stop anyone from believing that? Wouldn’t that highlight even more the uniqueness and holiness of the Savior if perpetual virginity is the means of super holiness?
The Protestant idea of Mary having a normal marriage and a normal sex life with her lawful husband after the birth of Jesus is not a crime or an unbiblical idea. It is perfectly logical and the only reason to deny this normal relationship after the birth of Jesus seems to be to exalt Mary to a similar status to Jesus. But Catholics will say that when Protestants attack Mary’s perpetual virginity, they are attacking Jesus’ divinity. But Catholics don’t have to worry because denying the perpetual virginity of Mary does not deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, nor demean Him in any way.
Personally, it doesn’t matter to me either way. If she had a natural sex life after Jesus was born, then fine. If she really was a virgin all her life, that’s ok. If there’s no way for us to know, that’s not a problem. The problem comes when someone makes great claims with no solid proof.
There is sometimes a desperation in Catholic attempts to prove this teaching. For example, I recently heard a Catholic say that even if Mary DID have other children besides Jesus, she could have STILL remained a virgin, since God is able.
Well, we’re not denying God’s ability. But you know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” In other words, you can present evidence against a teaching, but if the Catholic insists that it’s true, there’s not much you can do. And that’s often the case with the Marian doctrines. This doctrine of the Perpetual virginity of Mary is special pleading at its finest.