Did Mary Remain a Virgin?

theotokos_vladimirskayaUp until recent centuries, the early church’s teaching that Mary remained a virgin for her entire life was unchallenged. The teaching of the early church rests firmly on the accounts given in scripture.

A modern objection relies on a verse found in the Gospel of Matthew,

MATTHEW 1:24-25
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

This modern interpretation understands the word “until” to imply that after Mary had given birth to Jesus, Joseph had sexual relations with Mary. Though it is valid interpretation of the word, “until” does not always refer to to a time before, then after. Sometimes it refers to a time both before and after. For example,

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children until the day of her death.(2 Sam 6:23)
The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” (Mark 12:36)
Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth.(Genesis 8:7)

No bible commentator would say that after the end of the age Christ is no longer with us. Or that Michal had children after the day she died. Or that Christ will no longer sit next to the Father once His enemies had been defeated. From the rest of the scriptures in Genesis we know that the raven never came back. The early church held that Joseph never had sexual relations with Mary.

In the Jewish culture the act of becoming married was a two step process. First was the betrothal, then the actual wedding. There are no verses in Scripture that actually state that Mary and Joseph married. All the verses use the term betrothed. If they never went past the steps of betrothal, they would have never engaged in sexual intercourse. In light of Scripture, it is reasonable that Mary was Joseph’s betrothed, but not fully his wife.

Another modern objection comes from the Gospel of Mark,

MARK 6:3
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

The scripture is clear that Jesus is the son of Mary, but is not clear if the other siblings are also Mary’s children.

In Jewish culture, when a couple had children from a previous marriage, the children from the male’s previous marriage would be referred to as sons or daughters from the man’s name. The children from the current marriage would be referred to as sons or daughters from the woman’s name. In this scripture, when Jesus is called the “son of Mary”, it would be reasonable based on the culture of the time, to imply that the other siblings were the sons and daughters of Joseph and not Mary.

Also, the Hebrew and Greek terms for “brother” are often used to refer to relatives and not what we would understand as “brothers.” For example, Abraham and Lot are called brothers in Gen 14:14 though we would understand their relationship as uncle/nephew. Jacob and Laban are also called brothers in Gen. 29:15, though we would also call this an uncle/nephew relationship. Biblical language does not always use the term brother in the same sense we do today.

In support of Mary only giving birth to Christ can be found in the Gospel of John,

JOHN 19:26
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”

If Jesus had other brothers, this would be a very strange situation as it would go against Jewish custom. According to custom if the oldest son died it would fall on the next oldest to take care of the mother. If the son, is the only son, it his responsibility to appoint someone else to care for the mother. Jesus, being the only son of Mary does exactly that when he delegates John to take care of His mother.

The scriptures also prophesy of Mary’s ever-virginity when describing the Temple,

EZEKIEL 44:1-2
“The gate will be shut and it will not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.”

The early church saw in this prophecy Mary as the Temple, Christ as the Prince of Peace, and the gate as Mary’s womb through which Christ entered into the world. This interpretation fits the Old Testament customs of dealing with the sacred. If something had been designated as sacred, it was forbidden to it to be used for ordinary purposes. If Joseph was to have sexual relations with Mary after giving birth to God, it would have been a utterly sacrilegious act, showing no understanding for the holiness of God.

The early church continued to call Mary, “virgin”, even after the time when she supposedly would have had more children. It would be very awkward to keep call her virgin and see her children next to her. The Orthodox hold firm to the teachings passed on to them from the Apostles, in accord with the Scriptures, that Mary was a virgin both before and after the birth of Christ.