Marian Dogma of Perpetual Viriginity


Since Pope Benedict XVI mentioned that October is dedicated to Mary (see Pope Says Turn to Mary, Bible Says Turn to Jesus), perhaps it might make sense to look into one of the Marian dogmas that the Church of Rome now holds related to the “perpetual virginity” of Mary.  Of course, the Bible is clear that Mary conceived Jesus when she was a virgin, but Catholic dogma goes beyond that.

Does the Bible teach that Mary remained a virgin?  Does early apostolic tradition teach that Mary remained a virgin?  If not, where did this seemingly come from?

The Catholics of Rome and even many of the Protestant Reformers have believed in the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary.


Surprisingly, the Protestant reformers affirmed their belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity.  For example, Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) was true to the Catholic tradition when he wrote: “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. . . . Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.”

The French reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) was not as profuse in his praise of Mary as Martin Luther, but he did not deny her perpetual virginity. The term he used most commonly in referring to Mary was “Holy Virgin.”

The Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), wrote, on the  perpetual virginity of Mary: “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.”   Elsewhere Zwingli affirmed:  “I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary; Christ was born of a most undefiled Virgin.” (Bacchiocchi S. “MARIOLOGY”. ENDTIME ISSUES NEWSLETTER No. 191, 2007).

But where did this come from?

Well, it did not come from the Bible. Here is some of what two Catholic-translations of scripture teach about Mary and her family:

25 And he knew her not till she brought forth her first born son: and called his name JESUS (Matthew 1:25, DRB).

55…Is not his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Jude?  56 His sisters, too, are they not all here with us? (Matthew 13:55b-56a, NJB).

3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon? Are not also his sisters here with us? (Mark 6:3a, DRB)

So, perpetual virginity for Mary is not explicitly part of sacred scripture. Since Jesus was Mary’s first born son—the implication, which is confirmed in scripture, is that she had other sons.

While some have argued that the term for brothers in Matthew 13:55 may mean cousins, the Greek expressions for brothers (adephos) and sisters (adelphe) are what is in the Greek texts. The Greek terms in those verses do not mean cousins (Danker FW, ed. A Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 18 ). The Greek terms that better convey “cousin” are suggenh/suggenes/anepsios (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.). And those terms are the only ones that are translated as “cousin” in the Rheims New Testament (Luke 1:36 DRB; Colossians 4:10 DRB).  Mark 6:3 also uses the Greek expression for sisters (adelphe), and does not use the one that convey more distant kin like cousins. Thus, even Catholic translators seemingly admit that Jesus had brothers and sisters, and that cousin comes from different words.  If the terms in koine Greek clearly was understood to have meant cousins, then most of those who professed Christ and lived in the first century or so after His incarnation would have realized that.  But that was not their position.

Hence, since the Bible does not say Mary would remain a virgin and it shows that Jesus had brothers and sisters, there is no biblical reason to accept the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity (but many still do).

Basically, scripture only says that she was a virgin UNTIL Jesus was born. All real Christians believe that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived inside of her by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) and that she remained a virgin until some time after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25; 13:55-56).

Apparently, the earliest claim as to Mary’s so-called perpetual virginity comes from a false document known as the Protoevangelium of James (McNally, p. 73). Why is it false?

This “gospel” falsely claims to have been written by James in Jerusalem and in the first century (The Protoevangelium of James.  Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>). It states that a midwife checked, and found, intact proof of Mary’s viginity shortly after Jesus was born. The claims of its authorship and date of writing are both being claims scholars realize are false (The Infancy Gospel Of James; Alternate title: The Protovangelion.  Geoff Trowbridge’s Introduction. viewed 08/13/11; Kirby, Peter. “Infancy Gospel of James.” Early Christian Writings. 2011. 13 Aug. 2011; Reid, George. “Apocrypha.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 17 Aug. 2011 <>).

Thus, this perpetual virginity teaching seems to have started from false sources.

It may be of interest to understand that the idea of Mary being a perpetual virgin was denounced once it started to become popular. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

Antidicomarianites An Eastern sect which flourished about A.D. 200 to 400…The sect denied the formula “ever-Virgin Mary” used in the Greek and Roman Liturgies. The earliest reference to this sect appears in Tertullian, and the doctrines taught by them are expressly mentioned by Origen (Homilia in Lucam, III, 940). Certain Arians, Eudocius and Eunomius, were great supporters of the teaching. (Shipman, Andrew. “Antidicomarianites.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. 7 Oct. 2011 <>.)

…the Antidicomarianites, maintained that the “brethren” of Jesus were His uterine brothers the sons of Joseph and Mary (Bechtel, Florentine. “The Brethren of the Lord.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 10 Dec. 2008 <> ).

That last article in The Catholic Encyclopedia also teaches that “St. Ambrose, St. Hilary, and St. Gregory of Tours” held positions similar to the Antidicomarianites. Furthermore, another article in The Catholic Encyclopedia states, “writers like Tertullian, Hevidius, and possibly Hegesippus disputed the perpetual virginity of Mary.Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma adds that the perpetual virginity of Mary was also denied in the “Early Church” by Eunomius, Jovian, Helvidus, and Bishop Bonosus of Sardica as well as Christians with practices some considered to be Jewish (Ott, p. 204).

The Greco-Roman “Saint Basil the Great” in the fourth century wrote:

“[The opinion that Mary bore several children after Christ] … is not against the faith; for virginity was imposed on Mary as a necessity only up to the time that she served as an instrument for the Incarnation. On the other hand, her subsequent virginity was not essential to the mystery of the Incarnation.” (Homilia in sanctam Christi generationem, PG 31:1468).

(Cited in Cleenewerck L. His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism Between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (An Orthodox Perspective). Euclid University Consortium Press, Washington (DC), 2007, p. 409).

Therefore, the idea that from the beginning all believed that Mary was a “perpetual virgin” simply is without real merit.

It, however, seemed to become formalized in the sixth and seventh centuries:

The Fifth General Council (553) gives Mary the title of honour “perpetual virgin” (Ott, p. 206).

Mary conceived “without any detriment to her virginity, which remained inviolate even after his birth” (Council of the Lateran, 649). Although never explicated in detail, the Catholic Church holds as dogma that Mary was and is Virgin before, in and after Christ’s birth. (The Four Marian Dogmas. Catholic News Agency, viewed 08/26/11)

This dogma originated from a false source (a “gospel” that Saint James did not write). It was opposed after it started to become popular. Catholic saints scholars, and others opposed it. There is simply no evidence that it was taught by the apostles.

The dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary is an innovation that is not from sacred scripture nor the true earliest traditions of the Christian church.  It is not something that should be taught today by those who believe that they are true to the faith of the Bible and the original apostles.

For more information, please check out the following:

Origin of the Marian Dogmas: Where Do Catholic Scholars Say The Four Dogmas of Mary Came From?
Assumption of Mary Did Mary die? Was she taken to heaven on August 15th? What is known? What does the Bible show?
Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions Do you know much about Mary? Are the apparitions real? What might they mean for the rise of the ecumenical religion of Antichrist? Are Protestants moving towards Mary? How do the Orthodox view Mary? How might Mary view her adorers?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Living Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions. Português: Qual é fiel: A igreja católica romana ou a igreja viva do deus? Tambien Español: Cuál es fiel: ¿La iglesia católica romana o La Iglesia del Dios Viviente? Auch: Deutsch: Welches zuverlässig ist: Die Römisch-katholische Kirche oder die lebende Kirche von Gott?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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