“[I]t is intriguing to see how universally – and often how vociferously – ancient Christian teaching on Mary is rejected by most evangelical Protestants today.”

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G. N. Barkman's picture

Luther affirmed?  Luther affirmed a number of things Bible-believing Christians reject.  For that matter, Luther affirmed a number of things that Roman Catholics reject.  If Catholics want to argue that Luther is the standard of what is true, I assume we can expect a RC reversal on the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone, right?

How about, "The Bible affirms."  Will anyone argue the perpetual virginity of Mary from Scripture?  That's the only reliable source of truth.  What says the law and the prophets?

G. N. Barkman

Andrew K's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Luther affirmed?  Luther affirmed a number of things Bible-believing Christians reject.  For that matter, Luther affirmed a number of things that Roman Catholics reject.  If Catholics want to argue that Luther is the standard of what is true, I assume we can expect a RC reversal on the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone, right?

How about, "The Bible affirms."  Will anyone argue the perpetual virginity of Mary from Scripture?  That's the only reliable source of truth.  What says the law and the prophets?

I heard a Greek Orthodox priest make a pretty good case for Mary's perpetual virginity once, though I forget how it went.

To my mind, it isn't a matter to get all worked up about either way. Consider me a happy agnostic on the issue. Smile

Andrew K's picture

Jim wrote:

Wouldn't have been much of a marriage.

my take is that R.C.s have a focus on this because of a low view of sex in marriage.

no link for this but the idea that sex is for procreation only

Updated:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2008/02/is-sex-for-procreat...

http://www.catholic.org/prwire/headline.php?ID=9264 

https://valerietarico.com/2016/01/23/15-screwed-up-catholic-ideas-that-m...

RCs, yes. But the notion's pedigree among Eastern Orthodox, many early church fathers, and even--as the article makes the point--early Reformers does give me some pause.

JohnBrian's picture

The dudes at Beggars All spend quite a bit of their time refuting Catholic quotations.

There is an entire section devoted to questionable quotations about Luther's Mariology.

Here is one of the articles:

Bibliographic Tedium on the Reformers and Perpetual Virginity

In other words, don't take at face value everything Catholic's insist is true about Luther and other Reformers.

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G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, John for this information.  Very helpful.  I am still waiting for a Biblical argument in favor of the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Is Eastern Orthodox support better than Roman Catholic dogma?  Are early Christian sources a strong support for this or any other doctrine?  If there is actually a reasonable Biblical argument, I'd love to see it.  Why be agnostic about something that goes against the grain of Scripture?

G. N. Barkman

Andrew K's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Thanks, John for this information.  Very helpful.  I am still waiting for a Biblical argument in favor of the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Is Eastern Orthodox support better than Roman Catholic dogma?  Are early Christian sources a strong support for this or any other doctrine?  If there is actually a reasonable Biblical argument, I'd love to see it.  Why be agnostic about something that goes against the grain of Scripture?

Of course not. But I've yet to see it demonstrated that it goes "against the grain" of Scripture. The argument for the references to Jesus' brothers and sisters is simply that those are the brothers and sisters of Joseph from an earlier marriage. Other support offered includes the request of Christ that John care for Mary, which wouldn't seem necessary, strictly speaking, if she had other male children to care for her.

I think the best case against the perpetual virginity of Mary is the one made above by someone, that it wouldn't be much of a marriage without sexual relations. But that's a rather limited Biblical argument as well.

Support from early church fathers, EO, et al. isn't to strengthen the argument so much as to differentiate the case for Mary's perpetual virginity from clearly problematic attempts to exult Mary by the RCC.

Bert Perry's picture

Now yes, we can have some use of "brothers" as really meaning "cousins", but those passages cast some doubt on the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity for obvious reasons.

And with Jim, I find it difficult to believe that both Mary and Joseph would have passed on the ordinary marital expectations.  I don't know how one can learn about Rachel and Leah squabbling over who had rights to Jacob, the same thing with Sarah and Hagar for Abraham, the criticality of having children (Rachel, Sarah, Hannah, etc..), and for that matter the tradition of consummating marriages before the wedding party began, and then turn around and see it as likely that Mary and Joseph would have taken cold showers for life.  It's possible, I guess, but hardly proven by the text.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Is this possible?  Perhaps, but a little far-fetched.  To my mind, the only reason to offer this explanation for the Biblical brothers and sisters of Jesus is to remove an insurmountable obstacle from the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.  But why should we consider that a reasonable doctrine at all?  I don't see anything in the Bible to suggest it, much less support it.  It seems we are reasoning around in circles.  Mary could have been a perpetual virgin.  The brothers and sisters could have been from a previous marriage.  But would anyone, simply reading the text of Scripture, come up with this idea if it hadn't been previously suggested?  If the answer is "yes", then please explain what leads you to think so.  Even if (and it's a big "if") Christ's commitment of Mary to John suggests (but does nothing to prove) the absence of other children, it still says nothing about a celibate marriage, does it?

G. N. Barkman

Andrew K's picture

Don't get me wrong: I'm not advocating Mary's perpetual virginity. I'm just saying the case isn't as open-and-shut as we Protestants often like to think. And I don't personally consider it a hill to die on, either way.

Bert Perry's picture

A second way of phrasing the issue is a simple question over whether something else in the Scriptures would require Mary to have remained a virgin.  Now the clear implication of the Isaiah prophecy would be that she was when Christ was conceived--there would be otherwise nothing unusual about a young woman having a child, after all--but why would we infer that Mary would have had to remain so?  We would have to assume that had she had a normal marriage with Joseph, she would somehow have stained her Son--which would then be at odds with Ezekiel 18 and other passages about the nature of sin and repentance.

Really, I would have to assume that the major issue is a related Catholic doctrine about sinless flesh not coming from sinful flesh, in which Mary is assumed to have been not only virginal, but also sinless, in which case she could have been the redeemer.  And hence she could not have partaken in ordinary relations, which would have corrupted her, but then would have been guilty of sin per 1 Cor. 7 and Genesis 2:24.  

Which is a long way of saying that we have the ordinary consequence of making claims that the Scripture does not; a litany of "work-arounds" to try to reconcile our claims with known facts that fall short in the end of creating a coherent theology.  Alternatively, it's a long way of saying that while Mary and Joseph could have, per 1 Cor. 7, devoted themselves to a lifetime of prayer in lieu of physical relations, there doesn't appear to be anything in Scripture that requires it, while there's quite a bit in Scripture that argues against it.

One other thought in that regard: if they were by Joseph but not by Mary, and Jesus knows Joseph is not His biological father, then do they have the "pull" with Him that seems to be assumed in Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 8?  It is at least debatable whether the family ties hinted at there would be as suggested.

Jeremy Horn's picture

One problem I have with Jesus' brothers being from a previous marriage of Joseph's is the issue of being  given the title "Son of David". It seems to me that one of his half-brothers(being older) would have a better claim to inheriting that title from Joseph, if Jesus were the youngest. I am basing this off of OT inheritance laws BTW.

Now on the early Church Fathers, I am somewhat dubious to accept their claim in this matter. I realize that there is some value in studying them and their Theology and teachings, but at the end of the day, they are ordinary men capable of making mistakes. In my estimation, this teaching about the brothers and a previous marriage of Joseph's is one of them. Remember that a fair number of the early Church Fathers were committed to the primacy of Celibacy for believers as the preferred option for life. The option of sex and marriage was 2nd best. Even if the preference of celibacy wasn't quite in vogue yet, it was starting to catch on if I recall correctly. I may have to reread(or read) Schaff on this at some point.

Just my two cents.

Andrew K's picture

Jeremy Horn wrote:

One problem I have with Jesus' brothers being from a previous marriage of Joseph's is the issue of being  given the title "Son of David". It seems to me that one of his half-brothers(being older) would have a better claim to inheriting that title from Joseph, if Jesus were the youngest. I am basing this off of OT inheritance laws BTW...

That's an interesting argument. Don't think I've heard that one before.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I keep going back to the same question: where is the Scriptural support for the perpetual virginity of Mary?  If there is none, why is this not an open and shut case?  If there is convincing evidence, then why is it not being discussed on this thread?

Also, why are protestants being challenged to disprove the perpetual virginity of Mary?  Instead, why aren't those who espouse it being challenged to prove it from Scripture?  We don't start with an assumption that this is, or perhaps may be true, do we?  Shouldn't we start with the assumption that this is patently untrue unless clear Biblical evidence is brought forth to prove it?

G. N. Barkman

Andrew K's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

I keep going back to the same question: where is the Scriptural support for the perpetual virginity of Mary?  If there is none, why is this not an open and shut case?  If there is convincing evidence, then why is it not being discussed on this thread?

Also, why are protestants being challenged to disprove the perpetual virginity of Mary?  Instead, why aren't those who espouse it being challenged to prove it from Scripture?  We don't start with an assumption that this is, or perhaps may be true, do we?  Shouldn't we start with the assumption that this is patently untrue unless clear Biblical evidence is brought forth to prove it?

It's not open and shut because, from a Protestant perspective, it's just not that important. We're not talking about a miracle or a significant doctrine here. Either Mary was a virgin her whole life or she wasn't. Why should convincing evidence of Mary's virginity be presented when what evidence there is to the contrary rests on assumptions of what a normal marriage should look like and the fact that Scripture speaks of Jesus having "brothers and sisters"? I really don't think that's enough to place the burden of proof squarely on the other side. As a doctrine or a dogma, it absolutely would be. As an historical possibility? Perhaps not.
 

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that there are times, Biblically speaking where you don't need things to be open and shut either way.  Do we know, for example, much about the faith, or lack thereof, of David's wives?  Apart from Michal, who mocked David's dance before the Ark and used an idol to save his life, we really have little clue.  

Same basic thing with "perpetual virginity".  OK, we've got some hints they didn't--the culture and Jesus' brothers and all that--but Scripture doesn't tell us point blank "and Joseph and Mary went into the chuppah and..."  We can simply say "our most likely conclusion is"...

And that's OK.  We don't have to work on partial information, but yet claim complete confidence.  Getting right down to it, I would have to suggest that many of our problems in fundamentalism occur when we suggest more confidence in a given issue than the text actually indicates.

G. N. Barkman's picture

"and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son" (Matthew 1:25 NASB)   "The 'until' clause most naturally means that Mary and Joseph enjoyed normal conjugal relations after Jesus' birth."   Contrary to McHugh, the imperfect 'eginosken' ("did not know her") does not hint at continued celibacy after Jesus birth, but stresses the faithfulness of the celibacy till Jesus birth."  (D. A. Carson, Matthew, volume I, p. 81, The Expositor's Bible Commentary)

The Bible has spoken.  Normal conjugal relations are not only assumed, but clearly indicated.  An enormous burden of proof lies at the feet of any who endeavor to teach otherwise.  It does matter.  Truth matters.  The Biblical doctrine of marriage matters.  We must not be ambivalent about the errors of Rome.

G. N. Barkman

pvawter's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

"and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son" (Matthew 1:25 NASB)   "The 'until' clause most naturally means that Mary and Joseph enjoyed normal conjugal relations after Jesus' birth."   Contrary to McHugh, the imperfect 'eginosken' ("did not know her") does not hint at continued celibacy after Jesus birth, but stresses the faithfulness of the celibacy till Jesus birth."  (D. A. Carson, Matthew, volume I, p. 81, The Expositor's Bible Commentary)

The Bible has spoken.  Normal conjugal relations are not only assumed, but clearly indicated.  An enormous burden of proof lies at the feet of any who endeavor to teach otherwise.  It does matter.  Truth matters.  The Biblical doctrine of marriage matters.  We must not be ambivalent about the errors of Rome.


This has always been my view on the subject. When Scripture is clear, there is no reason to entertain an alternative view, unless, of course, the text is not your authority.

Andrew K's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

"and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son" (Matthew 1:25 NASB)   "The 'until' clause most naturally means that Mary and Joseph enjoyed normal conjugal relations after Jesus' birth."   Contrary to McHugh, the imperfect 'eginosken' ("did not know her") does not hint at continued celibacy after Jesus birth, but stresses the faithfulness of the celibacy till Jesus birth."  (D. A. Carson, Matthew, volume I, p. 81, The Expositor's Bible Commentary)

The Bible has spoken.  Normal conjugal relations are not only assumed, but clearly indicated.  An enormous burden of proof lies at the feet of any who endeavor to teach otherwise.  It does matter.  Truth matters.  The Biblical doctrine of marriage matters.  We must not be ambivalent about the errors of Rome.

25. And knew her not. This passage afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.

-John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. William Pringle, (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 1.107.

TylerR's picture

I haven't looked in my copy of the Catechism to see why the perpetual virginity of Mary is even an important issue to the Catholics. I agree with Calvin (above). I may change my mind if I see something particularly heretical in the Catechism about this doctrine when I get home this evening.

The issues of (1) the immaculate conception and (2) the bodily assumption, however, are serious issues.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist