The Perpetual Virginity of Mary (PVM) is arguably the single most important Dogma in all of Roman Catholicism (and shared with Eastern Orthodoxy). It is certainly among the RC’s chief articles of faith. Much of their theology & even more of their energy flows from or to this belief.
It is the rare RC dogma that is even adopted by some Lutherans, Anglicans, & others. So what is PVM? What does Scripture say about it? What are its origins & implications?
First, it is necessary to eliminate what it is not. PVM is not the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. The virgin birth can still be completely true even if PVM is completely false. Also, PVM is not fundamentally about whether or not Mary ever had sex. And this is where most Lutherans & others piously fall into a tarpit created by others.
PVM is predicated on redefining “virgin” right out of the gate. Mary defined her own virginity in Luke 1:34 when she replied to the angel (translated from the Greek), “how will this be since I know not a man?” Mary understood that babies come from sex. This is how any normal, truthful person speaks of virginity.
PVM does not use this definition. PVM redefines virginity by the presence of Mary’s intact hymen. According to PVM, Mary was a virgin "before, during & after the birth of Christ.”
This means that while Jesus gestated within Mary’s womb like a normal man, at the time for His “birth” He was not actually born as a man. Rather Jesus was teleported from Mary’s womb, presumably to someplace safe within the room, at which point Mary “wrapped him in swaddling cloths” & Jesus resumed living a normal human life.
How did teleportation come into the picture, the befuddled Christian may ponder. The answer is found in a gnostic book dating from the mid-second century named the Protoevangelium of James. This work was condemned by Jerome for “falseness of the apocryphal ravings.” Aquinas & Pope Innocent I also condemned it as containing lies as of the early 400s.
Other distinctive claims about Mary also appear for the first time in this book of lies: Mary is the main character. She is extraordinarily pure & remains a virgin her entire life. She was given to the Jewish equivalent of the Vestal Virgins at age three. She was never Joseph’s wife, only his ward.
It is fascinating that a book universally condemned by Christians 1,600 years ago is today the fountain & source of the entire Mary backstory we are assured is “infallible church tradition.”
Let’s leave gnostic heretics behind & get back to how God spoke of these things. Isaiah prophesies in 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
We’ve already addressed virgin. Conceive incorporates gestation by implication. That leaves bear. The word used here means give birth, bring forth, beget. It is explicitly about the final moments of pregnancy, not some general term for “carry to term.” The one other time this exact variation of the common root word for bear appears in Hebrew, it is translated as “in labor.”
Isaiah prophesies a second time in 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” Every instance of this word refers to the birth of a man as every man has been born since Cain.
Matthew 1:24-25 tells us, “[Joseph] took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.”
Luke 2:6-7 records, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son…” This passage is as close as you can get to saying “Mary went into labor” without getting clinical.
Jesus speaks of childbirth in John 16:21: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
Christians will recognize immediately that this refers back to God's curse on Eve, and every woman after:
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”
To deny that Mary was born under the curse of Eve is to take PVM to it's next logical step: the immaculate conception of Mary, by which she had to be sinless, or else Jesus would have inherited sin from her.
So we have God prophesying that the Christ would be born as a man. We have God saying that Christ was born as a man. We have Christ Himself describing how every man is born. And most of us regularly confess the words of the Apostle’s Creed together with Christians stretching back 1,600 years: “born of the Virgin Mary.”
To subscribe to PVM is to deny the Incarnation. There is simply no way around this. All the reasons why it might have been desirable for Mary to be spared the curse she was under according to Gen 3:16 are moot in the face of Scripture’s clear Words.
The fact of Jesus’ birth as a man is not the only nail in the coffin of PVM. What was Mary’s relationship to Joseph? PVM advocates claim that although they were legally “man and wife,” Mary was Joseph’s platonic ward, according to some special order of Jewish pre-nuns. What does Scripture say?
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
“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.”
“Before they came together.” “Knew her not until.” Anyone who is honest about how language works must admit that these are not ambiguous. Scripture plainly teaches that although their betrothal was chaste according to the law, Joseph & Mary waited to consummate their marriage until after Jesus’ birth. There is no other reading that doesn’t twist these plain words.
The rest of Scripture also plainly speaks of Joseph & Mary as man & wife. Why do these words matter in the context of PVM? Because you are not married in a church or courthouse. Marriage is defined by God in Gen 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father & his mother & hold fast to his wife, & they shall become one flesh.”
You are married in your marriage bed, and not a moment before. This is precisely why immediately after the public ceremony, the couple was whisked to the nearest bedroom–both to bring the marriage to completion, and to eliminate any public doubt of the fact.
There is simply and irrefutably no “man & wife” apart from normal biological sexual intercourse. This isn’t a theory or interpretation. This isn’t even “church teaching.” This is the black letter Word of God from Creation itself. So either Joseph & Mary were a normal sexual married couple, or they were not man & wife, and Scripture lies.
And what happens when a man & wife become one flesh? As Mary reminds us, they obey God’s command repeated both at Creation and after the Flood to “be fruitful & multiply.” So did Joseph & Mary’s marriage yield the natural fruit of their physical union? The fact is well attested throughout Scripture.
PVM fabulists say “those [had to be] cousins or step-brothers from Joseph’s previous marriage.” Yet the Greek word for cousin which is used elsewhere is not used here. And why were Joseph’s sons from this made up previous marriage not present in the flight to & from Egypt, but ever-present later? You know why.
So just to recap, in order to confess the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, you must deny that:
- Virgin really means virgin
- Born really means born
- Husband really means husband
- Wife really means wife
- Brother really means brother
- Sister really means sister.
Consider why Jesus remained dead in the tomb for three days. Under Jewish law, a person wasn't considered fully dead until then. Jesus could have arisen at any time. He chose to come back to life at such time that there was no possibility for even unbelievers to question the facts surrounding His death. God acts in many times & places to elimate our doubts. The promise & proof of the virgin birth was another such act. It is simply bonkers to take these precious passages that bring the Savior of the Nations and turn them into allusions to Mary's birth canal. God forbid.
Go back and reread all those passages either prophesying or describing the birth of Christ. Think about why God repeatedly emphasizes Mary's virginity, including that she remained a virgin immediately after Jesus was born. Is Scripture about Mary? Is it about how special & miraculous she was? Or is it about Jesus being the Christ? Mary's virginity is emphasized solely to eliminate any shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is the miracle, not her. He is the Holy one, not her.
If you are talking about the virgin birth and you are thinking about Mary and not Him Who was born, you have lost the plot. Please consider the plain Words of Scripture, because they leave us with no doubts.