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- The Perpetual Virginity-


The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, remained a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus Christ. This belief is held by various Christian denominations, especially within Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and some Anglican and Lutheran traditions.


The Church references the Protoevangelium of James along with biblical passages Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 to defend it.

What does the bible say

Virgin Birth: The Gospels of Matthew (1:18-25) and Luke (1:26-38) describe the birth of Jesus as a virgin birth, laying the groundwork for the doctrine.

Proof of perpetual virginity = 0

This passage does not provide concrete evidence for the doctrine.

“Until” in Matthew 1:25: The Church interprets this to mean Joseph did not “know” Mary only up to Jesus’ birth, not suggesting subsequent marital relations.

Proof of perpetual virginity = -1

This verse implies Mary didn’t have intercourse with Joseph “Until” Jesus was born, which may suggest later relations.

“Brothers” of Jesus: As depicted in Matthew 13:55-56, these terms are interpreted by the Church as referring to close relatives, not biological brothers, potentially indicating Joseph’s children from a previous marriage, cousins, or kin.

Proof of perpetual virginity = 0

The verses in Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 explicitly name Jesus’ “brothers” – James, Joses, Simon, and Judas – raising the possibility they were his actual siblings. No statements in the Bible contradicts this.

More counter arguments = Galatians 1:19

James, “Brother of the Lord”: While the term “brothers” in Hebrew and Aramaic could include relatives, Galatians 1:19 challenges this by specifically naming James as Jesus’ brother.

When was it affirmed?

The doctrine was formally articulated and affirmed in various Church councils, such as the Lateran Council in 649 AD under Pope Martin I, and has been upheld in subsequent magisterial teachings.

It's origin in the church

Early Church Tradition: The belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity was affirmed by early Church Fathers, notably Origen (184-253), as early as the 3rd century, and has become a part of Church tradition.

Biblical evidence = 0

This appears more as a tradition than something supported by scripture.


Theological Significance: The Church views Mary’s perpetual virginity as a symbol of her complete devotion to God’s will and her unique role as the Mother of God, contributing to her sanctity and special vocation.

Biblical confirmation = 0

Her biblical role is primarily as the mother of Jesus, and additional details about her life are not extensively covered in the scriptures.

WHAT about the Gospel of James?

The Protoevangelium of James, also known as the Gospel of James, is an apocryphal text written in the second century.

It elaborates on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and details surrounding Jesus’ birth.

This non-canonical gospel includes stories about Mary’s own miraculous conception, her upbringing in the Temple, her betrothal to Joseph, and the virgin birth of Jesus.

It is notable for its emphasis on Mary’s purity and the doctrine of her perpetual virginity.

why is it apocryphal?

Late Composition: The Protoevangelium of James is believed to have been written in the second century, which is considerably later than the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that were written in the first century.

This later date raises questions about its apostolic origin and direct connection to the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life.

Authorship and Authenticity: The text is ascribed to James, traditionally understood as Jesus’ brother or relative. However, the late date of composition suggests that it could not have been written by a direct contemporary of Jesus or Mary.

This casts doubt on its authenticity and reliability as a historical source.

Doctrinal and Theological Content: Some of the theological perspectives and details in the Protoevangelium do not align with those in the canonical texts. For instance, its depiction of Mary’s own immaculate conception and childhood is not found in the canonical Gospels.

This divergence in content led early Church leaders to question its doctrinal soundness.

Canonical Criteria: When the Church Fathers were establishing the canon of the New Testament, they used criteria such as apostolic origin, widespread use in the Church, consistency with established Christian doctrine, and inspiration by the Holy Spirit.

The Protoevangelium of James did not meet these criteria, particularly concerning apostolic origin and doctrinal consistency.

Early Church Scrutiny: Early Church leaders, such as Origen and St. Jerome, scrutinized various texts to determine their suitability for inclusion in the canon.

The Protoevangelium was not universally accepted or recognized as an authoritative source of Christian teaching.

Does it contradict the bible?

Mary’s Early Life: The Protoevangelium provides an elaborate story of Mary’s own immaculate conception, her upbringing in the Temple from the age of three, and her dedicated service there until her betrothal to Joseph. None of these details are found in the canonical Gospels.

Joseph’s Role: In the Protoevangelium, Joseph is portrayed primarily as an elderly widower and guardian to Mary, rather than her husband in the traditional sense. This depiction contrasts with the canonical Gospels, where Joseph’s age and previous marital status are not specified, and he is more actively involved as Mary’s husband.

The Virgin Birth: The Protoevangelium includes a detailed account of Jesus’ birth, emphasizing Mary’s physical virginity even in the act of childbirth. This depiction goes beyond the narratives of the virgin birth found in Matthew and Luke, which do not delve into such specific physical details.

Role of a Midwife: The text introduces a midwife who assists at Jesus’ birth and a subsequent examination by the midwife to confirm Mary’s virginity. These elements are not present in the canonical Gospels and add an extra dimension to the nativity story that is not corroborated by other New Testament texts.

The Presence of Salome: Salome, a character not found in the canonical accounts of Jesus’ birth, plays a significant role in the Protoevangelium. She doubts Mary’s virginity and receives a miraculous sign as proof, which is a narrative absent from the canonical Gospels.

Timing of the Annunciation and Joseph’s Reaction: The sequence of events surrounding the annunciation and Joseph’s reaction in the Protoevangelium differs from the accounts in Matthew and Luke. The Protoevangelium suggests Joseph’s initial unawareness of Mary’s divine pregnancy and his subsequent shock and distress, which contrasts with the more nuanced portrayal in the canonical texts.

The Role of Jesus’ “Brothers”: The Protoevangelium implies that Jesus’ “brothers” are Joseph’s children from a previous marriage, whereas in the canonical Gospels, the exact nature of these relationships is more ambiguous and open to interpretation.

last thought?

Critics argue that the emphasis on Mary’s virginity evolved as part of the Church’s growing veneration of Mary and ascetic ideals, rather than being rooted in the apostolic teaching or early Christian belief.

Want to find more about this doctrine?

Check out sources and read the Protoevangelium of James by clicking here.