The Perpetual Virginity of Mary
by Dr. Robert Schihl
Fathers of the Church
Church Fathers from at least the fourth century spoke of Mary as having remained a
virgin throughout her life:
Athanasius (Alexandria, 293-373);
Epiphanius (Palestine, 315?-403);
Jerome (Stridon, present day Yugoslavia, 345?-419);
Augustine (Numidia, now Algeria, 354-430);
Cyril (Alexandria, 376-444);
Teaching of the Universal Church
The Council of Constantinople II (553-554) twice referred to Mary as
The protestant reformers affirmed their belief that Mary, while remaining every-virgin,
was truly the Mother of God. Here are only a few examples:
Martin Luther (1483-1546), On the Divine Motherhood of Mary, wrote:
In this work whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such great good things
were given her that no one can grasp them. ... Not only was Mary the mother of him who is
born [in Bethlehem], but of him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father,
from a Mother in time and at the same time man and God. (Weimer's The Works of Luther,
English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 7, p. 572.)
Luther wrote on the Virginity of Mary:
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. (Weimer's The Works
of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320;
v. 6. p. 510.)
The French reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) also held that Mary was the Mother of God.
It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his
Son, granted her the highest honor. ... Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because
the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said
that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary as at the same time the eternal God. (Calvini
Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Braunschweig-Berlin, 1863-1900, v. 45, p. 348, 35.)
Calvin also up held the perpetual virginity of Mary, as did the Swiss reformer, Ulrich
Zwingli (1484-1531), who wrote:
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. (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905,
v. 1, p. 424.)
There are some very common objections to the belief that Mary remained a virgin after
the birth of Jesus.
1) The Bible frequently speaks of the "brothers" and
"sisters" of Jesus.
First it is important to note that the Bible does not say that these "brothers and
sisters" of Jesus were children of Mary.
Second, the word for brother (or sister), adelphos (adelpha) in Greek,
denotes a brother or sister, or near kinsman. Aramaic and other semitic languages could
not distinguish between a blood brother or sister and a cousin, for example. Hence, John
the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus (the son of Elizabeth, cousin of Mary) would be called
"a brother (adelphos) of Jesus." In the plural, the word means a
community based on identity of origin or life. Additionally, the word adelphos is
used for (1) male children of the same parents (Mt 1:2); (2) male descendants of the same
parents (Acts 7:23); (3) male children of the same mother (Gal 1:19); (4) people of the
same nationality (Acts 3:17); (5) any man, a neighbor (Lk 10:29); (6) persons united by a
common interest (Mt 5:47); (7) persons united by a common calling (Rev 22:9); (8) mankind
(Mt 25:40); (9) the disciples (Mt 23:8); and (10) believers (Mt 23:8). (From Vine's
Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson, Publisher.)
2) A second objection to Mary's virginity arises from the use of the word heos
in Matthew's gospel. "He (Joseph) had no relations with her at any time before (heos)
she bore a son, whom he named Jesus" (Mt 1:25, NAB).
The Greek and the Semitic use of the word heos (until or before) does not imply
anything about what happens after the time indicated. In this case, there is no necessary
implication that Joseph and Mary had sexual contact or other children after Jesus.
3) A third objection to the perpetual virginity of Mary arises from the use of
the word prototokos, translated 'first-born' in Luke's gospel.
But the Greek word prototokos is used of Christ as born of Mary and of Christ's
relationship to His Father (Col 1:25). As the word does not imply other children of God
the Father, neither does it imply other children of Mary.
The term "first-born" was a legal term under the Mosaic Law (Ex 6:14)
referring to the first male child born to Jewish parents regardless of any other children
following or not. Hence when Jesus is called the "first-born" of Mary it does
not mean that there were second or third-born children.
Excerpted and abridged from Chap. 7 of A Biblical Apologetic of the Catholic Faith,
by Dr. Robert Schihl, Professor at Regent University. It appears here for for personal use
only and may not be reproduced for any other use without permission of the author. The
complete text may be downloaded from EWTN's Apologetics library as APOLOGIA.ZIP.
If you find this Biblical Apologetic of use please send your thanks to:
Dr. Robert J. Schihl
Professor, School of Radio, Television and Film
College of Communications and the Arts
Virginia Beach, Virginia 23464-9800
This electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.