Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perpetual Virginity

Susanne's causing trouble again! :p

Thanks for answering. So Mary was destined to never experience sex and Joseph was a good enough man to never again want it? Wow!

I always thought the Bible said she was a virgin until AFTER Jesus was born.

" 24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."

I guess I always thought of "until" (vs. 25) in this way. Doesn't until usually imply a certain point when it happened?

Your way seems a bit more like making up neat traditions when I thought the Bible was pretty clear about it. Is this Tradition? Would it have been wrong for Mary to have sex with her own husband after Jesus was born? They were married. Sex within marriage is holy and sacred. OK'd by God. Plan of God. Nothing sinful. In fact withholding from sex is more sinful within marriage, I'd think.

To me it seems more realistic for Mary and Joseph to refrain from sex until sometime after Jesus' birth. Then later they had more children which are the ones referred to in the Bible as Jesus' brothers and sisters. No need to invent cousins although I understand what you mean that cousins could have sibling-like status in a culture that is very extended-family oriented.

Thanks for sharing your POV.

It's not *my* point of view, though. It's the Church's.

'Brother' has a broader definition in the Bible than just the son of your mother/father. It is used to identify not just actual brothers, but cousins and nephews as well. We see this when, in the OT when Lot is called Abraham's 'brother', when we know that he is actually his nephew. Or Jacob being called 'brother' of Lavan, when Lavan is his uncle. The reason behind this is that apparently neither Hebrew or Aramaic contain a word for cousin. So relations had to be expressed differently, i.e. 'son of the brother of the mother'. The relationship had to be understood in an almost roundabout way. If we accept that the term 'brother' is used in the Bible in this wider sense, how do we know that that is the sense it was used when referring to the 'brothers of Jesus'.

Some arguments against Mary and Joseph having children together:

1. When the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive and bear a son, she asks how this can be, because she knows not man. Now, at this point, she is already betrothed to Joseph. So, logically, if you're a woman betrothed, expecting to marry, then the question of 'how', doesn't enter into it. You would expect that, in the normal course of relations between husband and wife, a child would be the result. So if Mary had anticipated having a typical relationship with Joseph, there would have been no issue with the how. Her even asking the question hints to the fact that she must not have expected their relationship to be typical. It seems reasonable that she expected to be betrothed to Joseph, and under his protection, but not to share his bed.

2. When Jesus was 12, the Holy Family consisted of three persons - Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (Luke 2:41-52). We know that Jesus was the first born of Mary. Not, of course, that first born must necessarily indicate that there are second, etc. borns. First born can also be *only*. Anyway. So, any children would have to be younger than Jesus. However, after the visit to the Temple in Jerusalem, St. Joseph disappears from scripture. It is likely (and this is Tradition), that Joseph died, being older than Mary by some many years, leaving her in the 'care' of her son, Jesus. So. If Mary and Joseph had had children after Jesus, they had to have been born after he was 12. Doing the math, that would, at best, make the oldest of them 18 at the time of Jesus' ministry. Given how the 'brothers' act, and how they are described as behaving in everything to Jesus as His guardians, they cannot be *younger* than Him. So the four 'brothers' that are mentioned cannot be natural brothers, since they could not be elder children of Mary and Joseph, or younger. They might have been step-brothers, the sons of Joseph from a previous marriage, or cousins. Not so much with this argument anymore. Sanil pointed out that the argument from silence doesn't really help.

3. Christ gave Mary to John to look after at the Crucifixion. If there had been brothers, her guardianship would have gone to them, by law. It speaks to there not being any that Jesus had to entrust her care to an unrelated male.

Now, the whole 'he knew her not until' thing. The word 'until' does not always mean that something happened after a certain point, but not before. For instance, Michal, David's wife? Is said to have born no children until the day of her death. Should we infer, then, that she had them after she was dead? No. It just means that she was barren. There are other examples, such as when Christ tells the Apostles He will be with them until the end of the age. Does that mean that after the end of the age He takes off? Goes and plays Scrabble?

As for Joseph and Mary not having the blessing of sex in their marriage. I have seen it argued, and it does make a certain amount of sense, though ymmv, that Joseph and Mary were never actually married. They were betrothed, but never married. Joseph remained as guardian to Mary and Jesus, in order that she should not be killed for being pregnant without a husband. However, in a sense, she was 'married' to God. So having sex with Joseph would have been adultery. After all, it's not as though Mary were simply an incubator, a convenient vessel for Christ, so that her interaction with Him and with the Holy Spirit doesn't 'count', in some sense.

Anyway. Keep in mind, please, that the Church existed before the Bible. The books that were chosen to be included in the Bible were chosen because they contained information that was important for salvation purposes. However, the Bible was never meant to be used apart from the teachings of the Church, and the Traditions thereof. It's not 'making up' little stories, but maintaining the beliefs that have been held since the beginning.

And what I've written above is just a poor example of the defenses for Mary's perpetual virginity that exist. If you look it up, there's been a metric ton of papers and books that have been written on the subject, both for and against.


  1. Ha, ha...sorry to cause trouble again! :-)

    Reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally interesting stuff! I like the Jesus asking his disciple to take care of Mary argument the best.

    The whole married to God bit was weird although you said "in a sense." Still, when I read the rest of that paragraph I was thinking Mary ...oh nevermind.

    Thanks much for helping me out with your ..I mean, the Church's views on this topic. I learn so much from you!

    I smiled at Jesus playing Scrabble when the age ends. :D

  2. Susanne,

    Well, He's got to do something to pass the time! Eternity can get boring! But the question is, who would He play against?

  3. Not expecting to change your mind at all, of course. But just a little nit-picky thing...I can't see that passage in Luke as saying Jesus had no siblings. It says "his parents" went to Jerusalem every year. It doesn't even include him as going, which is consistent with the way children were viewed in the culture. His parents went, and he was an extension of them, as any younger siblings would have been. The only reason he is mentioned specifically is because the whole book is about him, and this story in particular is about something he did. I think at least an acceptable interpretation is that there were other siblings who either stayed home with relatives or something because they were too young or who also made the trip, but who didn't cause their parents to worry and weren't worth mentioning in the story.

    Anyway. Thanks for sharing the reasoning behind this belief! It is very interesting to read, and I wasn't very aware of all the reasons.

  4. Sanil,

    That's actually a very good point. You're right, the lack of mention in that story doesn't help or hurt the case.


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