One of the points of theology that has traditionally separated some Protestants from our Roman and Eastern brothers and sisters is the question of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mary. The argument is usually cast as a typical reformed – catholic debate with the issue of biblical authority vs. authority of tradition at the center of it. I however I want to suggest that there is a strong, almost overwhelming, biblical case for the Ever Virginity of the Blessed Theotokos.
I can already hear the objection that the natural reading of Mark 6:3 and Matt 13:55-56 would preclude St. Mary being a virgin throughout her life. I will deal with this objection, but not until I have laid out my case to the contrary. The argument is based on scriptural premises that may seem too obvious to state, but I hope the reader will bear with me because I think they are important.
A) Jesus is God made Flesh
My first premise is that Jesus Christ is the eternal son of the living God consubstantial with the Father. This is shown by John 1:1–2, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" and John 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Many other biblical passages support this proposition, including but not limited to Matt. 17:5 "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him"; Mark 1:11 "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"; 1 John 4:15 "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God."
B) Blessed Mary was the Mother of Jesus
My second premise is that Blessed Mary is the mother of Jesus. The support for this comes primarily from the Gospel of Luke. Chapter 1:26-31 tells us:
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
Chapter 2:6,7,21 tells of the fulfillment of this prophecy:
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn .. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Several other passages tell us the same: Acts 1:14 states "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." And John 19:26, "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!"
C) Therefore Blessed Mary is Theotokos
From these premises it follows that Mary bore God within her womb. It is for this reason that the Council of Ephesus declared,
If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh, as it is written, ‘The Word was made flesh’, let him be anathema.
(1st Anathama of the Council of Ephesus)
D) As Theotokos, Blessed Mary was like the Holy of Holies
Mary as God Bearer has a very direct parallel in the Old Testament, the mercy seat where God dwelt between the cherubim. Exodus 25:22 says
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.
Just as God was present at the mercy seat in the holy of holies, he was present in the womb of Blessed Mary.
E) Joseph was a Pious Jew
My third premise is that Joseph was a pious Jew. The scriptures tell us that: Matt 1:19 states "Joseph her husband was faithful to the law". Likewise Luke 2:21 tells us that Jesus was circumcised in accordance with the law. Luke 2:22 tells us that St. Mary was purified according to the law. Luke 2:23 tells us that Jesus was dedicated at the temple as a first born son according to the law. In fact it was necessary to Jesus' mission that he fulfill the whole law, thus he needed a pious stepfather to see that law was fulfilled while he was a child.
F) A Pious Jew Would not think of Entering the Holy of Holies
My fourth premise is that a pious Jew would not enter the Holy of Holies. The scriptures are clear that only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, and even the High Priest could only enter on one occasion.
The Lord said to Moses: 'Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark.'
G) Therefore Joseph would not think of Entering the Blessed Mary
It follows that just as Joseph, a pious Jew, would not enter the holy of holies where God dwelt between the Cherubim, he would not enter the Blessed Mary where God dwelt as the Incarnate Word. Now some might argue that Joseph did not know that his step son was very God. However the scriptures tell us,
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Now God alone can save people from their sins, so Joseph must have had a pretty good idea, especially after speaking with Blessed Mary, hearing the stories of the shepherds and wise men, and hearing the prophecy of Simeon.
H) Therefore Blessed Mary would remain ever virgin
It follows from this that unless Mary remarried or was cheating on Joseph, neither of which is even hinted at in the scriptures, that the Blessed Mary remained a virgin until her falling asleep.
Now turning to the objection that the natural reading of Mark 6:3 and Matt 13:55–56 would preclude St. Mary being a virgin throughout her life. The earliest tradition of interpretation of these passages was that the brothers and sisters mentioned in these passages are the children of Joseph by a previous marriage. The modern Roman interpretation is that these are Jesus' cousins by Clopas and his wife Mary. Either are possible, neither ruled out by the scriptures.