It's common knowledge that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy have the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Protestants generally don't have that belief.

Less known is that Zwingli and Luther believed in perpetual virginity, too. What are the arguments for the doctrine, not assuming papal authority?

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    personally, I find it hard to believe she was "perpetually virginal" as Jesus had brothers :)
    – warren
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 15:12
  • 3
    I think it should also be noted that the majority of protestantism does not follow this belief. Still, Nice question! +1
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 15:56
  • 5
    I would expect that the arguments used by Zwingli and Luther would be exactly the same as the ones Catholics of the time used. None of the Reformers were throwing away everything that the church stood for. Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 13:11
  • 4
    Calvin, too. He refers to Mary as the holy Virgin, although he argues the Biblical evidence is inconclusive
    – gmoothart
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 20:31
  • And I thought the JWs were unusual in not believing this. I didn't know most Protestants agreed. A side effect of growing up in Ireland, I suppose. Learned something new today.
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 22:17

6 Answers 6


There is no clear biblical evidence for the non-Virginity of Mary.

  1. The Bible never says he had full blooded brothers and sisters. I don't want to delve into translations which I don't understand (Aramaic words for niece, cousin, nephew, etc...), but it is clear that Jesus does however call many people his brothers, and exhorts us all to call others our brothers and sisters, who are clearly not siblings.

  2. The Bible says Jesus was Mary's 'firstborn' son, but firstborn could be a title given to son's offered to the temple. Then there's the use of the word 'until', in reference to Mary and Joseph's relations. But, if I claim to lover and serve the Lord until my dying day, I certainly hope to do so after my dying day!

But there is an inkling of evidence for her not having any other children - although if you accept the brothers in (1.) as being other living sons of Joseph, it confuses the argument.

  1. When Jesus is dying on the Cross (in John's gospel), He instructs His beloved disciple and he takes to take Mary into his house. If she truly had other sons, that would be moot point for the other sons would have been there to take care of her.

Note, this is not an argument in relation to the doctrine that Mary was still materially a virgin after birth. That requires adherence to the Dogma.

Virginity itself is not altogether uncommon in human history (Vestal Virgins, Jewish Virgins). Having a Child while remaining a virgin, is a singular event worthy of our Creator and Redeemer.

  • 5
    This is a particularly compelling argument. The implications of the scene at the foot of the cross are profound for this particular doctrine. It carries with it a very strong inference that Mary had no other sons to take care of her.
    – user32
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 2:59
  • 1
    One possible answer to why Jesus instructed Mary to treat the beloved disciple as her son and instructed him to take in Mary is that her natural children were not (yet) His followers (cf. Mark 3:31-35). The Jewish and Roman ideals of virginity are evidence that cuts both ways: virginity might have been a secular ideal that crept into church tradition. (But +1 on a well-reasoned answer.) Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 9:54
  • @JonEricson That may not be true. Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 14:54
  • @cwallenpoole: I'm sorry? What does "that" refer to? Of course, any part of my comment might be false, but I'm curious which part you think most likely. Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 16:02
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    Luke 1:27 specifically says Mary was espoused. It means promised to become married. When the angel speaks to Mary, Mary was not married. There is no sense that she was married and knew not Joseph. That's a contradiction of terms that the Bible does not know.
    – SLM
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 14:43

Protestant arguments for the doctrine can be divided up into 3 categories.

The Bible allows for it

  • The bible does not indicate Mary had other children after Jesus.

    • When Matthew 13:55 (as well as Mark 6:3, John 7:3-5, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, and Galations 1:19) speak of the "brothers" of Christ, the Greek word used is 'adelphos'.
    • The Old Testament that Jesus and the New Testament authors used was the Septuagint (Greek translation). We know this because of quirks in the translation that carried over in New Testament quotations of the Old Testament. One example: In Matthew 21:16, Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2 with the words "ordained praise". The Septuagint translation of Psalm 8:2 says "ordained praise", while the Masoretic text (Hebrew Old Testament) says "ordained strength".
    • In the Septuagint, the Greek word 'adelphos' is used as relative (Gen 14:14, Gen 29:15), as well as close friends (2 Samuel 1:26, 1 Kings 9:13), as well as allies (Amos 1:9). As this was the Old Testament Jesus frequently used, it's reasonable to assume he'd use words in the same way.
  • The bible DOES indicate Jesus had an aunt, and thus cousins

    • Jerome in 383 AD identifies the brothers of Christ as his cousins. The biblical case goes like this:
      • John 19:25 tells us that Mary mother of Jesus had a sister named Mary of Clopas (who was Jesus' aunt)
      • Mark 15:40 (and Matthew 27:55-56) tells us that Mary of Clopas was mother of James the less and Joseph.
      • Jude 1 speaks of "Jude, the brother of James". This is likely the Jude who is son of Mary of Clopas, brother of James.
      • Matthew 13:55 identifies James and Joseph and Simon and Judas as 'adelphos' of Christ. We see James and Joseph are his cousins through Mary of Clopas, so it follows that Simon and Judas are likely also children of Mary of Clopas.
    • This wiki lays out the full biblical case, supplementing it with historical records
  • In places where one would expect Scripture to mention the brothers of Christ, they are missing.

    • In Luke 2:41-51, when Jesus went to the temple at the age of 12, there is no mention of other children in his family.
    • In John 19:26-27, while on the cross Jesus gave Mary into John's care. If Mary had other sons, it seems strange and out of character that Jesus would have gone out of his way to disregard family ties and commit a grave dishonor to his brothers by entrusting his mother to another man.
    • In Mark 6:3, even when Jesus is referred to as the son of Mary, Jesus' brothers are never referred to that way (here or elsewhere).

The Bible teaches it

Ezekiel 44:2 "This gate is to remain closed; it is not to be opened for anyone to enter by it. Since the Lord, the God of Israel has entered by it, it shall remain closed".

  • Ambrose of Milan (388 AD) in De Institutione Virginum 8:52 says of this passage in Ezekiel "Who is this gate, if not Mary?", thus identifying this as a prophecy about Mary's perpetual virginity.
  • Augustine (~390 AD) in De Annunt. Dom. iii (quoted in Aquina's Summa Theologica) says of this passage "What means this closed gate in the house of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that ‘no man shall pass through it,' save that Joseph shall not know her?"
  • Jerome (~390 AD) in Commentarium in Evangelium Lucae, PL 25, 430 says of this passage "Some quite emphatically understand this closed gate through which only the Lord God of Israel passes … as the Virgin Mary, who remains a Virgin before and after childbirth."
  • Rufinus (~408 AD) in his Commentary on the Apostles' Creed section 9 says of this passage "That Gate of Virginity was closed; through it the Lord God of Israel entered; through it He came forth from the Virgin's womb into this world; and the Virgin-state being preserved inviolate, the gate of the Virgin remained closed forever."

Matthew 1:24-25 "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. And he called his name Jesus."

  • Martin Luther (1523) says of this passage in his That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew: "The form of expression used by Matthew is the common idiom, as if I were to say, "Pharaoh believed not Moses, until he was drowned in the Red Sea." Here it does not follow that Pharaoh believed later, after he had drowned; on the contrary, it means that he never did believe. Similarly when Matthew [1:25] says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her." ["That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew," in Luther's Works, vol. 45, ed. Walther I. Brand, 1962, Muhlenberg Press, p. 212.]
  • He thus identifies this verse's used of the Greek word heōs (until) as a statement proclaiming past and future, indicative that Joseph never knew Mary carnally

It's worth noting in passing, while not explicitly from the bible, that Thomas Aquinas gives a logical defense of the doctrine in Summa Theologiae, Third Part, Question 28, Article 3.

The Church always believed it, until the modern era

I bring up this category because there is a difference between arguments that early Protestants would accept versus those that modern Protestants would accept.

Early Protestants believed in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, that scripture is the only infallible authority. If the scripture allowed for a doctrine, and a lesser authority (the church) always believed it, it was fine to accept it even if scripture didn't explicitly teach it. This is why Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli, and John Wesley all were able to believe in the doctrine of Mary's Perpetual Virginity.

Modern Protestants have largely shifted from Sola Scriptura to something sometimes called "Solo" Scriptura, that scripture is the only authority. This means that if scripture didn't explicitly teach a doctrine, it didn't matter if the church always believed it, you cannot accept it because it's not in the bible. This is why most modern Protestants do not believe in the doctrine.

So early Protestants would take the historical witness of the doctrine as an argument for it - so I give that below:

  • ~100 AD: Ignatius of Antioch
  • ~150 AD: Polycarp (disciple of John the Apostle)
  • ~160 AD: Justin Martyr
  • ~200 AD: Irenaeus

    In the year AD 383, Jerome writes that Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus all “held these same views” of Mary’s perpetual virginity and “wrote volumes replete with wisdom” (in his The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius, section 19)

  • 248 AD: Origen

    "Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus" [Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John (Book I), Section 6]

  • 354 AD: Hilary of Poitiers

    "If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary's sons and not those taken from Joseph's former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, 'Woman, behold your son,' and to John, 'Behold your mother' [John 19:26-27], as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate" [Hilary's Commentary on Matthew 1:4]

  • 360 AD: Athanasius

    Identifies Mary as "Mary Ever-Virgin" in his Discourse 2 Against the Arians, Section 70

  • 373 AD: Ephrem

    "Because there are those who dare to say that Mary cohabited with Joseph after she bore the Redeemer, we reply, 'How would it have been possible for her who was the home of the indwelling of the Spirit, whom the divine power overshadowed, that she be joined by a mortal being, and gave birth filled with birthpangs, in the image of the primeval curse?'" [Ephrem's Commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron]

  • ~375 AD: Basil of Caesarea

    "...the lovers of Christ do not allow themselves to hear that the Mother of God ceased at a given moment to be a virgin..." [Basil’s Homily: On the holy generation of Christ 5; PG 31, 1468 B]

  • 375 AD: Epiphanius

    "For I have heard from someone that certain persons are venturing to say that [Mary] had marital relations after the Savior’s birth. And I am not surprised. The ignorance of persons who do not know the sacred scriptures well and have not consulted histories, always turn them to one thing after another, and distracts anyone who wants to track down something about the truth out of his own head.” [The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: De fide. Books II and III, page 620, 7.1]

  • 383 AD: Jerome

    In his The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius he gives a long, full biblical defense of Mary's perpetual virginity, noted in earlier sections in this answer.

  • 386 AD: Didymus the Blind

    "Mary... remained always and forever an immaculate virgin" [Didymus's The Trinity 3:4]

  • 388 AD: Ambrose of Milan

    Identified prophecy of Ezekiel 44:2 as proof of Mary's perpetual virginity in his De Institutione Virginum 8.52

  • 401 AD: Augustine

    "A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?" [Augustine, Sermons 186:1]

  • 426 AD: Leporius

    Identifies Mary as "ever-virgin Mary" in Document of Amendment 3

  • 430 AD: Cyril of Alexandria

    "the Word himself... kept his Mother a virgin even after her childbearing" [Against Those Who Do Not Wish to Confess That the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God 4]

  • ~440 AD: Peter Chrysologus

    "A Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and a Virgin she remains." [Sermon 117 "The First Adam, and the Last Adam, Born of a Virgin"]

  • 553 AD: Second Council of Constantinople

    "Mary, Mother of God and always a virgin" [The Capitula of the Council, #2]

  • 649 AD: Lateran Council

    "and after His birth preserved her virginity inviolate" [Oct, 649, DS 503]

  • 749 AD: John Damascene

    "Thus the Ever-Virgin remains after birth a Virgin still, never having consorted with man" [The Source of Knowledge, 3, 4, 14]

  • ~1270 AD: Thomas Aquinas

    "Without any hesitation we must abhor the error of Helvidius, who dared to assert that Christ's Mother, after His Birth, was carnally known by Joseph, and bore other children." [Summa Theologiae, Third Part, Question 28, Article 3]

  • 1522 AD: Zwingli, father of the reformation

    "I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity." [sermon entitled "Mary, ever virgin, mother of God"]

  • 1539 AD: Martin Luther, father of the reformation

    “Christ... was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him" [Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4]

  • 1562 AD: John Calvin, father of the reformation

    "Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ's 'brothers' are sometimes mentioned." [Commentary on Mark, Chapter 6, Verse 3]

  • 1749 AD: John Wesley, founder of Methodism

    "I believe that He [Jesus] was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin." [Wesley, Letter to a Roman Catholic]

  • 1
    This is one of the most thoroughly-researched answers I've ever seen on this site! I've decided to award a bounty, and will leave it open for several days to hopefully draw more attention to it. Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 2:09
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    Although I think the conclusion is bunk (i.e. the evidence to the contrary position is overwhelming) this is certainly a very good run down of what arguments are used to support this position. My only quibble would be that the solas/solo distinction is a funny play on words but not actually meaningful in any context where the 5 solas are actually taught. It's a rough caricature of fundamentalists which holds something like a "solo" position but doesn't hold to the other solas, but not of Reformed Protestantism that actually use those terms.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 6:12
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    "Modern Protestants have largely shifted from Sola Scriptura to something sometimes called "Solo" Scriptura, that scripture is the only authority." This really is nonsense, and irrelevant to the question.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 2:14
  • The sola/"solo" distinction was not my own, it was coined by Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College (which is from a Reformed background). You can read more about it in this article. It is actually very relevant, as it demonstrates the clear difference between early Protestants who accepted the Perpetual Virginity and many modern Protestants who do not.
    – emeth
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 3:56
  • @emeth I understand the idea perfectly fine, it's just a completely indefensible generalisation. While pockets of Protestants could probably legitimately be said to have no authority but scripture, most do not, and most reject the perpetual virginity because they know that tradition is not infallible and in this case see the alternative argument as stronger.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 13:54

Calvin's commentary on Matthew 1:25 deserves to be quoted in full (hat-tip to gmoothart):

25. And knew her not This passage afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.

To me, this suggests that Calvin (and the other Reformers who did not oppose the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity) didn't think the matter, well, mattered. Later reformers, I think, have expressed concerns because of the deeper divide between Protestants and Catholics.


I've found some very interesting quotes of Martin Luther:

Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that.

Luther's Works, eds. Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) & Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (vols. 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (vols. 31-55), 1955, v.22:23 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539)

Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that 'brothers' really mean 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.

Pelikan, ibid., v.22:214-15 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539)

A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ . . .

Pelikan, ibid.,v.45:199 / That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523)

However I found no other explanation for this issue except that both Luther and Zwingli were raised in the teachings of Catholic church.

As for the authority of the doctrine I think it relies on the early teachings of the church, as it is reflected in the teachings of the first fathers:

  • 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);

For example, the title Mary Ever-Virgin is found in is found in Athanasius'. Orat. ii. § 70. (Orations against the Arians Book II section 70) "Let those who deny that the Son is from the Father by nature and proper to His substance, deny also that He took true human flesh of Mary Ever-Virgin." You can read more in Newmann reader under the title "Mary Ever-Virgin".

  • I find it interesting that all of these "first fathers" you cite were a few centuries after Christ. Is there any evidence that the actual first fathers (the Apostles) believed this?
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 16:32
  • 2
    This all evidence that they believed it, not why they believed it.
    – jimreed
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 16:49

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.'

(Leviticus 16:2)

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.

Matthew 1:20–21

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.

  • Welcome! Thanks for contributing. Unfortunately, this post is extremely difficult to read because of the formatting. It would also be stronger if you included sources to show that it reflects the line of reasoning employed by Zwingli/Luther or their modern followers. I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and review how this site is different from others. Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 18:56
  • 1
    @StephenW.Houghton Interesting, but do protestants give these reasons?
    – user13992
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 19:02
  • 1
    I find this answer to be a particularly absurd exercise in forcing ideas into the text.
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 20:50

Historical Themes

One of the first in the church who spoke about perpetual virginity was Origen. He provides two reasons for his belief.

But some say [in contrast to what the Bible says about Jesus' brothers], basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter, as it is entitled, or “The Book of James,” that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honour of Mary in virginity to the end, so that that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word which said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee,”5266 might not know intercourse with a man after that the Holy Ghost came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her.

The first reason was to preserve Mary's honor.

And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the first-fruit among men of the purity which consists in chastity, and Mary among women; for it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the first-fruit of virginity.


The second reason was to ascribe to Mary the first-fruit of virginity and thus the purity of chastity (no sex).

These two original lines of thinking (honor Mary in various ways (Queen, mediatrix, ark, etc) and virginity is pure, while marriage/sex is not) continue in the church to today.

Huldrych Zwingli

Here we find the same two thoughts; that is, virginity is a pure state and deserves honor.

"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."12 Zwingli used Exodus 4:22 to defend the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity.

"I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary."13

"Christ ... was born of a most undefiled Virgin."14

"It was fitting that such a holy Son should have a holy Mother."15

"The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow."16


Martin Luther

Here too we also find the idea that is Mary is venerated (honored).

"The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart."5

"Is Christ only to be adored? Or is the holy Mother of God rather not to be honoured? This is the woman who crushed the Serpent's head. Hear us. For your Son denies you nothing."6 Luther made this statement in his last sermon at Wittenberg in January 1546.


John Wesley

Here too is the strand from Origen that virginity implies a pure and unspotted state.

“I believe that he [Jesus] was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.”

-John Wesley Letter to a Roman Catholic

John Calvin

Calvin wrote of the holy virgin after Christ was born in his commentary about John's gospel. The implication would be that Calvin believed Mary remained a virgin during and after Christ's birth. As well, the implication is that "holy" is an adjective describing the Virgin.

  1. His mother saith to the servants. Here the holy Virgin gives an instance of true obedience which she owed to her Son, -source-
  • What evidence do you have that perpetual virginity of Mary believing Protestants use these arguments? The second seems particularly unlikely.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 15:19

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