I have a question concerning those who support the perpetual virginity doctrine. The Protoevangelium of James is the earliest source used to demonstrate how Joseph had children from a previous marriage. How would one go about using this document when it contains conflicting information with the Gospel of Matthew?

1) Mary’s response to the angel is different than what is recorded in Scripture. “What! Shall I conceive by the living God, and bring forth as all other women do?” (Chapter 9:12).

2) Elizabeth fled the Bethlehem region with her son John (the Baptist) to the mountains because of Herod’s wrath when he decided to kill all the baby boys around and in Bethlehem (Chapter 16:3).

3) Jesus was born in a cave outside the city of Bethlehem (Chapters 12:11–14:31).

4) Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and hid him in a manger at the inn to keep him from the massacre by Herod’s men (Chapter 16:2).

5) Wise men came to Bethlehem and inquired of Herod where the Child was born (Chapter 21:1–2).

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Apr 14, 2016 at 21:42
  • This question appears to seek a hermeneutic answer and, if so, could be better suited to our sister site, BH.SE. Apr 14, 2016 at 23:00
  • @DickHarfield ...err no. It's seeking the doctrinal perspective of "those who support the perpetual virginity of Mary", therefore this is the appropriate place for it. Apr 15, 2016 at 2:28
  • @bruisedreed One answer (with which I happen to agree and would probably be similar to what I might have written on BH.SE)) was already written at the time of your comment. Although it does not mention a doctrinal perspective, you did not comment on this. Implicitly, this is like saying we are not really after a doctrinal perspective. Apr 15, 2016 at 3:00

4 Answers 4


The harmonization would be that the Gospel of Matthew is divinely inspired Sacred Scripture, while the Protoevangelium of James is merely pious tradition. In case of nonconformity between the two, Matthew takes precedence.


The Protoevangelium of James may crystalize and record early, and obviously accepted, beliefs about Mary. But they are not 'where we get the doctrine from'. They are not Scripture. Similar to the book of Enoch, contaning the prophesy quoted in Jude (Jude 14-15), while not being part of Scripture.

The fact that it was written that early, and is trying to be an authentic and believable document proves that only those facts about Mary already accepted and believed would be developed or explained. I think this is the real strength of the document and its usefulness. It proves that the readership already believed at least that she was x, and the document simply attempted to detail x. Not introduce anything necessarily contrary to the common belief.

However, Luke 1:34 is enough to prove Mary intended to remain a virgin, even when already married to Joseph.


Your question is:

How do those who support the perpetual virginity of Mary doctrine harmonize the Protevangelium of James with the Gospel of Matthew?

It feels like there's an implicit assumption that those who support the Perpetual Virginity of Mary must follow the concept from the Protoevangelium of James that Joseph was an older widow with children from a previous marriage.

There's actually a different belief that many supporters of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary hold, which is that the "brothers" of Christ were cousins (rather than Joseph's children from a previous marriage).

This belief shows up in the Fragments of Papias section 10 (~100 AD) , and is first clearly articulated as an argument in Jerome's The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius. section 15 (383 AD).

In brief, the belief 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.

So to answer your question, many of those who support the perpetual virginity of Mary don't bother attempting to harmonize the Protoevangelium of James with the Gospel of Matthew. We see the Protoevangelium simply as an uninspired, though respected, ancient church document that we don't need to harmonize with the inspired Gospel of Matthew.


The Protoevangelium of James, is an apocryphal Gospel probably written about AD 145. The document presents itself as written by James: "I, James, wrote this history in Jerusalem." The purported author is thus James, the brother of Jesus, but scholars have established that the work was not written by the person to whom it is attributed.

Before the end of the second century there is universal acceptance of the four Gospels, Acts and twelve of the apostle Paul’s letters making up the canon of the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Only a few of the smaller writings were doubted in certain areas.) They included: Muratorian Fragment, Italy AD170 Irenaeus, Asia Minor AD180 Clement of Alexandria AD190

The book of Matthew, in complete contrast to the Protevangelium of James, '...is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

Those words are often correctly quoted to show that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. But what was Paul’s purpose in writing them? Paul was speaking to an elder, one with the responsibility to ‘reprove, set things straight, discipline in righteousness,’ within the congregation. Hence, he was reminding Timothy to trust the wisdom of the 'inspired Word', in which Timothy had been instructed since infancy. The lesson is clear for us also.

  • 2 Timothy 3:16 could not have possibly referred to the Gospel of Matthew since it hadn't yet been written. Further, the Gospel of Matthew wasn't officially recognized as Scripture by the Church locally until the Council of Carthage in 397 and not universally until the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787.
    – guest37
    Nov 23, 2017 at 13:55

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