It seems rather incontrovertable from the logic (Luke 1):

  • You will concieve and bear a son
  • How shall this be, since I know not man

That Mary sees it as impossible to conceive, specifically because she does not have intercourse with anyone. Meaning the present condition, her virginity, which precludes conception, is seen as not going to change (to allow the conception and make the objection meaningless and invalid).


For those who deny that Mary ever intended to remain a virgin her whole life, how is this refuted?

Thanks in advance.

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    Moderator note: I've removed comments whose purpose was to defend the opposite view asked about in the question. Comments should be reserved for requests for clarification or suggestions for improvement. This question already reads like a thinly veiled bit of propaganda, the comments were making it worse. If the purpose is really to learn about how the viewpoint the question is framed with, then lets please stick to that frame.
    – Caleb
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 10:36
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    Moderator note 2: I've also removed comments that are from the requested viewpoint but are mini answers (without actually being full answers) or are otherwise just fodder for a comment debate. If there isn't something to change about this question post then lets not use the comment section okay?
    – Caleb
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 10:38
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    @SolaGratia To Protestants it seems like propaganda because taking one single present tense verb as incontrovertible evidence of a lifelong vow is among the flimsiest possible arguments that could be made for any position. If I didn't know you better I would've thought you were trolling with this (IMO) poor exegesis. Toning it back so that you don't sound like the Catholic interpretation is the only reasonable one and Protestants have a heavy burden of proof to counter it would improve the question.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 0:08
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    I struggle to see how you differentiate between 'propaganda' and a theological viewpoint you disagree with.. "taking one single present tense verb as incontrovertible evidence of a lifelong vow" Where are you getting this idea from? I never argued the present tense verb as such demands the intention of remaining in this state: my question is how is the very fact that she brought up not having intercourse as an obstacle to conception at all? You don't say 'How will I have a baby without having intercourse' if you intend to have a child by intercourse.... I cannot make this plainer. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 13:07
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    @SolaGratia the present tense thing was in the first comment by well known catholic contributor geremia. That i comment was removed by Caleb.
    – Kristopher
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 4:20

4 Answers 4


ειπεν δε μαριαμ προς τον αγγελον πως εσται τουτο -επει- ανδρα ου γινωσκω

Luke 1:34 - TR (Stephens 1550, Beza 1598, Elzevir 1624 and Scrivener 1894 are all identical.)

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? KJV

The Greek conjunction ἐπεί epei (see Strong 1893) cannot be manipulated into meaning something with regard to a time sequence in the future. The force of the word is 'because' or ' for the reason that'. Note that the KJV quite correctly renders the conjunction as a present participle.

"How shall I bear a child in my situation of not (presently) knowing a man ?" . . . is all that can possibly be construed from the Greek wording .

[ There is a disputed translation of Luke 7:1 (see interlinear) where epei is rendered 'and when' but the meaning has the force of 'and for the reason that he had completed ...'. It is not a future consequence but, here in Luke 7:1, epei conveys a decision made upon a completed situation. ]

As to Mary's words in Luke 1:34, The Douay-Rheims also correctly renders the conjunction (from the Latin Vulgate) using the very apposite English conjunction 'because':

And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

However the D-R then mis-translates ανδρα (from aner - an identifiable man) and renders it as though it was ἄνθρωπος (anthropos - humanity). This may be a fault of the Latin-from-Greek translation of the Vulgate or it may be a fault of the English-from-Latin translation thereafter.

'Know not man' is quite inappropriate, here. It should be 'know not a man', meaning a particular man. Only an impossibly travelled harlot would know anthropos. Broadening the meaning of 'a man' to 'mankind' in no way strengthens an argument for perpetual virginity.

This attempt to extend Mary's utterance in perpetuity has resulted in very inappropriate English words being put into her holy lips with regard to humanity.

Mary was already espoused to Joseph before Gabriel appeared to her (see Luke 1:27 - ... to a virgin espoused to a man ... ). Hardly the action of a woman who intends, in perpetuity, to remain a virgin. But, having not (yet) come together (Matthew 1:18), she did not (at that stage) know a man.

What is much more relevant regarding the certainty of the situation is Matthew's wording in Matthew 1:24, 25 :

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. [KJV]

Had Matthew wished to convey - without a trace of ambiguity - that Mary had remained a virgin thereafter, Matthew would have stopped writing after 'knew her not'.

... and took unto him his wife and knew her not [Full Stop]

Thereafter he would have made a new sentence regarding the name of Jesus. But he does not do that, he continues :

... until she had brought forth the son of her (in literal) ...

  • I really appreciate your answer, @Nigel J. +1! However, "The Greek conjunction ἐπεί epei (see Strong 1893) cannot be manipulated into meaning something with regard to a time sequence in the future" overlooks the critical core of my question: why does Mary apparently not have the intent of changing her un-having-had-sex condition? She is married to Joseph; she evidenced her knowledge of how conception happens. What gives? If my point is not clear, I shall have to edit my question to clarify. (As for Mt 1, I only answer that Matthews focus was only on the part Joseph had in Mary's conception...) Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 17:33
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    @SolaGratia Mary's action of being espoused to Joseph makes her intentions very clear. And there is nothing in her words that is contrary to her action.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 7:18
  • Upvoted. Mary & Joseph betrothal was the key, both of them understand the obligation of being married in their culture. Both of them knew the Isaiah prophecy. Both of them have a vow of virginity, and that is their willing & precious sacrifice to offer in obedience to God's calling, which is a higher calling over a vow of virginity. Commented Mar 11, 2020 at 20:07

When one way of interpreting a passage is absurd, that shows we aren't to interpret it that way. Obviously she didn't think the angel was just telling her she'd conceive a baby with Joseph or else she wouldn't have said what she said. So she clearly understood the angel was telling her she would soon have a baby without having slept with Joseph, and hence her question, because she didn't understand how that could be. Although what the angel said sounds a little ambiguous to us, her response clearly shows the connotations of what he meant: the conception will not come from sex with Joseph. Mary's response shows us how she understood what the angel meant, and as the angel doesn't correct her, we can know this is the correct understanding.

  • Even though this begs the question, it's the closest thing to a 'the Protestant position' here. +1 Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 22:57
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    When the doctor says "You're going to have a baby" nobody responds "Of course, in a few years when I'm married." Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 16:42

Perpetual virginity of Mary: why did Mary see “not knowing man” as an obstacle to the conception of Jesus?

Mary, like Joseph, understood natural law. Specifically, one cannot have a baby if they are a virgin. It requires a partner of the opposite sex. (Joseph was going to send Mary away in Matt. 1:19 because he understood natural law.)

For those who deny that Mary ever intended to remain a virgin her whole life, how is this refuted?

The wording of the question is a little confusing to me. I think it's nearly impossible to know what Mary's intentions would be as there's no clear text. The passage below indicates Jesus' had brothers and sisters and the most logical understanding of the text would be that Mary or Joseph produced the brothers and sisters, especially given how honorable they were in previous passages.

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there. 54 He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at Him.

  • "I think it's nearly impossible to know what Mary's intentions would be as there's no clear text." This question does not pertain to secret, hidden intentions, but to what would cause Mary to see 'not having sex' as an obstacle to conception—not having sex is not an obstacle to conception if you intend to break that 'habit.' hence my question. "The passage below indicates Jesus had brothers and sisters" is a long-answered objection, in that the well-known Hebraic 'brother = kinsman' understanding was always accepted, as far as Christian records exists. Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 17:38
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    I think I'm losing something in your question. What I see: Mary is told she will have a baby. Her response is, "how is that possible". Then she learns of a miracle that will occur. Her response is consistent with what we all would call natural law. I think the long standing 'kinsman interpretation' should be rejected due to the fact of the personal qualifiers for Joseph, Mary, the names of the brothers, and sisters. There's no reason to make these qualifiers when speaking of 'kinsman' in this specific context. He's teaching in a synagogue in his hometown. The speakers are kinsman.
    – Lionsden
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 19:26
  • Mary is told she will have a baby. Not by anything other than by natural means. Then she says, If not by the natural means, then how? Mary intends to remain a virgin.. the perennial stance on Mary. Your answer merely asserts Mary knew how she would conceive.. that's my point: she knew how "you shall conceive and bear a son" yet excluded it as one of the options.. Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 19:46
  • 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. Wouldn't the last phrase be the evidence that she would not conceive by natural means? My answer would assert that Mary had no clue how a virgin would conceive and the Angel answered that for her. If Mary intended to remain a virgin, I think we would need a better text than this one to give us that information.
    – Lionsden
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 20:46
  • "My answer would assert that Mary had no clue how a virgin would conceive and the Angel answered that for her" You said yourself she knew how a virgin conceives... I'm not saying that, you did. This is my point. This is my question. She knew how she would conceive the child but excludes (so goes the question) the normative means. "Wouldn't the last phrase be the evidence that she would not conceive by natural means?" Gabriel said this after she asked the question.. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 13:16

Many of the answers here in this parallel question appeal (as OP seems to do) to the idea that Mary's question to Gabriel, "How can this be, since I know not a man?' only makes sense if she was already committed to remaining perpetually virgin. After all, the argument goes, she knew she was engaged, she knew consummation was coming, and she must have known babies come from consummation so the question makes no sense unless she also knew she had vowed never to 'know' a man.

Here is the link from which I am summarizing below.

But there is a time element that is not directly addressed in Luke's discourse which renders the above argument moot. A first century Jewish marriage happened in 3 distinct stages.

1) There is a betrothal (ketubbah) which is predominantly a legal contract (often between parents of the espoused). The betrothed couple has not yet consummated the marriage (the marriage bed) but the marriage is fully engaged at this point; thus, Joseph's thought to divorce Mary quietly makes sense because, although not yet consummated, the marriage was already valid in the betrothal.

2) Consummation (chuppah) occurs when the groom is able to fulfill the financial aspect of the betrothal contract with the father of the bride. He comes to the bride's house at the prearranged time where the bride is waiting with her maidens for the groom and his entourage. Consummation (sexual union) takes place in the bride's home while the wedding party waits (eww!). It may take up to 7 years between betrothal and consummation, depending upon the contractual obligations of the betrothal and the financial means of the groom.

3) The wedding feast (ala John 2) follows the consummation and the trek to the home of the groom.

Given the complete lack of information in Scripture regarding the specifics of the betrothal agreement including but not limited to; a) the exact date the betrothal contract was initiated, b) the agreed upon financial requirements placed upon the groom, and c) the expected time lapse between contract and consummation, it is not so hard to understand Mary's question.

Gabriel's pronouncement appears to lack a delay in the action foretold. He does not say, for instance, "At this time next year.", as was told to Abraham in Gen. 18. I do not know if the Greek grammar of Luke 1:31 indicates timing of the future fulfillment of this prophesy but it reads as more immediate than not. "The Lord IS with you.", and, "You HAVE found favor with God.", seem to indicate that some prerequisites have already been met.

Mary may well have understood the immediacy of the prophesy (as we who see it from this end of history know that it was) and known that their contracted consummation date was years in the future, as was common in her time and culture. Therefore her question to Gabriel, "How can this be?", might be paraphrased as, "How can I conceive soon, as you say, since I am currently a virgin and there are still 3 years until my marriage to Joseph is consummated?"

This understanding does nothing to diminish the character of Mary who had already found favor with the Lord and who, upon hearing a promise of the 'impossible', leaned into the promise with humility and faith; the faith of Abraham you might say. It is, however, a culturally plausible and scripturally sound alternative to the notion that the only logical ground for Mary's question is to assume a vow of perpetual virginity.

  • Are you saying by ", "How can this be, since I know not a man?' only makes sense if she was already committed to remaining perpetually virgin." You are expressing an opposite, Mary's answer had implied that She already sacrifice Her "vow of virginity", and question Archangel Gabriel that conceiving a child must first require "sexual procreation", because Mary herself was a product of "human conception". That's why Archangel had to explain, how the conception will take place. Betrothal of Mary & Joseph means they already willing to consummate the act to fulfill Isaiah prophecy. Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 0:57
  • @itzsophia'svlogs Your quote from my answer is something I pulled from other answers on the page I linked at the very beginning. Many of those answers claim that Mary's question to Gabriel only makes sense if she had already vowed perpetual virginity. I am offering another solution. Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 12:08
  • @itzsophia'svlogs Many people appear to believe that Mary and Joseph, even though betrothed, were committed to abstaining forever from the marriage bed, essentially never consummating the marriage. Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 12:10
  • @itzsophia'svlogs Yes, I know. They appear to believe so based upon an assumption about the vow's existence that they feel is logically necessary. Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 15:44

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