Protestants and Catholics both share the belief in the virgin birth - that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

But many people think the scriptures are also clear scripture that Jesus had brothers, and that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary until after Jesus was born, meaning that they did have sex later on.

Against these views, what is the Biblical Basis for the doctrine that Mary was a perpetual virgin. I'm happy to have answers from anyone, but the scriptures should be from the Protestant canon.


5 Answers 5


There is not a passage in the bible which states this explicitly, but certain passages do support the idea. Most notably, the Apostle John took Mary into his home to care for her as her son after Christ's death (John 19:26-27). This would have been unnecessary, and indeed quite odd, if Jesus had other brothers. One could make the argument that Jesus did not want any of His brothers caring for their mother because they were all wicked men who did not follow Him, but Protestants often point out that there is an Apostle named James, who is often called the brother of Jesus. This, they say, is evidence that Mary had subsequent children after Jesus.

James, while he fled the crucifixion, was not wicked. He was an Apostle, and he along with all the others beside Judas repented, went on to evangelize the world, and eventually was martyred. Jesus obviously would have known on the cross that James would be the appropriate man to care for their mother, Mary, if he were actually James' biological brother. What reason could Christ have had for abdicating James of his filial responsibility under the 4th commandment (thou shalt honor thy mother and thy father) and burdening John with that responsibility instead. Protestants who wish to claim that James is the biological brother of Jesus, that he is a biological son of the Virgin Mary, need to answer this question. This would also have been shameful for James, to allow another man who was not his own mother's son to care for her in his stead when he was perfectly capable of doing so himself.

To reiterate, it would indeed be very strange for Jesus to take the responsibility of the care for His mother away from His biological brothers, who have that duty already, and to ask John to take that duty on instead. Therefore, it seems unlikely, given this story from the cross, that Mary had other children besides Jesus, which would strongly imply she was a perpetual virgin.

Edit: I thought today to add also the Annunciation in Luke (Luke 1:34, in particular). Mary responds to the Angel Gabriel wondering how she could become pregnant, because she is a virgin. At this time, she was already betrothed to Joseph. I think that if my wife had been visited by an angel and told she would conceive a child during our engagement, her assumption would be that that would be a child conceived with me after our wedding. Mary's reaction here is confusing if she is planning to lose her virginity soon to her husband.

  • 3
    Why would not having more kids = "strongly imply" she was a perpetual virgin? Lots of people don't have kids because one or other of the couple is infertile. Commented May 24, 2022 at 16:37
  • 1
    +1 Jesus considered those who are spiritually aligned with him to be his true family - this answer might be stronger with an explicit consideration of Matthew 12:46-50, and why that wouldn't lead one to think Jesus would assign someone from spiritual family instead of his biological family. Commented May 24, 2022 at 16:42
  • What is the basis for concluding that James the son of Alphaeus & James the Lord's brother are the same person? The Gospels suggest that during Jesus' lifetime one was a believer and one was not. Commented May 24, 2022 at 16:51
  • 1
    @OneGodtheFather sure, point conceded (assuming this is actually accurate; every case of infertility I've known of personally has been solved either by miracle or by something done to fix the woman's body - obviously men can also be infertile, but in my experience it's more rare - could be totally wrong I haven't done a study). Can you answer what is the biblical basis for believing that Mary and/or Joseph was infertile?
    – jaredad7
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 20:02
  • 1
    @jaredad7 some examples in John 7:5, Mark 3:21, 6:4. James the Lord's brother is named in Mark 6:3, and is referred to years later as an apostle by Paul. Like Paul, James the son of Joseph later converted and was at some point made an apostle, but later than the original 12. Paul distinguishes them in 1 Cor 15. Acts distinguishes between James the son of Alphaeus (Acts 1:13) and the Lord's familial brothers (Acts 1:14). Additionally, that James the son of Joseph is not one of the 2 James's in the original 12 is evident because we know both James' fathers' names: Zebedee & Alphaeus (not Joseph) Commented May 25, 2022 at 1:41

The Biblical argument for the perpetual virginity of Mary are quite solid, they just require a more-than-surface level reading of the text, and a little Scripture knowledge, to make sense of.

"I Know Not Man"

First, we have the fact that Mary herself says "I know not man" (Luke 1:34) when Gabriel tells her she will "concieve and bear a son." This might not seem like a powerful argument (or even an argument at all) unless we understand what Mary is saying.

"To know" is a Hebrew euphemism meaning "to have sexual relations." E.g., "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore a son" (Genesis 4:1). "A young girl with a very comely appearance — a virgin whom no man had known." (Genesis 24:16). So Mary is literally saying, by use of a euphemism, "How shall I conceive, given the fact that I do not have sexual relations?"

This is significant because she was already betrothed to Joseph (Luke 1:27). If she had intended to have children with Joseph according to the ordinary manner, she wouldn't have brought up her not knowing man as an obstacle to conception, because it wouldn't exist, and she would already know the means of conception, and it would precisely be by 'knowing man.' This is why the translation, "I am a virgin" is misleading, and, frankly, wrong: a married woman who intends to have children with her spouse doesn't ask how she will have children if she is a virgin.

This alone is proof, considering that 'I can't have a baby, since I don't have sex, so how is this going to work' is pretty explicit, but there is another subtle clue in another Scripture.

The "Humiliation" of the Maidservant of God

Another more subtle proof is something Mary says in her Magnificat:

Luke 1:46-55...My soul doth magnify the Lord. 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath looked upon the affliction of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. 51 He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: 55 As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

(To those reading the Douay-Rheims, they will see "humility." However, the original word, including the Latin of which it is a translation, means "humiliation" or "shame" or "afflication" or "debasement" depending on context.)

This comes from Semitic culture, where inability to conceive children was viewed as a veritable curse from God (the opposite, that is, to the blessing of being given children), and thus termed it their "affliction" or "humiliation" when they were barren and could not have children.

Genesis 29:32 And the Lord seeing that [Jacob] hated Leah, opened her womb, but her sister remained barren. And she conceived and bore a son, and called his name Reuben, saying: The Lord hath looked upon my affliction: now my husband will love me.

1 Samuel 1:8-11 And Elkanah her husband said to Hannah: Why dost thou weep? And why dost thou not eat? And why is thy heart sorrowful? Am I not better in thy eyes than ten sons? . . . And she made a vow, saying: Lord of hosts, If thou wilt look indeed upon the humiliation of your handmaid, and remember me, and forget not thy handmaid, but give thy handmaid offspring, I will dedicate him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and a razor shall never touch his head.1 . . . And Eli [the priest] answered, Go in peace, may the God of Israel give thee thee what it is thou hast asked of him. And she [Hannah] said: May thy handmaid find favor in thy eyes.

Cf. Genesis 41:52

This is Mary saying, "The Lord gave me children in spite of my not being able to have children naturally!" Not only does this explain why Mary mentions the Lord taking away the otherwise utterly unexplained "humilation of" Mary, which would thus be explained, but also explains several other things. First, when Gabriel says, "Fear not Mary, for thou hast found favor with God," this in context, might mean, "God has heard your prayers for children despite being a virgin for life," and explains the greeting of Gabriel: "Hail, Κεχαριτωμενη." Κεχαριτομενη is the Greek translation of the name Hannah. A probably theory might be that Luke, who makes many allusions to the Old Testament apparently deliberately, especially the books of Samuel, might be reducing the Semitic original behind "kecharitomene" to "graced" in order to direct us to this allusion deliberately (since "kecharitomene" cannot have a direct Semitic equivalent, but must be multiple words in the original Hebrew or Aramaic).

Taken as a package, this is all an allusion to this barrenness-humilitation being taken away by God who looks on this afflication and the subject finding grace in his eyes. The humiliation in question being unable to conceive children due to natural inability - or in Mary's case, a vow of virginity of some kind, or as tradition has it, herself being dedicated to the Temple and thus sacred.

Moreover, they both break into prayer in a similar fashion:

1 Samuel 2:1-10

My heart hath rejoiced in the Lord, and my horn is exalted in my God: my mouth is enlarged over my enemies: because I have joyed in thy salvation. 2 There is none holy as the Lord is: for there is no other beside thee, and there is none strong like our God. 3 Do not multiply to speak lofty things, boasting: let old matters depart from your mouth: for the Lord is a God of all knowledge, and to him are thoughts prepared. 4 The bow of the mighty is overcome, and the weak are girt with strength. 5 They that were full before have hired out themselves for bread: and the hungry are filled, so that the barren hath borne many: and she that had many children is weakened. 6 The Lord killeth and maketh alive, he bringeth down to hell and bringeth back again. 7 The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich, he humbleth and he exalteth. 8 He raiseth up the needy from the dust, and lifteth up the poor from the dunghill: that he may sit with princes, and hold the throne of glory. For the poles of the earth are the Lord's, and upon them he hath set the world. 9 He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness, because no man shall prevail by his own strength. 10 The adversaries of the Lord shall fear him: and upon them shall he thunder in the heavens. The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth, and he shall give empire to his king, and shall exalt the horn of his Christ.

Luke 1:46-55

My soul doth magnify the Lord. 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 Because he hath looked upon the humiliation of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 Because he that is mighty, hath done great things for me; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. 51 He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: 55 As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

The Brothers of Jesus

The argument that Jesus had brothers, and that thus these are sons of Mary, takes a back seat to the Luke 1:34 evidence, since it is more explicitly about Mary's sexual activity or lack thereof, whereas "Jesus' brothers" could mean more than one thing in Semitic usage, as several Scriptures and other Hebrew and Aramaic texts show. It could be that these are sons of Joseph by a prior marriage, or simply relatives of Jesus.

That is, if these show Mary intended not to have children with Joseph, then the brothers of Jesus must refer to the relatives of Jesus, and thus cannot be used as explicit evidence: "I don't have sex" is more explicit than "the brothers of Jesus." It would be backward to consider the evidence the other way around, considering first verses less explicitly about Mary, and her virginity, and instead about Jesus' brothers which, in contrast, are ambiguous.


1 The Nazarite vow — the equivalent of monks in the Old Testament period.

  • 1
    Your second proof has Mary, under a voluntary vow of virginity, thanking God for ending her affliction; thanking God for answering her prayer for children while under the vow. It conflates virginity (a sacrifice to God) with barrenness (a curse of God). A woman sworn to virginity is not afflicted and a barren woman in Scripture is seldom, if ever, a virgin. Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 15:31
  • 1
    That's the point: perpetual virginity is dooming oneself to no children, yet every daughter of David wants to be mother of the Messiah. God grants her the impossible in spite of such, just as He granted children to women who could not conceive for other reasons of nature. Besides, if the probable tradition is true, and Mary ended up a perpetual virgin because she was dedicated in the Temple at a young age, and thus became 'holy' as it were, and her husband a guardian (and the marriage necessary for such an arrangement), then she in that sense didn't as such voluntarily make a choice (cf 1Sam). Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 22:08
  • The protevangelium of James? Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 13:03
  • 1
    No, but that's not to say it doesn't predate it, any more than Genesis doesn't record traditions which long predate it. It's a matter of probability; I find it quite plausible, though nothing I said assumes it. E.g. POJ says Mary was summoned, along with other virgins of the house of David, to the Temple to weave the veil. That's corroborated by Shekelim (8, 5) (משמונים ושתי ריבות נעשית It was woven by eighty-two maidens) and Ketuboth (109a, 10) (נשים האורגות בפרכות נוטלות שכרן מתרומת הלשכה The women who wove the curtain would received wages from the collection chamber). Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 17:54
  • 1
    Obviously the Gelasian Decree cannot be condemning it for teaching the PVM since it approves the works of Jerome, which include his work solely concerned with defending it against the heretic Helvidius. It was condemning various apocryphal works as unsafe for reading by Catholics in general. Much like it condemned Tertullian, yet all that he said has never been condemned in its entirety, only for the heresies he espoused. Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 23:38

Historically, certain members of the church would spiritually argue from Ezekiel's vision of the temple and apply it to Mary and Jesus' birth; that is, Mary remained a virgin even in the act of giving birth and of course thereafter.

They would argue biblically from the metaphor of the king leaving the temple via the east gate and no one returning.

Now when the prince shall prepare a voluntary burnt offering or peace offerings voluntarily unto the LORD, one shall then open him the gate that looketh toward the east, and he shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings, as he did on the sabbath day: then he shall go forth; and after his going forth one shall shut the gate. Eze 46:12

The prince refers to Jesus who voluntarily gave of Himself. He would come forth out of the temple (Mary's womb) through the east gate (her side, not the "south gate"). Thereafter, the gate would be shut.

This belief lasted centuries, even to John of Damascus who taught circa 750 CE.

The conception [of Jesus], indeed, was through the sense of hearing, but the birth through the usual path by which children come, although some tell tales of His birth through the side of the Mother of God. For it was not impossible for Him to have come by this gate, without injuring her seal in anyway. John Damascus-source

"Not impossible" implies it was a well known and strongly supported idea that Jesus was born from her "east gate".

As to the virgin conceiving, the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy is used.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

So, the Biblical basis used to prove Mary's virginity before birth was the Isaiah prophecy , during birth and after birth was the Ezekiel prophecy.


On the assertion that because Jesus appointed John son of Zebedee as "son" to Mary, rather than to her other biological sons, as proof of her ongoing virginity, there are other more reasonable explanations.

At the time of the cross, all of His possible biological brothers and sisters had abandoned Jesus. John, however, along with Mary were at the cross.

Jesus knew John would survive longer than any of the others.

The Zebedee's were probably first cousins of Mary (see also here).

So, Jesus appointing John as son and Mary as his mother appears very natural, rather than as a proof of ongoing virginity.

  • Somehow, I don't think that a stable is a very hygienic place to perform a Ceasarian section in!
    – nick012000
    Commented May 30, 2022 at 8:28
  • @nick012000 Good point, but you've missed the point from centuries ago. A birth from her side (east gate) would be exampled as a miracle, not from a man-made incision. An explanation from the Infancy Gospel of James, "a great light shone in the cave, so that the eyes could not bear it. And in a little that light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and went and took the breast from His mother Mary. " The infant appears. At the east gate. Her body remains intact.
    – SLM
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 2:01
  1. There is no mention of any siblings in the flight to Egypt, the return from Egypt or the visit to the temple when Jesus was about 12. Thus any children of Mary beside Jesus would be at least thirteen years younger than him, hence twenty or younger at his Crucifixion.

  2. At the cross, Jesus tells John to behold his mother, and to Mary, to behold her son. Thereafter, John took her into his home. A reason given for this by some Protestant apologists is that Jesus’ siblings were not saved, and he wanted to leave his mother in the care of a believer. However, Jesus appeared to James “the brother of Jesus” before his ascension, hence only days later. This James then became a leader of the church in Jerusalem, as attested in Acts and by Paul. If this James, given at the head of the list of Jesus’ siblings, hence likely the eldest, would soon become a believer and later a martyr, assigning John the task of caring for his mother would not make sense. Culturally, the responsibility to care for your mother after your father died would fall on the eldest son. If on top of that, the eldest remaining son became mature enough to write one of the books of the Bible and lead the church, there would be no need to change living arrangements.

  • 1
    This assumes no siblings mentioned=no siblings existed (only one possibility). Why would Luke 2:23 specify "the boy Jesus" if he was an only child? Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 16:02
  • The notion that no other siblings were mentioned is the text-book example of an "Argument from silence". What's more, the example of comparing Mary to Hannah, both being barren, falls flat, because as a virgin who had never had relations with a man, there was no way for her to think she was barren. Most importantly, all this conjecture and speculation does not counter the explicitly clear statement in the Gospels, that Joseph did not have sexual relations with her until after Jesus was born. If Mary intended to be a virgin her entire life, then she would not have got married at all.
    – Tennman7
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 18:38
  • 2
    @Tennman7 Your question is: What is the scriptural evidence that Mary was always a virgin? It is not: Why did the Blessed Virgin Mary marry? These are distinct questions. Please treat them as such.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 23:25
  • 1
    @Tennman7 I didn't claim Mary was barren, or thought she was. You misread my answer entirely. Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 17:57
  • 1
    @Tennman7 Also, "she would not have got married at all" completely ignores the tradition that Joseph was her guardian, and thus needed to marry her in order to serve that function licitly. That's a plenty plausible reason for marrying. It explains Mary's "I don't have sex" + "He has looked upon the affliction of his handmaid" + "You have found favor with God" all at once with zero issue. Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 18:18

In those days, the fault of a married couple not having children, was attributed to the wife, and not to the husband.See God promising Abraham at Gen 17:16: " I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Now, Evangelist Matthew at 1:25 makes the statement : ""But he (Joseph) had no marital relations with her(Mary) until she had borne a son " . We could, for the sake of academic interest, construct an elucidation from Matthew in his own words, on the following lines:

(A) Mary proved herself that she could be a biological mother by conceiving and giving birth to baby Jesus.(B) A basic knowledge of biology tell us that one cannot impregnate a woman who is already pregnant, with a subsequent child (C) Joseph, like every man around, was capable of producing children provided his wife was not barren. (D) If Joseph remained a celibate till the birth of Jesus and reclaimed his rights as the legally married husband of Mary thereafter, they would have more children, which you my readers, don't see around. My friend John has already written how Jesus, just before his death on the cross, entrusted Mary's care to John who took her to his home( for the rest of her life).

That said, Mtt 1:25, if interpreted in the right perspective, would go a long way in postulating that Blessed Mother Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. After all, there is nothing superhuman if Joseph and Mary vowed for a life of celibacy after the conception and birth of Jesus. Incidentally, virginity may not have been considered a highly regarded virtue for lay people in those days, to the level as it is today, especially for the Catholic religious people. Hence the short statement of Matthew .

  • WE also see the rules on purification of a woman after delivery at Leviticus 12: ""The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel, saying: If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. ..... Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days "". In case Matthew intended to say that Joseph's period of celibacy ended with the birth of Jesus, it would have implied that Joseph and Mary did not follow the rule of purification after child-birth. Commented Jan 5, 2021 at 7:15
  • 1
    Hello Kadalikat, but your post does not provide any scripture that even hints Mary was a virgin after Christ was born.
    – Tennman7
    Commented Jan 5, 2021 at 13:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .