Updated: Mar 19
By Luke Lancaster
The mother of Jesus Christ, Mary, was a virgin her entire life. She never had sexual relations, and had no other children besides Jesus. This teaching mainly has support in the Tradition of the Church, however, there is biblical precedent for it as well. Let's consider Luke 1:34 and John 19:26-27.
In Luke 1, we have the dialogue between Gabriel and Mary that is commonly called the Annunciation. In this dialogue, Gabriel declared that Mary will give birth to the Messiah, the new king of Israel. Mary, however, responds with, "How shall this be done, because I know not man?" (Lk. 1:34). This response really doesn't make a whole lot of sense. For Mary is married to the current prince or king of Israel RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT.
Joseph is of the house of David (Lk. 1:27), and is betrothed to Mary. Betrothal is not an "engagement," but rather was a two-step process. The first part was the exchange of marital vows. The second part was where the husband built a house for his wife, so that they could consummate the marriage in sexual relations. So, Mary should just immediately think, "Okay, I will have sexual relations with my husband, Joseph, and our son will be the Messianic King of Israel." However, she doesn't think like that.
Mary responds to the angel with, "How?" Does Mary not know how babies are made? Of course she knows, for she's married. So, St. Augustine (354 - 430 AD) says that the only way that Mary's response makes sense is if she had a vow of virginity. This would cause her to say, "How will I give birth to the Messiah," for she knows that she does not have relations with men. She has made a vow to be a virgin to the Lord, just as Jeremiah had done (Jer. 16:1-4), Elijah and Elisha had done, St. Paul was to do (1 Cor. 7:7-8) and the virgins of Revelation had done (14:4).
St. Augustine says, "Had she intended to know man, she would not have been amazed. Her amazement is a sign of the vow" (Sermon 225, 2). St. Gregory of Nyssa (335 - 395 AD) agrees, "For if Joseph had taken her to be his wife, for the purpose of having children, why would she have wondered at the announcement of maternity, since she herself would have accepted becoming a mother according to the law of nature?" (On the Holy Generation of Christ, 5).
The second verse we shall consider is John 19:26-27. In this passage, Jesus is dying on the cross and tells St. John to take care of His mother, Mary. If Jesus had other siblings, why did Jesus do this? Shouldn't it have been assumed that Jesus's brothers would take care of Mary? Or maybe there weren't any other siblings....
St. Athanasius said of this verse, "For, if she had other children, the Savior would not have ignored them and entrusted his Mother to someone else; nor would she have become someone else's mother. She would not have [abandoned her own] to live with others, knowing well that it ill becomes [a woman] to abandon her husband or her children. But, since she was a virgin, and was his Mother, he gave her as a mother to his disciple, even though she was not really John's mother, because of his great purity of understanding and because of her untouched virginity" (On Virginity).
As we have seen, Mary would have been a perpetual virgin all of her life. There is evidence for this right in the beginning, with Mary's words to the Archangel Gabriel. Finally, it is seen from the fact that she was entrusted to St. John the beloved disciple, since she had no other people to take care of her.