Gnostic Origins of the Ever-Virgin Doctrine

Question: Was Mary an ever virgin?

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
-Mathew 1:25

Answer: One of the most crucial question that caused an endless debates on different sects of Christianity was the divinity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was revered by the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches as someone who intercedes between man and her son Jesus. There were also countless titles attributed to her such as the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Peace and more. Out of these special names was the term “the Virgin”, which was due to the fact that she bore Jesus in her womb even when she knew not any man (Luke 1:31, 34-35). However, this account, according to traditions continued even after she settled down with her husband Joseph. Thus, the Marian devotion from the east, during the 4th century gave her the title aieiparthenos which means “ever-virgin.” Later, in the middle of 7th century, the conviction of the word ever-virgin was widely accepted and survived until these days.

According to Orthodox and Catholic traditions, Mary was ever virgin and never knew any man through out the days of her life. Although there are several times in the Bible when Jesus was mentioned to have brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3) yet this does not mean that they are legit children of Mary. Some people believed that these supposedly siblings of Jesus were his cousins or relatives. Since the word brothers could also mean a kin. Furthermore, Catholic traditions holds that Joseph has a wife before he was betrothed to Mary and that Jesus’ siblings could have been from his former wife. Thus, this made Jesus as the only child of Mary and the youngest to all his brothers and sisters.

Perhaps the books that supported the account that Joseph had another wife that bore him children, came from a Gnostic writings that were banned in the New Testament canonization during the 3rd century A.D. These books are the Gnostic Gospel of James and the Gnostic Gospel of Nativity of Mary which became the sources that supported the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The Gnostic Gospel of James was named after James, the 1st century elder of the Christian church and one of the brother of Jesus. Scholars and theologians, however, doubted the authority of this book since its earliest known copies were in the 3rd centuries. Furthermore, its was first circulated about 200 years after the time of the apostles ministry, thus, the name of the author was just a pure fabrication. The funny thing about the book is when the author speak as if he had a vast knowledge of the accounts of Jesus’ birth and yet he knew nothing about the Law of Moses. He wrote some supposedly “tradition of the Jews” that are surprisingly contrary to the true practice of the Mosaic law. If he was really James the brother of Jesus as he claimed to be, he should be very knowledgeable of such laws which are very common among the Jews.

During the early days of Christianity, Gnosticism has already lurking around Christian communities and they were writing countless books. They attributed these writings after the names of the apostles of Jesus, so that they may be easily accepted by the unaware Christians. The apostle Paul was aware of this controversy during their time, thus he constantly exhorted the Christians to stand firm only on what they preached and not to accept any other gospels, even if it was preached by another apostle or an angel from heaven (Galatians 1:6-9). Peter and Jude, on the other hand, warned the saints about these men who crept among the churches but were condemned already to perdition (2 Peter 2:1-2; Jude 3-4). These Gnostics writings, however, were later all condemned not inspired and heretical. The Gospel of James was one of these non-canonical books that were denied a place among the books of the New Testament.

Gnostic Books
Some Remains of Gnostic Books

Protestants, Fundamentalists and other Evangelical churches who were known to embrace Sola Scriptura (Bible alone), believed that Mary was virgin before and during her conception of Jesus but not after his birth. According to the Bible, Jesus had brothers and sisters. At least four names were mentioned in the gospel, namely James, Joses, Simon and Jude (Mark 6:3).

Another proof that claimed Mary having children aside from Jesus, was written in the gospel of Matthew. It was stated that Jesus was the “firstborn” son (Matthew 1:25). Some people, however, argued that calling a child the firstborn doesn’t necessarily mean that there is another child that followed him. Although, this may seem a good point to disapproved the claim, but the Bible always used the phrase “only begotten” and not “firstborn” when he is the only child. For example, Jesus was always called the only begotten son of the Father (John 1:14; John 3:16). Another reason, is that the firstborn was also used in the Scripture to emphasized that a child has siblings. For example, Jesus was called the firstborn of God’s creatures (Colossians 1:15) and Esau (the brother of Jacob) was the firstborn of Isaac (Genesis 27:19).

Lastly, the only unquestionable account that can stand alone to prove that Mary is not ever-virgin was taken in the context that Joseph “knew” not Mary “till” she brought her firstborn (Matthew 1:25). To understand this clearly we must first define what the words “knew” and “till” means.

According to Encarta dictionaries:

Know (past tense knew) - transitive verb have sex with somebody: to engage in sexual intercourse with somebody (archaic).

Till - (conjunction, prep) Same as until.

This indicates that Mary “had a sexual intercourse” with her husband Joseph “until” she brought forth her firstborn Jesus. To proved this further, there are accounts in the Bible that used the word “knew” before they bore a child. One of this is Hannah, who prayed in the temple pleading to God to give her a child. She later conceived and bore a son whom she named Samuel.

The Bible says,
And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her. Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bear a son, and called his name Samuel, saying because I have asked him of the Lord.
-1 Samuel 1:19-20

Another, notable account was when Eve bear Cain and Seth.

The Bible says,
And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.
-Genesis 4:1

And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.
-Genesis 4:25

Within these Biblical accounts lies the belief of those who embraced Sola Scriptura, which is obviously contrary to the Marian devotion of the ever-virgin Mary.
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