BMEV, or “Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin,” should not be an issue for any Protestant today, but clamor from various quarters means that we need once again to “get real” with the Biblical data here. Herewith is a reworking of a recent essay on the subject originally published in Biblical Horizons.
Early on in the church it was decided that Joseph must have kept Mary a virgin all her life. Unquestionably this is because sex was considered dirty — we need only peruse the Church “Fathers” to see this over and over. The mother of Jesus could not possibly have engaged in such a disgusting, sweaty, stinky enterprise.
This abysmal notion is ferociously defended by those given over to this idea. It is clear from the Bible that the pleasures of marital intercourse are to be enjoyed, and it would have been sinful for Joseph to deny it to her. There is nothing dirty about sex in marriage. Theologian John Murray, once asked if Mary stayed a virgin, replied to the effect: “Of course not! She was a Godly woman.”
Jephthah’s daughter wept because she was consigned to perpetual virginity. Are we to believe that God rewarded Mary’s faithfulness with a curse!? — denying her the pleasures of a husband and the joys of more children?
Matthew 1:25 is quite clear: Joseph “was not knowing her until she gave birth to a son.” It does not say “never knew her.” The “imperfect” status verb here indicates routine continual activity.
And we may ask why Joseph would have felt any need to keep Mary a virgin. Neither he nor anyone else knew that Jesus was the incarnation of God. Often we hear from the ignorant in certain churches that “Well, if my wife had given birth to God Himself, I don’t think I could touch her sexually after that.” Well, in fact nobody knew Jesus was God incarnate. They knew that he was the promised Messiah, son of David, and savior of the world. They did not know and could not possibly have known that He was God on earth. How could Mary and Joseph ever have dealt with him growing up? How could the disciples possibly have had any kind of relationship with him if they had known He was God on earth?
When Jesus calmed the seas, the disciples wondered, saying, “Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?” Clearly they did not think Jesus was God. He was a kind of super-Moses, who like Moses could command the sea. It is only after His resurrection that the disciples realized that He was God incarnate.
When Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God,” he only meant that Jesus was the promised seed of David, the Messiah. In Psalm 2, the Davidic king is “son of God.” It is only after the resurrection that anyone said, “My Lord and my God!”
So, since all Mary and Joseph knew was that Jesus was a man destined for great things, there is no reason on earth they would have refrained from the joys of sex.
Now, even at the time of the Reformation the hold that this evil superstition had on people was so great that the Reformers did not touch it. I read on silly and uninformed blogs that Calvin believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. That is not true. A glance at Calvin’s commentaries shows that he says, in Matthew 1:25, that it is impossible to know one way or another [he’s wrong about that — JBJ] and that it is best not to worry about it.
Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21, and Mark 3:31-35 record that Jesus’ mother and His brothers arrived to see him. We are assured that “brothers” might mean “relatives,” and though a pointless assertion (since Jesus surely did have brothers), this is indeed lexically possible. In Mark 3:32, however, the multitude reports to Jesus, “your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside looking for you.” Now, “and your sisters” is absent from some ancient manuscripts. It was the consensus of the United Bible Societies Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (3rd ed., 1971), that “and your sisters” is most likely original. If it had been added later, they argue, it would also have been added in verse 31, where it is only “his mother and his brothers arrived.” Now, “brothers” might mean “relatives,” but “sisters” cannot. “Sisters” means sisters.
Whatever the case may be in Mark 3, we can be absolutely certain that Mary and Joseph began to enjoy sex after her purification from childbirth, and that this pleasure was part of God’s gift to them for their faithfulness and obedience, and that they had other children together. Any other opinion is simply an impossibility from a Biblical and consistent Christian point of view.
It is my hope that the Roman Catholic Church, as it rethinks various issues today, will begin to think more clearly and Biblically about this. They rightly seek to honor Mary, but they do so in a very sadly wrong way.