Right after Christmas, Orthodox Christians celebrate a feast of the Ever Virgin Mary. Ironically, some who are far from orthodoxy assert that’s when she and Joseph began eyeing each other with a twinkle and trying to make a sibling for Jesus.
This would’ve seemed absurd to ancient Christians, but some now regard Mary’s ever-virginity as the conspiracy. They claim proof in references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and the last verse of Matthew 1: “he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son.”
Their misinterpretations are worth correcting — not as attacks on Mary’s veneration, but as undermining the Virgin Birth, and replacing the Gospel with an ethic of sexual activity as the only means to personal fulfillment, and authentic humanity.
Jesus’ brothers and sisters: How could anyone fail to notice such clear indicators of Mary and Joseph’s intercourse? Calvin was first to draw this conclusion, and reject her Ever Virginity.
He was apparently unaware, or uninterested, that prior generations had also noticed and been untroubled, because they’d received one of two traditions. The West understood “brothers and sisters” to mean close relatives of the same generation (Jesus’ cousins), while the East understood them as Joseph’s older children from a prior marriage.
According to the second-century Protoevangelion of James, Joseph was an old widower with children when Mary was placed into his care on leaving the Temple, so she could live out her vow of virginity.
As for knowing her not “until” she’d borne a son, the Greek term needn’t indicate the end of an action. Scripture is replete with passages where it amplifies acts as ongoing — notably, Jesus’ promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even until the close of the age.” Will he no longer be with us when the age closes?
Reformers’ attacks on consecrated virginity have come full circle in the new, sexualized ethic of personhood — our modern paradigm for a humanity fulfilled — where to remain virgin is a kind of sad, existential death.
Unsurprisingly, many Christians now also reject the Virgin Birth. And since a sexually unfulfilled person is only half a person, why consign Jesus to this cross? Surely, he and Mary Magdalene must’ve had something going on. So the Gospel is hijacked . . . but Christians started it.
A fundamentalist girl who sat beside me in college and liked to needle me about my Orthodoxy once asked me around Christmas, “So why does the idea of Mary having sex bother you guys so much?” I should’ve replied, “Why does the idea of her not having sex bother you?”
The burden of proof should be on innovators, not tradition. Going back to Jesus telling John, “Behold your Mother” (a huge taboo if Mary had other children to care for her), tradition has held her to be Mother of all Christians — unique Bride of God, who needs no earthly groom.