The Ever-Virginity of Mary and Why it Matters

In The Body of Christ that Jesus started, Mary -His mother, was always (for the last 1900+ years) referred to as Ever Virgin and was always central; if your “church” says otherwise, it’s NOT part of The Church.

This statement began a whirlwind of debate, primarily between a Protestant friend and myself, which I have decided to share here. The initial response was a comment about James, named as Jesus’ brother in the scriptures and also a quote of Matthew 1:25 where the words seem to imply that Joseph “knew” Mary after Jesus’ birth. The following is our conversation:

ImageThe indication you are speaking of is Matt 1:25: “But he had no union with her UNTIL she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” The tricky part with that is the word being used “until” is the Greek word ‘heos’ (Strongs G2193) and it is also the word used in Matt 20:28 where Jesus is sending out the disciples into the world: “And surely I am with you always, TO the very end of the age.” In English, when we translate a word into “until,” we imply that the action did occur afterwards. The Greek word implies no such thing, which we can see from Jesus’ words to the disciples. He certainly could not have meant that he would leave them after the end of the age. He simply means that He would not ever leave them, not before or after the end of the age.

Another question my friend asked was why this was important to be discussing anyway. Why would someone say that if you don’t believe it, you aren’t part of the Church?

Also, your point about making this a point of separation is understandable. It may seem ridiculous (and personally, I wouldn’t call it a “point of separation;” when I became Orthodox, it wasn’t a deal-breaker issue that I had to say I agreed with before my chrismation, and for the record, I wasn’t sure I did). However, it is really a symptom of a larger problem: Protestants will not believe anything unless it is written in the Book, but the Book is only a part of a living-breathing organism called the Body of Christ. The early Fathers of the Church decided which books should be in our Bible because they were the essentials but they never intended the whole of the Christian life to be understood through those books. In fact, they couldn’t even foresee a day when individual Christians would have their own copies and read them alone. They were only read together in church by the collective Church until the printing press 1500 years later. The Gospels tell the story of Christ but John himself says that all of Jesus’ works couldn’t be contained in all the world’s books. The Epistles were written to people who were already believers and Paul commands multiple times to hold to what they had been given, by the words of the disciples AND their epistles. Being a Christian outside the original Church is like trying to put together pieces of a puzzle without being able to look at the picture: perhaps you will put them together correctly but perhaps not. Even Peter says Paul is hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). That is a tough puzzle to put together.

My friend responded, “Hmm I must admit I do hold to more of the sola scriptura position. Moreover, why should I trust and put my confidence in the Roman Catholic Church? Haven’t they contradicted themselves?”

First thought – sola scriptura. A year ago, I was 100% sola scriptura and thought how could it be any other way? I had never even questioned that it could be inaccurate or mislead me, seriously. But then I started learning more and realized the the Church existed for 300 years without the completed cannon of the NT and even then, it was not totally finalized for years afterwards. The Word of God was spread and held within the Church body itself and was only canonized because there were so many incorrect doctrines being spread around. The idea that Christians could exist only by the written words leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, nowhere in the NT do the apostles set out a pattern for weekly worship (if it did, every church would look exactly the same). It refers to things but it never gives a step by step. But if you look back at Jewish worship, God told them exactly what to do and told them that the reason He did so was because that is how worship is done in heaven. Wouldn’t it be strange that the same God who said that would send His Son and not set out a new pattern for earthly worship that also reflected heaven? It seems that the Christians who received the letters would have already known the expected pattern, so that wouldn’t need to be mentioned in the letters. It’s pretty easy to follow a pattern, but a lot harder to know what living a Christian life entails (so it would make sense that Paul/Peter/etc. focused on helping them with Christian living, not as much the form of Christian worship). 

Second thought – Roman Catholic Church. Alex mentioned this in his comment but I want to add a bit of history. The One Holy and Catholic (meaning unified) Church existed undivided (yes, there were heretics and small schisms along the way but the original 5 churches: Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, and Constantinople stayed undivided) until 1054 when the bishop of Rome decided that he was the head over all of the churches. The bishop in Constantinople said no, he was not, all the bishops were equal in their responsibilities to lead their respective churches and (simplified explanation of course) poof, the bishop in Rome separated from the other 4 churches. He is known as the Pope.Over time, the 4 churches who remained in their beliefs that had been held since the beginning became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the church under the Pope became known as the Roman Catholic Church. Right at the time of the schism, the churches were not that far apart on doctrine, worship, Christian living, etc. but through the years, the Pope was left unchecked and has created new doctrines for the people he leads. 

This imbalance of power led to many of the problems Martin Luther wanted to correct during the Reformation. He saw all of the terrible stuff going on and came up with “sola scriptura,” in an effort to weed out all of the additions the Pope had made to the faith. However, he still believed in the ever-virginity of Mary, structured his worship services in a similar way to RCC, and read the writings of the early Fathers. His intentions were good, but he was 500 years removed from the Pope’s split, communications between east and west were difficult, and in trying to reform, he caused his followers to cast doubt on much of historical Christianity. In many ways, he unwittingly opened Pandora’s box, a world of individualized Christianity that would have been considered heretical to early Christians. Orthodox Christians would agree with many of Luther’s reforms because we see the RCC as being a church that has not stayed true to original doctrine because of the unchecked power of the Pope whereas the Orthodox (with numerous bishops and tons of checks and balances) literally has not changed in 2000 years. 

In spite of this, there are many RCC doctrines that Orthodox believe as well because they were in place before the split in 1054 and the RCC hasn’t changed. Examples include the ever-virginity of Mary, the role of saints in the Church, and the basics of the Divine Liturgy (Sunday service). Protestants don’t believe in/agree with any of these examples because they are not recorded in canonized scripture but the fact that both the eastern (Orthodox) and western (RCC) churches agree on them and have always practiced them is a testament to their origins in the very early churches.

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