Abrahamic / Middle Eastern Christianity Who Was Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus? Share Flipboard Email Print Philip Dumas/Getty Images Christianity The New Testament Christianity Origins The Bible The Old Testament Practical Tools for Christians Christian Life For Teens Christian Prayers Weddings Inspirational Bible Devotions Denominations of Christianity Funerals and Memorial Services Christian Holidays Christian Entertainment Key Terms in Christianity Catholicism Latter Day Saints View More By Austin Cline Atheism Expert M.A., Princeton University B.A., University of Pennsylvania Austin Cline, a former regional director for the Council for Secular Humanism, writes and lectures extensively about atheism and agnosticism. our editorial process Austin Cline Updated June 25, 2019 The synoptic gospels identify Mary as the mother of Jesus. Mark describes Jesus as the “son of Mary.” In Jewish tradition, a man is always identified as the son of his father, even if the father is dead. Mark might not have done this if Jesus’ birth wasn’t legitimate — that his parents weren’t married and, therefore, his biological father wasn’t his “social” father. This may be why Matthew and Luke describe Jesus as the “son of Joseph” — accepting that Jesus could have been illegitimate would not have been any easier then than it is now for believers. When Did Mary Live? The gospel texts provide no information about when Mary was born or when she died. If, however, Jesus was born in 4 BCE and was her first child, then Mary was likely born no earlier than 20 BCE. Christian traditions have filled in the considerable gaps here by creating numerous stories of Mary's life — stories which, in the end, are probably no less credible than what little information is contained in the gospel texts which were also probably created to fill theological and communal needs. Where Did Mary Live? The gospel texts describe Jesus’ family as living in Galilee. Luke, Matthew, and John, though, describe her origins as being in Bethlehem, which is in Judea. Contradictions and conflicts like this help support the conclusion that the gospel texts are not reliable about basic factual information and thus cannot be trusted. Too many Christians put absolute faith and confidence in the gospel stories, but there is far less there that can be trusted than most realize. What Did Mary Do? Mark portrays Mary negatively, showing her as among those who think Jesus is deranged. The other gospel writers depict her more positively and as helping Jesus' ministry in some instances. Luke, for example, places her at the Last Supper with Jesus’ apostles and as one of those who receive the Holy Spirit. The differences in portrayal are likely due to the fact that the stories and characters were all created to fill specific theological and communal needs of the authors, not because they accurately portray anything that occurred. Mark's community was different from Luke's, so they created different tales. Why Was Mary a Virgin? In Catholic tradition, Mary is referred to as the Virgin Mary because of the doctrine of her perpetual virginity: even after giving birth to Jesus she never had sexual relations with her husband, Josephus, and never gave birth to more children. Many Protestants also believe that Mary remained a virgin, but for most, it’s not a doctrine of faith. References to brothers and sisters of Jesus in the gospels suggest that Mary did not remain a virgin. This is one of many cases where traditional Christian doctrine runs into direct conflicts with text in the Bible. Given a choice, most Christians go with tradition. Why Is the Doctrine of Perpetual Virginity Important? Mary's perpetual virginity means that she is the one human to be both a mother and a virgin; unlike other women, she escapes the curse of Eve. Other women are cursed with sexuality that forces men to control and restrain them. This created in Christian tradition the virgin-whore dichotomy: all women are either virgins who follow in the footsteps of Mary (like for example becoming nuns) or who follow in the footsteps of Eve (by tempting men and causing them to sin). This, in turn, helped limit opportunities for women throughout Christian society. Why Was Mary Important in Christianity? Mary has become the focus of feminine aspirations within Christianity, much to the chagrin of those Christian leaders who would prefer to keep Christianity a male-dominated religion. Because Jesus and God are typically described in exclusively male terms, Mary has become the most immediate female connection to divinity that Christians have had. The strongest focus on Mary has occurred within Catholicism, where she is an object of veneration (many Protestants mistake this for worship, something they consider blasphemous). Why Was Mary important? Mary has become the focus of feminine aspirations within Christianity. Because Jesus and God are typically described in exclusively male terms, Mary has become the most immediate female connection to divinity that people have had. The strongest focus on Mary has occurred within Catholicism, where she is an object of veneration (many Protestants mistake this for worship, something they consider blasphemous). In Catholic tradition, Mary is most commonly referred to as the Virgin Mary because of the doctrine of her perpetual virginity: even after giving birth to Jesus she never had sexual relations with her husband, Josephus, and never gave birth to more children. Many Protestants also believe that Mary remained a virgin, but for most, it’s not a doctrine of faith. Because of references to brothers and sisters of Jesus in the gospels, many believe that Mary did not remain a virgin.