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Jesus and his 500 Brothers! Did Mary have other children? 


John speaks against Mary's perpetual virginity and this is one of the reasons why he left the Catholic Church for the Lutheran Church. In his letter below, he voices his objections to Mary ever-virgin and then I give my response.  I explain why people mistakenly think that Mary had to have other children.  Did Mary have other children or not; after all Scripture does refer to Mary's sons?  The answer is somewhat involved because there are at least three different Marys in Scripture and only one of the three are Jesus' Mother.  The people who insist on Mary having other children are not differentiating between the three Marys.  Yes, there is a Mary who had other sons; however, this Mary was not listed as the Mother of Jesus.  And yes, Jesus had brothers; however they are not listed as sons of Jesus' Mother Mary.  Below is the part of John's letter where he objects to Mary ever-virgin.

Dear Lenny: 

I have questions about Mary, but I haven’t taken the time as you have to seek out the answers. What is this ever virgin myth?  I would expect she had sex with Joseph, perhaps had a few more children, led a quiet but devote roll in the early church, died and was buried. Yes, I believe Mary was a virgin when she bore Jesus. But why an ever-virgin, as if having sex with Joseph would defile her in some way... I believe the Catholic Church has done Mary a disservice in proclaiming Mary ever-virgin. The net result for me is that I would disbelieve anything the Catholic Church proclaims regarding Mary. My thoughts and feelings on this topic are one of the reasons I left the Catholic Church and now worship at a Lutheran Church. God bless you Lenny. I look forward to your response. 

  1. Luther speaks for Mary's perpetual virginity.
  2. Jesus and his 500 brothers.
  3. Three Marys .
  4. Jesus' Mother Mary.
  5. Marys, who are not the Mother of Jesus. 
  6. Adelphos can mean blood brother, relative, or even kinsman.
  7. 'Til, until or unto (archaic); Did something happen after the fact? 
  8. Does the word first-born imply a second born?
  9. The gate remains closed; it is reserved for the Prince.
  10. Augustine and the perpetual virginity of Mary.
  11. Protoevangelium of James.
  12. The humble shall be exalted.

Dear John: 

Luther speaks for Mary's perpetual virginity: You say, Yes, I believe Mary was a virgin when she bore Jesus. But why an ever-virgin? I guess the simplest way to respond to this is to point out that Mary's perpetual virginity is simply a matter of historical fact. Paul, you are a member of a Lutheran Church and either your Lutheran Church does not agree with its founder, Martin Luther, or it does agree and you are not aware of it. He (Luther) accepted the dogma of Mary as ‘god bearer’ (theotokos) and affirmed her perpetual virginity (The One Mediator The Saints and Mary, Lutherans and Catholics in Dialog VIII, pg. 26).  Christ our Savior was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb. . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. (On the Gospel of St. John: Luther's Works, vol. 22. p. 23, ed. Jaroslav Pelican, Concordia, 1957). 
 
If you thought that the perpetual virginity of Mary was an ever-virgin myth, then why did you join the Lutheran Church? You believe that the Catholic Church has done Mary a disservice in proclaiming her, ever-virgin.  Do you also believe that Martin Luther did Mary a disservice by affirming her perpetual virginity?  John, I ask these questions even though I know your answer. You simply didn't know what Luther taught concerning Mary. However, I am curious; where did you get your information on Mary? It did not come from the Lutheran Church, unless, your particular Lutheran Church believes it is more enlightened than its founder Martin Luther.
 
John, there are a number of reasons why some Christians believe Mary had other sons and daughters and thus could not have been ever-virgin. Here are some of the more frequent arguments used to defend this position:

In Mathew 13:55,56 and in other places, Jesus is said to have had brothers and sisters. If Jesus had other blood brothers and sisters, this means to them that Mary had other sons and therefore she could not have been ever-virgin.  There are three keys in answering this.  People insisting on Jesus having other brothers are in violation of these three elements.

  1. There are a number of references to the brothers of Jesus; however, these brothers are not listed as being the sons of Mary.
  2. The second problem that is very often ignored, is the several meanings for the word brother which does not necessarily mean blood brother.
  3. The fact that there are at least 3 different Marys referenced in Scripture is ignored. 
  4. And where Mary is said to have other sons, it does not say that this particular Mary is the mother of Jesus. 

Jesus and his 500 brothers: At the time of Jesus and the Apostles, we find that people had very large families. For example, we know that Peter had 120 brothers because he spoke to a group of one hundred twenty people and refers to them as, My brothers (Acts 2:15,-6). And Jesus came from a very large family too because He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once (1 Cor. 15:6). It kind of makes you wonder how many sisters Jesus had. Do you think I am joking about this? Jesus had sisters. Are not His sisters all with us (Mt. 13:56). Of course, I have written all of this tongue in cheek for one purpose and that is to show that the word brother or sister in Scripture does not always mean blood brother or blood sister.

There are those who think it silly, even preposterous, that Mary was ever-virgin. To those people, when the Bible says the word brother it means blood brother, and if the Bible says it, that settles it.  However, I think it is even more preposterous to believe that Peter had 125 blood brothers (Acts 2:15-16), and Jesus had over 500 blood brothers when He appeared to them (1 Cor. 15:16).

  • The first thing to note is that the term “brothers” has a wide meaning in the Bible. It is not restricted to brothers germane or half-brothers. (The same goes for “sister.” Of course, and the plural “brethren”). Lot is described as Abraham’s “brother’ (Gen. 14:14), but Lot was the son of Haran, Abraham’s deceased brother" (Gen. 11:26-28), which means Lot was really Abraham’s nephew. 29:15. Cis and Eleazar were the sons of Moholi. Cis had sons of his own, but Eleazar had no sons, only daughters who married their “brethren,” the sons of Cis. These “brethren” were really their cousins (1Chron. 23:21-22).
     
    The terms “brethren,” and “sister” did not refer only to close relatives, as in the above examples. Sometimes they meant only a kinsman (Deut. 23:7, 2 Esd. 5:7, Jer. 34:9). As in the reference to the forty-two “brethren” of King Ochozias (4Kgs. 10:13-14). The words could mean even people apparently unrelated, such as a friend (2 Sam. 1:26, 3 Kgs 9:13, 3 Kgs. 20:32) or just an ally (Amos 1:9) (Bretheren of the Lord pg 3, Catholic Answers P.O Box 17181, San Diego California 92117). 

There are those who like to point out the two Marys in the Bible and suggest that one of the two is Jesus' Mother Mary with her sons.  There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome (Mk 15:40).   This sounds pretty good until you realize that there were not two, but three Marys at the cross of Jesus.  And Mary the Mother of Jesus is not said to have other children.  She is referred to as His Mother.   

Three Marys

  1. His mother
  2. and His mother's sister Mary, the wife of Clopas,
  3. and Mary of Magdala (Jn 19:25).

There are some authors who claim that Mary the mother of Jesus had other biological sons.  I have yet to have any one of them show how we distinguish between the three different Marys.  They don't even admit that there are three Marys.   The point is this; their tradition teaches that Mary had other biological children and so they try to make the Scripture say that.  Intellectual honesty is lacking.  In fairness there are Protestant authors who do get this right and hold to the Biblical and historical teaching, Mary ever-virgin. 

Because there are 3 different Marys, how do we know which Mary is the Mother of Jesus and which Mary is one of the other two Marys? Because of the several Marys in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, the authors of these books make it very clear when the Mary spoken of is the actual mother of Jesus.  

Jesus' Mother Mary

  • His mother named Mary (Mt 13:55)
  • the mother of Jesus (Jn 2:1)
  • standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother... (Jn 19:25)
  • Mary the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14)

In all four cases where it is clear that this Mary is the Mother of Jesus, no other sons are mentioned.  Where Mary is spoken of as the mother of our Lord, there is only one time when she is said to have had another son other than Jesus. And of course, this is the Apostle John, who was not actually her son: Woman, behold, your son (Jn. 19:26). 

There are those who insist that Mary had to have other biological children.  However, in their discussion, they don’t bring up exactly how we know which Mary is Jesus' Mother and which Mary is the mother of other children.  When the mother spoken of is not the mother of Jesus, but one of the other Marys, it is also very clear.  Please note in the examples below that these Marys are not listed as Jesus' Mother.

Marys who are not the Mother of Jesus  

  1. his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
  2. and Mary of Magdala” (Jn 19:25). 
  3. Mary the mother of James and Joseph, (Mt 27:56).

Some authors will insist that Mathew 27:56 is definitive proof for all to see, that Mary had other sons because here is a Mary with two sons named.  Yes they were biological sons of Mary, but which Mary.  The text again is very clear this Mary is the mother of James and Joseph.  It does not say that this Mary is the Mother of Jesus.  If it was the mother of Jesus it would have read Mary the mother of JESUS, James and Joseph, but it doesn't.  Jesus' name is not mentioned here because this Mary is not His Mother, but the mother of James and Joseph.  


Another favorite of those who like to argue in favor of later children to Mary is Mark: A crowd seated around him told him, 'Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside asking for you (Mk 3:31-32).  They argue that this is clearly the mother of Jesus and they are correct.  They are only incorrect when they say these brothers are sons of Mary because the passage doesn't say that they are sons of Mary.  They are confusing brothers of Jesus with sons of Mary.

  • Where there are Marys, that have other sons, please note that Jesus is not listed among the sons.  
  • When Jesus is listed as the son of Mary there are no other sons listed.
  • When there are brothers of Jesus who are listed with Mary the mother of Jesus, it does not say that these brothers are sons of Mary.

Adelphos can mean blood brother, relative, or even kinsman: They argue that the Greek word Adelphos used for "brother” means “blood brother" that is, a son of the same mother. But it also must be remembered that “Adelphos” is a translation of the Hebrew term “ah” or the Aramaic “aha” which can mean not only “blood brother” but also “relative” or “kinsman". The only way Mark would prove that Mary had other children would be if it read “His mother and His mother’s other sons & daughters”. But it does not say that (From Fundamentalism to New Age pg. 180, Rev. Thomas W. Sheehan, M. Div., Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio).

  • Those who would use Adelphos to only mean blood brother are also arguing with Jesus. Whoever does the will of God is my brother (Adelphos) and sister and mother (Mk. 3:35). Notice that not even Jesus limited Adelphos to blood brother.

After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, He appeared to Mary of Magdala and gave her a command with a message: Go to my brothers and tell them, I am going to my father and your father, to my God and your God (Jn 20:17). In the very next verse, Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord,' and what He told her (Jn 20:18).

  • Please note that the brothers, spoken of in verse 17, are actually disciples in verse 18.

"From the fourth century, almost all religious leaders (including the three major Protestant reformers: Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli agree to the statements of the Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 353) regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity. All these brilliant scholars knew that the Greek words for “brothers and sisters" were also used to refer to other close relatives; cousins, nephew, nieces, etc.” (Mary in the Bible Questions and Answers pg. 25, Rev. John H. Hampsch, C.M.F., Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Huntington, Indiana 46750). 

'Til, until or unto (archaic); Did something happen after the fact?  Another argument that is used involves the use of the word until.  This word is used as proof that Mary had relations with Joseph after the birth of Jesus:

  • He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and she named Him Jesus (Mt 1:25). 

There are some who believe that the use of the term until automatically implies that Mary did have relations with Joseph after the birth of Jesus. The problem with this objection is that the use of the word until does not imply that something had to happen after the fact. If the use of the word until required that something had to happen after the fact, you could come up with some very strange conclusions while reading Scripture. For example, you would have to believe that Michal gave birth to one or more children after her death.  

  • Therefore Michal, the daughter of Saul, had no child unto (archaic until) the day of her death (2 Sm 6:23, KJV). 

The use of the word until does not require that Mary had relations with Joseph after she bore a son, anymore than the use of the word unto requires Michal give birth to children after the day of her death. 

Does the word first-born imply a second born? The use of the word firstborn is used
as proof that there must have been other children born later: she had brought forth
her firstborn Son (Mt. 1:25, KJV).  They say Jesus could not be called Mary’s ‘first-born’ unless there were other children that followed him. But this is a misunderstanding of the way the ancient Jews used the term. For them it meant the child that opened the womb (Ex. 13:2, Num. 3:12. Under the Mosaic Law, it was the firstborn son that was to be sanctified (Ex. 34:20). Did this mean that the parents had to wait until a second son was born before they could call their first the ‘first-born’? Hardly. The first male child of a marriage was termed the ‘first-born’ even if he turned out to be the only child of the marriage. This usage is illustrated by a funerary inscription discovered in Egypt. The inscription refers to a woman who died during the birth of her ‘first-born’ (Brethren of the Lord Catholic Answers, pg. 3, P.O. Box 17181, San Diego California 92117).
 
As you can see here, there is no requirement for a second child to be born in order for there to be a firstborn. The firstborn is simply the first child to open the womb. Consecrate to me every firstborn that opens the womb among the Israelites, both man and beast, for it belongs to me (Ex. 13:2, Lk. 2:23). 

  • Remember, too, that Jesus parents did not wait for a second born to determine that He was in fact a firstborn so that He could be consecrated to the Lord. Jesus, as the firstborn was presented to the Lord after their purification (Lk 2:22). This time of purification would have been forty days according to Mosaic Law (Lv. 12:2-8). 

God saw fit to highlight his Son’s divinity by certain exclusivity in certain aspects of his life. For instance, in manifesting his palm-strewn entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus chose to ride on a colt that no one had ever ridden (Lk. 19:30); he was laid in a tomb that no one had laid in (Jn. 19:41). Likewise, he chose the womb of a virgin who had never known man, and who would bear no child but himself. This sacred vessel that bore the Messiah was to be reserved for him alone. Thus while experiencing the privilege of motherhood, Mary would still remain forever a virgin.
 
The gate remains closed; it is reserved for the Prince: This exclusiveness that characterized Mary’s womb as the abode of the divine Messiah was prototyped by the passage in Ezekiel 44:23 (referred to in one of the common vespers readings for Marian feasts in the Byzantine liturgy:

  • This gate shall remain shut, for the Lord, the God of Israel has entered it. The Prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway.

It is noteworthy that this was the Eastern gate that Ezekiel spoke of (verse 1)...the one that led directly to the sanctuary of the temple, for “the glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east’...‘the place of my throne’ 43:4 and 7). The God–man Messiah required exclusive right to ‘his throne’ ...the womb of Mary, pre-figured by the Eastern (Golden) Gate of Jerusalem, which is still closed to this day (Mary in the Bible Questions and Answers pg. 28, Rev. John H. Hampsch, C.M.F). 

As can be readily seen, Ezekiel provides for us an Old Testament proof that Mary did not give birth to other children. If the Prince (Jesus) is the only one who may sit inside the gateway (Mary’s womb) and no other person entered by it, then Mary had no other children and is thus ever-virgin.
 
Augustine and the perpetual virginity of Mary: The non-Catholic groups have a very high regard for the early fathers of the Church, particularly Augustine. This is something that I don't entirely understand because you can't get much more Catholic than Augustine. Loraine Boettner, in his monumental work against the Catholic Church speaks of Augustine, as admittedly the greatest theologian of the ancient Church (Roman Catholicism pg. 160, Loraine Boettner, 1989 edition, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company). Well, let's take a look at what this great theologian has to say about the virginity of Mary. Was she a perpetual virgin or not?
 
When the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought Him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when He was invisible, she too was created. A virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man? It was fitting for God to be born thus, when he deigned to become man (The Faith of The Early Fathers, Volume 3 pg. 30 (1518), St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermons, A.D. 391-430).
 
When Augustine says, It is fitting for God to be born thus, he is pointing to the fact that Mary's perpetual virginity, as well as other Marian teachings, ultimately point to Jesus. In other words, Mary's perpetual virginity is not an attempt to make Mary a deity as some would suggest, but for Mary to be a suitable vehicle for the coming of Jesus into this world. So the ultimate emphasis is not Mary but Jesus.

Protoevangelium of James: Jesus is called THE Son of Mary but never referred to as A Son of Mary. In the Gospel accounts there is a record of the birth of Jesus, but there is no record of Mary having given birth to any other children. The very earliest church believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  An important historical document which supports the teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity is the Protoevangelium of James, which was written probably less than sixty years after the conclusion of Mary’s earthly life (around A.D. 120), when memories of her life were still vivid in the minds of many (PROTOEVANGELIUM Mary: Ever Virgin Catholic Answers).  

The humble shall be exalted: I am not denying that the various Marian teachings also exalt Mary; they do. In fact, it was Jesus who said The one who humbles himself shall be exalted (Lk.14:11), and it was Mary who said, He hath. . .exalted them of low degree (Lk. 1:52 KJV), and it was Elizabeth who said, Most blessed are you among women (Lk. 1:42). So it is, we exalt the humble. However, the greatest exaltation and honor always goes to God, and Mary's perpetual virginity ultimately points to Jesus.
 
In summary, we have found that the word brother can be used for relatives, cousins, nephews, and disciples, not just blood brothers. Therefore, the use of the word brother in relation to Jesus does not imply that Mary had other children. The use of the word til, until, or unto (archaic) does not mean that something must happen after the fact. Therefore, Mary is not required to have had other children after the fact of Jesus' birth. The use of the words firstborn does not imply a second born. The firstborn was the child that opens the womb and this was true even if there was only one child born. Therefore, Jesus as a firstborn does not imply that Mary had a second child or more. There are people referred to as Jesus' brothers; however, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is not said to have any other sons except John the Apostle, who was not her actual son (Jn. 19:26). In Ezekiel 44:2-3, we find it implied that Mary did not have other children. Jesus was the only one to sit in the gateway (Mary's womb), and this gate shall remain shut.
 
John, again we find out that the Catholic Church did not rewrite the history of Mary and in this instance neither did Augustine of Hippo or Martin Luther. There is a myth as you say. However, it is not an ever-virgin myth. The myth is in the unsubstantiated claim that Mary is not ever-virgin.