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Mary Ever-Virgin: Did Mary have other children?


This article was originally a response to a letter from a friend who left the Catholic  Church for the Lutheran Church.  Some of his objections have to do with Catholic and Biblical understandings of Mary.  Robert did not believe that Mary was ever-virgin. 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.  These same people are insisting that Jesus had other brothers who were  actual sons of Mary. And yes, Jesus had brothers; however they are not listed as actual sons of Jesus' Mother Mary.

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 will tell you what I think.  It seems to me, Lenny, that the Catholic Church rewrote the history on Mary.  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.  Lenny, you are probably reading some of the hostility and anger I feel about what I believe the Catholic Church has done to regarding Mary.  I believe the Catholic Church has done Mary a disservice in proclaiming Mary e-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.

Fr. Martin Luthers' belief in Mary ever-virgin: Robert, if you say: "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 guess the best way to respond to this is to point out that Mary's perpetual virginity is simply a matter of historical fact. Robert, you are a member of a Lutheran Church and either your Lutheran Church does not agree with its founder, Fr. 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” (1).

If you thought that the perpetual virginity of Mary was an "ever-virgin myth," then      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 Fr. Martin Luther did Mary a disservice by affirming her perpetual virginity? Rodger, I ask these questions even though I know your answer. You simply didn't know what Fr. Luther taught concerning Mary. However, I am curious; where did you get your information on Mary?

The type of information that you present is what you would expect from such groups as "Jimmy Swaggert's ministries" and others who malign both the Catholic Church and Jesus’s mother Mary. Your information on Mary does not come from the Lutheran Church unless, of course, your particular Lutheran Church believes it is more enlightened than its founder Martin Luther.

Did Jesus have other brothers? 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 would mean that Mary had other sons and therefore she could not have been ever-virgin. However, the question that needs to be asked, are these blood brothers, sons of the same Mary? Or are these brothers, relatives cousins or kinsman? A friend of mine, from a Methodist background, noticed Rosary beads hanging in my car. Seeing this she said, "Jesus had other brothers." I responded to her by saying,  "of  course Jesus had other brothers."  In fact we know that Jesus had brothers because

He appeared to 500 of his brothers at once(1 Cor. 15:6). And we know that Peter came from a large family as well because he spoke to 120 brothers (Acts 2:15-16)." 

I then said to her, "They certainly had large families back then! It kind of makes you wonder how many sisters Jesus had. Do you think I am joking about this? Jesus had other sisters. 'Are not His sisters all with us'" (Mt. 13:56). I said  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. She smiled and said no more. But what could she say, that Jesus' mother Mary was not the actual mother of all these brothers?  This is the Catholic thesis and she is Methodist. After this and many more discussions, she eventually entered the Catholic Church.

Brothers can mean nephews, cousins, kinsman or friends: 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. 14:12), but Lot was the son of Haran, Abraham’s deceased brother (Gen. 11:26-28), which means Lot was really Abraham’s nephew. 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 (4 Kgs. 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 and ally (Amos 1:9) (2).

Lot is Abraham's brother Gen 14:12 KJV.   However, Lot is actually Abraham's nephew (Gen11:26-28 KJV).

Which of the three Marys listed is Jesus' Mother Mary? The discussion of "His brothers" can also be confusing because there are at least three different Marys that are listed, "His (Jesus's) mother and His mother's sister Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala" (Jn 19:25). In Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 it gives Mary as the mother of James and Joseph, but which Mary? There are two Marys listed at the cross in Matthew and Mark, and three Marys listed in John.

Please note that there are many references to His brothers or the brothers, but there are no references to Mary, the mother of Jesus, being the mother of these "brothers" of the Lord. 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; "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).

Where it is clear in Scripture that the Mary spoken of is 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). Why is Mary, the mother of Jesus, not listed as having any other sons if these "brothers of Jesus" were actually blood brothers? There is "Mary the mother of James and Joseph" (Mt 27:56), but this Mary is not listed as the mother of Jesus. And if James and Joseph were actually sons of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, then why was Mary given to John who was not actually a son of Mary in John 19:26?

Does "adelphos" mean only blood brother? Here is another favorite of those who like to argue in favor of later children to Mary. "A crowd seated around him told him, 'Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside asking for you'" (Mk. 2:31-32). 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 (4).

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’s 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"

Please note that the brothers spoken of in verse 17 were 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.”(5)

The use of the word until: 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). Some Christians 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.

When Michal died, did she give birth to other children? For example, you could 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 have "relations" with Joseph after "she bore a son," anymore than the use of the word "unto" requires Michal to give birth to children after "the day of her death."

Does the words "first born" imply that there are other children? The use of the word "first-born" is used as proof text that there must have been other children born     
later: "she had brought forth her first-born 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 “first-born” 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’ (6).   

There is no requirement for a second child to be born in order for there to be a first-born. The first-born is simply the first child to open the womb.

"Consecrate to me every first-born 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 first-born so that He could be consecrated to the Lord. Jesus, as a first-born was presented to the Lord after "their purification" (Lk 2:22). This time of purification would have been forty days according to Mosaic Law, Leviticus 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.

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’ (Ez 43:4-7). 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 (7).  

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 if no other person entered by it, then Mary had no other children and is thus ever-virgin.

The non-Catholic groups have a very high regard for the early fathers of the Church, in 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” (8). 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 (9) 

Augustine and the perpetual virginity of Mary: 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.

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 "till or until" 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 "first born" does not imply a second born. The first born was the child "that opens the womb" and this was true even if there was only one child born. Therefore, Jesus as a "first born" 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, John 19:26.

There are those who think it silly, even preposterous, that Mary was ever-virgin. To those people, when the Bible says brother it means brother and that 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 (1 Corinthians 15:16). 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."

Robert, again we find out that the Catholic Church did not rewrite the "history of Mary," as you suggest, and in this instance neither did Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Ulrich Zwingli. 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.

NOTES:

  • 1 The  One  Mediator  The  Saints  and  Mary,  Lutherans  and Catholics in Dialog VIII, pg. 26

  • 2 "Brethren of the Lord" Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17181,
    San Diego California 92117, pg.

 

  • 3 King James Version (KJV)

  • 4 From Fundamentalism to New Age  pg. 180,  Rev. Thomas W.
    Sheena, M. Div., Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio.

  • 5 Mary in the Bible Questions and Answers pg. 25, Rev. John
    H. Hampsch, C.M.F., Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division,
    Huntington, Indiana 46750

  • 6 Brethren  of  the Lord Catholic Answers,  P.O.  Box  17181,
    San Diego California 92117, pg. 3

  • 7 Supra note 5, pg. 28

  • 8 Roman Catholicism pg. 160, Loraine Boettner, 1989 edition,
    The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company

  •  9 The Faith of The Early Fathers, Volume 3 pg. 30 (1518),
    St Augustine of Hippo, Sermons  [A.D. 391-430].