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(Originally posted on The Catholic Thinker, make sure to share your thoughts on my blog! — https://whysoseriousdotcom.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/blessed-mary-ever-virgin/ )

Many Protestants, in an unhistorical and unbiblical manner, try to prove that Mary, the Mother of God, had other children after Jesus. This argument is most certainly unhistorical, as the Early Christians (otherwise known as first Catholics), believed the same doctrine as the Roman Catholic Church of today does: that Mary was perpetually a virgin, and Jesus Christ was her only child.

The  Protoevangelium of James, a document written what is to be considered roughly 60 years after the conclusion of Mary’s earthly life, near 120 AD, contends for Mary’s virginity. From reading the Protoevangelium, one can conclude that it was believed that Mary had professed a vow of virginity.

“And Annas the scribe came to him [Joseph] . . . and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest and said to him, ‘Joseph, whom you did vouch for, has committed a grievous crime.’ And the priest said, ‘How so?’ And he said, ‘He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord and has married her by stealth’”

(Protoevangelium of James 4, 15).

“And the priest said, ‘Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low and forgotten the Lord your God?’ . . . And she wept bitterly saying, ‘As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before him, and know not man’


Origen, in his writings, cites the Protoevangelium:

“The Book [the Protoevangelium] of James [records] that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word . . . might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the firstfruit among men of the purity which consists in [perpetual] chastity, and Mary was among women. For it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the firstfruit of virginity”

(Commentary on Matthew 2:17 [A.D. 248]).

Centuries later, Augustine teaches the same doctrine of Mary’s virginity.

In being born of a Virgin who chose to remain a Virgin even before she knew who was to be born of her, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And he wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom he took upon himself the form of a slave”

(Holy Virginity 4:4 [A.D. 401]).

Even the Father of the Protestant Revolt, Martin Luther, believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity. Luther held this belief even after he left the Catholic Church.

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.”

{Luther’s Works, eds. Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) & Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (vols. 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (vols. 31-55), 1955, v.22:23 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539)}

Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.”

{Pelikan, ibid., v.22:214-15 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539)}

Editor Jaroslav Pelikan, a Lutheran, concludes that Luther did in fact, still believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity, after leaving the Catholic Church.

Luther . . . does not even consider the possibility that Mary might have had other children than Jesus. This is consistent with his lifelong acceptance of the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary.”
{Pelikan, ibid.,v.22:214-5}

Protestant “Reformer” Ulrich Zwingli believed the same as Luther:

“I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.”

(Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424.)

How can the majority of Protestants today deny Mary’s perpetual virginity? It was a belief held since the early centuries! Even Luther, the Father of Protestantism, held this belief.

Many Protestants, in light of their tradition of Sola Scriptura, (Latin for by Scripture Alone), tend to ignore and discount historical sources such as the early Church, and instead refer to the Bible alone as the source of their argument.

Dr. Robert Schihl, in his article The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, summarizes the usual arguments Protestant challengers make:

“1) The Bible frequently speaks of the “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus.

“First it is important to note that the Bible does not say that these “brothers and sisters” of Jesus were children of Mary.

“Second, the word for brother (or sister), adelphos (adelpha) in Greek, denotes a brother or sister, or near kinsman. Aramaic and other semitic languages could not distinguish between a blood brother or sister and a cousin, for example. Hence, John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus (the son of Elizabeth, cousin of Mary) would be called “a brother (adelphos) of Jesus.” In the plural, the word means a community based on identity of origin or life. Additionally, the word adelphos is used for (1) male children of the same parents (Mt 1:2); (2) male descendants of the same parents (Acts 7:23); (3) male children of the same mother (Gal 1:19); (4) people of the same nationality (Acts 3:17); (5) any man, a neighbor (Lk 10:29); (6) persons united by a common interest (Mt 5:47); (7) persons united by a common calling (Rev 22:9); (8) mankind (Mt 25:40); (9) the disciples (Mt 23:8); and (10) believers (Mt 23:8). (From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson, Publisher.)” (1)

The loose usage of the term “brother” in the Scriptures makes it that one cannot conclusively say that Jesus had several “blood” brothers.

“For example, in Gn 13:8 and 14:1416, the word <adelphos> was used to describe the relationship between Abraham and Lot; however, these two men did not share a brother relationship, but one of uncle and nephew. Another instance is that of Laban, who was an <adelphos> to Jacob, not as a brother, but as an uncle. (In the New American translation, “kinsman” or “relative” will be used in these Old Testament cases; I do not know why this is not true in the English translation of the Gospel.) The same is true for the word sister.

“Actually, the confusion originates in Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages of most of the original Old Testament texts and of Christ. In these languages, no special word existed for cousin, nephew, half-brother, or step-brother; so they used the word brother or a circumlocution, such as in the case of a cousin, “the son of the brother of my father.” When the Old Testament was translated into Greek and the New Testament written in Greek, the word< adelphos> was used to capture all of these meanings. So in each instance, we must examine the context in which the title is used. In all, the confusion arises in English because of the lack of distinct terms for relatives in the Hebrew and Aramaic, and the usage of the Greek <adelphos> to signify all of these relations.” (2)

The supposed blood brothers of Jesus very well could have been mere cousins or friends. It is hard to say that they were certainly His actual brothers. By doing so, one would be ignoring the many possibilities created by the difference of language.

Schihl continues:

“2) A second objection to Mary’s virginity arises from the use of the word heos in Matthew’s gospel. “He (Joseph) had no relations with her at any time before (heos) she bore a son, whom he named Jesus” (Mt 1:25, NAB).

“The Greek and the Semitic use of the word heos (until or before) does not imply anything about what happens after the time indicated. In this case, there is no necessary implication that Joseph and Mary had sexual contact or other children after Jesus.” (3)

The use of ‘until’ does not mean that after a certain point, Mary and Joseph had marital relations. The same usage is found in 2 Samuel 6:23:

“Michal the daughter of Saul had no children till the day of her death.”

This passage is not to imply that a woman gave birth to a child after her death. The word ‘until’ doesn’t necessarily imply that an action took place after a certain time. The following passages exhibit the same principle.

  • I Timothy 4:13: “Until I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching.”

Does this mean Timothy should stop teaching after St. Paul comes? Certainly not.

  • I Corinthians 15:25: “For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

Does this mean Christ’s reign will end? By no means! Luke 1:33 says, “[H]e will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Father James Buckley FSSP (a friend of mine), in his pamphlet Defined Doctrines of Our Lady, focuses on St. Jerome’s rebuttal of the heretic Helvidius, who used the above argument. The ‘Buck’ comments:

Saint Jerome counters that in Scripture both “to know” and “until” have a double meaning. The saint acknowledges that ‘to know’ can denote sexual relations but points out that it can also denote knowledge (e.g…The child Jesus remained in Jerusalem and his parents knew it not” (Lk 2:43).

‘Until’ can indicate either a definite time or an indefinite time. Therefore, it does not always mean that something that did not take place up to a prescribed time took place afterwards. One of his many examples comes from God’s address to His prophets: ‘I am, I am, and I am till you grow old’ (Is. 46:14). He then asks, ‘Will God cease to be after they grow old?’ “

Schihl concludes with:

“3) A third objection to the perpetual virginity of Mary arises from the use of the word prototokos, translated ‘first-born’ in Luke’s gospel.

“But the Greek word prototokos is used of Christ as born of Mary and of Christ’s relationship to His Father (Col 1:25). As the word does not imply other children of God the Father, neither does it imply other children of Mary.

“The term “first-born” was a legal term under the Mosaic Law (Ex 6:14) referring to the first male child born to Jewish parents regardless of any other children following or not. Hence when Jesus is called the “first-born” of Mary it does not mean that there were second or third-born children.” (4)

Personally, I can’t wrap my head around this particular argument. So what if the text says that Christ was Mary’s ‘firstborn’? That doesn’t mean she had other kids. As the eldest child of my family, I am the firstborn. I would still have been the firstborn even if the birth of my siblings didn’t follow. It is as simple as that.

I will add an argument that I ran into a while ago, in conversation with a Protestant. He cited Psalm 69:8 as a prophecy proof that Mary had other children than Jesus. The psalm, he said, was referring to Christ. The text reads:

“I have been a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother’s sons.”

Now, a literal interpretation of this verse leads to problems. A few verses earlier reads:

“O God, thou knowest my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee”

Jesus did not sin, and so the passage cannot be taken literally. Verse 8 appears to refer to how Christ’s brethren, the Jews, did not accept Him.

Now, having looked at the usual objections, let’s look at why Catholics believe in Mary’s perpetual Virginity. Catholic Apologist Tim Staples summarizes it quite neatly.

1. In Luke 1:34, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, she asked the question, literally translated from the Greek, “How shall this be, since I know not man?” This question makes no sense unless Mary had a vow of virginity.

“When we consider Mary and Joseph were already “espoused,” according to verse 27 of this same chapter, we understand Mary and Joseph to then have had what would be akin to a ratified marriage in the New Covenant. They were married! That would mean St. Joseph would have had the right to the marriage bed at that point. Normally, after the espousal the husband would prepare a home for his new bride and then come and receive her into his home where the union would be consummated. This is precisely why St. Joseph intended to “divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19) when he discovered she was pregnant.

“This background is significant, because a newly married woman would not ask the question, “How shall this be?” She would know! Unless, of course, that woman had a vow of virginity! Mary believed the message but wanted to know how this was going to be accomplished. This indicates she was not planning on the normal course of events for her future with St. Joseph.” (5)

The next reason has always been a most interesting one for me.

2. In John 19:26, Jesus gave his mother to the care of St. John even though by law the next eldest sibling would have the responsibility to care for her. It is unthinkable to believe that Jesus would take his mother away from his family in disobedience to the law.

“Some will claim Jesus did this because his brothers and sisters were not there. They had left him. Thus, Jesus committed his mother to St. John, who was faithful and present at the foot of the cross.

“This claim reveals a low and unbiblical Christology. As St. John tells us, Jesus “knew all men” (John 2:25). If St. James were his blood brother, Jesus would have known he would be faithful along with his “brother” Jude. The fact is, Jesus had no brothers and sisters, so he had the responsibility, on a human level, to take care of his mother.” (6)

If Jesus actually did have blood brothers, why did He place Mary in John’s care? It wouldn’t make any sense to give His mother to a non-relative when He had siblings. It almost seems selfish.

Staples closes with:

3. Mary is depicted as the spouse of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. When Mary asked the angel how she was going to conceive a child in Luke 1:34, the angel responded:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

“This is nuptial language hearkening back to Ruth 3:8, where Ruth said to Boaz “spread your skirt over me” when she revealed to him his duty to marry her according to the law of Deuteronomy 25. When Mary then came up pregnant, St. Joseph would have been required to divorce her, because she would then belong to another (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Jeremiah 3:1). When St. Joseph found out that “the other” was the Holy Spirit, the idea of St. Joseph having conjugal relations with Mary would not have been a consideration for a “just man” like St. Joseph.” (7)

Joseph was not just any random fool. He knew that Mary was special. He knew that Jesus was special. He knew that she had conceived Christ through the Holy Spirit. Would he dare to defile the Spirit’s sacred vessel?? I think not.

Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, God, the Second Person of the Trinity. After giving birth to Him, would she just go about having children with Joseph, disregarding the fact that her womb had bore God? Why would she want to disfigure it by allowing another child, under the curse of Original Sin, do take shape there? Not exactly logical.

That about sums it up. I hope this has been a decent explanation for the belief of the Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary.

Dios este contigo

— Patrick E. Devens


(1) https://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/maryc2.htm

(2) http://www.ewtn.com/library/answers/brosis.htm

(3) https://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/maryc2.htm

(4) Ibid.

(5) https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/how-we-know-mary-was-a-perpetual-virgin-0

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.