Mary - Ever Virgin
SCRIPTURE SHOWS THAT MARY HAD OTHER CHILDREN?
Nowhere in Scripture is Mary identified as the mother of anyone but Jesus. Zechariah 12:10 predicts that the Messiah will be an only child (see also: Is 7:14 and Ez 44:2). However, Matt 13:55 and Mark 6:3 speak of the 'brethren of Jesus', namely: James and Joseph, Simon and Jude. These passages give the impression that Mary had other children but, nevertheless, other Gospel passages clarify these relationships. Consider the following points:
Â- James the lesser and Joseph were the sons of Mary of Clopas (Matt 27:56; Mk 15:40; 15:47), not Mary the mother of Christ. Jude is the son of a James who was never the husband of the mother of Christ (Lk 6:16). Yet these men are referred to as 'brothers of Jesus' in Matt 13:55 and Mark 6:3. Clearly then, the word 'brother' cannot mean children of the Virgin Mary for James, Joseph or Jude. Such evidence is reason enough to doubt that Simon was a sibling of Jesus. Without the use of the word 'brother' as conclusive evidence, there is nothing else in Scripture to support the claim that anyone mentioned as Christ's brothers or sisters (John 7: 3-4; Matt 13: 56 & Mark 6: 3) were actual siblings.
Â- The Church has always understood that passages such as Mk 6:3 do not refer to other children of the Virgin Mary. The 'brethren of Jesus' mentioned in Scripture are never called sons of Mary but have always been regarded by the Church as near relatives.
Â- Ironically, the founders of Protestantism (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli) and other noted Protestants (eg Bullinger & Wesley), unlike many of their modern-day disciples, strictly defended the perpetual virginity of Mary. Even today, the prominent Protestant Commentary on the Whole Bible admits many of the best Protestant Biblical interpreters do not believe that the word 'brothers' in Matt 13: 55 means blood brothers of Jesus.
Â- Some argue that Rev 12: 17 identifies Mary as the mother of others as it speaks of 'offspring' of the 'woman'. However, the 'woman' in Rev 12: 17 refers directly to the Church and only indirectly alludes to Mary and her spiritual descendants (anyone who is faithful to her Son), not to her actual physical progeny. [For more on this Scripture passage see the footnotes in both the Navarre Biblical Commentary and the Douay-Rheims Bible.]
IS THERE ANY OTHER SCRIPTURAL PROOF AVAILABLE?
Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic had no particular word for different degrees of relationship, such as are found in more modern languages. In general, all those belonging to the same family, clan and tribe were brethren. For example, in Acts 1:12-15 the apostles, Mary, some women and Jesus' brothers number about 120. That is a lot of brothers! St Paul calls his co-religionists brothers (1Cor 1:10; 1 Thess 1:4). Also, in the Old Testament, Abraham's nephew Lot (Gen 14:14) is described as his brother in Gen 13:8. And Jacob's uncle Laban calls Jacob his brother in Gen 29:15. Allied kings, Solomon and Hiram, are brothers in 1 Kings 9:13. David calls Jonathan (Saul's son) 'brother' in 2 Sam 1:26. Jesus Himself calls all who do the will of His Father 'my brethren' in Matt 12: 49-50 [King James Version].
ARE THERE ANY OTHER LOGICAL PROOFS AVAILABLE?
According to Jewish law, the oldest son had the responsibility of caring for his widowed mother. The fact that Jesus, whilst on the Cross, committed the care of His mother to Saint John strongly suggests that he had no other brothers (John 19:26-27). Consider also two significant events in the young life of Christ, namely: the return of the Holy Family from Egypt and the finding of Jesus in the Temple. In neither case does the Bible record any mention of siblings of Jesus which one would naturally expect if they had actually existed.
BUT WHAT ABOUT LUKE 2:7 AND MATTHEW 1:25?
Lk 2:7 (Mary's "first born") and Matt 1:25 (Joseph knew her not "until" Mary had borne a son) appear to imply that Mary did not remain a virgin after Christ's birth. However, "first born" is a ceremonial title that could have validly been given to an only child because it pertained to the inheritance of a birth-right (see Gen 25:33); consider also the inscription found near Tell-el-Jedrieh in 1920 dating from the time of Christ which states that a woman named Arsinoe died giving birth to "her first-born son"; in Exodus (13: 2 & 13) and Hebrews 1: 6 "first born" means first male child whether or not there were brothers (Navarre, Luke, p. 52). "Until" does not necessarily imply anything about what comes after the incident being described, eg in 1 Cor 15:25 'For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet'. See also 2Sam 6:23 where Michal had no child "until" the day of her death, meaning that she died without having children. See also, Matt 28:20 where Jesus promises that He will be with us "unto the end of the age"; obviously Jesus does not mean that He will cease being with us at the end of time because we know that those who win Heaven will be with Him for ever.
PROVE THAT THE EARLY CHURCH BELIEVED MARY WAS EVER VIRGIN?
The Catholic Church has always maintained as absolutely certain that Jesus had no natural brothers or sisters. The early Church fathers such as Saints Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Jerome all held the perpetual virginity of Mary the mother of Jesus. St Epiphaneus (4th century) simply called Mary "the Virgin". Our belief today is the same as it was in the fifth century when St Augustine described the Blessed Mother as "a virgin who conceives, a virgin who gives birth, a virgin with child, a virgin delivered of child - a virgin ever virgin". This teaching was explicitly taught by Pope St Siricius (392 AD). The First Lateran Council (649) definitively declared that Mary was 'ever virgin and immaculate'. Since this has been taught by the Church universally, the fact that Mary was ever-Virgin is a dogma of the Faith.
IS THERE ANY OTHER PROOF IN THE BIBLE?
One other proof, implicit in Scripture, is found in Lk 1:27-34. The angel tells Mary that she will conceive a son. Her response is: "How shall this be since I have no husband?" Other translations say: "How can this be since I know not man?" This question makes little sense if Mary was planning to have normal marital relations with her husband-to-be, Joseph. If Mary was planning normal marital relations with Joseph, she would know how she would conceive a child. The angel had simply told Mary that she would conceive a son, which is a commonplace event in marriage. But no, the more logical conclusion to be drawn from her statement is that there is an unspoken assumption behind Mary's question: even though she was betrothed to Joseph, she should not have the opportunity to conceive a child because she always knew that she would remain a virgin. If Mary had not been a consecrated virgin, then it would have made more sense that her response to the Angel's message would have been something like: "Yes, of course I will conceive a child because I am soon to be married. That's what happens when people get married." However, Mary's response reveals the opposite. Mary says: "How can this be?" And her question only really makes sense if she was intending to remain a virgin.
We can know that the Catholic Church's understanding of the Gospel is the accurate one. To demonstrate that, we can compare what the Church teaches today with the unbroken line of teaching it has given since the days of the Apostles. Catholic doctrines, such as the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are visible and unchanging within the life of the Church back to the earliest years. And so, since there are no facts refuting Mary's ever-virgin state, the onus of proof remains on the skeptic and not on the believer. In fact, as the answers above clearly show, there is abundant evidence from Scripture and the Early Church that Mary is ever-Virgin. The matter is settled, once and for all, when the infallible teaching authority of the Catholic Church proclaims the perpetual Virginity of Mary as a dogma, as it has done in this case. Blessed Mary, ever-Virgin, pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Drummey, 1995, Catholic Replies Madrid, 2001, Where Is That in the Bible?; Radio Replies; Bible = Catholic Revised Standard Version CCC, para 500; Ott, 1954, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 207 Armstrong, D, 2003, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism Harperâ€™s Bible Dictionary, 1971. NB KJV = King James Version of the Bible, a Protestant version
* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.