More on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church teach that Mary did not have children other than Jesus, and that the terms brothers and sisters were used to include cousins, or step-brothers and step-sisters. One proof of the idea that Jesus had no siblings is the fact that  Jesus, while hanging on the cross, turned to the disciple and presented Mary to him as his mother. This was thought to be huge. The argument goes that any of her other sons would have been insulted by this.  The argument goes that the use of the word “until” in the original text (where it says Joseph had not marital relations with Mary until the birth of Jesus) did not imply that she had sex on a future date. The idea being that ‘until’ indicates something occurred up to that point, with no implication of what occurred later changing – for example, 1 Timothy 4:13 states, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” The thought is that this does not imply he should stop public reading Scripture, preaching and teaching when Paul came. 

I will attempt to address each of these points. Let me first address the use of the term ‘until’ in 1 Timothy 4:13. I disagree that Timothy was suppose to keep reading/preaching/teaching in Ephesus after Paul arrived. It may be that after that point, Paul would have further, different, instructions for Timothy. We know in 2 Timothy that Paul had sent Tychicus to Ephesus and Timothy was expected to bring Paul’s cloak.

Now we will deal with the actual thought that Mary did not have children other than Jesus.

The Roman Catholic Church also holds that Jesus was an only child of Mary, and that Mary was a perpetual virgin. The idea being that she needed to be without sin to give birth to the Savior. The problem with this idea is that if Mary had to be without sin, then she would have had to be born miraculously also, as would her mother before her, all the way up to Eve. But scripture never says Mary was without sin, simply that she was highly favored (Luke 1:28). In fact, Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The Son of God came into this world without sin because His FATHER (God the Father) was without sin.

As I wrote in a previous post on this subject (https://wbmoore.wordpress.com/2008/09/26/was-mary-a-perpetual-virgin/), the lexicons mentions that the words translated as brothers (adelphos), and sisters (adelphe) could be used for cousin or kinsman (or kinswoman in the case of adelphe) – however the actual meaning is brother or sister, particularly when used in conjunction with a person’s name, as in the Gospels. If the people spoken of as the brothers and sisters of Jesus were cousins, the human authors would have most likely used the actual word for cousin, Anepsios (which has no other meaning), as used in Colossians 4:10 to speak of Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. And it is unlikely the scriptures would have mentioned them being with Mary so often if they had only been cousins.

There is a distinct difference between saying ‘he had no union with her’ and ‘he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son’ (Matthew 1:25), as was used in reference to Mary not having sex with Joseph until Jesus was born. Of course, it is slightly possible that Joseph never had sex with Mary. While ‘until’ COULD mean only that Joseph had no sex with her to that point, with no implication of having had sex later, the normal usage of the term does imply that the negative of the statement occurred after that point. We see an example of this just a few passages later as we see in Matthew 2:9, “And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was,”; this is the same word used in Matthew 1:25 for ‘until’. Certainly the implication in Matthew 2:9  is that when the star came over where Jesus was, it stopped moving – the opposite of what it was doing before. The same term was used similarly in Matthew 2:13 and Matthew 2:15. While possible, it is highly unlikely the author would have used the same term so differently in 1:25 when he used the same term 3 more times in ways that are clearly indicating the opposite of the statement occurred within the space of 16 verses. 

It is normal hermeneutics to look at how the same author has used the same term in the same book to understand how to best understand the term. To this end, we can see that the term for until is transliterated heos. This is used 34 times in Matthew. Of those 34 times, it is used 26 times as ‘until’. While in a few cases the term is used in place of ‘to the point of’, in the overwhelming majority of  cases it is used with the normal understanding that after the ‘point’ had been reached, the opposite of the statement did or would occur.

Thus, it is obvious that the ‘until’ In Matthew 1:25, the opposite of Jospeh not having sex with Mary implies is that Joseph had sex with her after she gave birth.

If Mary did not have sex with Joseph then she went against what scripture said concerning one of the reasons for marriage – to prevent sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2). It is also against what God said men and woman as husband and wife are supposed to do, to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:7). If Mary was a God fearing woman (and we have EVERY reason to believe she was), then she would have fulfilled her marital duties to her husband.

There is a difference between ‘one and only’, as was used in reference to Jesus being the One and Only Son of God, and ‘firstborn’, as was used in rerference to Jesus being Mary’s firstborn. Why name Jesus as firstborn? Because there were more born later.

Additionally, notice when Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem for the census. In Luke 2, that there was no mention of children other than Mary giving birth to her firstborn. In Matthew 2:13-18, when Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt with Jesus, no mention was made of other children. The same is true in Matthew 2:19-23, when Joseph was told to go to Nazareth. In both cases, Joseph took the child and his mother Mary – no mention was made of other children. If they had been step-siblings they would have been children of Joseph from an earlier marriage. So they would have also had to go to Bethlehem at the time of the census. Yet there was no mention of them going there, nor when Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt or to Nazareth. Yet, we see the mention of his brothers and sisters in numerous places (Matthew 12:46-47; Mark 3:31-32; Mark 6:3). In fact, the brothers of Jesus were named in Mark 6:3. 

As for Jesus giving responsibility for Mary to John, this shows His great love and trust for the disciple (as a spiritual son or brother) and the disciple’s faith (he was there at the end) and possibly his brothers’ lack of faith (they were not there at the end). Perhaps if his brothers HAD been there and HAD believed, Jesus would have given the responsibility to them, but Jesus was her spiritual father since she believed (Matthew 12:50), much like Paul was the spiritual father of those whom he lead to faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:15). So Jesus was entrusting Mary to John, his spiritual son, while using language they both would have understood that John was to care for her as a son would for a mother. If the children in question had been siblings, step-siblings, or even cousins of Jesus, as kinsmen redeemers, they still would have had responsibility to care for her (as was the case in Ruth 2:20; Ruth 3:9-13; Ruth 4:1-12). But if someone else was willing to accept that repsonsibilty (unless nearer kinsmen-redeemers wanted the responsibilty), there would have been no argument. There was apparently no argument. So rather than assume the people in question did not care or would have been upset, it makes more sense that the responsibility was met and everyone was happy with John caring for Mary because he was Jesus’ spiritual son.

No, the people mentioned as Jesus’ brothers and sisters were younger siblings of Jesus – not cousins or step-siblings. And the Greek supports it.

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10 Responses

  1. A well thought out article

    In some Catholic churches at Novenas or Vigils a prayer for virginity is recited by singles. It includes a statement that Mary made a commitment in the Temple at age 3 to be a virgin for life.

    • Thank you. I grew up Roman Catholic. I have respect for the doctrines the RCC teaches that can be supported by the Bible. However, I find no Bliblcal evidence for the concept of the perpetual virgiinity of Mary. And in fact, find that it goes contrary to what the Bible teaches.

  2. I would agree with NT, WB. I believe that the perpetual virginity was developed over some time, and maybe came from the Acts of Thecla.

  3. One source of Mary’s commitment at 3 to be a perpetual virgin is the Gospel of James. James also states that Joseph was Mary’s guardian. This of course goes against the Bible that says they were ‘betrothed’.

    On the belief held by some Catholics that I mentioned earlier, why would Mary commit to being a virgin for life then years later get engaged to Joseph? Didn’t the angel visit Mary after they got engaged?

    WB, what is your opinion on the Gospels of James, Mary, Philip etc?

    • Yes, Joseph and Mary were already bethrothed when the angel visited Mary.

      My thought is that God did not preserve various books for a reason. Having read some of the books pseudepigraphical books, its easy to see where they do not match what is taught in scripture. While they might be useful for some purpose, I find it best to focus on what God said, rather than counterfeits.

  4. The Gospel of James was written long after the real James had died, say sometime in the latter half of the second century. No church tradition held that it was canonical, and considered it along side the Gospel of Peter, as a sort of Christian Fiction of the day. That Gospel gave us the immaculate conception of Mary, however, so at some point, the Communions picked up the traditions that it started.

    This is what happens when you place Tradition over Scripture

    • “This is what happens when you place Tradition over Scripture”

      This is so true. We must always return to what God says, not what man thinks.

  5. Interesting how a text that is considered false could spawn such devotion, and lead to Mary’s supposed parents being Saints.

  6. Truth is often sacrificed for a beautiful tradition, NT. The Text was considered false shortly after it’s creation, and really, if you read it, it has no value to the New Testament.

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