Mary “remained a virgin by conceiving her Son, virgin in giving birth, virgin in carrying him, virgin in nourishing him with her breast, always virgin” (CCC 510)
Once upon a time, almost no Christian denied that Mary the mother of Jesus was a perpetually virgin: Protestants included. Among the early leaders of this movement, virtually all of them fully accepted this doctrine: including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger, Turretin, and Cranmer. In addition, most Protestant exegetes continued to believe in it for at least 350 years or so.
But today, for various reasons, things are very different, so it is useful to revisit the biblical arguments, since the Bible is the authority that all Christians worship in common. A surprising number can be found.
1) Luke 2: 41-51 describes Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple at the age of twelve, for the required keeping of the Passover. Everyone agrees that he was Mary’s first child, so if there were up to five or more siblings, as some argue (or even one), why not is there any allusion to them in this account?
2) Neither Hebrew nor Aramaic have words for âcousinâ. The New Testament was written in Greek, which has such a word (sungenis), but Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic (a late version of Hebrew), and the Hebrew word all literally translates to Adelphos, the literal equivalent of the English âbrotherâ. In the Bible it has a very wide range of meanings beyond “brother”: just like “brother” in English. Thus, it is commonly used in the New Testament to describe cousins ââor relatives etc.
3) Jesus Himself uses “brothers” (adelphos) in the non-brother sense. In Matthew 23: 8 (cf. 12: 49-50), he calls, for example, the âcrowdsâ and his âdisciplesâ (23: 1) âbrothersâ. In other words, they are each othersâBrothersâ: the brotherhood of Christians.
4) By comparing Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40 and John 19:25, we find that James and Joseph (mentioned in Mt 13:55 with Simon and Jude as âbrothersâ of Jesus) are the sons of Mary, wife by Clopas. This other Mary (Mt 27:61; 28: 1) is called Our Ladyadelphein John 19:25. Assuming that there are not two women named “Marie” in the same family, this usage apparently means “cousin” or more distant relative. Matthew 13: 55-56 and Mark 6: 3 mention Simon, Jude and the “sisters” with James and Joseph, all calling adelphe. The most plausible interpretation of all this related data is the use of adelphos as âcousinsâ (or perhaps as half-brothers) rather than as âbrothers and sistersâ. We know for sure from the above information that James and Joseph were not Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
This is not just a special plea to argue in this way, nor a so-called âdesperationâ of Catholics who are supposed to âread inâ the texts their previous belief in the dogma of perpetual virginity. Much Protestant exegesis and scholarship confirm these views: particularly in the older commentaries. For example, the famous 19th century Commentary on the whole Bible, by Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, states, regarding Matthew 13:55 (emphasis added):
a extremely difficult question here arises – Who were these âbrothersâ and âsistersâ of Jesus? Were they, First, His full siblings? or, second, were they His half-brothers and half-sisters, children of Joseph from a former marriage? or, third, were they his cousins, according to a common language among the Jews concerning people of collateral descent? On this subject, a huge case has been written, and opinions are not yet agreed. . . Besides other objections, many of the best performers,. . . prefer third opinion. . . So, dubiously, we prefer to leave this thorny question, encompassed as it is with difficulty.
5) The Blessed Virgin Mary is entrusted to the care of the Apostle John by Jesus of the Cross (John 19: 26-27). Jesus certainly would not have done this if he had had brothers (who would all have been younger than him).
6) Matthew 1: 24-25 Joseph. . . didn’t know her up to she had had a son. . .
This passage has been used as an argument that Mary did not remain a virgin after Jesus was born, but the same Protestant commentary also states (my emphasis again):
The word “until” [untilÂ above] does not necessarily imply that they lived on a different footing thereafter (as will be evident from the use of the same word in 1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 6:23; Matthew 12:20); neither does the word âfirstbornâ decide on the very controversial issue, if Mary had children to Joseph after the birth of Christ; for, as Lightfoot says, “The law, speaking of the firstborn, did not concern whether anyone was born. after or not, but only that none were born before.
Jean Calvin used the same counter-argument in favor of Mary’s perpetual virginity. In fact, in his Harmony of the Gospels, commenting on Matthew 1:25, he thought that the assertion of other brothers and sisters on the basis of this passage was so unfounded that he wrote: “No one will stubbornly support the argument except through an extreme fondness for the dispute.”
7) Jude is called the âbrotherâ of the Lord in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6: 3. If it is the same Jude who wrote the epistle bearing that name (as many think), he calls himself âservant of Jesus Christ and brother of Jamesâ (Jude 1: 1). Now suppose for a moment that he was Blood brother of Jesus. In this case, he refrains from referring to himself as the Lord’s own brother (whereas we are told that such a phraseology appears several times in the New Testament, referring to a brotherly relationship) and chooses rather to identify as James‘ brother.
It is far too strange and implausible to believe. In addition, James also abstains from calling himself brother of Jesus, in his epistle (James 1: 1: âservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christâ): even if Saint Paul calls him âthe brother of the Lordâ. (Ga 1:19).
It is true that the Scriptures do not come out immediately and explicitly state that Mary was a perpetual virgin. But nothing in the scriptures contradicts this notion, and – to say the same thing another way – nothing in the doctrine of perpetual virginity contradicts Scripture.