Jesus had Brothers?

September 17, 2013 | 43 comments

Why do Catholics teach that Mary was a virgin throughout her life when the Bible clearly says that Jesus had brothers? Ever been asked that?

Let me offer four reasons:

1. The Meaning of Brother

The first thing to understand is that the term brother (Gk. adelphos) has a broader meaning than uterine brothers. It can mean a biological brother, but it can also mean an extended relative, or even a spiritual brother.

Take Genesis 13:8 for example. Here the word brother is being used to describe the relationship between Abraham and Lot, who were not biological brothers but uncle and nephew:

“So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers” (Gen 13:8, NIV; see also 14:12).

Because of the Bible’s broad semantic range of “brother,” we can rest assured that although St. Paul writes, “[Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred…brothers at the same time” (1 Cor. 15:6), we need not infer from this verse that Mary gave birth to more than 500 children!

2. Children of Mary?

These “brothers” are never once called the children of Mary, although Jesus himself is (John 2:1; Acts 1:14).

3. Other Women Named Mary

James and Joseph (also called Joses), who are called Jesus’ “brothers” (Mark 6:3) are indeed the children of Mary—Just not Mary, the mother of Jesus.

After St. Matthew’s account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, he writes:

“There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among who were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” (Matt. 27:56; see also Mark 15:40).

4. Consensus of the Early Church

The earliest explanation of the “brothers” of the Lord is found in a document known as the Protoevangelium of James, which was written around A.D. 150. It speaks of Mary as a consecrated virgin since her youth, and of St. Joseph as an elderly widower with children who was chosen to be Mary’s spouse for the purposes of guarding and protecting her while respecting her vow of virginity. Though this document is not on the level of Sacred Scripture, it was written very early, and it may contain accurate historical traditions. 

Allow me to limit myself to three quotes from the early Church:

Athanasius of Alexandria

“Therefore let those who deny that the Son is from the Father by nature and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh of Mary Ever-Virgin [Four Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 (c. A.D. 360)].

St. Jerome

“You say that Mary did not continue a virgin: I claim still more that Joseph himself, on account of Mary was a virgin, so that from a virgin wedlock a virgin son was born [Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary 21 (A.D. 383)].

Pope St. Leo I

“The origin is different but the nature alike: not by intercourse with man but by the power of God was it brought about: for a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and a Virgin she remained [Sermons 22:2 (A.D. 450)].

Thus the same Church today affirm:

Jesus is Mary’s only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: “The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother’s love (Catechism of the Catholic Church 501).


Matt Fradd is Australian by birth and Catholic by choice. After experiencing a profound conversion at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, Matt committed himself to inviting others to know Jesus Christ and the Church He founded. As a missionary in Canada and Ireland, Matt proclaimed the Gospel to over ten...

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Randy Harris - Cibolo, Texas

One wonders how many times in the Bible the word translated "brothers" refers to actual blood brothers. The Protoevangelium of James was not included in the canon as it was deemed to be of questionable authorship and reliability. People writing 330 years after Mary walked the earth can hardly be deemed authoritative. It would seem Marian doctrine amounts to alot of theology hung a rather small branch.

September 17, 2013 at 4:58 pm PST
#2  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

"It would seem Marian doctrine amounts to alot of theology hung a rather small branch."

That is very a bold claim considering your position among historical Christianity is held a very small minority. How do you account for the fact that virtually all of Christianity before the 1700's (not the 1500's, as the first protestants even believed in the ever-virginity of Mary) held to this doctrine? Matt Fradd lays out for you plainly; two people who are explicitly referred to as "brothers" of Jesus are explicitly referred to as sons of another Mary. Are you ignoring this? Do you refuse to acknowledge it?

Also consider the fact that Jesus committed His mother to John (John 19:27), who was outside the family; why would he do this if he had able brothers to take care of her? This would be an incredible dishonor to them, to take away their mother.

If you wish to consider more from the bible, which you place all of your trust in, consider that "no man shall pass through the gate by which the Lord enters the world" (Ezekiel 44:2). Are you going to deny that Mary is the gate by which the Lord (Jesus) entered the world?

September 17, 2013 at 5:45 pm PST
#3  Todd Farris - Mattoon, Illinois

I agree AJ and you make a great argument. Considering that the Gospels and Letters deal exclusively with the life and teachings of Our Lord, perhaps the Church Fathers, knowing and understanding the importance of Tradition, excluded the Protoevangelium of James for this reason and not for it's lack of reliability. It says in John that there were many other things that Christ did but the world itself could not contain all the books if they were written, and Paul tells us to hold fast to the Traditions given to us. The Bible is so full of the caution of putting God in the Protestant box of Sola Scriptura that I wonder how they can do an honest study of Sacred Scripture and continue with that mindset. God Bless Holy Mother Church and our Holy Father Pope Francis!!!

September 18, 2013 at 9:55 am PST
#4  Lisa Franco - Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

What about Matthew 1:25? It states that Joseph did not know her *until* she gave birth to a son. This doesn't imply more children after Jesus, but it does imply that Mary and Joseph had normal martial relations after she had Jesus.

September 18, 2013 at 1:37 pm PST
#5  Todd Farris - Mattoon, Illinois

No until implies that he did not know her until the birth of her Son. It implies that relations did not happen after the Incarnation. You are taking your 21st century view of language and transposing it on ancient Aramaic and Greek. English is not in any way similar to these languages, and the translations don't always convey the message. It's the same with Our Lord's "brothers", ancient Hebrew (Aramaic) did not have a word for cousins, nephews etc., so the word for brother was a blanket word used in Scripture.

September 18, 2013 at 1:49 pm PST
#6  Todd Farris - Mattoon, Illinois

BTW, I meant to include that "until" does not imply in any way that there were relations after Christ was born. The word implies that they were chaste until the Nativity, and is silent about what happened after.

September 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm PST
#7  Randy Harris - Cibolo, Texas

Since there is no "smoking gun" scripture concerning Mary's perpetual virginity, it amounts to conjecture based on a few ambiguous pessages. The brightest minds in the world thought the earth was flat for hundreds of years. That didn't make it correct. As for Jesus entrusting his mother to John, lets review the circumstances: By the gosple acounts, Jesus' "brothers and sisters" thought He was a couple french fries short of a happy meal. He was being executed by the Romans for crimes against their religion so they were nowhere to be found. All the apostles ( save for John) were hiding in a room somewhere fearful they would be next to feel the wrath of the Romans. Jesus possibly entrusted the care of His mother to John because he was the only one available.

September 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm PST
#8  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

I know not whether to laugh or to cry. Do I need to explain that the issue of the earth being flat is a matter of science, exploration, and physical discovery, with little to no theological importance to the matter? Whereas the ever-virginity of Mary is a matter of prime theological importance? What kind of a parallel is that, if not a desperate one? If you're going to try to convince me that virtually all of Christianity before the 1700's was wrong about this, then you'd better have a stronger argument than that.

"By the gosple acounts, Jesus' "brothers and sisters" thought He was a couple french fries short of a happy meal."

Let's explore this a little bit. Are you aware that in the time of Jesus, younger siblings *never* advised or admonished older ones? Yet we see Jesus' "brothers" advising and admonishing him in John 7:3-4 and Mark 3:21. How do you account for this? Are you willing to reject the ambiguity of the word brother, not to mention the Aramaic language which had no word for cousin? The Jews therefore had to use the word brother where they meant to describe any close male relative.

Also, are you honestly going to insist that if Jesus had actual blood siblings, people who would've known him better than anyone else and were unimaginably blessed as such, thought of him negatively? Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

"Jesus possibly entrusted the care of His mother to John because he was the only one available."

Putting aside the notion that the people who would've grown up with Jesus and known him better than anyone would completely and utterly abandon both Him and His mother, would you insist this knowing that Jesus knows His sheep better than anyone, including themselves? This claim betrays a very low and unbiblical Christology. As John tells us, Jesus "knew all men" (cf. Jn 2:25).

Also, as expected, you have nothing to say on the matters of Ezekiel 44:2, which declares that "no man shall pass through the gate by which the Lord enters the world." On this matter, Pope Siricius of the early Church said this: "You had good reason to be horrified at the thought that another birth might issue from the same virginal womb from which Christ was born according to the flesh. For the Lord Jesus would never have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the eternal king" (Letter to Bishop Anysius [A.D. 392]).

As a final rebuttal, are you aware that the earliest fathers, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, all whom were apostolic men, held to these same views? To single one of them out, Polycarp, was a disciple of John the Evangelist himself! That's the same John who took care of Mary! Are you going to insist that the Temple of the Lord was subjected to human sex and go against the man whom Jesus committed His mother to?

September 18, 2013 at 5:37 pm PST
#9  Michael Mulela - Mombasa, Coast

Matthew 1:25 "And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus"

Mathew intended to explain that Jesus was in no way Joseph's son. another question would if Joseph had other children with Mary BV being direct relatives of Jesus Christ the saviour of the world Son of the Living God, where did they disappear to before during and after the crucifixion and the resurrection?

It is extremely sad how people who claim to be Christians will also be in the at the forefront to belittle the divinity and sanctity of issues concerning and surrounding life of Jesus Christ on earth having come to save man from eternal damnation.

September 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm PST
#10  Michael Mulela - Mombasa, Coast

At some point you have to tell someone believe what you will. I choose to honour everything concerning Jesus Christ.

September 18, 2013 at 6:10 pm PST
#11  Kris Kempker - Cincinnati, Ohio

The modern mind is not trained to examine the ontological nature of things, rather it seems a kind of illogical skepticism regarding the Divine nature of the Incarnation, tempts many to force upon the Almighty, the limitations and scandals of our overly sexualized priorities - such a vain carnal perspective.

If we seriously consider God Himself chose to become literal Flesh - then the Holy Family was not just a cute Christmas card. What earthly mother would think about having other children, if she knew she had given birth to God? To believe Christ was the Divine Son, and Creator clothed in flesh, would not allow us to see Mary busying herself with better things to do than loving God, The Son. The reality of the scenario would have demanded a complete awe and reverence from Mary and Joseph, and I for one, believe that caring for Jesus would have been a full-time absolute, love affair with God. Current Protestant thinking that has rejected the Perpetual Virginity is a recent slap at Mary. No Reformers ever dared to deny Holy Mary's Perpetual Virginity.

September 18, 2013 at 9:34 pm PST
#12  Lee Hitt - Ft. Huachuca, Arizona

In Matthew 1:25, Why would the translators translate the word to "until", which implies or at least leaves an opening for an "after" the birth of Jesus? If that is the meaning of the word that was written, why didn't the Holy Spirit just inspire the writers to make it crystal clear that Joseph "knew her not", period? If we were meant to believe she was ever-virgin, why does the Bible not clearly say she was also virgin after Jesus' birth, not just before? Why would the writer/Holy Spirit add confusion to the issue by saying multiple times that Jesus had brothers and sisters? Why would the Holy Spirit inspire the writers to make multiple references to Jesus' brothers, or brothers AND sisters , would not relatives have just sufficed for both sexes? Why specify? Jesus himself said relatives in Mark 6, and the Bible says relatives of his family in Luke 2.

Why would the possibility of Mary begetting other children, take away from the miraculous nature of Jesus' conception and birth? Does the church teach that sex is a beautiful thing created by God for a married couple and procreation, yet imply that if Mary had had sex with her husband she would have sullied her body, as if it would have been sinful for her and her husband to have sex, or that somehow, even married sexual intercourse is dirty or beneath a truly holy person? Does the Catholic church teach that a life of celibacy is holier, or closer to God than a life of marriage that includes sexual relations? It is possible married couples engaging in sexual union are closer to God than some celibate people will ever be in their whole lives! Sex is the coming together of two people who have entered into a covenant between themselves and God, as he joins them together in marriage, where two become one, but God is also present especially when he blesses the union with a baby. Throughout the New Testament it was clearly expected for married people to engage in sexual intercourse, in fact it says the point of marriage is to keep those who cannot remain celibate, from committing sexual sins. The Bible does not say that God, either Himself or by Angel, commanded Mary to remain a virgin for the rest of her life or gave her any other instructions beyond his name and that he was the Messiah. The OT prophecy required a virgin birth, which did happen, but did not say she was to remain a virgin for life.

The Bible also does not say, or imply in any way that we should elevate the status of God's chosen maidservant to goddess-hood. Such Mary-worship/adoration/veneration is never suggested in the Bible, especially not by Jesus. What did he say in Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21? Did his mother or brothers deserve special attention? No, he said "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." What did he call her in John 19, the last time he spoke with her, as he was on the cross? He didn't even call her "mother" he called her "woman" to show that his time as a human, and the human side of their relationship was over. He was taking his place as Son of God and sacrifice for all mankind. No time in the Bible is Mary ever called "holy" or "perfect/sinless" not by those filled with the Holy Spirit, or Angels sent by God. She is called "blessed" and "favored" but many other's throughout the Bible were also blessed, or favored, and each one had a special role to play in God's redemption of earth and it's inhabitants, many in Jesus' direct lineage.

I think it's disingenuous to interpret "brothers" as relatives, when there are other words for relatives that could be chosen, and were in other cases. This possibly could be aided by the context of the use of "brothers" in other verses or writings, compared to the context used in the passages referring to Jesus' siblings. The word used to denote Mary as a relative of Elizabeth was a much more ambiguous family/relational term, why wasn't that term used? Only those who are reading something into the text, instead of taking it for it's also possible literal translation have issue with what is written and look for ways to explain it away.

Either the Holy Spirit was wrong, which is impossible, or he was misleading, which is also impossible, b/c it is for His very nature, as the One who convicts, and also as the Revealer of Mysteries, that God sent him to us to dwell in us as God's temple, until Jesus returns. And by refusing to take these passages any other way, the RCC is putting itself in the place of the Holy Spirit and saying "WE have the definitive translation and meaning." Which the Catholic church does quite often, through it's elevation of Tradition. I will take the Word of God over the traditions of men any time. And while I have high respect and regard for Mary, and all other human vessels God used throughout the Bible to fulfill his plan of redemption (and strive to live half as close to God as they did), I do not believe any of them was anything other than imperfectly human, but to me that is also part of the beauty of how God works. He can use any vessel for his purposes.

September 18, 2013 at 11:53 pm PST
#13  Lee Hitt - Ft. Huachuca, Arizona

Kris, do you believe that all people with more than 1 child do not fully love their children?! And, she can't have been THAT busy with him, as he was a sinless person. He must have been a perfect child! What a joy he must have been to raise, but also a burden to a mother's heart, if she knew any prophecy, and heard and understood the words he spoke about himself as "The Son of Man" to his disciples (about the world's rejection of him).
I also wonder at your unprovable assertion "The reality of the scenario would have demanded a complete awe and reverence from Mary and Joseph, and I for one, believe that caring for Jesus would have been a full-time absolute, love affair with God." If this were so, how did they lose him for over 2 days when he was 12? I mean, what do we REALLY know? He was possibly a normal, but well-behaved child up to the age of 12 (the age of accountability, when Jewish young people have Bar Mitzvahs, etc.) when he went to the temple and called it "my father's house" I believe from that age until he began his ministry he lived at home, obedient to his parents and learned carpentry, but the previously mentioned passage shows at least by the age of accountability he recognized and showed his divinity and wisdom. The possibilities are very interesting to think about, but all we have is imagination to go on.

September 19, 2013 at 12:07 am PST
#14  Lee Hitt - Ft. Huachuca, Arizona

AJ, I hate to break it to you, but the "temple of God" is subjected to human sex all the time. When we accept Christ's sacrifice, repent and are baptized, we are indwelled with, and become the temples of, the Holy Spirit.

I don't understand why the Catholic church, or people in it, think sex is dirty (even in God-ordained circumstances), or that those who are celibate are somehow closer to God or more holy than those who are married and get to have sex. Even Jewish priests were allowed to marry and have families, and they were the only ones who could go into God's temple, and into the holy of holies.

And why could Mary not have sex? By that time, she was married, and according to God, that is the only time it is OK, to have sex. Those are part of the boundaries he created for sexual intercourse. Also, God is present with the married couple during sexual union, especially when a baby is created. Why would married sex have been dirty and debasing for Mary? Is it for "the rest of us" as well?

September 19, 2013 at 12:22 am PST
#15  Lee Hitt - Ft. Huachuca, Arizona

AJ, I also meant to comment on something else you previously posted.

"Let's explore this a little bit. Are you aware that in the time of Jesus, younger siblings *never* advised or admonished older ones? Yet we see Jesus' "brothers" advising and admonishing him in John 7:3-4 and Mark 3:21. How do you account for this?

Also, are you honestly going to insist that if Jesus had actual blood siblings, people who would've known him better than anyone else and were unimaginably blessed as such, thought of him negatively? Jesus Christ, the Son of God?"

I would take the text by what it says, both of those accounts, and also Mark 6 1-6, tell us that Jesus' family/siblings did not believe in him, which means they did not believe he was the Son of God or their Messiah. It sounds to me like they were definitely fully human! Maybe they were even jealous of Jesus, the perfect son, the perfect brother, the one who always made them look bad. I think these passages show pretty well that they did think negatively of him. They outright state that Jesus' family (whether literal brothers or not) rejected him. As far as them admonishing him, well, it wouldn't be the first time in the Bible that human beings did something they weren't "supposed" to do, and that wasn't even a law, just a custom.

September 19, 2013 at 12:45 am PST
#16  Todd Farris - Mattoon, Illinois

Look in Scripture at St. Paul when he says that virginity is the highest spiritual order and after that is celibacy. The Church doesn't think that sex is dirty, but believes that it should be expressed only in the confines of marriage. Once again, the Sola Scriptura bug has bitten you because you recognize nothing outside of Scripture as being inspired. I would think that Jesus' family, if they were brothers, would have believed in Him because of their close relationship with Him and Our Lady. These "brothers" were more distant relatives that would not have been bound to show the honor and respect to an older sibling that ancient Hebrew custom demanded. All you have to do is look in Scripture to know that the city from which a prophet hails never accepts him. Perhaps this included the extended family members referred to as His "brother"? Just because the second and third generation reformers wanted to distance themselves from the Church and did it by throwing out the importance of Tradition doesn't make it any less true. Even the first reformers believed in the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady, but I think that is a fact that many of our separated brothers and sisters don't like to recall. Many Fundamentalist Christians have their traditions as well, I don't recall ever seeing anything in Scripture about an "altar call" or the "sinner's prayer" that take the place of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

September 19, 2013 at 6:54 am PST
#17  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

Before I address any of your points, I would just like you to be aware of a few things. First, as I said before, please note that your opinion on this matter is completely at odds with virtually *all Christianity* before the 1700's. No, not the 1500's; the first protestants believed in this as well (which shows a complete change in doctrine on the part of protestantism). Even today, your position is a serious minority. But especially notable is the fact that Polycarp wrote against your views. Polycarp was a disciple of John the Evangelist. Yes, that's the same John who took over care of Mary in John 19:27. How do you feel about that? What makes you so sure that your opinion on this is correct and that Christians since the earliest days have had this wrong? I just want you to be well aware of this before you continue to argue anything.

In regards to Matthew 1:25, the word "until" here is meant to stress that Jesus was born of a virgin, not that Joseph defiled the Lord's birthplace after that. Until is often used in Scripture as part of an idiomatic expression similar to our own usage in English. For example, take Luke 2:36-37:

"And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phan?u-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and she was a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day."

Are you going to argue that this verse "proves" that when Anna turned 84, she ceased to be a widow? Was her husband resurrected? Look at another passage, namely 2 Samuel 6:23:

"And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child until the day of her death."

Are you going to argue that this verse means that Michal had children after she died? You see the Holy Spirit was not "wrong" or even "misleading" in this case because the use of the word "until" is known to us, and the church which Jesus Christ established and promised He would never leave has the authority to interpret this book, which it produced!

"Why would the Holy Spirit inspire the writers to make multiple references to Jesus' brothers, or brothers AND sisters , would not relatives have just sufficed for both sexes?"

Did you not read the article at all? Are you aware that two people- James and Joseph- who are explicitly referred to as "brothers" of Jesus are explicitly referred to (by the same gospel writer) as sons of another Mary in Matthew 27:56. The language that the Jews spoke at this time was Aramaic; in the Aramaic of Jesus' time, there was no word in existence to denote cousin. The Jews therefore had to use the word brother where they meant to describe any close male relative. Did you not read how Lot is called Abraham's (Abram's) brother, yet Lot was actually his nephew? Gen 14:14 "And when Abram heard that his Brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan."
The "brother" referred to here is Lot. Lot was the son of Aran, Abram's own dead brother (Gen 11:26-28). He was therefore Abram's Nephew, even though the text refers to him as a "brother".

"She is called "blessed" and "favored" but many other's throughout the Bible were also blessed, or favored, and each one had a special role to play in God's redemption of earth and it's inhabitants, many in Jesus' direct lineage."

I am amazed at your lack of appreciation for what makes Mary unique. It's true that Mary is not to be worshipped, or put as a "goddess" (and these things are Catholic doctrine, so you can't accuse us of it), but you yourself, nor can any other person in the bible, cannot comprehend what close proximity Mary was in with God. She bore God in her womb. Jesus is God. Mary is the gate by which God entered the world. You have no refute, as expected, of Ezekiel 44:2, which declares "No man shall pass through the gate by which the Lord enters the world. So it is with the glory of the God of Israel." You downplay an unfathomable happening with the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb. Mary is the holiest woman who ever lived (Luke 1:42), in part because she was in such close proximity with God having bore Him in her womb whose presence demands and imparts holiness while not tolerating sin. I am horrified that you think that the birth place of the Lord would be subjected to sex.

"Does the Catholic church teach that a life of celibacy is holier, or closer to God than a life of marriage that includes sexual relations?"

Yes, actually, it does, in part because the bible teaches that very concept!

Matthew 19:10-12 "The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

1 Corinthians 7 teaches in many places that celibacy is superior to having sex, even in marriage. Consider 1 Corinthians 7:34 "A virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband."

1 Corinthians 7:38 "So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better."

1 Corinthians 7:29 teaches that celibacy is better even in marriage!

Revelation 14:4: "It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are chaste; it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb"

So now you have seen that virginity is indeed superior to non-virginity, and will you honestly still insist that Our Lord would choose anyone but the purest woman in creation to bear Himself? Jesus would never have been born of a woman who would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, the court of the eternal king. Also, if Mary is the holiest among women (Luke 1:42), and virginity is superior to non-virginity (Matthew 19:12, Revelation 14:4), how is that if she was not a lifelong virgin? Are you suggesting the Holy Spirit contradicted himself? I am heartily offended that between two people describing themselves as Christian, one of them is defending the honor of the savior's mom while the other is attempting to dishonor and degrade her. In my love for Jesus, I defend the dignity of His mother, as the greatest insult anyone could pay me would be to insult my own mother.

September 19, 2013 at 8:31 am PST
#18  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

"If this were so, how did they lose him for over 2 days when he was 12?"

Well, I will tell you one thing. It wasn't because they were looking after other children. In the retelling of the loss of Jesus in the temple, no mention at all is made of any other children, even though the entire family made the journey together. Where are these other children that you assert they had? In fact both Mary and Joseph race back to Jerusalem to find him, through country filled with bandits, something they could not have done if there had been babies and other young children in need of care! They would have had to abandon their children, which is another incredibly stupid concept. Mary and Joseph had the most important and difficult task of all time; taking care of and raising the Son of God. Why, in God's name (literally) would they burden themselves with other children and other responsibilities?

September 19, 2013 at 8:41 am PST
#19  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

As you plainly claim, Mary and Joseph intended to have sex from the beginning. But in response to this, I lay forward you this passage, which I thoroughly encourage you to read carefully and challenge you to give me a response to. It involves the two episodes in which the angel Gabriel is sent by God to deliver important tidings, first to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and second, to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Luke 1:5-20

"In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechari?ah, of the division of Abi?jah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechari?ah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechari?ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth;
for he will be great before the Lord,
and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,
and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother’s womb.

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli?jah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

And Zechari?ah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Now compare that passage with Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her,

“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.

And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her." (Luke 1:26-38)

Notice here how similar the two responses are. Zechariah was "troubled" by the angel's message, just as Mary was also "troubled." Zechariah responded by saying "How shall I know this, since I am an old man and my wife is aged in years." Mary's response was almost identical in tone "How shall this be, since I do not know a man?" Here we see that both Mary and Zechariah doubted the angel, but notice, only Zechariah was punished for that! He was rebuked and struck with punishment, while Mary was delivered neither of these.

As a religiously educated Jew and a priest of the temple, Zehariah knew that Abraham and Sarah, the founding patriarch and matriarch of the Jewish people, had been granted a son late in life. By asking for another sign, he demonstrated a lack of faith that God could and would provide. Now if Mary was intent on having children with Joseph as you plainly claim, why did she ask this question? She would be demanding another sign, and consistency would be for her to be punished as well, yet she was not. She asks the question because she was not intending to have sexual relations with Joseph, and she wondered how a virgin could conceive without knowing a man.

September 19, 2013 at 8:54 am PST
#20  Todd Farris - Mattoon, Illinois

Very good AJ! I wonder what you do for a living, because if you're not a Catholic apologist, maybe you should be! God bless you!

September 19, 2013 at 9:45 am PST
#21  Lisa Dunn - Richardson, Texas

Mr. Hitt,

Thank you for your comments. I have a friend who is the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister who got very upset with me recently for asserting the Roman Catholic belief that Mary is ever virgin. Yet, she was so angry that she could not defend her position and I dropped the subject and just prayed for her heart to be less hardened and for us to be able to dialogue in peace and charity. Your posts help me to understand the thinking of protestants. I assume from your writing that you are protestant. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Anyway, my question is simple and is posed to anyone here to answer. What happened in the 1700's for protestants to change their position on Mary's perpetual virginity?

September 19, 2013 at 9:58 am PST
#22  Todd Farris - Mattoon, Illinois

I would like to add that healthy debate is an amazing thing and I mean no harm or personal attack against any of the people that I have been debating on this blog. I recognize that there are many good, strong, men and women that love Christ but are not a part of the Church. I wish the Peace of Our Lord and the ask the Intercession of Our Lady for each one of you. God bless you all!!

September 19, 2013 at 10:01 am PST
#23  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

A true follower of Jesus would not get upset hearing someone defend the honor of His mother. On the contrary, "lovers of Christ do not tolerate hearing that the Mother of God ever ceased to be a virgin" (St. Basil the Great)

September 19, 2013 at 11:01 am PST
#24  Lisa Dunn - Richardson, Texas

AJ, sadly, I don't think St. Basil's opinion has much bearing on my Southern Baptist friend.

September 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm PST
#25  Conrado Medequiso - Redbank Plains, Queensland

Thanks AJ for an excellent apologia...Our protestant brethren unfortunately do not believe anything outside the bible. Your suggestion to re-read the gospel on annunciation is an excellent one. This gospel actually suggests the commitment of Mary to a life of a virgin. Consider the following: She was already betrothed to Joseph when the the angel appeared to her to announce that she will bear a son. And the way it was said by the angel was in the future tense.." you will conceive..." Since she was betrothed, she could have thought of having a son after being married to Joseph in the very near future or they could bring the marriage forward but obviously this was not her line of thinking. Please note that when the angel of God announced the birth of Isaac, Sarah had a full year thus having ample time for Abraham and Sarah to cooperate with the plans of God. Mary, being full of grace, was not ignorant of the scripture. Instead she asked the angel how it could happen since she knew no man. To me, the way their conversation went suggests that Mary has no intention of "knowing" a man despite being betrothed. Between holy people and lovers of God, Mary could have earlier taken a vow of virginity and Joseph could have agreed to be chaste with his Mary before betrothal. How much more resolved could they be to virginity when given the greatest honor of becoming the parents of their God! Many holy men and women in the Catholic Church chose to be a virgin for their love of God whom they have not seen. How could we then measure the love of Mary and Joseph to their God whom they were given the greatest opportunity to raise! The fallen nature of man could think the impossibility of remaining a virgin and pure but for those who have truly encountered God even only in their hearts could say that with God nothing is impossible. Sin could be defeated. Sin has no place in the purest of heart for God jealously protects it. Virginity is purity and Jesus said:" Blessed are the pure of heart for they see God". Mary and Joseph saw God in Jesus while people of their time, even the apostles, had the difficult time to believe His divinity.

I may be accused of interpreting too much but how could I read the other way when the word "betrothed" was purposely made part of the gospel.

September 20, 2013 at 5:11 am PST
#26  Karl Keating - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Staff

1. I'm tempted to reply to the comments given by Lee Hitt, but I already did that, anticipatorily, 25 years ago in my book "Catholicism and Fundamentalism." If it doesn't seem overly self-serving, I'd like to invite him and others to read the sections about Mary in that book--I cover all these issues in sufficient depth, I think, and with copious biblical references. Mr. Hitt hasn't brought up any argument that wasn't refuted ages ago.

2. Randy Harris writes: "The brightest minds in the world thought the earth was flat for hundreds of years." Please name one such "bright mind," Mr. Harris. You won't be able to because, since the time of the Greeks, all the "bright minds" agreed the Earth was round. Their chief disagreement was the Earth's size, not its shape. This was a disagreement that led Columbus, centuries later, to think he had landed in Asia--he thought the Earth's circumference was smaller than it was.

September 21, 2013 at 7:13 am PST
#27  Randy Harris - Cibolo, Texas

John 14:6 will have to be revised. " Mary and I are the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through us."

September 22, 2013 at 8:39 am PST
#28  Randy Harris - Cibolo, Texas

Oh and Karl, Google search "flat earth theory"

September 22, 2013 at 8:45 am PST
#29  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

Randy, that response might be the most insanely idiotic and unproductive response I have ever heard, and it really speaks volumes about the "arguments" of protestants. It is completely absurd to rashly accuse us, defenders of the honor of Mary (as scripture says to honor all men, especially the holy people of God; one wonders if you do so), as putting Mary as "the way" as though because we think that she remained a virgin her entire life, that means we somehow think that she is, along with Jesus, as described in John 14:6. I say to you, Randy, we will have to revise John 15:12 to "love one another, as I have loved you, but do not love or honor my mother"

September 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm PST
#30  Randy Harris - Cibolo, Texas

It's not a matter of honor. The crux of the matter is the Catholic church declaring as infallable dogma the perpetual virginity, immaculate conception, sinless life, and bodily assumption of Mary. Since there is no definitive scripture supporting these doctrines, they are the opinions of men. They may very well be true...or not.

September 22, 2013 at 12:54 pm PST
#31  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

You mean like how there is no definitive scripture supporting the doctrine that scripture is the only source of teaching for a Christian?

"If I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." 1 Timothy 3:15

September 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm PST
#32  Randy Harris - Cibolo, Texas

Flip over a page or two. Try 2 Tim 3:16-17. It would seem Paul thinks scripture is everything we need to be fully equiped.

September 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm PST
#33  Randy Harris - Cibolo, Texas

Hey AJ: I was doing some more research and found this gem. Check out a debate between a guy named James White and Patrick Madrid from Catholic Answers. The site is Alpha and Omega Ministries. It's a sola scriptura debate. The transcript is from Nov. 28th 1993. Wow. really good stuff. I've enjoyed our little discussion. As they say here in south TX; Via con Dios.

September 22, 2013 at 8:44 pm PST
#34  Martin Trujillo - Salinas, California

2 Timothy 3:14–17 (D-R)
14 But continue thou in those things which thou hast learned and which have been committed to thee. Knowing of whom thou hast learned them:
15 And because from thy infancy thou hast known the holy scriptures which can instruct thee to salvation by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.

Hi Randy I have to ask you. After reading these verses do you not think that the only reason Paul tells Timothy that the man of God may be perfect with scripture is simply because he was referring to Timothy an people like Timothy, part of the same church, with access to the apostolic oral teaching and not to some one who has no historical link to the apostles who are outside his the church and simply use the bible without holding fast to the the apostolic teachings in both forms, written and oral?

September 22, 2013 at 9:34 pm PST
#35  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

Hey Randy, check out the fact that James White believes in "justification through faith alone" when James 2:24 says "you see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." Check out that gem.

You gleefully proclaim that 2 Timothy 3:14–17 is good scripture, yet you ignore 1 Timothy 3:15. Yet I do not ignore any scripture; I believe that scripture is exactly as Paul describes it. He says scripture is inspired by God and usable for teaching and correcting, but notice he nowhere says that scripture is "sufficient" or "all one needs." If he said that, then why wouldn't he say that scripture is the pillar and bulwark of the truth? He seems contradicting himself. But yet I, who actually obeys Paul's teachings without adding words he doesn't say, know that the bible and the "church" which Paul talks about go hand in hand, and that one needs both, and not just one.

I encourage you to check out debates from people like Tim Staples rather than James White; at least the former believes what James 2:24 actually says. If you reject plain scripture teaching, then you might as well give up.

Also, if the New Testament canon wasn't canonized until 382 AD in the Council of Rome, what "bibles" did the Christians until 382 read from? They didn't read from a "bible" because it did not yet exist! So by your standards, Christians didn't get to go to heaven until 382 AD! I'd love to hear a reply from Mr. James White on this subject. I encourage you to not abandon reason and God's true church for rebellion, which is the sin of witchcraft (2 Samuel 15:23)

September 23, 2013 at 10:43 am PST
#36  Randy Harris - Cibolo, Texas

AJ. Martin Luther believed in salvation by faith alone. But alas, we digress. The coversation was about the RCC declaring as infallable dogma the perpetual virginity of Mary. That's an interesting theory, but that's all it is. It would seem if Mary is co-redemtrix and should be prayed to as if she has some role in our salvation, perhaps that should be based on something more substantial than heresay and conjecture.

September 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm PST
#37  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

The only heresy here is you who seeks to dishonor the Mother of Our Lord so diligently that we actually are called to defend the purity of the one whom Purity Itself chose to bore Him.

In regards to co-redemptrix, which has not been infallibly defined, I defer to Fr. Vincent Serpa who put it beautifully:

"First, the Church recognizes that Jesus in the ultimate sense is our only redeemer—plain and simple. Only God could make up for an offense against his divinity. When Jesus, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, became man, he used the services of several human beings. he used prophets, the last of whom was his cousin, John the Baptist. He used St. Joseph as his foster father to protect him and to be a father to him in his formative years. Most of all, he used Mary as his mother who gave birth to him, nursed him, and nurtured him as a child. All of these people cooperated with him and his mission of salvation. He alone was the redeemer in the ultimate sense, but they cooperated with him in his work of redemption. In varying degrees they all could be called co-redeemers because of such cooperation. But because of her unique role and the degree of her cooperation, Mary is singled out. In all of humanity, God singled her out for a truly sublime role. Nursing Almighty God at her breast is beyond our ability to fully appreciate. Yet thousands of Christians since the Protestant reformation have completely ignored such sublimity.

Nevertheless, God is the one who singled Mary out for the unique role in salvation that she has. She did not seek out such distinction. It is important to remember the high praise Jesus lavished on St. John the Baptist. Yet his mission was not nearly as exalted as Mary’s. Jesus worked his first miracle at her request. All she needed to say was: "They have no wine." He understood exactly what she wanted. He could have taken care of the matter on his own. But he chose to have his mother’s intercession be a part of the mix. The miracle wasn’t any less significant because of her part in it. On the contrary, she shows us how accessible he is to our needs. To truly appreciate Mary is to appreciate her Son all the more."

September 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm PST
#38  Harry Ehmann - Bedford, Texas

I've found that to our Protestant brothers and sisters "Sola Scriptura" renders Church history totally irrelevant. That Jesus Christ before His Assumption passed on to His disciples not the 27 books of the New Testament but rather His authority to forgive or retain sins and to bind or loose is irrelevant. That the Bible itself is a collection of books which Catholic Church Bishops led by the Holy Spirit determined to be inspired is irrelevant. That "Sola Scriptura" itself is adhered to by the fewest number of Christians for the shortest amount of time is again also irrelevant.

September 24, 2013 at 5:15 am PST
#39  Tom Ravenscroft - Denver, Colorado

AJ Boggs writes:

"Whereas the ever-virginity of Mary is a matter of prime theological importance?"

How is the issue of Mary's virginity one of "prime theological importance?" You do not make this claim with any evidence.

Then, "Are you aware that in the time of Jesus, younger siblings *never* advised or admonished older ones?"

Again, no evidence. This is merely speculation on your part.

And again, "Are you willing to reject the ambiguity of the word brother, not to mention the Aramaic language which had no word for cousin? The Jews therefore had to use the word brother where they meant to describe any close male relative."

This is simply not the case. You have not studied your Greek--the primary language of the New Testament. There are separate words for newphew, or cousin, and for "brother." This distinction is made among all biblical translators, and the word for newphew or cousin are never translated "brother." You do a disservice to any attempt to prove a point by not using accurate information or scriptural evidence. Do you refuse to look at any view other than the one you enter the argument with? We are never capable of learning anything new by doing so.

Then, you say, "Also, are you honestly going to insist that if Jesus had actual blood siblings, people who would've known him better than anyone else and were unimaginably blessed as such, thought of him negatively? Jesus Christ, the Son of God?"

This is not an argument, AJ. It's a question you pose, though apparently rhetorical. The answer is, in short, yes. Jesus was even unable to do many miracles in his hometown because of such familiar bias.

And quoting, you add:
" For the Lord Jesus would never have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the eternal king."
This is a quote from a letter; not scripture. And if your argument is that sex "contaminates" us, why did God design it?

Your conclusion states:
'As a final rebuttal, are you aware that the earliest fathers, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, all whom were apostolic men, held to these same views? To single one of them out, Polycarp, was a disciple of John the Evangelist himself! That's the same John who took care of Mary!"

You give no evidence or specific quotes that these early church fathers felt as you insist. Please do so, specifically.

And finally, you state: "Are you going to insist that the Temple of the Lord was subjected to human sex and go against the man whom Jesus committed His mother to?"

Again, you say this like sex is a bad thing!!!! Human sex was a part of creation! God designed it! He made the world, and everything in it (including Adam and Eve), and said, "It is good!"

How can you say it is bad?

Finally, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest Mary did not have sex with Joseph after giving birth to Jesus. None. And most scholars agree Jesus had at least 4 brothers. Mary was directed not to have relations with Joseph "until." Until means "until!" How can you parse words so? This does not attract others to Catholicism--such poor scholarship drives them away!

Read "Decline and Fall of the Roman Church," by Malachi Martin, a Catholic scholar, to see not every opinion written by we Catholics throughout time was accurate!

December 29, 2013 at 9:50 am PST
#40  Tom Ravenscroft - Denver, Colorado

Matt: You said "The first thing to understand is that the term brother (Gk. adelphos) has a broader meaning than uterine brothers. It can mean a biological brother, but it can also mean an extended relative, or even a spiritual brother."

Although most biblical scholars would disagree with your assumption, let's assume for the moment it's true: that adelphos can also mean a spiritual brother. Why take that interpretation rather than the first case; biological brother?

December 29, 2013 at 7:21 pm PST
#41  Christopher Travis - Huntsville, Alabama

Common sense is all that is needed to know Jesus had no biological brothers. They didn't exist! Where are they in history? They can not be found because they did not exist! Which one of you protestants reject your own brother? Which one of you dishonors your mother? Which one of you would abandon your own flesh and blood during and after the most critical moments of their life? Go ahead, speak up! Even when I wasn't very Christian and as far from being the family man I am today I would have given my life defending my own flesh and blood brother! I would have never abandoned my brother! The only way a protestants theology on the lack of virginity of Blessed Mary would make sense is if the so called brothers would have had to reject BOTH Jesus and Mary! You protestants are accusing the most holy family to ever walk the earth as being disfunctional! Here you are over 2000 years later and you believe Jesus was the Son of God and not one of you has a shred of living proof! Now if Jesus had brothers don't you think they would have seen miracles and heard Jesus speak? Do you think Blessed Mary would have lied to them about who Jesus was? What kind of nonsense is that! If your brother got crucified and then rose from the dead would you have pulled a houdini? If Jesus had blood brothers its only common sense that they would have shown up either in a good way or bad way and that history would have left some kind of trace of them. They wouldn't be ordinary brothers like we are to our sibblings, they would have have been flesh and blood brothers to GOD and you can bet that geneology would have been well documented! They would have been treated like rock stars on one side of the spectrum, or they would have died like the apostles, as martyrs on the other side of the spectrum...either way history would have left traces...AND IT DOES NOT!

March 29, 2014 at 4:21 am PST
#42  Christopher Travis - Huntsville, Alabama

Which one of you protestants on your death bed would not have told your mother to tell your brothers good bye or that you loved them if you were dying and you knew they wouldn't have been able to make it there before you perish? Jesus always showed His mother love. What now, say Jesus had ****** brothers and leave them out of the picture! Like I said, its all common sense.

March 29, 2014 at 4:31 am PST
#43  brother in christ - fort worth, Texas

I would like to tell you a story using my family as an example, which although you may disagree I hope will clarify the catholic churches teachings on what sacred tradition, and Mary's having other children born of her and also possibly solo scriptura.

I wrote a letter to my older brother John that I would be coming home in a month, and that I will be so happy to see him and Mom.

If a stranger read the letter only. He would assume that our mother, her name is Martha, was my natural mother and my older brother and I were full brother. This would be incorrect.

Only if you asked my family would you know that we are half brothers and that although I call his mother Mom she is not my birth mother.

By this example I hope to simply clarify what sacred tradition is
that being knowledge passed on in the family of the church that is not written in sacred scripture.

Simple explanation of jesus's siblings. As evident even in familys that exist today

That reading just the letter can lead us to misconception.

peace be with you

April 1, 2014 at 9:56 am PST

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