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Did Mary Have Other Sons?

Protestants say Psalm 69 proves Mary had sons in addition to Jesus. But this is just bad biblical typology

Tim Staples

The New Testament quotes Psalm 69 over a dozen times as being fulfilled in the life of Christ and the Church, including such well known texts as verse 9, which St. John quotes as referring to Jesus after his famous cleansing of the Temple: “For zeal for your house has consumed me” (cf. John 2:17). All four evangelists refer to verse 21 as foretelling the offering of cheap wine, or “vinegar,” to Jesus on the cross (John 19:28-29; cf. Matt. 27:45-50; Mk. 15:33-37; Lk. 23:44-46). There are multiple additional prophetic references we could consider.

Many of our Protestant friends like to point out what they see as a problematic couple of verses for Catholics in Psalm 69:7-8—from the Responsorial Psalm in today’s readings—which prophesies the intense reproach our Blessed Lord would experience in his life and especially his passion:

For it is for thy sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother’s sons.

The idea here is this: if this is a heavily messianic psalm with multiple allusions to Jesus Christ, here we have a clear prophecy not only that Jesus would have “brothers,” but that Mary would have other “sons.” That would make belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary untenable.

Our goal here is not a full-fledged defense of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (You can find those here and here, among many other places.) Rather, we’re going to show how Protestant attacks against Catholic doctrines are bound to fail when they involve taking a literalistic approach to Old Testament types and prophecies. The Protestant will end up denying more than he bargained for—like the whole foundation of New Covenant fulfillment!

So how are Catholics to respond?

First, in considering prophecies or types from Old Testament texts, we never find their fulfillments or antitypes to be perfectly one-to-one. Hebrews 1:1 tells us that “in many (Gr. polumeros, ‘partial’ or ‘piecemeal’) and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets.” We see a clear example of this in this same psalm (69:24-25), where the Psalmist prays that God will deal with his enemies in justice:

Pour out thy indignation upon them, and let thy burning anger overtake them. May their camp be a desolation, let no one dwell in their tents.

St. Peter declares this text to find its ultimate fulfillment in Judas’s apostolic office proceeding to St. Matthias. Even though the Hebrew of Psalm 69 uses the plural, and David is clearly referring to a whole class of people, Peter declares definitively that it refers to Judas in its fullest sense:

For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it; and ‘His office (Gr. episcope, “bishopric”) let another take’ (Acts 1:20).

Not exactly a one-to-one fulfillment.

Second, if we are going to insist on one-to-one fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and types, then we have a real problem in Psalm 69:5-6. Just three verses before the Psalmist speaks of his “mother’s sons,” he also says:

Oh God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me. O Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me.

In this text, King David is, no doubt, thinking of his famous sins as well as the general “sin which clings so closely” to us in our fallen state (Heb. 12:1). But we don’t want to say Jesus must have had sin in his life because of what’s here in this messianic psalm. By no means!

The truth is that all of the Old Testament types and the overwhelming majority of prophecies we could consider in the Old Testament have multiple fulfillments: immediate ones on the literal level at the time they were published in history and their New Testament fulfillments, where they find their fuller meaning.

A defense of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is beyond the scope of this article. And non-Christians won’t find satisfaction here because they deny the inerrancy of Scripture completely. But for those non-Catholics who claim to follow the Bible, there is one big lesson to be taken from this brief consideration: be very careful before taking Old Testament types or prophecies to a place where your conclusions about them end up denying some of the crucial infrastructure of the New Covenant. Yes, the New Covenant is “hidden in the Old,” as St. Augustine famously said, but that doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same. Rather, Augustine continued, the Old Covenant is “fully revealed in the New”—which means we can expect some surprises when it comes to how types and their fulfillments shake out.

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