+J.M.J+

PERPETUAL VIRGINITY


Definition

After giving birth to Jesus, Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life. Joseph never had relations with her, and she never physically bore any other children.

How This Teaching Exalts Christ

Jesus' unique Sonship from Mary reflects His unique Sonship in eternity. Christ is the only-begotten Son of the Father, who begets Him eternally without the help of a mother.  He is also the only Son of Mary, who conceives Him in time without the help of a man.

It is also further affirmation of the holiness and Deity of Jesus. It would not have been fitting for the womb which bore the Savior to bring sinners into the world (which any hypothetical child of Joseph and Mary would have been). As the ancient ark of the covenant was consecrated for sacred use, so the New Ark could not be defiled by common usage.

Biblical Basis

While the Bible does mention the "brothers" and "sisters" of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), they are never called the sons and daughters of the Virgin Mary because they are not her children.  Mark 15:40 mentions a woman called "Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses". James and Joses are two of the "brethren" of Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13:55, so this woman is clearly their mother, not the Mother of Jesus. This "other Mary" (Mt 28:1) is mentioned in John 19:25 as "Mary the wife of Cleophas", the "sister" of Jesus' mother ("sister" here probably refers to a sister-in-law, since they are both called Mary).

So James and Joses are the sons of Cleophas and the other Mary, who are most likely Jesus' uncle and aunt on Joseph's side.  Since Simon and Jude are mentioned with James and Joses, they must also be Jesus' cousins. The fact that the Bible calls them "brothers" does not contradict this. In that culture, as in many Middle Eastern cultures today, the term "brother" was used for many relatives who were not full siblings, such as half or step-brothers, brothers-in-law, nephews, cousins of various degrees, etc. So Jesus' "brothers and sisters" were really His cousins; Scripture calls them "brothers and sisters" in accord with the custom of the time.

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus' family, we discover a definite pattern which indicates that He was indeed an only child.  The Bible portrays the Holy Family as consisting of three persons: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. No more, no less.  Only Jesus, Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13-14); only these three return a while later (2:20-21); only these three go up to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve (Luke 2:41-43); and these three alone are mentioned after that event (Luke 2:51-52).

None of these episodes in Jesus' childhood mention the birth or existence any brothers or sisters.  So at best, any hypothetical half-siblings would have to have been born after the trip to Jerusalem.  The oldest of them (James?) would have been thirteen years younger than Jesus, and only seventeen when Jesus began his ministry.

Yet this is inconsistent with the portrayal of Jesus' "brethren" in the Gospels.  They speak and act very disrespectfully toward Him (Mark 3:27; John 7:3).  Such behavior toward an elder brother would have been inappropriate in that culture, for the firstborn commanded respect from younger siblings.  Their tone toward Jesus makes it more likely that they were Jesus' elders, in which case they could not have been Mary's children.

Again, in the account of the Wedding Feast at Cana, we read that Mary was present (Joseph was evidently deceased by then) and that Jesus and His disciples were also invited (John 2:1-2).  Yet no mention is made of His "brethren" being present, or even being invited (though they come into the picture again in vs. 12, after the feast ends).  If these "brethren" were also Mary's children, it seems odd that just one of her sons would be invited to the wedding with His followers, while absolutely none of the rest of her children were invited!  Yet if He were an only child, and his "brethren" were actually more distant relatives, this would make more sense.

Finally, while on the Cross, Jesus gave Mary into the care of St. John, telling them to regard one another as mother and son (Jn 19:26-27).  Christ would not have done this unless she had no other sons to provide for her. This is further evidence that Mary had no other children.

Early Christian Witness

A second century Christian named Hegisippus mentions that "Simon son of Cleophas...one of the Lord's kindred" replaced James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem after the latter's martyrdom. He calls Simon the son of Jesus' uncle (Cleophas). This shows that Simon the "brother" of Jesus was really His first cousin and a son of Cleophas, not of Joseph and Mary.

A second century work of Christian fiction called the Protoevangelium of James also witnesses to the early belief that the "brethren" of Jesus were not children of Mary; it presents them as children of St. Joseph from a former marriage. This detail may not be entirely true; it is more possible that they were Joseph's nephews whom he "adopted" after the death of their father Cleophas, who was either Joseph's brother or brother-in-law. Yet the Protoevangelium still shows that second century Christians believed that Mary gave birth to Jesus alone.

Early Christians considered Mary a perfect model of lifelong chastity for those who took vows of virginity, as seen in this quote from St. Ambrose of Milan:

"Mary's life should be for you a pictorial image of virginity. Her life is like a mirror reflecting the face of chastity and the form of virtue. Therein you may find a model for your own life...showing what to improve, what to imitate, what to hold fast to." (St. Ambrose of Milan, The Virgins; 377 A.D.)
More quotes:
"Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to His essence, deny also that He took true human flesh from the Ever-Virgin Mary" (St. Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians, 2:70, c. 358 AD)

"I have heard from someone that certain people dare to say of Mary that after she bore the Savior she had sexual relations with a man. I am not surprised. The ignorance of those who have no exact knowledge of the sacred scripures and who have not applied themselves to the histories turns from one thing to another and distracts the one who wishes to trace something of the truth with his own mind" (Epiphanius, Panarion, 78:7:1; 374 AD)

"It helps us to understand the terms first-born and only-begotten when the Evangelist tells that Mary remained a virgin "until she brought forth her first-born son"; for neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone, nor did she ever become the Mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever and immaculate virgin."(Didimus the Blind, The Trinity, 3:4; c. 381 AD)

"In being born of a Virgin who chose to remain a Virgin before she knew who was to be born of her, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And He wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom He took upon Himself the form of a slave" (Augustine, Holy Virginity, 4:4; 401 AD)

Objections
  1. In the beginning God commanded Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28), so celibacy is clearly an unnatural state, not God's will for human beings.

    Why then did God command the prophet Jeremiah to refrain from marriage (Jeremiah 16:1-2)? Jewish tradition also tells us that Moses refrained from relations with his wife after encountering God, and that the prophets Elijah and Elisha were never married. So even in Ancient Israel some people clearly chose to remain celibate in order to serve God. Mary did the same.

  2. You Catholics want Mary to be "ever-Virgin" so she will be equal to Jesus, who was also celibate all His life.

    Mary's perpetual virginity does not make her equal with Jesus. Otherwise everyone with the gift of celibacy would be His equal!

  3. Mary is not "ever-Virgin"; the Bible says that Joseph had relations with her after Jesus was born.

    The Bible does not say that; it says he "knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son" (Mt 1:25). You are probably referring to the word "till" in that passage, but the Greek word does not indicate a change after Jesus' birth. It simply states that Joseph had no relations with Mary before or during her pregnancy. All St. Matthew intended to establish is the fact that St. Joseph could not possibly Jesus' father; he was not immediately concerned with discussing Mary's continued virginity after Jesus' birth.

  4. Can you support you contention about the word "till" from the Bible?

    Yes. Genesis 8:6-7 states that the raven which Noah sent from the ark "went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth." This does not mean the raven stopped flying around or returned to the ark after the waters dried up.

    Psalm 110:1 says "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." Does this mean that Jesus will no longer reign at God's right hand after He vanquishes all His foes? Similarly, I Corinthians 15:25 states that "(Jesus) must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet." Yet the Book of Revelation indicates that the Lamb will reign forever (22:1,3). Thus "till" cannot mean He will cease to be the King of kings after the Last Judgment.

  5. Can't we assume that Mary and Joseph had normal marital relations after Jesus' birth, like any other couple?

    They were not like any other couple; the were the earthly parents of God Incarnate! The wife in this couple was a living, sacred Tabernacle of the Lord, the Ark of the New Covenant, chosen and sanctified to bear the God man. How could St. Joseph even think of having sex with the sacred Ark of the New Covenant? He would have to have been a rash and sacrilegious man to presume to penetrate and impregnate with his own seed the sacred womb which had borne God! And considering Uzzah's terrible fate when he touched the original Ark (II Samuel 6:6-7), Joseph would not have gotten very far had he tried. Yet Scripture portrays him as a reverent man; hardly the type to try something like that.

  6. So you're saying that sex is evil?

    Not at all. Sex within marriage is not sinful, but it is also not always appropriate. If you have a spouse, would you have relations with him or her in church? I hope not, since that is quite inappropriate. Well the Holy Family's house was like a church or temple (a Holy of Holies, in fact!), for God Himself dwelt there. This is one more reason, in addition to the others stated above, why it would have been inappropriate for Mary and Joseph to have conjugal relations.

  7. But Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7 call Jesus "her firstborn son". Doesn't that mean that Mary had other children after Him?

    No; for the term firstborn designates the male heir in the family, whether or not he has any siblings. In Exodus 13:2, God says "Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel." The parents did not have to wait to see whether they would have other kids before sanctifying their first child; since the "firstborn" is defined here as "whatsoever openeth the womb" (regardless of whether any more come out afterward!).

    In the 1920's an archeologist discovered the tomb of a Diaspora Jew in Egypt dating back to the time of Christ. The epitaph indicates that the woman buried there died in giving birth to her firstborn son (1). Since she died in childbirth, the mother clearly had no children after him, yet he is still called her "firstborn". So Jesus certainly can be called Mary's firstborn Son even though He is an only child.

  8. Jesus was not an only child; the Bible says He had four brothers and at least two sisters (Matthew 13:55-56) who must have been children of Mary and Joseph.

    As stated above, the Bible nowhere calls them children of Mary and Joseph. Jesus alone is called "the Son of Mary" (Mark 6:3), a phrase which in that culture denoted the only child of a widow. And Mary is always called simply "the mother of Jesus", never "the mother of Jesus, James, Joses, Simon, Judas and their sisters" or anything like that.

  9. Where does the Bible call non-siblings "brothers" or "sisters"?

    In Genesis 13:8 and 14:16, Lot is called the "brother" of Abram, yet 11:27 indicates that Lot was Abram's nephew. In Genesis 29:15, Laban calls Jacob his "brother", though Jacob was his nephew (see Gen 28:2). In Leviticus 10:4, Moses calls Nadab and Abihu the "brethren" of Mishael and Elzaphan, while that very same verse describes them as first cousins once-removed. In I Chronicles 23:21-22, the word "brethren" clearly refers to cousins.

    Scripture has more such examples, but these four sufficiently illustrate the broad usage of the term "brother" or "brethren" in the Bible.

  10. So you're saying the word "brothers" doesn't mean brothers at all, it really means cousins? That's ridiculous!

    No, the word brothers does not mean cousins; but in that culture ones male cousins - along with ones nephews, uncles, and other male relations - would have been called "brothers". The word had both a specific meaning (that is, male siblings) and a general usage for more distant male relatives. There was no Hebrew word for "cousin" back then, so cousins were either called "brothers" or were designated by a phrase like "the son of my father's sister". The former was often preferred for brevity's sake.

  11. But there was a Greek word for cousin - anepsios - which Paul uses in Colossians 4:10. So the Gospel writers could have used that word if they meant "cousins".

    The Evangelists were using the common parlance among Jews at the time. Jesus, James, Joses and the rest were all Jewish and so would have called one another "brothers" (ah in Hebrew), not anepsios. The early Christians continued this, not foreseeing any future controversy over it. They knew Jesus is an only child and assumed everyone else knew. They had nothing to "prove" to anyone!

  12. But the same Paul who uses "anepsios" to refer to John Mark uses brothers (adelphos) to refer to James in Galatians 1:19.

    He was using the common designation for James. Everyone knew James as "the Lord's brother" so that is what Paul called him to identify the James to which he was referring. He did not call him "the Lord's cousin" because he did not have to explain James' relation to Christ; the Galatians undoubtably knew.

  13. The early Christians may not have foreseen the confusion, but surely God did. So why didn't God just once inspire the writers to call them "cousins" if that was what they really were?

    Questions which begin with the words "Why didn't God..." are usually futile. God could have inspired the sacred authors of Scripture to clarify a lot of issues, like the doctrine of the Trinity. Had the Holy Spirit nudged just one author to write "There are Three Persons in the one true God" it would have spared Christianity a lot of arguments and heresies! Yet God did not do so, and I cannot tell you why any more than you can tell me why.

    However, the Spirit of God did inspire Saint Mark to mention that James and Joses had another mother, Mary the wife of Cleophas (Mark 15:40). That in itself indicates that they were not Jesus' half siblings or sons of the Blessed Virgin. If one "rightly divides the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15) and takes the whole of Scripture on this subject, one will come to that conclusion.

  14. Maybe Mary the wife of Cleophas is the mother of another James and Joses who are Jesus' cousins, not the ones mentioned in Mark 6:3, who are his half-brothers.

    That is pure conjecture, nowhere stated in Scripture. The parallel mention of "James and Joses" in Mark 6:3 and 15:40 implies that they are the same persons.

  15. I still believe that James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, was the literal half-brother of Jesus and the son of Mary and Joseph.

    Extra biblical Church history proves that belief wrong. The second century Church historian Hegesippus and the first century Jewish historian Josephus both write that James the "brother" of Jesus was also known as James the Just. In addition to being the bishop of the church in Jerusalem, he was the high priest in the Temple (this was before the Nazarenes were excommunicated from the synagogue; at this time they were still a sect in Judaism).

    Now James could not have been a physical son of Joseph, for a high priest must come from the tribe of Levi, and Joseph was from the tribe of Judah. Since ones tribal affiliation comes from the father, St Joseph could not have been the father of James the Just.

  16. How could James the Just be a relative of Jesus if they belonged to different tribes?

    Luke tells us that Mary's relative, Elizabeth (Luke 1:36) was "of the daughters of Aaron", and that her husband Zechariah was a priest in the Temple (Luke 1:5). There was evidently some intermarriage between the royal tribe of Judah and the priestly tribe of Levi at this point in Jewish history.

  17. Maybe Jesus' mother married a Levitical priest after Joseph's death and gave birth to James the Just.

    She could not have done that since Scripture forbids a priest to marry a widow unless she is the widow of a fellow priest (Ezekiel 44:22). Since Saint Joseph was not a priest, Mary does not qualify.

  18. So how does the genealogy of these cousins all work out?

    Since all the geneologies in Israel were destroyed along with the Temple in 70 AD, we do not know for sure. Yet all the information we do have taken together seems to indicate that James, Joses, Simon, Judah and possibly the "sisters" (female cousins) of Jesus were the children of Cleophas and the "other Mary" mentioned in the Gospels. The "brethren" were all born before Jesus, perhaps even before Joseph's marriage to Mary.

    Cleophas may have died young, so his relative Joseph took over the care of his widow and children. Thus Jesus' cousins may also have been like quasi-stepbrothers to him. This could explain why some have thought that Jesus' "brethren" were Joseph's children from a former marriage.

  19. How can I trust all this history when it's not in the Bible?

    Hegisippus was a Christian who had no reason to lie. Other early Christians attested to the trustworthiness of his history. We have no reason not to believe him.

    Just because something is not in the Bible does not make it false. Many evangelicals accept the fact that Peter was crucified upside-down and Paul beheaded in Rome, though these events come from Christian history, not the Bible.

  20. Jesus gave Mary to John because His brothers were unbelievers (John 7:5), and Jesus wanted a believer to care for her.

    Then His act was completely unnecessary, since His "brethren" did not remain unbelievers for long. After His Resurrection Jesus made a special appearance to James the Just (I Co 15:7) and all his "brethren" were among the 120 believers praying for the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:14). Surely Jesus knew that their skepticism would end within a few says, so why put Mary in the permanent care of Saint John?

    If Mary had four other sons to care for her, she would not have needed John's care. Yet if she had no other sons then Jesus' act would make perfect sense, since a sonless widow in that culture would be completely destitute, with no means of supporting herself. Thus Jesus provided a "son" for His Mother to care for her for the rest of her earthly life.

  21. Mary's "perpetual virginity" is a late Catholic doctrine, fabricated to honor Mary.

    As we have seen, belief in Mary's perpetual virginity goes back at least to the second century. It must have been based on first-century knowledge among Christians that Jesus was her only child. The opposing belief that Mary had other children arose much later with heretics like Helvidius. All orthodox Christians argued against that heterodox notion.

  22. The perpetual virginity of Mary is a Catholic belief, not a Protestant one.

    Not so; all the early Protestant leaders, including Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli believed that Mary remained a virgin after giving birth to Jesus:

    Martin Luther:

    "It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin....Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact." (Weimer, The Works of Luther, English Transl. by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v.11,pp. 319-320; v. 6 p. 510.)

    "Christ...was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him..."brothers" really means "cousins" here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4, 1537-39.)

    "He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb...This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that." (Ibid.)

    John Calvin:
    "There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest that from this passage (Matt 1:25) that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph's obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company....And besides this Our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or not there was any question of the second." (Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25, published 1562.)
    Ulrich Zwingli:
    "I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary....Christ...was born of a most undefiled Virgin." (Stakemeier, E. in De Mariologia et Oecumenismo, Balic, K., ed., Rome, 1962, p. 456.)

    "I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin." (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, in Evang. Luc., v. 1, p. 424.)

    So even the Reformers knew and acknowledged that the perpetual virginity of Mary is a truth rooted in both Scripture and Church history.

  23. That was just a last vestige of their former papism; later Protestants discovered the truth by reading the Bible alone.

    Considering the incredible hostility which these men harbored toward Rome, that is highly unlikely.

    As we have seen, the Bible does not say that Mary had other children, and all the evidence taken together shows that Jesus was an only child and His "brethren" were His cousins, children of His uncle Cleophas. The mistaken belief that they are Mary's offspring arose because people with no knowledge of Church history and a gripe against Catholic devotion to Mary misinterpreted the Bible (failing to take the whole of Scripture into account) and so manufactured a false doctrine to support their bias against Catholic teaching.

    This is not your fault; somewhere along the line some well-meaning person presented this belief to you as "biblical truth". Despite their sincerity, they were still wrong. Now is the time for you to embrace the full truth about Jesus' relatives, which even Luther, Calvin and Zwingli knew.

  24. So there is no possibility that Mary bore any other children after Jesus?

    None whatsoever. The belief that she did goes against the Bible, history, reason and propriety, as discussed above. It would not have been fitting for the womb which bore the Savior to bring sinners into the world (which any hypothetical child of Joseph and Mary would have been). Could you imagine someone in Old Testament times using the holy Ark of the Covenant to haul mud? That is what it would have been like had the Ark of the New Covenant bore sinners after Christ!

    As the sacred vessels of the Temple could not be put to profane use, so the living Vessel whom God sanctified to bear our Savior could not have borne sinners as well.

Works Cited:

1. C.C. Edgar, Annales du Service des Antiquites de l'Egypte, 22 (1922), pp 7-16, n. 20-33. Cited by Jules Lebreton, S.J., The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ Our Lord (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1934), 33.


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