Our website is made possible by displaying online ads to our visitors.
Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our site.

Seeking correction on the Virgin Mary

Q. Several weeks ago in your column, you stated that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus' birth and for the rest of her life. The Bible states otherwise. Matthew 1:24-25 says that Joseph "did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn Son."

Other passages reveal that Jesus had other siblings, born to Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus. (James is named as one of the half-brothers of Jesus). It would be helpful if you were to make this correction in a future column. (La Belle, Mo.)

A. According to the consistent and centuries-old teaching of the Catholic Church, no correction is needed. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, quoting St. Augustine from the 5th century, Mary "remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin" (No. 510).

The early leaders of Protestantism, in fact — including Calvin, Luther and Zwingli — virtually all accepted the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Regarding the passage you quote from Matthew (1:25), as my earlier column explained, the Greek word that is translated "until" says nothing about what happened afterward. (Greek translators used the same word — "eso" — to say in 2 Samuel 6:23 that the daughter of Saul "had no children until the day of her death.")

But the main reason I have chosen to run your question is to comment on your view that Jesus had other siblings. All four evangelists do, in fact, make some mention of his brothers and sisters. Mark 6:3, for example, asks: "Is he (Jesus) not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?"

Some Catholic scholars explain that the Greek word "adelphos" can mean not just blood brothers, but half brother, stepbrother or even cousins — the speculation being that Joseph may have had children from a previous marriage, making them step-siblings of Jesus.

There is no record of Joseph's age at the time of his betrothal to Mary, and some commentators think that Joseph may have been considerably older than Mary since he is not mentioned at all in the Gospels after the childhood of Jesus.

The crucifixion scene would seem to corroborate the Catholic belief that Jesus was the only child of Joseph and Mary: In Jewish custom, the obligation of caring for a widowed mother would pass to the next oldest if anything happened to the firstborn son; but since Jesus had no "blood brother," he entrusted Mary on Calvary to the care of John, the beloved disciple.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019