How We Know Mary Was a Perpetual Virgin?
Perhaps the two most commonly employed texts by those who deny Mary’s perpetual virginity are:
Matthew 13:55-56: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all of his sisters with us?”
Matthew 1:24-25: “And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn [Greek, prototokon] son: and he called his name JESUS” (Douay-Rheims).
A surface reading of these texts seems to raise some questions. If Jesus had brethren (brothers) and sisters, doesn’t this mean that Mary had other children? If Jesus was Mary’s firstborn, doesn’t this imply there was at least a second-born? And doesn’t “he knew her not till” imply that he “knew her” at some point thereafter? We’ll begin with Matthew 13:55-56.
First, we must understand that the term brother has a wide semantic range in Scripture. It can mean not only a blood brother but an extended relative or even a spiritual brother. Abraham and Lot are classic examples of “brother” being used for an extended relation (see Genesis 13:8 and 14:12). Though they were actually uncle and nephew, they called one another “brother.” Moreover, in the New Testament, Jesus told us to call one another “brothers” (see Matthew 23:8). Obviously, this doesn’t infer that all Christians have the same physical mother.
Second, if we examine more closely the example of James, one of these four “brothers” of the Lord mentioned in Matthew 13:55, we discover him to actually be a cousin or some other variety of relative of Jesus rather than a blood brother. For example, St. Paul tells us:
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18-19).
Notice, the James of whom St. Paul speaks was both a “brother of the Lord” and an “apostle.” There are only two apostles named James among the twelve. The first James is revealed to have been a son of Zebedee. He would most likely not be the James St. Paul speaks of in Galatians, because this James, the brother of John, was martyred early on, according to Acts 12:1-2. And even if it were him, his father was Zebedee. If he were the blood brother of the Lord, his father would have been Joseph.
The second James who was an apostle, according to Luke 6:15-16, is most likely to whom St. Paul refers, and his father was Alphaeus, not Joseph. Thus, James the apostle and Jesus were not blood brothers.
Easy enough. However, some will argue that the James spoken of in Galatians 1 was not an apostle—or, at least, he was not one of the Twelve. Though this is a possibility—there are others in the New Testament, such as St. Barnabas in Acts 14:14, who are referred to as “apostles” in a looser sense—the argument from Scripture is weak.
When St. Paul wrote about going “up to Jerusalem” to see St. Peter, he was writing about an event that occurred many years earlier, shortly after he had converted. He was basically going up to the apostles to receive approval lest he “should be running or had run in vain.” It would be more likely he would have here been speaking about apostles proper, or the Twelve.
But for those inclined to argue the point, the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses another line of reasoning:
[T]he Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression (CCC 500).
The Catechism here refers to the fact that, fourteen chapters after we find the “brothers” of the Lord listed as “James, Joses, Simon and Judas,” we find “James and Joses” mentioned again, but this time their mother is revealed as being named Mary—but not Mary the mother of Jesus. The conclusion becomes apparent: “James and Joses” are “brothers” of Jesus, but they are not blood brothers.
The problem of the “firstborn”
So what about Matthew 1:24-25 and the claim Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn son” and that Joseph “knew her not until” Christ was born? Does St. Matthew here teach Mary to have had other children?
Exodus 13:1-2 reveals something important about the firstborn in Israel:
The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and beast, is mine.”
The firstborn were not given the title because there was a second-born. They were called firstborn at birth. Hence, Jesus being referred to as firstborn in Matthew 1 does not require there to be more siblings after him.
Propositions about a preposition
Scripture stating Joseph “knew [Mary] not until she brought forth her firstborn” would not necessarily mean they “knew” each other after she brought forth Jesus. Until is often used in Scripture as part of an idiomatic expression similar to our own usage in English. I may say to you, “Until we meet again, God bless you.” Does that mean after we meet again, God curse you? By no means! A phrase like this is used to emphasize what is being described before the “until” is fulfilled. It is not intended to say anything about the future beyond that point. Here are some biblical examples that may help clarify things:
- II Samuel 6:23: “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to [unti] the day of her death.” Does this mean she had children after she died?
- I Timothy 4:13: “Until I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching.” Does this mean Timothy should stop teaching after St. Paul comes?
- I Corinthians 15:25: “For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Does this mean Christ’s reign will end? By no means! Luke 1:33 says, “[H]e will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
In recent years, some have argued that because Matthew 1:25 uses the Greek words heos hou for “until,” whereas the texts I mention above from the New Testament use heos alone, there is a difference in meaning. Heos hou, it is argued, would indicate the action of the first clause does not continue. Thus, Mary and Joseph “not having come together” would have then ended after Jesus was born.
The problems with this theory begin with the fact that there is no scholarship available that confirms it. In fact, the evidence proves the contrary. Heos hou and heos are used interchangeably and have the same meaning. Acts 25:21 should suffice to clear up the matter:
But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be held until (Greek, heos hou) I could send him to Caesar.
Does this text mean that St. Paul would not be held in custody after he was “sent” to Caesar? Not according to the biblical record. He would be held in custody while in transit (see Acts 27:1) and after he arrived in Rome for a time (see Acts 29:16). The action of the main clause did not cease with heos hou.
A positive outlook
Having dispatched some of the objections to Mary’s perpetual virginity, perhaps some positive reasons for faith would be in order. In my book Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines, I give eight positive reasons, but for brevity’s sake, we will briefly consider three:
1. In Luke 1:34, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, she asked the question, literally translated from the Greek, “How shall this be, since I know not man?” This question makes no sense unless Mary had a vow of virginity.
When we consider Mary and Joseph were already “espoused,” according to verse 27 of this same chapter, we understand Mary and Joseph to then have had what would be akin to a ratified marriage in the New Covenant. They were married! That would mean St. Joseph would have had the right to the marriage bed at that point. Normally, after the espousal the husband would prepare a home for his new bride and then come and receive her into his home where the union would be consummated. This is precisely why St. Joseph intended to “divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19) when he discovered she was pregnant.
This background is significant, because a newly married woman would not ask the question, “How shall this be?” She would know! Unless, of course, that woman had a vow of virginity! Mary believed the message but wanted to know how this was going to be accomplished. This indicates she was not planning on the normal course of events for her future with St. Joseph.
2. In John 19:26, Jesus gave his mother to the care of St. John even though by law the next eldest sibling would have the responsibility to care for her. It is unthinkable to believe that Jesus would take his mother away from his family in disobedience to the law.
Some will claim Jesus did this because his brothers and sisters were not there. They had left him. Thus, Jesus committed his mother to St. John, who was faithful and present at the foot of the cross.
This claim reveals a low and unbiblical Christology. As St. John tells us, Jesus “knew all men” (John 2:25). If St. James were his blood brother, Jesus would have known he would be faithful along with his “brother” Jude. The fact is, Jesus had no brothers and sisters, so he had the responsibility, on a human level, to take care of his mother.
3. Mary is depicted as the spouse of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. When Mary asked the angel how she was going to conceive a child in Luke 1:34, the angel responded:
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.
This is nuptial language hearkening back to Ruth 3:8, where Ruth said to Boaz “spread your skirt over me” when she revealed to him his duty to marry her according to the law of Deuteronomy 25. When Mary then came up pregnant, St. Joseph would have been required to divorce her, because she would then belong to another (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Jeremiah 3:1). When St. Joseph found out that “the other” was the Holy Spirit, the idea of St. Joseph having conjugal relations with Mary would not have been a consideration for a “just man” like St. Joseph.
One final thought
An obvious question remains: Why did St. Joseph then “take [Mary] his wife,” according to Matthew 1:24, if she belonged to the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is Mary’s spouse, but St. Joseph was her spouse and protector on Earth. Tthis is not a contradiction. All Christians have a nuptial relationship with our Lord. The Church is, after all, “the bride of Christ.” But in the case of Mary and Joseph, Joseph was essential in the life of Mary, his spouse, for at least two obvious reasons. First, as St. Matthew points out in his genealogy in chapter 1, St. Joseph was in line to be a successor of David as King of Israel. Thus, if Jesus was to be the true “son of David” and king of Israel (see II Samuel 7:14; Hebrews 1:5; Revelation 19:16, 22:16), he needed to be the son of St. Joseph. As the only son of St. Joseph, even though adopted, he would have been in line for the throne.
Also, in a culture that did not take kindly to espoused women becoming pregnant by someone other than their spouse, Mary would have been in mortal danger. Thus, St. Joseph became Mary’s earthly spouse and protector as well as the protector of the child Jesus.
Read the source and comments: http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/how-we-know-mary-was-a-perpetual-virgin-0
More Reasons for Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
In my last post, I gave an abbreviated version of three of the eight reasons I give for Mary’s perpetual virginity in my book, Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines. The com boxes lit up with questions so I thought I would provide three more abbreviated reasons in this post.
Reason Four: Mary was consecrated to the Father of her Son
As I said in my last post, Mary was also in a nuptial relationship with the Holy Spirit. The marriage between Mary and the Holy Spirit and that between Mary and Joseph are not incompatible, because they are of entirely different orders—like my own marriage to my wife, Valerie, does not contradict each of us having a truly nuptial relationship with the Lord.
However, unlike all Christians “nuptial” relationship with the Lord, in the case of Mary and the Holy Spirit, a child was conceived. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In a unique and unrepeatable fashion, the two orders intersect. Thus, Mary’s consecration to God for the purpose of the Incarnation brings with it biblical challenges.
In my last post, I mentioned how Joseph and Mary’s betrothal to each other was equal to a legal spousal contract, according to Scripture. The word for betrothed in Hebrew is kiddush, which is derived from the Hebrew word kadash, meaning “holy” or “consecrated.” This betrothal was considered a sacred event binding spouses to each other. It was because of this understanding of the sacredness of the bond of matrimony that adultery was considered such a serious sin. Marriage was a consecrated state. Desecrating this state by adultery left a woman defiled and was punishable by death or, in some circumstances, left her unfit to return to conjugal relations with her husband. (This seems odd to us today, but things were different among the ancient, tribal people with whom our Lord was dealing.)
The latter cases where a desecration of a marriage left women unfit to return to relations with their husbands are of particular interest to us now. We see an example of this in 2 Samuel. Absalom, one of David’s sons, tried to usurp the throne of his father by, among other things, sleeping with ten of David’s concubines:
Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.”. . . [A]nd Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel (16:21-22).
Later, when Absolam’s attempted coup d’état failed and he was killed, King David did not forget his concubines. Scripture tells us David “took the ten concubines, whom he had left to care for the house, and put them in a house under guard, and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood” (20:3).
David would not have conjugal relations with these ten concubines again because they were “defiled” by Absalom. But he did have the responsibility to care for them and protect them after Absalom’s death, because he (Absalom) could no longer care for them. And they were David’s concubines, so he had a real responsibility for their well being.
It is hard for us to fathom this in the twenty-first century. How could King David and St. Joseph have the responsibility to care for their wives but not be able to have conjugal relations with them? We have to understand this through the revelation given to us in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1 reveal to us that a woman who was divorced by her husband and then wedded to another could never return to her former husband even if her new husband were to die. Deuteronomy 24:4 declares:
Then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt upon the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.
It was the sexual bond that was evidently the cause of the “defilement” in the relationship. Hence, King David could receive his concubines into his home after they were “defiled” by Absalom, but he could never have conjugal relations with them again.
In Jeremiah 3:1, God refers to this law when he speaks metaphorically of his relationship with Israel:
“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the harlot with many lovers; and would you return to me?” says the Lord.
Very much rooted in this Old Testament understanding, the Talmud taught divorce to be mandatory in the case of an espoused woman who became pregnant by another. The espoused woman who conceived by another would then belong to that other and could never return to her former husband. The ancient rabbis said:
A woman made pregnant by a former husband and a woman who was giving suck to a child by another husband . . . do not receive the marriage contract. . . . A man should not marry a woman made pregnant by an earlier husband or giving suck to a child born to an earlier husband, and if she married under such conditions, he must put her away and never remarry her (Neusner, Babylonian Talmud, vol. 11, 123).
When we take into account the Old Testament background and ancient Hebrew culture, we understand Matthew 1 and the situation with the Holy Family. In Joseph’s mind, once she was pregnant, Mary would have belonged to the father of the child within her. His choices were either to expose her publicly and endanger her to mob violence or to do what we see he actually resolved to do in Matthew 1:19: divorce her quietly. But notice what Scripture tells us in verses 20 and 21:
But as [Joseph] considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
When the angel told Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived of the Holy Spirit, he knew what was required of him. Just as we saw with King David in 2 Samuel 20:3, Joseph knew that he was to take his wife into his home and care for her, though he could never have conjugal relations with her. According to Scripture and ancient Jewish tradition, Mary belonged to the father of her child—the Holy Spirit. However, the Holy Spirit could not be the protector that Mary needed. The Holy Spirit could not sign legal documents and be Mary’s legal spouse. But Joseph was ready and willing—just man that he was—to care for Mary as his lawfully wedded spouse.
Reason Five: Mary is the Temple gate
In Ezekiel 44:1-2, the prophet was given a vision of the holiness of “the gate” of the temple, which would be fulfilled in the perpetual virginity of Mary:
Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut.”
No Christian would deny that in the New Testament Jesus is revealed to be the fulfillment of the temple. In John 2:19, when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” the Jews thought he was speaking of the enormous stone edifice that stood in Jerusalem. But, as John tells us two verses later, he was actually speaking of his own body. So if Christ is the prophetic temple of Ezekiel 44 into which God himself has entered for our salvation, who or what is this prophetic gate that is the conduit for God to enter into his temple?
Mary is the natural fulfillment. She is the gate through which not just a spiritual presence of God has passed but God in the flesh. How much more would the New Testament gate remain forever closed? St. Jerome commented on this text in the fourth century:
Only Christ opened the closed doors of the virginal womb, which continued to remain closed, however. This is the closed eastern gate, through which only the high priest may enter and exit and which nevertheless is always closed (Against the Pelagians, 2,4).
Reason Six: Mary is the untouchable Ark
According to multiple parallel texts in Scripture, Mary is depicted as the New Testament Ark of the Covenant. The encounter of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-45, shortly after Mary conceived Jesus at the Annunciation, is clear evidence of this.
First, take note of Elizabeth’s exclamation when Mary entered her home and greeted her: “And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This refers back to 2 Samuel 6:9 where the Old Testament “type” of Mary—the Ark of the Covenant—was carried into the presence of King David. He said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” The ark remained there three months. In a New Testament fulfillment of the type, Luke 1 records that Elizabeth gave Mary an identical greeting, and that Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months.
According to Hebrews 9:4, the Ark of the Covenant bore the Ten Commandments, a small amount of manna, and the staff of Aaron the high priest. All of these were types of our Lord. According to John 6:31-33, Jesus is the true manna. According to Hebrews 3:1, Jesus is our true high priest. In Hebrew, the Ten Commandments can be referred to as the ten words (dabar in Hebrew). Jesus is the word made flesh, according to John 1:14.
According to the Old Testament, no one except the high priest could touch the ark or even look inside it. If anyone else touched or looked inside the ark, the punishment was death. The Levites in charge of the ark knew all too well that their charge was to protect but that they could not look inside and they could not touch.
If this was the case for the Old Testament type, which, according to Hebrews 10:1, is no more than a shadow of the true New Testament fulfillment, then it would seem fitting that Mary would remain “untouched” by Joseph as well. When we understand this, we understand why great saints such as Jerome and Epiphanius would have been so indignant when they encountered the first heretics to posit even the possibility that Joseph could have had conjugal relations with Mary. This was absolutely foreign to the Christian consciousness of the first four centuries of the Christian era.
Perhaps in a future post, I will discuss the unanimity among the Fathers of the Church on this matter. For the first Christians, this was a no-brainer.
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Read the source and comments: http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/more-reasons-for-marys-perpetual-virginity
Tim Staples is Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers, but he was not always Catholic. Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian…
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