Summary Response to Objections to Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

Posted December 23, 2012

Perhaps the most persistent objection to Mary’s post partum virginity is the frequent scriptural references to Jesus’ “brothers” (e.g., Matthew 13:55, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:20, John 2:12 and 7:3-5, Acts 1:14, Galatians 1:19 1 Corinthians 9:5). The most fundamental response is that the Greek word rendered “brother” in English (i.e., adelphos) can be used to designate not only a blood brother, but it also can be used to denote varying and even remote degrees of relationship, often expressed in English with the word “brethren.” The meaning of “adelphos” can thus be determined only from its context, which is determined mainly by Sacred Tradition.       

Further examination of the biblical texts alone reveals that at least some of these purported “brothers” were not the children of Mary. Indeed, nowhere in Scripture is the Blessed Virgin Mary ever explicitly identified as the earthly mother of anyone other than Jesus. There is additional argument that the “brothers” appear to be older than Jesus, and there is ample scriptural support for the proposition that Mary had no children before Jesus (e.g., Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38 and 2:7). And there is an enormous collection of ancient documents showing an unquestioned tradition of this belief

Another objection to Mary’s perpetual virginity is the reference to Christ as being a “firstborn” son. St. Jerome convincingly responds that every child that is an only child is a firstborn child. Furthermore, he notes the Jewish practice of offering sacrifice at the birth of a “firstborn,” with no requirement to wait for possibly subsequently born children. Scripture scholars recognize that prototokos (“firstborn”) is only a legal status meaning only no prior child, and it is sometimes the equivalent of monogenes (“only-born”).

Scripture affirms Mary’s virginity before Christ’s birth; it does not say she lost it after his birth. Matthew 1:18 and 1: 25 are cited claiming that Joseph and Mary abstained from relations “before lived together”) but only “until she bore a son.”) These passages merely assert that up to a definite point in time the marriage was not consummated, but the word “until” does not imply a marital union after Jesus’ birth. St. Jerome cites many scriptural passages that use this form of speech, including Isaiah 46:4: “Even until your old age and gray hairs I will sustain you” (Doesn’t God’s support continue even after we get gray hairs?) In Matthew 28:20 Jesus said, “I will be with you until the end of the age”—the time of the Second Coming; won’t his presence with us continue even after the Second Coming? 1 Corinthians 15:25 says, “Jesus must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet”; won’t his reign as Christ the King continue after that? Psalm 123:2: “Our eyes look to the Lord until he shows us his mercy.” (Don’t we continue to look to him for mercy after he has shown it?; Deuteronomy 34:6 says that “until this day, no one knows where Moses is buried”; our ignorance of Moses’ grave location continues even now—after that “day”); 2 Samuel 6:23 says, “Michal had no children until the day of her death” ((Does that mean she had children after her death?). Likewise, to say that Mary and Joseph had no union until Jesus’ birth does not necessarily imply that they did have union after his birth. +++++++++

John H. Hampsch, cmf