Saturday, December 15, 2007

The "Brothers of Jesus" and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary is a DOGMA of the Catholic Church. A DOGMA is a teaching of the Church that is “binding” on the faithful. That means if you don’t accept it you’re outside the Church. Pretty serious stuff!

Non-Catholic Christians (NCC’s) generally do not accept this Teaching. They commonly reference Mt. 13:55: “And are not his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” as evidence that Jesus had “brothers” and therefore Mary must not have been a perpetual virgin. Lesser known are the “sisters of Jesus” found in the very next verse: “And are not all his sisters with us?” (NRSV-CE) Wow! If you take the word “all” as in “all his sisters”, it sounds like not only was Mary not a perpetual virgin but that she must have been perpetually pregnant!

However, there is a problem with this assumption regardless of the number of the supposed siblings of Jesus: It’s NOT in the Bible! It is our NCC friends who make the claim that in order to believe something it has to “be in the Bible”. However, NOWHERE in the Bible does it ever say that Mary had other children. NOWHERE! Thus, by the NCC logic of “the Bible Alone”, there is simply NO scriptural evidence that Mary was not a perpetual virgin.

The common Catholic “apologetic” or response on this issue is to point out that in the language which Jesus spoke (Aramaic) there is no word for “cousin” and thus the word “brother” or “sister” was used to indicate a cousin relationship. While the “cousin” apologetic is correct, it seems to be rather ineffective as evidenced by the fact that it rarely convinces an NCC to the Catholic side. Thus it is probably much better to use their own doctrine “the Bible Alone” to show that irregardless of their belief about Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, there is no evidence in the Bible to the contrary. NCC’s will have to agree with you on that point.

But what of the brothers and sisters of Jesus? Yes, they could have been cousins, but they could also have been blood brothers. Many early sources, most notably the Protoevangelium of James, make reference to the fact that Joseph may have in fact been a widower and thus could have had children by a previous wife. Thus the “brothers” (and “sisters”) of Jesus certainly could have been his half-brothers (and sisters).

There is also another problem with the NCC thinking on this. Most NCC’s accept that Joseph died while Jesus was an adolescent. (The last time we hear of Joseph is in Luke 2 when he and Mary find the 12 year old Jesus teaching in the Temple.) It is interesting to note that no mention of siblings is made at this time. So if we stay with the “Bible Alone” approach of our NCC friends, then we have to assume that no siblings had yet been born.

However, by the time we get to the initial accounts of Jesus’ public ministry when He is approximately 30 years old, we, if we take the NCC interpretation of Mt. 13:55, have to accept that Jesus had at least 7 siblings: the four brothers, as named in the passage, plus at least 3 sisters (“all his sisters” implies that there had to be at least 3 – “all” implies more than one, and if there were only 2, the word “both” would have been used).

Doing the math, Joseph and Mary would have had to have had 7 more children in 18 years. Not impossible, however, Mt. 13 implies that at least the males are adults. Also, in order for the “sisters” to have been “here with us”, the girls probably were not infants, and must have at least been in their teens. So subtract at least 10 years from the 18 and we get 8, meaning Mary had to have had at least 7 children in 8 years. Also not impossible, but then we’d have to believe that either Mary found another husband after Joseph died or Joseph must have lived a lot longer (and have been a lot healthier!) than what 2000 years of tradition (both Catholic and NCC) has left us.

It is hoped by now that you deem all this adding, subtracting, assuming, and implying to be a bit ridiculous. It is. And that’s why our Church has not cared to address it. It also demonstrates what happens to those outside our Church who do not have any authority other than their own private interpretation of Scripture.

The Catholic Church has the authority of Christ who did not leave us a Bible, but a Church, and a teaching authority for that Church, which He meant to continue and protect until the end of time (Mt. 16:13). And that same Church has proclaimed Mary as “Ever-Virgin”. There is simply no evidence, Biblical or otherwise, to the contrary.

A personal note to Catholics: While it is encouraging to see a great interest among Catholics in “Bible Study” it is proportionately discouraging to see a great lack of interest in “Doctrinal Study” or a study of what our Church teaches, particularly those teachings which come from the chair of Peter which Jesus himself established. The two studies certainly do not have to be opposed. In fact, they are not. They are part of one and the same teaching and good for those who understand and teach in this way.

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