Sunday, November 29, 2009


The text from Mark (Mark 3:31-35) has sparked off an ongoing controversy between Catholic and Protestant Scholars. At present, it even divides Catholics among themselves. In principle, we may not expert from this text a proof or a counterproof of the perpetual virginity of Mary. It simply says that Jesus was a ‘brother to James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon’ and that he had sisters among the inhabitants of Nazareth. This essay seeks to react to this assertion by raising arguments to disabuse the minds of people that Mary had Children after the birth of Jesus.
To begin with, those who think that Mary had children after Jesus and so deny the virginal conception raised three objections according to Bishop Osei Bonsu’ Book, Catholic Beliefs and Practice. Their basis is the infancy narratives of Matthew 1:25. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the Angel had commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and called his name Jesus” According to those who object to the perpetual virginity of Mary, the use of the word ‘until’ in the text connotes the fact Mary may have had children after Jesus “However, in Greek and in the Semitic languages, such a negation often has no implication at all about what happened after the limit of the ‘until’ was reached. Here Matthew is concerned only with stressing Mary’s virginity before the child’s birth, so that the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled: it is as a virgin that Mary will give birth to her son. These words reiterate the miracle of conception through the Holy Spirit, and do not lend support to the idea of the subsequent virginity of Mary, although they do not absolutely deny it.”
The second objection to Mary’s perpetual virginity is found in the phrase “first born son” as used in Luke 2:7 “ And she ( Mary) gave birth to her first born Son.” “The use of the “first- born” son might be taken to imply that there were other children born to Mary after Jesus. However, the Greek word translated here as “first born” does not necessarily mean “first- born of many. The term “first-born” was a legal term under Mosaic Law (Exodus 6: 14) referring to the first male child born to Jewish parents regardless of whether any other children followed or not. Hence when Jesus is called the” first- born” son of Mary it does not mean that there were second or third- born children. What it says is merely that no child of Mary preceded Jesus and that he was entitled to have all the privileges and status of the first – born in the Mosaic law (cf. Exod. 13:2; Num. 3:12-13;18:15-16, Deut. 21: 15-17. The word ‘first – born’ son is also mentioned in Colossians 1:15. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation”
The third objection and the most serious of all the objections is based on the mention of the brothers and sisters of Jesus in Mark 3:31-35. “Prior to Mark’s Gospel, Paul made two references to ‘the brothers of the Lord’. ‘ Do we not have the right to marry a believing woman like the rest of the Apostles and the brothers of Lord and Cephas? (1 Corinthians 9:5). ‘Three years after that, I went up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas with whom I stayed fifteen days. I did not meet any other apostles except James the brother of the Lord’. (Galatians 1:18ff).” “In Hebrew and Aramaic (language spoken by Jesus and his followers), there was no specific word for cousin. So the word for brother was sometimes used for brother, cousin or other relatives. But we know, for example, that the James and Joses mentioned in Mark 6:3 as brothers of Jesus were, in fact, the sons of Mary, the wife of Clopas (Matthew 27:56). Since the Gospels also tell us that Mary of Clopas was the blessed Mother’s sister (John 19:25) that means she was Jesus’ aunt and her sons were Jesus’ cousins.” When one searches the scriptures, one will not find Mary identified as the mother of anyone but Jesus. Her perpetual virginity has been taught by the Church from the beginning and has been reaffirmed by the church since time immemorial. For instance, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 499-501, states that “The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’ birth did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it. And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the’ Ever- virgin’ ” “Our belief today is the same as it was in the fifth century when St. Augustine describe the blessed mother as a virgin who conceives, a virgin who gives birth, a virgin with child, a virgin delivered of child- a virgin ever virgin “ Therefore, it can be said that those mentioned as the brothers and sisters of Jesus or half brothers and sisters of Jesus are not his real brothers and sisters. “ …The Greek words that translated “ brothers and sisters” would normally refer to blood brothers and sisters, yet some scholars think that in the New Testament itself there is some evidence that the ‘ brothers’ were not blood brothers of Jesus. Attention is drawn to the crucifixion scene in Mark 15:40 and Matthew 27:50 where there is a reference to one of the women looking on from afar as “Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses and Salome.” They point out further that the fact that Jesus left His mother in the care of the apostle John (John 19:26-27) rather than with one of His brothers strongly implies that Mary had no other children. While the Greek language had terms for cousins, step brothers, half brothers and so on, according to Bishop Osei- Bonsu, Hebrew and Aramaic did not have exact terminology for a wide range of family relationships. Rather, they reflected a tribal background, where members of the same tribe, clan or family were regarded as brothers and sisters, irrespective of their precise relationship. A case in point is the use of ‘brothers’ in Genesis 13:8 to describe the relationship between Lot and Abraham, even though Lot was the nephew of Abraham. Therefore, against this background, it could be argued that those referred to as the ‘ brothers’ and ‘sisters’ of Jesus are being described according to a loose Semitic tribal terminology and were, actually, more distant relatives and therefore, not children of Mary.
Those who advocate that Mary have had children after the birth of Jesus simply are raising argument to deny the perpetual virginity of Mary. At least I am consoled that they did not deny the virginity of Mary entirely. How can a woman remain a virgin after conception and delivery? She is indeed, a maiden yet a mother, daughter of her son. This is where faith defies logic. If this is possible why are they denying her perpetual virginity? There is no biblical reason to believe that these siblings are anything other than the actual children of Joseph and Mary. That is the clear and unambiguous teaching of God’s Word. Can logic accept this?

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