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I understand that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary is the eternal virgin in that she never had sexual relations with Joseph (or any other man)--either before or after the miraculous conception of Jesus.

What Biblical evidence is there that contradicts this doctrine?

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I think the only evidence are the verses that refer to the brothers of Jesus. I think there is enough controversy in those verses to achieve consensus. –  deps_stats Oct 28 '11 at 16:04
See also: Protestant arguments for perpetual virginity of Mary –  dancek Oct 28 '11 at 17:56
I don't get it: you ask for how the Catholic Church respond to the Biblical evidence against the perpetual virginity of Mary, yet you accept the answer that doesn't address it at all except in a speculatory way. The Church has an official answer: there's no speculation required. –  user72 Nov 1 '11 at 18:23
I believe that was an edit to my original question. I was more focused on biblical evidence against it. –  Narnian Nov 1 '11 at 19:02
@Narnian It's in the original revision. –  user72 Nov 1 '11 at 20:10

5 Answers 5

up vote 22 down vote accepted

One such passage is Matthew 13:55, where Jesus is identified thus:

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?"

Some would quibble over the definition and translation of the word "brother" here, taking it to mean that the brothers listed weren't the offspring of Mary but spiritual brothers (with no genetic link) or perhaps half-brothers (which would require Joseph to have had another wife - there's no evidence of this) or other relations. But much more definitive is Matthew 27:56, where Mary is described as the mother of those first two brothers:

Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Interestingly Mary here isn't identified as the mother of Jesus as well as James and Joseph, so one possible rebuttal to this verse is that Mary the mother of James and Joseph is a different Mary from Mary the mother of Jesus.

There are similar passages elsewhere in the New Testament that refer to Jesus' mother and his brothers, the context and normal processes of hermeneutics would lead to the conclusion that Mary (Jesus' mother) did indeed have these other offspring - but, to defend the Catholics a little bit, none of those passages state unambiguously that his brothers were born of his mother.

One further argument that Mary had further children after Jesus is that Jesus is referred in the Bible as Mary and Joseph's "firstborn", and never as their only child.

Matthew 1:25 (AMP):

But he had no union with her as her husband until she had borne her firstborn Son; and he called His name Jesus.

But to be pedantic, an only child is also a firstborn, so this too could be argued against.

In summary, there is very strong Biblical evidence that Mary went on to have other children and therefore did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus; certainly that is the natural conclusion to be drawn from what is written in the Bible. However there are ways of challenging the wording and interpretation of each of the verses above in order to form an argument to the contrary.

Reference/further reading: "Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?" by Tony Warren

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@Mark_Trapp I didn't say the belief was convoluted and contrived, but that some of the arguments supporting it are. In any case, thanks for the edit –  Waggers Oct 28 '11 at 19:52
Matthew 1:25 seems to be a very important verse. It specifically says Joseph had no union with Mary "until" she had given birth to Jesus. It does not say he never had union with her. If the eternal virginity of Mary were true, one would expect the Bible not to be silent on this. –  Narnian Nov 1 '11 at 14:34
@Waggers "brothers listed weren't the offspring of Mary but spiritual brothers" That just doesn't make any sense. One of the principles of hermeneutics is that a passage can't mean what it couldn't have meant to the original hearers. Here the Jews are trying to insult Jesus by asserting what a normal person he is; son of carpenter and brother of these folks who roam around the town, that they know. The spiritual brothers thing doesn't make sense when you try to imagine the actual event. How would Pharisees know who are his spiritual brothers and why would they say that? –  Monika Michael Jul 18 '12 at 5:01
@MonikaMichael I couldn't agree more, I think the "spiritual brother" argument is preposterous, but it was important to include it to give a well balanced answer. –  Waggers Jul 18 '12 at 9:06
Put another way: the evidence against is that there is precisely zero biblical evidence in favor. –  Joel Coehoorn Oct 18 '12 at 20:19

To answer the first question: Yes, there is evidence that may lead to contradict the perpetual virginity of Mary, however this evidence is not conclusive. To answer the second question is also to complement the first: Catholic and Orthodox traditions have adhered to this belief, this belief does not contradict the scriptures (so, these churches are not reacting against the evidence).

There are numerous references to the brothers of Jesus: Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3.

The exact meaning of those verses is still debated.

There are three main theories:

  1. That those "brothers" are actually sons of Mary and Joseph.
  2. That they are stepbrothers of Jesus, i.e. sons of Joseph of a previous marriage.
  3. Finally, that by "brothers" they mean cousins or other relatives

The adherents of the first theory understand naturally the references to these brothers as sons of Mary. According to the theory, this is the intent of the evangelist in Matthew 1:25 and in Luke 2:7. More information could be found in Did Jesus have any brothers and/or sisters?

There has been a debate on the translation of "until" in Matthew 1:25 and on the implications of the word "firstborn" in Luke 2:7 and in Matthew 1:25.

"Until" has clearly many meanings trhough the scripture. There are extensive examples and some of them can be read in the article Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, under Objection 4. I will only point one example to explain that "until" has no clear meaning. In 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul is instructing Timothy to teach "until" he returns, but it is not meant that Timothy should stop doing that after Paul's visit.

To clear the point, the word until is εως. The Septuagint says in Matthew 1:25

καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως [οὗ] ἔτεκεν υἱόν [...]

and Stephanus' New Testament

και ουκ εγινωσκεν αυτην εως ου ετεκεν τον υιον

which can mean that he [Joshep] had not consummated the marriage until she gave birth to a son, or that he had not consummated the marriage when she gave birth to a son. In other words, this verse can be interpreted in two ways: Joseph had not consummated the marriage when Jesus was born and he consummated it afterwards or that he hadn't consummated the marriage when Jesus was born (and nothing is inferred about the future consummation of the marriage).

The "firstborn" refers to the privileged position of the firstborn, and it is almost impossible to conclude from there that Mary had other sons, as @Waggers already pointed out.

In favor of the second theory I quote bibleinfo again:

Oriental family ethics would not permit younger brothers to taunt or otherwise meddle with an older brother as Jesus' brothers taunted Him (see Mark 3:31; John 7:3-4).

In favor of the third theory there is the conjecture that "brothers" actually mean close relatives becase the word used in Matthew 27:56 is αδελφοι. The septuagint uses exactly the same word for Lot in Gen 13:18 and Gen 14:14-16. Abraham and Lot are not brothers (sons of the same mother), so the argument is non-conclusive, it is unclear if "brothers" means sons of Mary or relatives.

Finally, Mary indeed could have remained a virgin. Peter Turner has already stated that:

When Jesus is dying on the Cross (in John's gospel), He instructs His beloved disciple and he takes to take Mary into his house. If she truly had other sons, that would be moot point for the other sons would have been there to take care of her.

And this should be even more strange taking into account that James, the brother of the Lord was still alive (Gal 1:19).

And one more logical argument from the Jewish sages: it is held that a life of sexual abstinence was imposed on Moses after receiving the Torah. If Moses abstained from knowing his wife after an external encounter with God, is it strange to expect abstinence from a young lady that was filled with the Spirit of God as to conceive a son of Him(Luke 1:35)?

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Yes, it is strange to expect abstinence from a young lady that was filled with the Spirit of God, unless we contend that the Spirit that filled her is any different to that which fills Christian women today. And it's pure speculation to use the argument of what Jesus said on the cross to support perpetual virginity. It's shoe-horning the text to support a pre-conceived idea. There's nothing Biblically to support the idea that she was a virgin, so why hold to it? That the church did it in early days is no proof at all. The Bible doesn't justify it. –  Screamer Nov 4 '11 at 14:43
I think this just leads to personal faith, and adherence to our own church traditions. –  deps_stats Nov 6 '11 at 16:46
unless we contend that the Spirit that filled her is any different to that which fills Christian women today -- I think you have to contend that the Spirit worked quite differently in Mary than in anyone else: Christian women today don't give birth to the incarnate Son of God. Also you overlook the high value placed on virginity (i.e., celibacy) in several modern Christian denominations -- a value attested in Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7. –  Ben Dunlap Dec 22 '11 at 0:22

The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the apparent Biblical objections found in Matthew 13:55:

Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?

In Matthew 27:56:

Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

In Mark 3:31-35:

31His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him.
32A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers* [and your sisters] are outside asking for you.”
33But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?”
34And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.
35[For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In Mark 6:3:

Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

In 1 Corinthians 9:5:

Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?

And in Galatians 1:19:

But I did not see any other of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord.

And responds to it in paragraph 500:

Against this doctrine [of the perpetual virginity of Mary] the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The 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.

The mention of "the other Mary" is found in Matthew 28:1:

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.

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To me it seems that you may argue against the evidences against this doctrine and you may or may not accept them. That is up to you. However, the burden of proof does not lie on those who say that it is not true, but on them who say it is true in the first place.

So, what are the proofs for this theory? If Mary really was a perpetual virgin, and if she was taken to Heaven in body and mind (like Moses, Elijah and Jesus), and if she is the queen of heavens and earth, and if she is the mother of God and if she is God's mediator and if she is all other spectacular things that the Catholic Church claims she are, then don't you think the Bible should say so? Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says it is so, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not God's word.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, however, the word of God does not comprise only the Bible, but also the Tradition. This means that the Bible is the written word of God whereas the Tradition is the spoken word of God. I for one do not agree with this. The Bible says it is the word of God, but it does not say that the Tradition is the word of God.

Take a look at Mark 7:1-13 (ESV):

1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" 6And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' 8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."

9And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' 11But you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, "Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban"' (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do."

Do you see any similarities?

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You have a valid point, but this answer would be better received if it were written more as an exposition and not as a bit of an attack of Catholicism. And you misjudge me as well. Questions are not always asked for the benefit of the questioner, but for the benefit of those who hear the question asked. –  Narnian Nov 3 '11 at 11:53
I'd be happy if you edited my answer to the better. I shall read through it again and see if I can enhance it. And in the same way as you wrote your question, I wrote this answer not just for the benefit of the questioner but for the benefit of those who read the answer. I did not direct this answer to you alone (the "you"s in my answer is not referring to you, but to the reader). –  Shathur Nov 3 '11 at 12:35
You hit the main point of this whole thing. As for the facts, I would add that Matthew 1 uses the word til which can leave no doubt that he did know her: "Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son." –  Xeoncross Oct 25 '14 at 18:19

It is funny to me that the Bible does not mention in any prophecy that the mother of the Messiah would be a redeemer or mediator or queen of anything. All biblical scripture before Jesus points directly to Him, and all scripture after Jesus tell us about his ministry and finished work on the cross. This man made belief that Mary is all these things is not supported by scripture, and the word says to test everything with it. It does not ever say that Mary would be a virgin forever, not even a slightly remote hint of it exist in the Bible. Mary calls Jesus her savior, if she was a virgin and pure with no sin, she would not need a savior. An in depth study of the book of Hebrews will help to understand exactly what God's plan was and how He accomplished it. It also reveals to us the greatness of Jesus and no person, angelic being, or prophet; is greater than Jesus. Hebrews 7 in particular reveals Jesus as our High Priest and our connection with God, and there is no other way to connect with God except through Jesus.

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protected by Caleb Oct 12 '12 at 21:21

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