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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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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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    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
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    @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
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    @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
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    Put another way: the evidence against is that there is precisely zero biblical evidence in favor. – Joel Coehoorn Oct 18 '12 at 20:19
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    I have also heard that in Aramaic there is no word for 'cousin', and that your cousins are also called 'brother'; thus James and Joseph may be Jesus cousins and not even Joseph's children. That is another possible objection. – shiningcartoonist Nov 11 '15 at 14:01
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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)?

  • 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
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    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
  • Most of this answer does not actually answer the question, which asks for the Biblical evidence against the perpetual virginity of Mary. – Lee Woofenden Aug 4 '15 at 21:56
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    This answer was written to address the original version of the question, which consisted of two parts: "What biblical evidence is there to contradict this idea? How does the Catholic church respond to this evidence?" In this answer, I am trying to explain what does the Catholic Church answers to the so-called "evidence", and how this relates to the doctrine of perpetual virginity. In the end, the scriptural passages are not evidence and each tradition has adhered to their own interpretations. – deps_stats Aug 13 '15 at 0:23
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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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    This answer does provide Biblical evidence against the perpetual virginity of Mary, but then argues for the perpetual virginity of Mary. That's not what the question asked for. – Lee Woofenden Aug 4 '15 at 21:58
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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.

  • Most of this answer does not provide any Biblical evidence against the perpetual virginity of Mary, which is what the question asks for. About the only sentence in it that has any real bearing is the one saying, "It does not ever say that Mary would be a virgin forever, not even a slightly remote hint of it exist in the Bible." That's the only sentence that saves this from being not an answer at all. – Lee Woofenden Aug 4 '15 at 22:07
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Below is a compelling narrative published by watchtower and available for reading at. http://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/was-jesus-married/

Direct quote below:

"Did Jesus have siblings? Yes, Jesus had at least six siblings. These included his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas as well as at least two sisters. (Matthew 13:54-56; Mark 6:3) Those siblings were natural children of Jesus’ mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph. (Matthew 1:25) The Bible calls Jesus “the firstborn” of Mary, which implies that she had other children. — Luke 2:7.

Misconceptions about Jesus’ brothers In order to support the idea that Mary remained a virgin all her life, some have applied different meanings to the term “brothers.” For example, some feel that Jesus’ brothers were actually sons of Joseph by an earlier marriage. However, the Bible shows that Jesus inherited the legal right to the kingship promised to David. (2 Samuel 7:12, 13; Luke 1:32) If Joseph had been father to sons older than Jesus, the eldest of these would have been Joseph’s legal heir.

Could the expression refer to Jesus’ disciples, or spiritual brothers? This idea conflicts with the Scriptures, since the Bible says that at one point “his brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him.” (John 7:5) The Bible distinguishes Jesus’ brothers from his disciples.— John 2:12.

According to another theory, Jesus’ brothers were actually his cousins. Yet, the Greek Scriptures use distinct words for “brother,” “relative,” and “cousin.” (Luke 21:16; Colossians 4:10) Many Bible scholars acknowledge that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were his actual siblings. For example, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states: “The most natural way to understand ‘brothers’ . . . is that the term refers to sons of Mary and Joseph and thus to brothers of Jesus on his mother’s side.”

There certainly seems to be more evidence against perpetual virginity of Mary than for it. Additionally it is much easier to understand how Mary and Joseph could have left Jesus behind at age twelve if they had other younger children distracting their attention. As an only child they would not have left for home with out him.

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Biblical argument against the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Jesus' brothers

Several scriptures mention the brothers and sisters of Christ (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, John 7:3-5, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, and Galatians 1:19).

The word for brother here is adelphos. In the New Testament, this word is used 343 times to refer to spiritual brothers and blood brothers.

An exact greek word for cousins exists: anepsios, which is used 1 time in the New Testament elsewhere. It was not used to describe Jesus' adelphos.

Likewise, a word for kinsman/relative exists: suggenes, which is used 12 times in the New Testament elsewhere. It was not used to describe Jesus' adelphos.

Thus, the most natural reading of Mark 6:3 (and other verses that mention the adelphos of the Lord) would be to read them as blood brothers, born of Mary.

Messianic Psalm

Psalm 69 is a messianic Psalm about Jesus.

  • Psalm 69:4 is quoted in John 15:25 pointing at Jesus.
  • Psalm 69:9 is quoted in John 2:17 pointing at Jesus.
  • Therefore Psalm 69:8 must also be talking about Jesus, which says "I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children." Here, mother's children is unambiguous and refers to other children that Mary had.

Knew her not 'until'

Matthew 1:24-25 "When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus."

In saying "knew her not until", the text implies Mary and Joseph had customary marital relations after the birth of Jesus.

Common counterpoints to above biblical arguments

It's useful to examine how the above biblical arguments are usually responded to by those of the contrary position.

Jesus' brothers

Jesus and the New Testament authors frequently quote from the greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint (e.g. In Matthew 21:16 Jesus cites Psalm 8:2, which says “ordained praise” in the greek Septuagint, but “ordained strength” in the Hebrew)

In this greek translation of Old Testament, adelphos is used as relative (Gen 14:14, Gen 29:15), as well as close friends (2 Samuel 1:26, 1 Kings 9:13), as well as allies (Amos 1:9). Thus, it does not have to mean blood brothers.

Early protestants agree:

Martin Luther: “I am inclined to agree with those who declare that 'brothers' really mean 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.” [Sermon on John, 1539]

John Calvin agrees that under the word adelphos “the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity.” [Commentary on John 7:3, ~1562]

Messianic Psalm

Following the same logic proposed, Psalm 69:5 must also apply to Jesus, which says "O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee." And yet we know Jesus is sinless, so that verse cannot apply to him - thus the logic is flawed.

Messianic psalms blend the present concerns of the Psalmist with foreshadowing of Christ. Not every element of a messianic Psalm need be true of Jesus.

Knew her not 'until'

In the proposed interpretation, the greek word heōs ('until' in Matthew 1:25) is said to imply Mary and Joseph had customary marital relations after the birth of Jesus.

This same word (heōs) is used the following, where the proposed interpretation of the word results in nonsense:

  • Matthew 28:20 “Lo, I am with you always, even unto [heōs] the end of the world.” Will the Lord then after the end of the world has come forsake His disciples?
  • 1 Corinthians 15:25 “For he must reign, till [heōs] he has put all enemies under his feet?” Is the Lord to reign only until His enemies begin to be under His feet, and once they are under His feet will He cease to reign?
  • Similar nonsense appears in the Septuagint for Isaiah 46:4, Psalm 123:2, 2 Samuel 6:23, Genesis 8:7, and Deuteronomy 34:6

Early protestants agree:

John Calvin: The inference [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband . . . No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words. [Works, Volume 31, Harmony of the Evangelists #25 (page 107)]

Martin Luther: The form of expression used by Matthew is the common idiom, as if I were to say, "Pharaoh believed not Moses, until he was drowned in the Red Sea." Here it does not follow that Pharaoh believed later, after he had drowned; on the contrary, it means that he never did believe. Similarly when Matthew [1:25] says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her. [That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523)]

The above arguments were transcribed from this wiki.

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    This answer started out well. However, it spends more time refuting the answer provided to the question than it does providing the answer. On this site, answers must answer the specific question asked, from the viewpoint asked for. Giving the opposite view is not a valid answer to a question here. That belongs on a question that specifically asks for the opposing view. – Lee Woofenden Nov 19 '17 at 22:08

protected by Caleb Oct 12 '12 at 21:21

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