Mary and the Bible - Part 1, Perpetual Virginity

Bible Christian Society

Mary and the Bible -  The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

     “You, Catholics…you and your beliefs about Mary!  Don’t you people know that none of your beliefs about Mary are scriptural?!  Don’t you know that she was just an ‘incubator’ for Jesus?”  Have you ever heard that one?  I have.  Back when I was doing a Catholic apologetics radio show on WDJC Christian radio (the largest Evangelical radio station in Alabama) every Sunday night, there was a woman - a self-described Evangelical - who did a show right before mine who was always walking out as I was walking in.  One night as we were passing in the hall, she just launched into anti-Mary mode and blurted out that comment about Mary being an incubator.  

     If you look in your Bibles, in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verse 48, you can very clearly read where Mary says, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me an incubator.”  And, in verse 43, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit exclaims, “And why is this granted me, that the incubator of my Lord should come to me?” don’t think so!  

    “All generations will call me blessed”!  Blessed!  No other woman in all of Scripture is to be referred to in such a way by “all generations;” yet, many non-Catholic Christians don’t even give Mary a passing thought.  And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, called Mary the “mother of my Lord.”  No one would call any other person’s mother an “incubator,” yet this woman referred to the “mother of my Lord” in that manner.  It is very sad that so many people, so many Christians, react in such a negative way to the Marian teachings and devotions of the Catholic Church.

    Anyway, as Catholics, we hear over and over again that our beliefs about Mary are not scriptural.  For instance, someone might say, “The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin, yet the Bible talks about the “brothers and sisters of Jesus.”  So, the Church must be wrong.  How could Mary be a perpetual virgin if Jesus had brothers and sisters?  And they will point to a verse such as Mark 6:3, which says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses, and Judas and Simon, and are not His sisters here with us?”  

     Hmmm.  Looks pretty convincing.  Until you realize a few things.  #1, there was no word for cousin, or for nephew or niece, or for aunt or uncle, or for step-brother or step-sister in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic – the words that the Jews used in all those instances were “brother” or “sister”.  An example of this, from Scripture: Gen 14:14, “Now when Abram [or Abraham] learned that his brother [Lot] had been taken captive…” Your translation might say “kinsman” because the translator knew that Lot was not Abram’s brother, but the actual word used in the Hebrew is “brother”.  Lot, was Abram’s nephew, not his brother.  From Gen 11:27, “Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot.”  So, Lot was Abram’s, or Abraham’s, nephew.  Yet, Scripture refers to him as Abraham’s brother.  Very interesting.

     Another point to consider.  If Jesus did have any brothers, if Mary had any other sons, would the last thing that Jesus did on earth be to grievously offend his surviving brothers?  In John 19:26-27, right before Jesus dies, it says, “When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’  Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ and from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”  If Mary had had any other sons, it would have been a significant slap in the face to them that the Apostle John was entrusted with the care of their mother!  Jewish tradition was such that the responsibility for care of the mother, after the father’s death, fell to the sons.  The oldest son first and then the others.  So, if you believe that Mary had other sons, then you also believe that the last thing Jesus did from the cross was to grievously insult his surviving brothers.  

     Now, knowing that there was no word in the Hebrew language for cousin, that the word they used was brother or sister, let’s take a closer look at the “brothers” of Jesus.  Remember what it said in Mk 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses, and Judas and Simon, and are not His sisters here with us?”  

     But, in Matthew 27:55-56 we read the following: “There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him; among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.  Mary the mother of James and Joses?!  Wait a minute.  I thought, according to Mark 6:3, that Mary the mother of Jesus was the mother of James and Joses?!  But here, in Matthew 27, it says that another Mary is the mother of James and Joses.  And, if you look at John 19:25, it clearly identifies Mary, the mother of Jesus, as being separate from this other Mary who is the mother of James and Joses.  And in Mark 15:47, Mary the mother of Joses is again identified and it is clear that she is not the same Mary as the mother of Jesus.

     Is Scripture contradicting itself?  Saying that Mary the mother of Jesus is the mother of James and Joses in one place, but saying that a different Mary is the mother of James and Joses in another place?  No!  Scripture does not contradict itself.  So, what’s the explanation?  Well, one very plausible explanation is that James and Joses are actually Jesus’ cousins, but Scripture calls them His brothers, just like it calls Lot Abraham’s brother, because the Jews didn’t have a separate word for close relatives, they called them all brothers and sisters.  

     So, does Scripture really show, very plainly, that Mary had other sons?  I don’t think so.  And, if you can cast doubt on these “brothers” of Jesus, you can use the same reasoning to cast the same doubt on the “sisters” of Jesus.

     One other passage of Scripture to consider: Acts 1:14-15, “[The Apostles] with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brothers…the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty.”  A company of 120 persons, composed of the Apostles, Mary, the women, and the “brothers” of Jesus.  Let’s see, there were 11 Apostles at the time.  Jesus’ mother makes 12.  The women, probably the same women who are mentioned in Matthew as being at the cross - let’s say it was maybe a dozen or two, just for argument’s sake - so that puts us up to 30 or 40 or so.  So that leaves the number of Jesus’ brothers at about 80 or 90!  Does someone want to argue that Jesus had 80 or 90 “brothers”?  I doubt it.

     Next Issue: The Immaculate Conception...

Apologetics for the Masses