Those who deny Mary’s perpetual virginity most commonly refer to two texts:
- Matthew 13:55-56: Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all of his sisters with us?
- Matthew 1:24-25: And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn (Gk. prototokon) son: and he called his name Jesus. (Douay-Rheims)
A surface reading of these passages seems problematic. If Jesus had “brothers” and “sisters,” would not Mary have had other children? If Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn,” would there not be at least a second-born? And if “he knew her not till,” did he not then “know her” at some point? We’ll begin with Matthew 13:55-56.
First, we must understand that the term brother has a wide semantic range in Scripture. It can mean a uterine brother, an extended relative, or even a spiritual brother. In Genesis 13:8 and 14:12, we read of one example of brother being used to describe an extended relationship: Abraham and Lot. Though they were actually uncle and nephew, they called one another “brother.” Moreover, in the New Testament, Jesus told us to call one another “brothers” in Matthew 23:8. The passage obviously does not mean to suggest that all Christians have the same physical mother.
Second, if we examine more closely the example of James, one of these four “brothers of the Lord” mentioned in Matthew 13:55, we discover him to be a cousin or some other relative of Jesus rather than a uterine brother. For example, Galatians 1:18-19 informs us: “Then after three years I [Paul] went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.”
Notice, the “James” of whom Paul was speaking was both a “brother of the Lord” and an “apostle.” There are two apostles named James among the 12. The first James is revealed to be a “son of Zebedee.” He most likely would not be the “James” referred to because according to Acts 12:1-2 he was martyred very early on. Even if it was him, his father was named Zebedee, not Joseph.
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