Our Blessed Mother & The Saints

Tract: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

One of the questions that sometimes arises when Catholics and Protestants talk about the Mother of Jesus is the Catholic belief in Mary's perpetual virginity. This means that Mary never had sexual relations with Joseph, and therefore never had any other children other than Our Lord. There are four principal Scriptural arguments that Protestants make from Scripture to prove that Mary did have other children. None of these arguments, however, are sustainable from a biblical basis. They are a result of a misunderstanding of the original languages and the Jewish cultural usage of key words.

Argument 1: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in thisway. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit…" (Matthew 1:18). Protestant Apologists sometime argue that the Greek word 'sunerchomai', translated as "came togther" above, refers to sexual relations, citing 1 Corinthians 7:5 as the basis. The first problem with this argument, however, is that while it is true that in 1 Corinthians 7:5 St. Paul does have an intended sexual meaning to the word, this is the only time that 'sunerchomai'is used to mean sexual relations in the whole bible. The word 'sunerchomai' occurs 33 times in the New Testament, and only ONCE (1 Cor. 7:5) is a sexual interpretation even possible. The other passages which use the word but do not have that meaning arethe following: Matthew 1:18,Mark 3:20,Mark 6:33,Mark 14:53,Luke 5:15,Luke 23:55,John 11:33,John 18:20,Acts 1:6,Acts 1:21,Acts 2:6,Acts 5:16,Acts 9:39,Acts 10:23,Acts 10:27,Acts 10:45,Acts 11:12,Acts 13:38, Acts 16:13,Acts 19:32,Acts 21:16,Acts 21:22,Acts 25:17,Acts 28:17,1 Cor. 7:5,1 Cor. 11:17,1 Cor.11:20 1 Cor. 11:33,1 Cor. 11: 34(2),1 Cor. 14:23,1 Cor. 14:26. Catholic Apologist, Gerry Matatics, pointed this out during a debate on the topic: "The first thing we can say is that even Protestant commentators and Protestant lexicons; that is, dictionaries of the Greek language point out that every single one, and I will ask Mr. Svendsen to produce one single instance tonight in your hearing of any Greek lexicon - Protestant or Catholic - it doesn't matter- which says that the phrase 'come together' has as its primary purpose sexual relationship so that there would need to be a clear statement in the context precluding this to allow you to interpret it in a different way. You will see that, if you look at the Greek dictionaries, that the term can be used and is frequently used to mean simply to come into the marriage from a period of betrothal." Strong's Exhaustive Concordance Lexicon lists these possible meanings for this word: 1) to come together 1a) to assemble 1b) of conjugal cohabitation 2) to go (depart) or come with one, to accompany one. Hence, 'sunerchomai' does not have 'sexual relations' as its primary meaning! So what does this mean? It means that grammar does not suffice.

Argument 2: "And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7). The standard Protestant argument is to use this passage to suggest that Jesus was Mary's first born child, implying, of course, that she had other children afterwards. In response to this argument, it must be remembered that the phrase 'first born' need not refer to birth. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica (Volume 6, Column 1309), the phrase "first born" referred to the first male child irrespective of subsequent siblings - it was a legal term under the Mosaic Law determining for him certain duties and privileges within the family and the community. The ceremony which so situated the firstborn was to take place on the 31stday after his birth. He was at that point legally and ritually the "firstborn" even if he turned out to be the only child. Among non-Catholic scholars, Michaelis and Herrick assert that the term firstborn ('prwtovtoko,'prootokos') does not occur before the Septuagint (undertaken ca. 3rd century B.C.). But in the instances where it does occur after this time, the idea of birth or origin is less prominent and privilege rather than birth right is denoted (Wilhelm Michaelis, TDNT, s.v. prwtotovko", 6: 871). Secondly, while the usage of the phrase 'first born' is legion in the Old Testament, it does indeed refer to the first born male among his other brothers. However, the Catholic view is still vindicated since it suffices to show that there are a number of instances where this phrase is not categorically used in regards to the presence of other sons. Two are provided here for illustration.

The idea of this phrase being used for something more than just posterity is demonstrated very clearly when one examines the relationship between Mannaseh and Ephraim. Genesis 41:51-52 says, "And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Mannasseh:...and the name of the second he called Ephraim..." Yet in contrast to this, speaking in Jeremiah God says, "For thus says the LORD: "Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, 'The LORD has saved his people, the remnant of…With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born." (Jeremiah 31:7-9) But in Genesis, it says: "His father Isaac said to him, 'Who are you?' He answered, 'I am your son, your first-born, Esau.'" (Genesis 27:32) The historical account of Genesis, therefore, teaches that Esau was first born and Jacob was second born.

Now then, let us turn to the show down between Moses in Pharaoh in Exodus where God is instructing Moses: "And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me"; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son.'"(Exodus 4:22-23). The reference to Israel has a dual meaning here, both of which vindicate the Catholic claim. First, principally speaking, 'Israel' is the nation of Israel, comprised of the twelve tribes of Jacob. Reflecting for a moment then, we ask ourselves, if there are OTHER 'nation sons' of God, who are they? The Canaanites? The Egyptians? The Assyrians? The Phillistines? The Persians? Obviously not. Israel has no 'sibling nation' since it was God Himself who calls them to be set APART from these nations in the plan of redemption. Israel is ONE and there is no other, and she is beloved and preserved by almighty God. The reference to Israel as God's first born does not involve being born first, therefore. It refers, rather, to the special relationship between God and his chosen people, Israel. Moreover, this unique filial relationship that Israel enjoyed is demonstrated in the Old Testament Pseudepigraphical works as well (cf. Jubilees 2:20; 18:2; 19:28) as wellas into rabbinic Judaism (Ex 4:22 Rabba) cited above. Indirectly, of course, the nation of Israel is born of its patriarchal ancestor, Jacob. When God says, "Israel is my first-born son", he is also referring to Jacob, the first Israel. But how can this be under the Helividian (Protestant) view of 'first born' since Jacob was SECOND born after Esau? The answer is simple: the Helividian view of 'first born' does not fit into this passage.

Argument 3: There are about ten instances in the New Testament where "brothers" and "sisters" of the Lord are mentioned, including Matt.13:55; Mark 3:31-34; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; 7:1,5; 7:10; Acts 1:14. The Greek word for 'brother' in Greek, 'adelphos', has a very broad meaning in the Bible, and it is not restricted to the literal meaning of a blood brother. The word has a very wide semantic range of meaning and could refer to any male relative, including a cousin or uncle, and even friends or allies (Cf. 1 Sam. 9:13; 20:32; 2 Sam. 1:26; Amos 1:9). Lot is described as Abraham's "brother" (Cf. Gen. 14:14), even though he was, in fact, Abraham's nephew (Cf. Gen. 11:27). Similar parallels are found in Gen. 29:15 and 1 Chron. 23:21-22. The word is also used to describe kinsman in Deut. 23:7, Neh. 5:7, Jer. 34:9, and 2 Kings 10:13-14. The New Testament also uses the word in a very broad sense. Here is a selection from Matthew's gospel: Matthew 5:22-23, 5:47, 7:3-4,12:47-49, 18:15, 18:21, 18:35, 25:40, 28:10.

Argument 4: "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 borne a son; and he called his name Jesus" (Matthew 1:24-25). Normally, the word 'until' denotes a cessation and reversal of the action in the clause immediately preceding it. Hence, Joseph had conjugal relations with Mary until after Jesus was born. The Greek word 'heos' ('until'), however, does not necessarily mean that the state before the event does not continue after the event. In other words, just because the word 'until' is used in the passage does not necessarily mean that Joseph had subsequent sexual relations. Hence, Mary's virginity was not necessarily lost after the birth of Jesus. There are many references which vindicate the truth of this claim. The list presented here is a sample: Genesis 8:7, 26:13, Numbers 20:17, Deuteronomy 2:15, 34:6, 2 Kings 6:25, 1 Chronicles 6:32, 2 Chronicles 21:15, 2 Chronicles 26:15, Judith 14:8, Judith 15:5, Tobit 2:4, Psalm 57:1, Psalm 72:7, Psalm 110:1, Psalm 123:2, Psalm 141:10, Psalm 142:7, Ecclesiastes 2:3, Song of Solomon 1:12, 2 Samuel 6:23, Isaiah 14:2, 33:23, Ezekiel 24:13, 1 Maccabees 5:54, Matthew 16:28, Matthew 28:20, Romans 8:22, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 1 Corinthians 15:25, Ephesians 4:13,1 Timothy 4:13, 1 Timothy 6:14, Revelation 2:25-26. All of these references show that the word 'until' does not necessarily indicate a reversal in the main clause. Quoting from Psalm 110, the Book of Hebrews says this of the Son: "But to what angel has he ever said, 'Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet'? (Hebrews 1:13) Obviously, Jesus will remain at the right hand of the Father after His enemies are made a stool at His feet.

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
May 1, 2002