A critique of Jesus’ “Brothers” and Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

Sts. Peter and Paul Catechism Ministry
Sts. Peter and Paul Catechism Ministry

An exchange between me Godwin Delali Adadzie and Catholic apologist Mark Joseph Bonocore some years ago when I was still learning more about the Catholic faith. It was formerly hosted on my Catholic apologetics ministry’s site Sts. Peter and Paul Catechism Ministry.
Some Protestant friends of mine at Hi5.com somewhere around 2007/2008 quickly responded to Mark’s excellent article on Mary’s perpetual virginity, Jesus’ “Brothers” and Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. I send the link to Mark and he responded to them. Below is their response in block quote.

Ok with Good Re-search here is what is found.

Matthew 13:55
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?”

Matthew 27:56
“Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.”

(Both MARYS are shown here.)

Sorry, but that is not the case. The “Mary” in Matt 27:56 is clearly NOT Jesus’ mother. Whenever the Gospel of Matthew speaks of Jesus’ mother, it always calls her Jesus’ mother. See, for example: Matt 1:18, 2:11, 2:13, 2:14, 2:20, and 2:21. The “Mary” in Matt 27:56 is not called Jesus’ mother, but only the mother of James and Joseph. Indeed, in Matt 27:61 and 28:1 this mother of James and Joseph is just called “the other Mary” –that is, a secondary character who is less important than Mary Magdalene. She is not Jesus’ mother. Rather, she is the woman called “Mary of Clopas” in John 19:25, where she is said to be the Virgin Mary’s “sister” –that is, tribal relative. This is who this “other Mary” is, and the fact that she is the tribal relative of Jesus’ mother (for two literal sisters would not both be named “Mary”) shows how Jesus is really related to James and Joseph. James and Joseph are called Jesus’ “brothers” because their mothers (who were both named “Mary”) were blood relatives with each other. That’s all.

It is quite amazing to me that Africans like yourself (where many tribal societies still exist) cannot appreciate the fact that ancient Jews also lived in a tribal society, in which all members of a tribe, family, or clan were referred to as “brothers.” This is all that the New Testament is referring to when it speaks of Jesus’ so-called “brothers.” And we can see this all throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, in Genesis 14:14, Lot is called the “brother” of Abraham, when he was really Abraham’s nephew. Likewise, in Genesis 29:15, Laban calls Jacob his “brother,” even though Jacob was his nephew. Most striking of all, if you read Genesis 27:29, where Isaac gives his blessing to Jacob (whom he thinks is really his brother Esau), Isaac says:

“Be master of your brothers, and may you mother’s sons bow down to you.”

This seems like he is speaking literally UNTIL we realize that Jacob only had ONE literal brother (Esau) and Jacob’s mother Rebekah only gave birth to ONE other son (again, Esau). So, when Isaac speaks of “your brothers” and “your mother’s sons,” he is not speaking about literal siblings, but about the OTHER MEMBERS OF THE TRIBE. …that is, he is making Jacob (whom he thinks is Esau) the head of the ENTIRE TRIBE, which he calls Jacob’s “brothers.” And this is made very obvious in Genesis 27:37, when Isaac explains to Esau, saying …

“I have already appointed him your master, and I HAVE ASSIGNED TO HIM ALL OF HIS KINSMEN AS HIS SLAVES.”

In Hebrew and Jewish culture, the term “brother” was a tribal word. It just referred to other members of one’s family, clan, or tribe, no matter how they were related to you. So, Jesus’ bothers are not his literal siblings. This is illustrated by the fact that the “Mary” in Matt 27:56, 27:61, and 28:1 is not Jesus’ mother, but the “sister” (that is, tribal relative) of Jesus’ mother (see John 19:25), and that Jesus’ “brothers” are the sons of this Mary, and not the sons of Jesus’ mother Mary. They are called His “brothers” because they are His tribal relatives, not because they are the children of His own mother. This is abundantly clear from Scripture and cannot be denied.

You also write …

Acts 1:14
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”

Connected to what I said above, Jesus’ mother is there with His OTHER tribal relatives. That’s all Acts 1:14 is saying. The term “brothers” here just refers to Jesus’ tribal relatives –His “clan,” which actually included both men and women. This is actually proven from John 19:26-27, when Jesus entrusts His mother to the care of the Apostle John. If Mary had other sons, Jesus would never have done this. Now, some foolish Protestants like to say that Jesus gave Mary to John in John 19:26-27 because His “brothers” (who they think are Mary’s other sons) did not believe in Jesus yet. But, Acts 1:14 shows us otherwise. Here, these “brothers” are said to be in the Upper Room, praying with the rest of the Church. They DID believe in Jesus. They were just not Mary’s other literal children. Rather, they were just blood relatives. That’s all that “brothers” means.

Galatians 1:19

“But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”

Again, James is called the “brother of the Lord” (which is actually a recurring TITLE for several leaders in the early Church who were related to Jesus –see 1 Corinth 9:5) because he was Jesus’ blood relative. He was not Jesus’ literal brother, as Matt 27 & 28 shows us. He had a different mother than Jesus. And if you are still not convinced by this, consider what we are presented with in Acts 12 and Acts 15, and Acts 21, where this same James is depicted as the leader of the Jerusalem city-church after the Apostles leave it.. In Acts 12:17, when Peter flees from Jerusalem after escaping from prison (because King Herod Agrippa was persecuting all the Apostles), he tells the Jerusalem Christians to “report this to James.” This is the same James “the brother of the Lord” who Paul refers to in Gal 1:19. Now … Think about the situation here: A new Jewish king has been appointed in Jerusalem: Herod Agrippa. For the first time in a generation, the Romans are gone, and the house of Herod is ruling all of Judea. And, to win the approval of the Church’s Jewish enemies, Herod Agrippa begins to persecute the Apostles. He has James the son of Zebedee (John’s brother) killed. He then imprisons Peter and is going to kill him too, but Peter is miraculously freed from prison by an angel and escapes. From this point on, James “the brother of the Lord” becomes the head of the Christian community in Jerusalem because all of the Apostles were forced to flee. Ah! But, think about this! πŸ™‚ If James was literally Jesus’ brother, then that would make him a son of Joseph, and so an heir to the House of King David, which is what makes Jesus the Messiah! And if James was a member of the house of David, and the brother of the Person Who the Christian Church claimed to be the Messiah –that is, the TRUE King of Israel (Jesus Christ), then, in the eyes of the Church’s Jewish enemies (and especially in the eyes of King Herod Agrippa), this would make James Jesus’ HEIR TO THE THRONE OF JERUSALEM! In other words, James would be Herod Agrippa’s ROYAL RIVAL! …and Herod Agrippa would have to kill James for the same reason that Herod Agrippa’s grandfather, Herod the Great, tried to kill Jesus as a baby in Matt 2:3-18. So, if James was Jesus’ actual brother (that is, another son of Joseph and a member of the royal House of David), he would be THE LAST person who the Apostles would have left in control of the Church when they were forced to flee! Indeed, as we know from Acts and from the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, James “the brother of the Lord” was not molested by Herod or the Jewish enemies of the Church, but tolerated by them because he was a righteous man who kept the Law of Moses. The early Jewish Christian writer Hegessipus also tells us that James was a LEVITE –that is, a Levitical Jewish priest who was permitted to enter the Holy Place in the Temple in order to pray. And, if James was a Levite, then that means he COULD NOT BE of the House of David, as was Jesus’ foster father, Joseph. This alone shows that James was not Jesus’ literal brother. Rather, he is just called that because he was a blood relative of Jesus through their mothers, who were related to each other.

Mark 3:31

“There came then His Brethren and His Mother, and standing without, sent unto Him calling Him.”

Here, again, “brothers” just refers to Jesus’ clan –His tribal relatives. There is nothing here to suggest that these are the children of Mary.

Mark 6:3

“Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the Brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.”

(His blood brothers and sisters were there.
These people Knew that they were his actual blood brothers and sisters out of Mary and Joseph…it was not hidden.)

πŸ™‚ Again, all that is being referred to here are people who are Jesus’ blood relatives, not his literal siblings. These so-called “brothers” are never said to be the sons of Mary or the sons of Joseph. Nor are the sisters (that is, Jesus’ female relatives) said to be the children of Mary or Joseph. These are merely people who were related to Jesus by blood. That’s all. The people of Nazareth are not saying that Mary or Joseph had other children. You are imposing that idea onto what is written. That is a big mistake on your part. The people of Nazareth were tribal, and they spoke like tribal people.

Mark 15:40

“There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;”

(Again both the Marys)

πŸ™‚ Not “both Marys.” Rather, TWO DIFFERENT Mary’s. As John 19:25 tells us, there were THREE Mary’s at the Cross –1) Jesus’ mother Mary, 2) Mary of Clopas, and 3) Mary Magdalene. Matt 15 does not mention Jesus’ mother. It only mentions Mary Magdalene and Mary of Clopas (John 19:25), who it calls “the mother of James the less and Joses.”

Mark 16:1

“And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the Mother of James, and Salome, had brought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him.”

(Here they are again)

Sorry. πŸ™‚ You are not reading it correctly. The “Mary” in question here is the “Mary of Clopas” referred to in John 19:25. It is not Jesus’ mother.

John 7:3-5

“His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest.

For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.

For neither did his brethren believe in him.”

These “brothers” are not His siblings, and not the children of the Virgin Mary or Joseph. They are His tribal relatives. This passage in John’s Gospel is presented as a fulfillment of Psalm 69:9, which reads:

“I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my mother’s sons.”

Now, as we just saw in Genesis 27:29 and 37 above, these terms are traditional Jewish TRIBAL terms, not literal ones. The “mother” refers to the family or tribe (a personification of the tribe), or to the Jewish people in general; and “brothers” refers to one’s tribal relatives, not to one’s literal siblings.

Matthew 1:24-25

“Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him HIS WIFE:

And knew her not Until she had brought forth her firstborn Son: and he called His name, Jesus!”

(Jesus was her/ their first born…but she had others later as he came to know her as man knows a woman…she was his wife indeed then.

As any honest Scripture scholar will tell you, this is a foolish and ignorant interpretation of Matt 1:25. For, the Greek term “until” DOES NOT mean that Joseph had relations with Mary later on or that he had other children with her. But, don’t take my word for it. Here are the words of John Calvin, one of the founders of the Protestant faith and a very good Greek scholar, who writes as follows about this verse:

“There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest that from this passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the Gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company…And besides this, Our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or not there was any question of the second.” (Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25, published 1562.)

So, there is the witness of one of your Protestant founders, and Martin Luther, Zwingli and other Protestant reformers say the same thing, as do all the Greek-speaking Church fathers. Matt 1:25 is not concerned about the details of the subsequent married life of Mary and Joseph. Rather, it is addressing the concerns of people who are hearing about the Virgin Birth for the first time (Matthew’s original readers), and have understandable doubts about it. By saying that Joseph did not have relations with Mary “until” the Child was born, Matthew’s is merely of assuring his original readers that Joseph could not possibly be the father of Jesus. This is all that Matthew is concerned about.

As for the Greek word “until,” you must understand how the Greek language uses this word. For example, in this SAME Gospel of Matthew (Matt 28:20), Jesus is presented as saying:

“And behold, I Am with you always, even UNTIL the end of the age.”

Does this mean that Jesus WILL NOT be with us AFTER the end of the age??? πŸ™‚ Of course not. The Greek word “until” does not refer to what will happen, or did happen, afterward, but only refers to the time period in which it is addressing. So, you clearly do not understand what Matt 1:25 is referring to. It does not mean that Joseph had relations with Mary after Jesus was born. To claim that is a dishonest reading of this passage.

As for Mary being Joseph’s “wife,” as we know from 1 Corinth 7:36-38 and other passages in Scripture, it was quite possible in 1st Century Jewish marriage to have a legal wife but never have sexual relations with her –that is, to keep her as your “virgin.” This is the type of marriage that Joseph and Mary had. In fact, try comparing Matt 1:24 (which calls Mary Joseph’s “wife”) with Luke 1:27, which refers to this SAME TIME PERIOD, yet calls Mary, not a “wife,” but a “virgin.” Mary was Joseph’s “virgin wife.” See again 1 Corinth 7:36-38.

Matthew 12:46

“While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.”

Yep. Mary showed up with Jesus’ whole “clan” –His tribal relatives.

John 2:12

“After this He went down to Capernaum, He, and His Mother, and His Brethren, and His disciples: and they continued there not many days.”

Yep. This again refers to His tribal relatives.

Acts 1:14

“These all continued with one accord in Prayer and supplication, and with the women, and MARY the Mother of Jesus, and with HIS Brethren.”

Again his real and true Blood brothers out of Mary..not adopted.

No one is saying that they are adopted.” πŸ™‚ Rather, they are not the children of Mary AT ALL. Rather, this refers to the whole clan –to Jesus’ tribal relatives.

Mary was wonderfully and specially chosen by God for a Great purpose of holding his son and bringing him out into the world. She knew she was blessed as we all know she was blessed because she obeyed the will of God..giving birth to his beloved son in flesh. God exalted her above the women and chose her as she was to be the wife of Joseph who was out of the blood line of King David and so was she. She will always be remembered as a blessed woman of God.

We Catholics agree. But, what you fail to appreciate is that Mary was not only blessed in this way; she was also totally consecrated to God (Luke 1:38). She is the promised “Daughter of Zion” who represents the unity between God and Israel –that is, Israel’s faithfulness to the Old Covenant, out of which the Messiah would be born. This is why it was necessary for Mary to remain a Virgin all of her life. She belonged totally to God. Her marriage to Joseph was merely a legal marriage.

It does appear that the both of them had to be out of the bloodline of King David at a special time and place God’s will as he prophesied and promised.

Mary was clearly from the House of David. Romans 1:3 says so. But, she also had many relatives who were Levites (from the Levitical priestly line), such as Elizabeth (see Luke 1:5), and also apparently either Mary of Clopas or her husband, since James “the brother of the Lord” (Mary of Clopas’ son) is described as a Levite in early Jewish Christian sources.

Anyone is called Blessed who does the will of God the ALMIGHTY.

This is true. But Mary does this in the most perfect way possible, and so she is our primary model for how to do the will of God (e.g. Luke 1:38, John 2:5, etc.)

Hope this also comes in handy for renewed study.

I hope my corrections above help you to read Scripture more accurately.

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