Renewed Denial of the Roman Catholic Church, part 3: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Recently, in a conversation on Facebook, I confessed that much of Protestantism annoyed me.  Longtime readers will know that I believe in consistency — hermeneutics should be consistent, interpretations of passages should incorporate what has gone before, and your bar of acceptable proof should be even across all areas of your life.

Protestantism just isn’t consistent.  The first post in this series laid the groundwork for why I don’t think Protestantism is very consistent with regard to Sacred Tradition.  The previous post discussed the concept of high church, how Protestantism lacks it, and why it is biblical.  However, submission doesn’t mean surrendering one’s mental faculties.  For an application of that idea, we turn to the main issue I’ve always had with Catholicism, and a true biblical contradiction in its teaching: the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.

To believe this doctrine, you have to totally subvert the meaning of Mark 6:3, when the crowd in Jesus’ hometown asks, “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?”

The Catholic argument is that the word translated “brother” (αδελπηοσ) can be used for any close family member, since there wasn’t a Greek word for “cousins.”  Therefore, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon are actually Jesus’ cousins.  In fact, according to Strong’s, αδελπηοσ means “brother,”  “sister” or “fellow believer.”  However, we know from other New Testament passages that these folks are not fellow believers.

In fact, there is a Greek word meaning “cousin.”  It is ανεπσιοσ, and is used in Colossians 4:10 to describe Mark, cousin of Barnabas.  (The word actually refers to a niece or a nephew, and I’m at a loss to find out why it is universally translated “cousin.”)  Which means the Catholic argument normally presented for Jesus’ brothers being cousins holds no water whatsoever.

The January 1990 issue of This Rock magazine has an article by Father Mateo specifically stating that:

Kilmon obscures the state of the question by alleging a “premise that ‘brother’ in the New Testament, like its counterpart in the Old Testament really means ‘cousin’ or ‘kinsman.'” No one holds such a premise. Both Hebrew and Greek dictionaries report that there are words in both languages whose primary meaning conveys uterine brother/sisterhood, but that these words are also used in both languages with much wider meanings: half brother/half sister, wife, kinsman, fellow tribe member, and so on, but not, as a matter of fact, cousin. (emphasis added)

But Father Mateo has spoke too soon.  The Catholicism Answer Book (Sourcebooks, Inc: Naperville, IL, 2007), written by Catholic priests John Trigilio, Jr. and Kenneth Brighenti, does hold the very position that Father Mateo repudiates:

Scripture scholars have also delved into the question of brothers and sisters of Jesus.  It all centers around the Greek word adelphoi.  This word can be translated to mean brothers, cousins, or relatives, such as nephews and uncles.  Therefore, when we read in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 13:55 concerning the brothers of Jesus, it is ambiguous whether the word adelphos is refering to brothers, cousins, nephews, or uncles. (57, emphasis added)

Just a few pages prior, Trigilio and Brighenti make a similar point.  Ancient Hebrew (yes, they said Hebrew–remember that point) didn’t discern between close family (brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews), and thus the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus could have referred to other family members that didn’t have precise names (49).

The problem is that the New Testament was written in Greek, not Hebrew.  Greek is exceedingly more complex, and does have those distinctions.  The passages in question, read plainly, indicate family related by blood is under consideration.  One hardly mentions the mother of a person and then a few cousins without some sort of context key.  Nope, these are biological brothers and sisters, not close family or fellow Christians that are being discussed.  It is difficult to argue otherwise.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on September 16, 2011, in Apologetics, Bible Thoughts, Roman Catholicism, Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I found that the article they are discussing is this:

    http://www.catholic.com/library/Brethren_of_the_Lord.asp

    It makes a very convincing argument that the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus were his relatives but not through Mary. Granted, I’m sure there’s some things in the article that could be picked at, but it makes a good case that shows you can be theologically consistent without those brothers and sisters being required to be from Mary.

    If nothing else, it makes complete hermeneutical sense to say that they were the children of Joseph and not of Mary. I don’t see it required here to say that they were Mary’s children.

    If it was the belief of many early church fathers that held that these were not Mary’s children, perhaps it is we who are in the wrong to suggest otherwise.

  2. Just to answer intelligently, when we do, I take it I am right in thinking that you unswervingly acknowledge Jesus as the Eternal Word of the Father, consubstantial with the Father, begotten without a human father and that you accept the direct Gospel assertion that the woman who was his mother was ‘parthenos’ at the time of his conception?

  3. It is Jewish tradition that the eldest son in the family takes the mother into their home after the death of the patriarch-if this is true why did our Lord, dying on the cross, command John the evangalist to care for her, and we know he did from that day forward. BECAUSE there was no other person, no other biological siblings around to entrust her to. She was redeemed at the same moment of her creation-a pure vessel-not divine like the Son-but the “All Holy One”-spouse of the Holy Spirit. So sad that Protestants don’t understand her role, she preceded Our Lord-and will in the End Times again have an important mission before Jesus Second Coming. His MaMa is a true friend and the “cause of our joy.” Godbless!!

    • Right. Jesus was a big fan of Jewish tradition.

      Moving on: In what way did Mary precede Jesus? The Gospel of John is as clear as it gets: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

      So it seems here that Jesus is eternal.

      Mary, therefore, could NOT have preceded Jesus.

      Unless I misunderstood what you’re trying to communicate here.

      • I’m pretty sure Paula wasn’t trying to imply that Mary is omnipotent, omniscient, or has no beginning. Paula can correct me, but I believe that she was referencing that Mary chronologically preceded the Incarnation of Christ, since she was his Mother, not that Mary was somehow eternal.
        The main points of her post appear to be: 1) Jesus commanded John to care for Mary which is normally the responsibility of the next eldest son. 2) Mary is important and many people minimize her

        Paula, feel free to correct me if I’m not interpreting you correctly.

      • I agree with your summation of Paula’s main points, Phil. If Paula had something different in mind, then I also invite her to clarify.

        I further agree that Mary chronologically preceded the Incarnation, but so did lots and lots of people. Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Malachi. But, the apostle Paul declared that Christ is the firstborn of creation, and thus preeminent (Col 1:15). Mary, therefore, couldn’t have preceded the essence of Christ, the eternal Word of God, in any meaningful sense.

        She gave birth to his human body, but his soul is consubstantial with God and therefore co-eternal with the Father.

        For the main summary points, I believe I answered (1) by pointing out that Jesus bucked quite a bit of Jewish tradition. That, along with his profession to be God, was a central reason for the powers that be wanting to execute him.

        To expand on this, the Father also bucked quite a bit of Jewish tradition. For example, though Ishmael would have been the rightful heir to Abraham, God chose Isaac and cut ties with Ishmael (except to fulfill the covenant of raising many nations from Abraham, so blessing Ishmael in the offspring department). Though Esau was the true heir to Isaac, God again bucked that by selecting Jacob to seed Israel. Esau might have been rash and a tad dense, but Jacob was a liar and a deceiver. God may have raised Israel out of the greater of the two evils, not the lesser.

        But he did so that his purpose might stand, the purpose of him who calls — not works, achievements, or accomplishments. So I don’t believe (1) to be an effective counterargument here.

        For (2), I don’t want to be accused of minimizing the importance of Mary, nor her example of humility and obedience to the Father by carrying the Son in the way she did. This would have exposed her to ridicule and put her on the very margins of society. Jesus’ real parentage would have been an object of speculation and the entire Holy Family an object of scorn.

        The culture of the day did NOT simply roll over and go “Oh well” to a pregnancy out of wedlock. That was a huge deal back then, something we tend to forget about now.

        That she was willing to risk public scorn and becoming an outcast (at minimum — worst case scenario would have been a stoning) to obey the Father is something that we (in our American comfort zone) ought to pause and consider. Would we be willing to risk a total ostracizing, perhaps even death, for our obedience to the Father through the Son?

        Mary did, and she should be commended for it. She should stand, with all the great saints and the apostles, as examples of Christian humility and obedience for all time.

        So let’s not accuse me of minimizing Mary. My (rudimentary) understanding of the culture of first century Palestine won’t let me forget what she was willing to face to be the chosen vessel for our Lord’s Incarnate humanity.

        In many senses, incidentally, the Perpetual Virginity makes a great deal of sense. If you want to believe it on the logic of it, because you’re convinced that no other child could (or should) have been born of the same womb, then fine. But let’s not pretend that it has biblical support.

      • I hope that none of this is coming off as aggressive, because it is not intended as anything other than academic.

        Just to be clear I don’t believe that either Paula nor myself intended to imply that you minimize Mary. I was simply re-stating her point, which did not appear to me at least to be directed to you.

        Also, there is absolutely no argument intended here – Mary did not in any way precede Jesus’ divinity, only his humanity. (Although as a side note, which I am sure you believe and this is here for the benefit of others reading this – Jesus’ divinity and humanity are in perfect union and harmony. To believe otherwise is heresy, as has been defined by the church for years and years and years! That is the nature of the Incarnation and the beauty and mystery of it! This in no way makes Mary divine by the way…).

        Essentially, the issue I first brought up is not whether you believe there to be a solid case for the perpetual virginity of Mary as found in Biblical Support, but that I do not see your arguments as at all conclusive against her perpetual virginity. But no, the Biblical case against the perpetual virginity of Mary is weaker than the case for it, in my opinion. But I don’t rest upon just that. I rest upon history and the testimony of the Church.

        The fact is that it has historically been believed that Mary was always virgin. We know this not only due to numerous early church father quotes, but also because of the testimony of the Church. But to be honest, that’s a whole other topic – the authority of the Church. And I don’t really think that there’s enough space here to discuss it, nor is this the appropriate venue.

        “To be deep in history is to cease being a Protestant.“
        – Cardinal Newman

  4. Cory, dear as you have moved onto atheists, i take it you are alive and well. Please don’t throw out discussions and then wander off! Could you answer the above? Without it there is no argument! The Lady in Luke 1 is only a topic of interest if you accept the terms in which Christ is presented……

    • I sent you an e-mail, Sister. It answers everything, I think.

      I take forever to answer comments. That’s a fact of life. I’m so busy, and I keep trying to get new material updated that sometimes I forget to come back to defend old material. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I don’t want to be challenged.

      Actually, in one of my fastest answers yet, I just posted a new blog entry replying to Alex’s assertion that the quote I just posted makes me look stupid.

      I don’t ignore comments; I just take forever to get around to them. I’m sorry. I’m not trying to throw out a discussion and then not reply to the challenges. It does happen, but I do try to answer eventually.

  1. Pingback: Why I’m Not Roman Catholic « Josiah Concept Ministries

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