The Bible tells us that Jesus has brothers, so how can the Catholic Church tell us that Mary was a virgin her whole life?
As the above question points out; the purpose of this question isn’t to discuss if Jesus had siblings, the purpose is to determine f Mary was a perpetual virgin. If she wasn’t, then the Catholic Church has infallibly declared something not true.
This post originally focused on the translation of “brothers” but it has been updated to include several questions received afterward regarding the perpetual virginity of Mary.
The Bible says Jesus had brother.
The issue, as is often the case, is translation. It’s so easy to assume that Jesus and the Gospel writers spoke English and that we have the exact words originally written. This is simply not the case. The passage in question was originally written in Hebrew and the word used meant literally “closest blood relative”. This is often translated to mean brother but if a person has no brothers it can just as easily mean cousin or a number of other family relationships. The word we see is “brother”. The word written is something much less specific.
The Greek language has a separate word for “cousin” and “brothers” but the Greek still says Jesus had brothers.
Again, the literal translation of Hebrew to Greek is “brother” (adelphoi). This happens over and over in the Bible. In Lk 22:32 Jesus tells Peter to strengthen the “brethren” (plural of “brothers”). Is Jesus regarding biological brothers only? In Rom 9:3 Paul uses “brethren” and “kinsmen” the same way. Acts 1:12-15 shows around 120 “brothers” gathered. That’s a big family (even for Catholics)!
The Catechism has a compelling argument as well:
Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus.157 The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus", are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary".158 They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.159 (CCC 500)
157 Cf. Mk 3:31-35; 6:3; 1 Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19.
158 Mt 13:55; 28:1; cf. Mt 27:56.
159 Cf. Gen 13:8; 14:16; 29:15; etc.
The fact that the Greek indicates “brother” is not proof that the relationship is by blood.
Why would God give Joseph a wife he couldn’t sleep with?
Because Mary, as the early Church fathers record, was a consecrated virgin. The custom of families giving their daughters to the service of the Lord was old (see 1 Sam 2:22) and still continues today (in the form of religious sisters and consecrated virgins). The custom was for them to marry an older man (a widower) who probably already had children (which could also answer why Jesus had “brothers” if need be). We see Joseph disappear pretty early on in Jesus’ life, which supports the notion that he was older when they married.
Mary’s response to the angel is consistent with her vow of virginity. “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Lk 1:34). This is an odd question for someone about to be married. The angel never says “today” you will conceive. If Mary was going to have a “normal” relationship with her husband, why not assume that the conception would come about the normal way? However, as a consecrated virgin, this question makes perfect sense.
Does that mean all wives should deny sex to their husbands?
Only if you’re a consecrated virgin when you get married.
In Mt 1:25 it says Joseph didn’t have relations with her “until” she had Jesus. That implies they had relations afterward.
No, actually it doesn’t. The English connotation of “until” is that something didn’t happen before but did happen after. We see “until” used in a way that doesn’t conform to this understanding several times in the Bible.
Mt 28:29 “I am with you “until” then end of the world”. After the end of the world, will Jesus leave us?
Lk 2:37 “and then as a widow “until” she was eighty-four..” After she turned 85 did she stop being a widow?
1 Tim 4:13 “”Until” I arrive, attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching. “ Should they stop doing these things once Paul arrives?
The purpose of Mt 1:25 was to fulfill the prophesy about Jesus being born of a virgin. It has nothing to do with what happened afterward.
The Bible says Jesus was Mary’s “first born”. That implies there were other children.
Again, no it doesn’t. The title of first born was a legal one. The first born was given to the Lord for service and had special inheritance rights. The presence of a first born has nothing to do with the presence of a second born.
Where in the Bible do we see proof of Mary’s perpetual virginity?
Well, take Ezek. 44:2, for instance. Ezekiel prophesizes that no man will pass through the gates by which the Lord enters the world. Jesus entered the world through Mary.
Jesus is always referred to as “the” son of Mary, not “a” son of Mary (Mk 6:3 for example).
In Jn 19:25-27 Jesus gives Mary to the beloved disciple (John). This would have been unlawful if Jesus has other living brothers
What did the Church fathers say about her perpetual virginity?
"Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary" (Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 [A.D. 360]).. Athanasius
"We believe that God was born of a virgin, because we read it. We do not believe that Mary was married after she brought forth her Son, because we do not read it. . . . You [Helvidius] say that Mary did not remain a virgin. As for myself, I claim that Joseph himself was a virgin, through Mary, so that a virgin Son might be born of a virginal wedlock" (ibid., 21). Jerome
"It helps us to understand the terms ‘first-born’ and ‘only-begotten’ when the Evangelist tells that Mary remained a virgin ‘until she brought forth her first-born son’ [Matt. 1:25]; for neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone else, nor did she ever become the Mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever an immaculate virgin" (The Trinity 3:4 [A.D. 386]). Didymus the Blind
And St. Augustine himself:
"In being born of a Virgin who chose to remain a Virgin even before she knew who was to be born of her, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And he wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom he took upon himself the form of a slave" (Holy Virginity 4:4 [A.D. 401]).
"It was not the visible sun, but its invisible Creator who consecrated this day for us, when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?" (Sermons 186:1 [A.D. 411]).
"Heretics called Antidicomarites are those who contradict the perpetual virginity of Mary and affirm that after Christ was born she was joined as one with her husband" (Heresies 56 [A.D. 428]).