Marys' Children?

All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.
Acts 1:14


According to some people, Bible phrases, like: "the Lord's brother", prove that Mary had other children besides Jesus. Even though the Bible indicates that Mary remained a virgin with the birth of Christ (Matt. 1:23, Luke 1:27, 23:53), they claim that she had other children. Since Mary had other children, she did not remain ever-virgin. Therefore, the doctrine on her Perpetual Virginity is false, and the Catholic Church is wrong for calling her the Blessed Virgin Mary. But do such Bible phrases definitively prove that Mary had other children?

St. Paul writes: "I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother." [Gal. 1:19; RSV] Here the Apostle James is said to be "the Lord's brother." According to a list of the apostles in Matt 10:2-3, the older James is said to be the son of Zebedee; whereas, the younger James is said to be the son of Alphaeus. None are said to be the son of Joseph or Mary, mother of Jesus. Using the Bible, St. Jerome showed that the younger Apostle James was actually a cousin of Jesus, and that his mother's name was also Mary.

The names of four brothers of Jesus are actually listed in the Gospels. According to Matthew: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?" [Matt. 13:55-56; RSV]. A similar list of names can be found in Mark's Gospel: "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?" [Mark 6:3; RSV] These lists agree with each other apart from the minor difference between "Joseph" in Matthew and "Joses" in Mark. Later in both Gospels, the names of those, who followed Jesus to His crucifixion, are recorded. These lists contain family information on two "brothers." According to Matthew, the women, who followed Jesus, were "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee." [Matt. 27:56; RSV] Mark's list includes: "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome,... and also many other women." [Mark 15:40; RSV] The same name variation is observed in both lists: Matthew refers to "Joseph"; whereas, Mark refers to "Joses". This variation supports their connection to the names of Jesus' brothers. According to both texts, James and Joseph (or Joses) are the sons of Mary. But this Mary is not referred to as the mother of Jesus. This would be an odd omission, if she were also the mother of Jesus. John's Gospel has a similar list of women: "...standing by the Cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." [John 19:25; RSV] According to John, Mary the mother of Jesus was present at the Cross, but John also records another Mary other than Mary Magdalene. Comparing lists, it appears that James the younger and Joseph (or Joses) were the sons of the other Mary. Elsewhere, Matthew actually calls her "the other Mary." [Matt. 28:1] This other Mary is said to be the "sister" of Jesus' mother. Therefore, James and Joseph (or Joses) are Jesus' cousins and not His siblings. Now since both Marys share the same name, it is unlikely that they were siblings. Instead they were most likely members of the same clan. It would be confusing for parents to name their children with the same name. This is an example of "sister" being used in the wider sense as cousin. One small problem still remains: In Acts 1:13 and Matt 10:3, the younger James, an Apostle, is also said to be the son of Alphaeus. Perhaps the other Mary was married twice, or Alphaeus was also called Clopas (not uncommon in the Bible, e.g. Israel vs. Jacob, Simon vs. Peter, Paul vs. Saul...), or Clopas was not the name of her husband but her father, birthplace or whatever. The last explanation is supported by the Douay-Rheims translation: "Mary of Cleophas" [John 19:25]. The Bible text shows that Mary, mother of James, and Mary, mother of Jesus, are different women. The case of two Marys can cause confusion today as perhaps with the crowds of Jesus' day.

There is a concise discussion on the various Marys of the New Testament (NT) found in the New Scofield Reference Edition - King James Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1967). In a footnote for Luke 1:27, the second Mary is discussed:

(2) Mary, the mother of the Apostle James (called 'the less,' Mk. 15:40) and wife of Clopas (Jn. 19:25), who may be identified with Alphaeus (Mt. 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk. 6:15). She was evidently the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This Mary watched the cruxifixion (Mt.27:56; Mk. 15:40; Jn. 19:25), visited the garden tomb (Mk. 15:47; 16:1; Lk. 24:10), and was presumably among the women who saw the risen Lord on the resurrection day (Mt. 28:7-9; Lk. 24:9,22-24). She is normally mentioned only in connection with one or both of her sons. Some have conjectured that this Mary was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but it is highly improbable that two sisters would have the same name. [p. 1076]

Even from a Protestant edition, this footnote confirms St. Jerome's argument that there were two Marys.

The Bible never states directly that Mary, mother of Jesus, had other children. Only Jesus is said to be the son of Mary. Even though the Bible does refer to the brothers and sisters of Jesus in several places (Matt. 12:46; Mark 3:32; Acts 1:14), they could be adopted children or simply members of Jesus' clan. Clans and extended families are common in the Bible. There are examples in the Bible where the term "brother" is used in the narrow sense of siblings (Matt. 1:2; 4:18; Mark 3:17). However, there are examples where the terms, "brother" and "sister", are used in a much wider sense (e.g. John 19:25). According to the Douay-Rheims Bible, “he (Abram) brought back...Lot his brother." [Gen 14:16] Yet according to Gen 11:31, Lot was Abram's nephew. In 2 Sam 1:26, David calls Jonathan his brother, but there was no family connection. Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus refers to His disciples as brothers (Matt 28:10). Even fellow Christians are called brothers (Acts 1:15-16; 9:30; 13:38; Rom 1:13; 1 Cor. 1:10).

There are other words in the Bible that can cause similar confusion today. As one case, people may quote the verse, "he (Joseph) took his wife (Mary), but knew her not until she had borne a son" [Matt 1:24-25; RSV]. According to them, the word "until" proves that Joseph "knew" Mary after Jesus was born. Therefore, Mary did not remain a virgin. Now in modern day usage, "until" implies a change in situation after some event. Even though the Bible does use the word "until" in this sense, it also uses "until" in a sense that does not imply anything after some event. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says: "For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day." [Matt 11:23; RSV] So would Sodom still have been destroyed the next day? St. Paul writes: "For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet." [1 Cor 15:25] So will Jesus quit reigning? No. Finally St. Paul writes: "I charge you to keep the commandments unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." [1 Tim 6:14] He is not advising Timothy to break the commandments after the appearance of Christ. In the same manner, Matthew does not imply that Joseph "knew" Mary after the birth of Jesus. Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus is called the firstborn of Mary (Luke 2:7). Some people may claim that "firstborn" implies that Mary had a second born and so on. "First" only makes sense when there is a "second." Now "firstborn" is a legal title in the Law for those males who open the womb and not necessarily the first of several children (Ex. 13:2). God commanded that all "firstborns" must be redeemed from Him (Ex. 13:2-15; 34:19; Ps. 78:51). This ceremony of redemption must be performed shortly after the birth of the firstborn and not after the birth of the second child. Even if the mother has only a son and no more children, her son would still be called "firstborn." Every only-begotten is a firstborn, but not every firstborn is only-begotten. St. Paul refers to Jesus spiritually as the "firstborn" of all Christians since He opened the gates of Heaven. [Rom. 8:29]

According to John's Gospel, Jesus while on the Cross gives His mother Mary to the Apostle John for her care (John 19:26-27). This would be very strange, if Mary had other children, especially sons. Jesus spoke few words from the Cross, because it is extremely painful to speak while being crucified. If Mary had another son or even if John were her son, Jesus would not have wasted His words on the obvious. Not only would this be strange, but it would have been a grave insult to her other sons. This insult would not only be from Jesus but also from Mary, since Mary did not stop Jesus. This passage only makes sense, if Mary had no other children to care for her.

Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God. In parallel fashion, Jesus is the only-begotten son of Mary. According to the Catechism, "Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith 'unadulterated by any doubt,' and of her undivided gift of herself to God's will. (1 Cor. 7:34-35) It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Savior" [CCC 506]. Mary's perpetual virginity helped her to remain focused on God and His will to save all mankind.

Opinion by Phillip B. Liescheski, President


NIHIL OBSTAT:
Reverend M. James Divis, S.T.L.
Censor Librorum

IMPRIMATUR:
Most Reverend Fabian W. Bruskewitz, D.D., S.T.D.
Bishop of Lincoln

April 15, 2004

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