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The Myth of Mary’s Lifetime Virginity

Both direct and circumstantial evidence in God’s Word – the Bible – clearly disproves the Roman Catholic Church claim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, remained a virgin, not only prior to, but during and after our Lord’s miraculous birth. It was this “perpetual virginity” doctrine and several others that forced the infamous 16th century Council of Trent to declare “Sacred Tradition” equal in every way to the divine Scriptures, and to arrogate to itself alone the right to interpret both Scripture and so-called “Sacred Tradition.” As we review the Scriptural evidence applicable to this false doctrine, it will become crystal clear why the Vatican insists that its members abide by Rome’s determination of what certain controversial Scriptures actually mean.

Our first inkling that the lifetime virginity doctrine is only a myth is found in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. In verse 18 and following, God’s Word tells us that Mary was espoused (engaged) to Joseph, but that, “before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” In the original Greek, the phrase “came together” is contained in the word, sunerchomai, {soon-er’-khom-ahee} whose meaning to the Jews of that era (Matthew was a Jew) meant conjugal cohabitation. A modern paraphrase of the Bible’s statement would go something like this: “Mary was found to be pregnant….before they consummated their marriage through normal sexual intercourse.”

Jewish marriages in the time of Christ consisted of a period of betrothal that preceded by several months the actual “coming together” in sexual union. Espousal, or betrothal, however, confirmed the marriage as a valid contract, so, for Joseph to have “put away secretly” his espoused bride, he would have had to obtain a legal writ of divorcement. While he pondered the advisability of such an action, he was informed by an angel in a dream that Mary was not guilty of adultery; that the Holy Ghost was the child’s sire, and to have no fear of proceeding with the contracted marriage. (Matt 1:20, 21) There is not even the slightest hint in the angel’s words that a marital union with Mary was to be free of the normal physical privileges. Thus reassured, 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 till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” (Mat 1:24, 25)

Two phrases in those Scripture verses, when added to the phrase, “before they came together,” create a very rocky road to lifetime virginity for Roman Catholic apologists. The phrase “knew her not till” is translated from the Greek words, 1) ginosko{ghin-oce’-ko}, 2) ouk {ook}, and 3) heos {heh’-oce}. Ginosko, here translated “knew,” is a “Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.” (Strong’s Lexicon #1097) The word ouk, here translated “not,” is clearly a negative denoting the act had not taken place. But heos, here translated “till,” is confirmation that the act did, in fact, take place after the child was delivered. To obviate in advance claims that the word “till” does not confirm that Mary and Joseph engaged in normal marital relations following Christ’s birth, the child Jesus is referred to in God’s Word as, “her firstborn son:” (Matt 1:25)

Roman Catholic apologists proclaim quite falsely that the word “firstborn” applies to an only child as well as to the first of multiple children. But a check of how the Greek word, prototokos {pro-tot-ok’-os} is used in the New Testament shows that claim to be quite without biblical support. The word appears nine times in the New Testament, and with one possible – but far from certain – exception, it always means the first of more than one. Six of the times it appears it is in reference to Jesus as either the firstborn from the dead, the firstborn of mankind, or the firstborn of man who would come to believe in God through him. Bible references are: Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15 and 1:18; Hebrews 1:6 and 12:23; and Revelation 1:5.

The one time it could possibly mean an only child is found in Hebrews 11:28. This particular verse is among several recounting the faith Moses exhibited as he led the children of Israel out of Egyptian captivity. “Through faith he (Moses) kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.” Reference here is made to the final plague visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians – the death of every firstborn of man and beast not covered by the blood of the Passover sacrifice. Roman Catholic apologists speculate that some Egyptian families had but a single child, and therefore the word firstborn can apply to an only child, in this case, Jesus. But this is both an unprovable presumption, and not very likely, because large families were an economic necessity, a hedge against starvation and aggression.

The other two times prototokos appears in the New Testament are in Matthew 1:25, (previously cited) and Luke 2:7, which reads as follows: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Twice, then, the inspired writers referred to our Lord as Mary’s firstborn son. But when Christ’s relationship to the Father is studied, we find Jesus the man described as God’s “…only begotten Son.” For examples, see John 1:14, 1:18, 3:18; Hebrews 11:17; 1st John 4:9. The author of God’s Word – the Holy Ghost – has made it absolutely clear that the man Christ Jesus was the only human offspring of the Father. With this in mind, one questions why that same Holy Ghost – if Jesus really was an only child – did not inspire Matthew and Luke to describe Mary’s delivery the same way. All speculation would have been obviated had they written: “And she brought forth her only son, etc.”

To make the road even more difficult for Roman Catholic apologists, Scripture contains a parallel situation in which the birth of a genuine only child is reported. Recall if you will that Mary’s cousin, Elisabeth, and her cousin’s husband, Zacharias, not only were childless, but actually were past the time of life when they could expect to be blessed with offspring. The Bible tells it like this: “And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.” (Luke 1:7) Their advanced years notwithstanding, Elisabeth and Zacharias were blessed by the Lord with the miracle of John the Baptist. Gabriel brought the good news to Zacharias as he performed his priestly duty in the Temple. “…the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” (Luke 1:13) It is the following Scripture, the inspired writer’s description of John’s birth, that is especially worthy of note. “Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.” (Luke 1:57)

John the Baptist was the only son of Elisabeth and Zacharias. And so, the inspired writer correctly relates that Elisabeth brought forth – not a firstborn son to be followed by other sons – she simply brought forth…a…son. Since both the inspired writers say that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son, we can be sure – without going one bit further into the matter – that at least one other son followed. In fact though, if the divine Word of God is to be believed, four other sons followed, and at least two daughters.

The following is from the Gospel of Matthew, an Apostle who knew Jesus and His family background intimately, even without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas. And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? (Matt 13:55, 56) These comments were made by people who knew Joseph and Mary and their family, for the Scripture tells us in the preceding verse: “And when he (Jesus) was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? (Matt 13:54) It bears repeating that these comments were made by people who most certainly knew the difference between blood brothers and sisters and mere cousins or kinfolk. We find a second report of this incident in the Gospel of Mark.

“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.” (Mark 6:3) As additional assurance that those who were making these comments were very well acquainted with our Lord’s earthly family, we read: “But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.” (Mark 6:4, 5)

In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word for brother/ brethren is adelphos {ad-el-fos’}; for sisters, it’s adelphe {ad-el-fay’}. The word for cousin/kinfolk is suggenes {soong-ghen-ace’}. To think or believe that the inspired writers of Scripture were unfamiliar with these terms and therefore subject to misusing them, is to question the very integrity of the Holy Spirit who directed their efforts. And that is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church does in the following entry from the 1994 Catechism.

Against this doctrine (Mary’s lifetime virginity) the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. 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”. They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression. (¶500, Page 126, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994)

What the Roman Catholic Church has “always understood,” and what the Scriptures clearly say are as far apart in this case as Rome is from the South Pole. When the word adelphos is used in the Gospels in reference to a specific name or names, it always means blood brother(s). There are no exceptions. That is how we know that Simon Peter was Andrew’s brother; (Matt 4:18) that John was the brother of James; (Matt 4:21) that Herod had a brother, Philip; (Matt 14:3) that Judas (not Iscariot) was the brother of another James; (Luke 6:16) that Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha; (John 11:2) that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters. (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3) For the Vatican to suggest that two of Christ’s named brothers were the sons of another Mary without accounting for the other two named sons is absurd. To imply that the Holy Spirit didn’t “get it right” is blasphemy, and Jesus had some choice words regarding those who blaspheme His Holy Spirit. (Cf. Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10)

The Word of God could not have made it any clearer that Mary had four sons besides Jesus, and that Jesus had both brothers and sisters. Following is a list of New Testament verses that simply cannot be misconstrued no matter how loudly the Roman Catholic apologists protest.

Matthew 12:46-49; Matthew 13:55; Mark 3:31-34; Mark 6:3

Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12; John 7:3-10; Acts 1:14; 1Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19; Jude 1:1 (probable).

In the Galatians reference cited above, Paul identifies James as the Lord’s adelphos, (brother) not as His suggenes, (cousin or kinfolk). It is out of the question to think or believe that Paul didn’t know the difference between a brother and a cousin. Moreover, the great historians of the patristic age – Josephus of Judaism, and Eusebius of Christianity – made reference to brothers of the Lord in their respective histories.

In his Antiquities XX, 200, Josephus reported that, “James, the brother of Jesus called the Christ” had been put to death. And Eusebius, in his Book 2, Chapter 1:3, refers to “James the Lord’s brother.” Then, in Book 3, Chapter 20:1, this appears: “Jude…the Lord’s brother according to the flesh.” His meaning could not be clearer. The Jude he refers to was a blood brother of Jesus, not a brother by faith.

But the doctrine of Mary’s lifetime virginity, the denial that she and Joseph enjoyed a normal marriage as commanded by God in 1st Corinthians 7:4, 5, actually was obviated about 800 years before the births of Mary, Joseph or Jesus. In Psalm 69 is contained the following clearly Messianic prophecy: “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children. For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.” (Psa 69:8, 9)

How do we know that these verses are a Messianic prophecy? Because we read in the Gospel of John: “And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (John 2:15-17)

And in Romans, we read: “For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.” (Romans 15:3)

The Roman Catholic doctrine stating that Mary the mother of Jesus retained her virginity after Christ’s birth and for the rest of her life is just plain heresy. Worse, it is a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, author of the Scriptures, because it in effect accuses the Word of God of lying to us.

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