Catholics have always believed that Mary is ever-virgin. In Sacred Art, some images of her show three stars: one on each shoulder and one on her forehead – to signify she is a virgin before, a virgin during, and a virgin after the conception and birth of Christ. Some Christians, however, use Bible verses to prove she had other children – Matthew 13:55, for example. It is quite easy to refute this using Bible verses as well.
The Bible was originally in Greek, and the Greek word used for “brethren” in the above verse from Matthew is “adelphoi”. While it does mean “brethren” it can also mean members of the extended family such as cousin, uncle, or nephew. For example, in the King James Version, Genesis 14:12-14 is rendered in English as: “12 And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed. 13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. 14 And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.”
In verse 12 we learn that Lot is the son of Abram’s brother. That makes Lot the nephew of Abram. But in verse 14, Abram is still referring to Lot, but the word used is “brother.”
Obviously, the predicament comes from the English rendering of “adlephos” the singular of “adelphoi.” So we ask, if “brother” is the English translation of adelphos for Lot’s relationship with Abram; could the adelphoi in Matthew 13:55 mean something aside from blood brother? The answer is yes, of course.
Paul, and James – the brother of Jesus
Here’s how we can strengthen the case for saying the “brothers” of Jesus are not blood brothers. In Galatians 1:18, again in the King James Version, Saint Paul says: “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”
There are two things we learn from this. One is that he saw James the apostle, and that this James is the Lord’s “brother.”
Let us match this to the King James Version of Matthew 10:2-4 that says, “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.”
From this list, we learn that there are two apostles named James. The first James (James the greater) is the brother of John who are both sons of Zebedee. The other James (James the less) is the son of Alphaeus. But neither James is the son of Joseph the husband of Mary. The only way any of them can be the son of Mary is if she got married again either to Zebedee or Alphaeus. But that is becoming preposterous already, especially when we find out who the mother of this James is.
The mother of James in the Crucifixion
Three writers tell us who were at the crucifixion scene: Mark, Matthew, and John.
“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;” Mark 15:40 KJV
“Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.” Matthew 27:56 KJV
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” John 19:25 KJV
John mentions there are four women at the crucifixion. And if we piece them together they can be:
- Mary, the mother of Jesus;
- Mary the wife of Cleophas (also known as Alpheus?1). Mother Mary’s sister, who is the mother of James and Joses;
- Salome, also called Mary Salome. Mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee;
- Mary Magdalene
It does fit in neatly together, and if this is pieced correctly we can see that the same James that Saint Paul met in Jerusalem is the same James in Matthew 13:55, and is the son of the Mother Mary’s sister2 – making this James the cousin of Jesus. Thus, the adelphoi in Matthew 13:55 does not mean blood brother.
Mary, the Mother of Many Children
While the Bible does say Jesus had “brethren”, the Bible never said Mary had other sons; you just can’t find that anywhere in Scripture. Knowing that “adelphoi” can mean more than blood-brother, and with the scriptural references above, we can defend the idea of Mary being ever-virgin.
WE are her many children, however. The Catechism uses the phrase the whole Christ to refer to Christ and his Church as one and inseparable. (CCC §795) Since a woman cannot be the mother of just a head, she must also be the mother of the body; thus Mary is the mother of Christ (the head) and his mystical body, the Church. This is why we call her “Mother.” This is why her cape is blue, and why churches dedicated to her have blue ceilings with stars – for they symbolize the sky, the mantle of her motherly protection that embraces all of the earth.
If she is indeed our mother, should not we talk to her as children?
1She is referred to as the “wife of Cleophas”, but we know James the Less is the son of Alphaeus from Matthew 10:2-4. So it can mean Cleophas was also known by the name “Alphaeus” (the same way Saint Paul was known by his Greek name “Paul” as well as his Hebrew name “Saul”) , or Cleophas is the current wife of Mary and James was her son from a previous marriage to a man named Alphaeus.
2We are also not sure of the relationship of Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary the mother of James is because we also don’t know exactly what “sister” connotes. It could be they are blood sisters or not. Thus we cannot exactly say how James is related to Jesus except that he was a blood relation; but definitely not a blood brother.