To the vast majority of mainstream Christian theologians and scholars, Mary, the mother of Christ, was a perpetual virgin. Mary’s perpetual virginity has been solidly ingrained in their traditions over the centuries. It has become a sacred doctrinal belief of many so–called Christian denominations.
Their doctrinal position is largely based on the following:
a) extra–biblical sources, notably the Protoevangelium of James (originally titled The Nativity of Mary, probably written around 120 AD, 60 years after Mary’s death, supposedly by the apostle James);
b) the writings of the early Church teachers, such as Athanasius, Augustine, Jerome and Origen; and,
c) a loose translation of relevant Greek words in the Bible.
According to the Catholic scholar, Johannes Quasten, “The principal aim of the whole writing [Protoevangelium of James] is to prove the perpetual and inviolate virginity of Mary before, in, and after the birth of Christ” (Patrology, vol I. pp. 120–121).
Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin affirmed a similar belief. Martin Luther wrote: “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin….Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” John Calvin referred to anyone who denied Mary’s perpetual virginity as a “contentious troublemaker” (Meeting Mary Learning Guide. Kenneth J. Howell. p. 45)
The second Council of Constantinople (553 AD) twice referred to Mary as “ever virgin” and condemns those who deny it. But what does the Bible clearly and explicitly say? What does God’s Truth in the Scriptures very obviously reveal?
In Nazareth, Christ went to the local synagogue on the Sabbath day and began to preach. The local people were greatly amazed at His teachings, and so they began to ask “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?” (Matt. 13:55–56).
These verses very specifically provide the names of the four brothers of Jesus Christ. It mentions that He had sisters, too. The defenders of Mary’s perpetual virginity claim that these were not Christ’s biological brothers and sisters but rather His cousins! They even go so far as to assert that they were Christ’s stepbrothers and stepsisters, children of Joseph by a previous marriage. Yet, there is no Scriptural proof to substantiate such assertions.
In this scriptural reference, the word “brethren” is translated from the Greek word adelphos. It means “male children of the same parents” and “male children of the same mother.” In Luke 1:36, the English “cousin” is translated from suggenes in the Greek (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words). Clearly, the Bible makes a distinction between brothers and cousins.
Were these individuals Christ’s spiritual brothers and sisters and not his siblings? The answer can be found in John 2:12: “After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.”
When Christ went to Capernaum, he was with his mother, his brothers and his disciples. Here we find clear evidence of a sharp distinction between His brethren and His disciples. His disciples—His students, those who believed in His teachings—were His spiritual brethren.
In Acts 1:13–14, we read of the apostles praying in one accord “with Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” Once again, the Bible gives a distinction between the apostles—the spiritual brothers of Christ—and his flesh–and–blood brothers.
In Matthew 12:46–50, we read of someone telling Christ that His mother and brothers were outside waiting to speak to Him: “But He answered and said to the one who told Him, ‘For who is My mother and who are my brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother and sister and mother.’”
Once again, the defenders of Mary’s perpetual virginity maintain that these verses are proof that when the Bible speaks of Christ’s brethren, it means spiritual brethren. If this Scripture is intended to prove that Christ had no brothers or sisters, it also proves He would have no mother!
A closer examination of these verses plainly shows that Christ regards those who obey His Father as equally precious in His sight—as precious as His flesh–and–blood family.
In Luke 2:7 Christ is called the “firstborn” son of Mary. The Greek word for “firstborn” is prototokos which means the firstborn or the eldest of other children in the family. If Christ had been Mary’s only child, then the Greek word monogenes for “only child” would have been used instead (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek–Hebrew Dictionary). Jesus Christ was the only begotten son of God the Father; but He was Mary’s firstborn son, not the only son!
As a final proof that Christ had brothers and sisters, let us read of the prophecy concerning Christ in Psalms 69:8: “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.”
His spiritual brethren recognized Him as the Promised Messiah from the very beginning of His ministry (John 1:49). He was a stranger, however, to His own siblings, who did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Some of them, however, did believe after He was resurrected.
A sincere, diligent and earnest examination of the Bible, God’s Revealed Word of Truth, shows the indisputable fact that Jesus Christ did have brothers and sisters, who were the children of His mother Mary.
The Bible plainly reveals that Mary led a normal, married life. She bore her husband Joseph several children after the birth of Christ. Jesus and His brothers and sisters had the same mother, but not the same father. Joseph was the biological father of his brothers and sisters. However, Joseph was Christ’s legal father, but not His actual father.
Based on the Biblical evidence, the “doctrine” of Mary’s perpetual virginity is nothing more than a fable!