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Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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Show me that in the Bible!

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Holy Spirit Interactive: Fr. Francis Jamieson: Show me that in the Bible: The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary

For Catholics and Orthodox, and indeed for many other Christians belonging to the Reformed tradition, this expression "the Blessed Virgin Mary" means not just that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, but that she remained forever a virgin.

The Bible says nowhere that Mary had other children besides Jesus, and it does not talk about anyone else as the "son of Mary". It is certainly true that some passages refer to the "brothers of the Lord" (Mt. 12:46-48; 13:55-56; 27:56). People sometimes use these passages to try to disprove the teaching of the majority of Christians that Mary was a perpetual virgin. We should note, however, that in one of these passages, Mt. 13, they are mentioned by name and two are the sons of another Mary, the wife of Cleophas (cf. James and Joseph: Mt. 27:56; Jn 19:25).

Mary the wife of Cleophas was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the languages spoken at that time (Hebrew and Aramaic) there was no word for cousin or uncle or some other close relative Gn 13:8; 14:16: 29:15. Lev 10:4. 1 Ch 23:22). All close relatives were simply called "brother" or "sister". There are words for these relatives in Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, the word for brother was used even in circumstances when it would be more precise to call someone a cousin or a nephew. In that culture, the word "brother" was used in a much wider sense than we would use it today.

In the episode in Luke that we call the "Finding in the Temple", no other children of Mary and Joseph are mentioned, only Jesus. If there had been other children, it is reasonable to assume that they would have been mentioned. Also, the Bible only refers to Jesus as "the" son of Mary, never as a "a" son of Mary.

There is mention of Jesus' "brothers" in John 7. It is unlikely, however, that they were brothers in our normal sense of the word, because it would have been thought highly disprespectful by the Jews at that time for younger brothers to talk to the first-born brother in that way. "Brothers" here simply means "disciples".

Finally, in John 19 Jesus Christ entrusted his mother to the Apostle John, a man outside the family. This would not have been acceptable if Mary had had other sons to take care of her.

We have to read the Bible as a whole, and, as far as we can, with an understanding that people of the ancient world would have had of it, and not just in bits and pieces as people who want to "prove" something do today. If we look at the book of the Prophet Ezekiel (44:1-3), we catch a glimpse of the mystical foreshadowing of Mary's perpetual virginity. The symbolism is found in the "East Gate" that Ezekiel describes as part of his vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. That gate is perpetually sealed. No one is permitted to pass through it except for one person: the Prince of Israel (the Christ). "He brought me back to the east gate of the sanctuary. It was shut. The Lord said to me, 'This gate will be kept shut. No one may open it or go through it, since the Lord God of Israel has been through it. And so it must be kept shut. The prince himself, however, maysit there to take his meal in the presence of the Lord. He must enter and leave through the porch of that gate."

One last note. Mt 1:25 is often used by people who want to prove the majority of Christians wrong in their belief of Mary's perpetual virginity. Translators in former times, who did not know Greek as well as modern translators, often translated the verse as it is translated in the Authorised Version (King James Version): "And he [Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son". We must be careful before we give this sentence the meaning which the English language gives it.

The term "firstborn son" is sometimes used in Scripture as a legal title, as opposed to a reference to being the first of several children of a woman. It refers to the status of the son who inherits the major portion of his father's property.

Another problem is the English word "until". The Greek word here does not imply a change as it does in English (e.g. "I shall stay until he comes", which means that when he comes I shall leave, I shall change my place). The Jerusalem Bible translates this verse into English more accurately by saying, "He took his wife to his home; and he had not had intercourse with her when she gave birth to a son." The Bible wants to make clear the miraculous nature of Jesus' conception and is saying nothing about what happened later.

Fr. Francis Jamieson (Sep 11, 2004)

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