Did Mary Have a Bunch of Kids?
Mary's perpetual virginity before, during and after Jesus' birth


I'm not an apologist. I'm just a Catholic guy who wants to see Christ's call to unity fulfilled. I wasn't going to address the thorny issue of Mary's virginity, but my email box got hit with it. Personally, I'd rather pray with you guys than dive into this. I know Evangelical folks think we Catholics are "nuts" to believe Mary stayed a virgin after Jesus was born.

Perhaps some modern Evangelists don't know that most of the early reformers including Martin Luther, Wesley, and Calvin, believed in Mary's perpetual virginity. These reformers are considered scriptural scholars(1) by modern Evangelicals. Yet despite being the founders of the reform, their views on this issue are in complete contrast to modern Evangelical thought. These reformers had no problem with scriptural references to Jesus' "brothers" while maintaining their conviction that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus' birth.  Max Thurian (not a Catholic) says "In regard to the Marian doctrine of the Reformers, we have already seen how unanimous they are in all that concerns Mary's holiness and perpetual virginity . . ."(1963). The Early Christians of the first centuries also had this take on Mary's virginity.

Jesus' Brothers

The idea that Mary had other children first surfaced from a guy named Helvidius around 380 A.D. and it caused quite a stir cause no one held that belief at the time. Jerome, responded with a treatise called On the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mary. Jerome had access to much documentation from the early Church and he cited earlier well known Christian writers such as Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr. Helvidius was unable to come up with a reply. His theory died and lay dormant for over 1500 years until it recently resurfaced among modern Evangelicals.

In Scripture, we see many references to Jesus as Son of Mary but never do we see a reference to anyone else as Mary's literal son or daughter. The gospel account of 12-year-old Jesus lost in the temple does not mention siblings (Lk 2:42) nor does Jesus appear to have any blood brothers at the end of his life. Otherwise, He would have entrusted his mother to the care of his brother instead of the disciple John. (Jn 19:26-27) In Mark 3:20, "they went to take charge of him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind.'" In Jewish tradition the younger brothers would never give advice to an elder brother. It would make more sense for older cousins to give Jesus advice than younger brothers.

When Jesus stays in the Temple at 12 years old, there is no mention of Jesus' brothers or other children of Mary.(Lk 2:41-51). Jews used no birth control so if Mary was having sex it is likely Jesus would have had brothers by then. Jewish parents did not have to wait until they had a second son before they called a child "first born" because in Jewish law the first baby was always called "first born" regardless of whether or not their were any brothers. At the foot of the cross, Jesus hands Mary to the disciple John, if Jesus had brothers, He would have handed Mary to his brothers, not a disciple.(Jn 19:25-28).

Throughout the Bible, the term "brethren" (Adelphos) is freely used. For example, in 2 Kings 10:13-14, there is a reference to the forty-two "brethren" of King Ochozias. In Genesis 14:14, Lot is called Abraham's "brother" but Genesis 11:27 tells us that Haran is the father of Lot and Haran is brother's with Abraham's brother. That makes Abraham the uncle of Lot, and shows us another example of non-siblings being called brothers.

The well-known Protestant linguistic reference An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W.E. Vine, defines Adelphos as follows:

Adelphos: denotes a brother, or near kinsman; in the plural, a community based on identity of origin or life. It is used of: 1) male children of the same parents . . . ; 2) male descendants of the same parents, Acts 7:23,26; Hebrews 7:5; 3) people of the same nationality, Acts 3:17,22; Romans 9:3 . . . ; 4) any man, a neighbour, Luke 10:29; Matthew 5:22, 7:3; 5) persons united by a common interest, Matthew 5:47; 6) persons united by a common calling, Revelation 22:9; 7) mankind, Matthew 25:40; Hebrews 2:17; 8) the disciples, and so, by implication, all believers, Matthew 28:10; John 20:17; 9) believers, apart from sex, Matthew 23:8; Acts 1:15; Romans 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; Revelation 19:10 (the word 'sisters' is used of believers, only in 1 Timothy 5:2).

{Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1940 (four-volumes-in-one ed.), vol.1, pp.154-155}

When I was playing music in a Fundamentalist Church, every man was referred to as "brother." They called me "Brother David."  Nowadays, Bible Christians refer to everyone in the Church as "brother" and "sister"- which was totally cool with me. Even Catholic monastic orders call everyone "brother" (i.e., Brother John)

What about the recently "discovered" James Ossuary?

A couple of years ago a huge archeological discovery gave the world the "James Ossuary" which said "...James brother of Jesus." It was in Newsweek magazine and the Evangelical press covered the find extensively as proof that Catholics were wrong about Mary's perpetual virginity. The person who discovered the ossuary, Oded Golan, was arrested July 21, 2003 and appeared the next day in court, where police revealed forging equipment -- stencils, stones and yet-to-be-completed forgeries -- they said were found in his home, according to the Associated Press. The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) found him to be part an extensive forgery ring that has sold millions of dollars of artifacts to museums. Since then news of the ossuary has quietly disappeared from Evangelical apologetics.2

So who were the "brothers"?

Catholics think it is likely that they were cousins of Jesus. There was no other Greek word for cousin. Catholics think they probably lived in the same household as the Holy Family and Mary's sister, their mother. It was a common practice of the day and still is in middle eastern cultures to live with relatives. Jesus said "a prophet is not without honour in his own town, his own kin and his own house." (Mk 6:4)  It is likely that the brethren were not too thrilled with the idea of their cousin being considered the Saviour. However, they did eventually see the light and were converted. They were at the Pentecost and got hit by the Holy Spirit. I bet it was a great "Holy Ghost" party! I would have loved to be there for that Spiritual jolt of tongues of fire. (Acts 1:14)

They could also be the children of Joseph from another marriage where he was a widower. Tradition places Joseph considerably older than Mary. This is found in early Church fathers writings including the Infancy Gospel of James from 300A.D. Origen mentions the Book of James (and the Gospel of Peter) as stating that the 'brethren of the Lord' were sons of Joseph by a former wife. This is the first mention of it, and shows us that the book is as old as the second century.

IX. 1 ....And the priest said unto Joseph: Unto thee hath it fallen to take the virgin of the Lord and keep her for thyself. 2 And Joseph refused, saying: I have sons, and I am an old man, but she is a girl: lest I became a laughing-stock to the children of Israel. And the priest said unto Joseph: Hear the Lord thy God, and remember what things God did unto Dathan and Abiram and Korah, how the earth clave and they were swallowed up because of their gainsaying. And now fear thou, Joseph, lest it be so in thine house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her to keep her for himself. And Joseph said unto Mary: Lo, I have received thee out of the temple of the Lord: and now do I leave thee in my house, and I go away to build my buildings and I will come again unto thee. The Lord shall watch over thee. (Infancy Gospel of James aprox. 2nd century)

Doesn't the title "Firstborn" in Luke 2:7 mean Mary had other Children?

In the New American Bible notes for Luke 2:7 we read:

Firstborn...is a legal description indicating that Jesus possessed the rights and privileges of the firstborn son (Gn 27; Ex 13, 2; Nm 3, 12-13; 18, 15-16; Dt 21, 15-17)

This word "Firstborn" was a very specific term in Jesus' time. Firstborns were consecrated to God. Firstborns inherited property etc. Also in the book of Moses, there is reference to Egyptian firstborns who died during the Passover. In Biblical times, children who were the only offspring still received the important title of firstborn so that they had the rights, privileges and obligations associated with it. I was born a Canadian. That title of "Canadian" on my birth certificate gives me specific rights and privileges associated with it.

The Annunciation - Did Mary know she would be a perpetual virgin?

When the Archangel Gabriel told Mary she would conceive a son, she asked "How can this be since I am a Virgin." (Lk 1:33)   It's an odd question given that she was about to get married. Why wouldn't she think she would have the baby in the usual way with Joseph, right after they got married? Perhaps because she knew she was to remain a virgin and have a chaste marriage with Joseph. Perhaps this had been revealed to her at an earlier time. The angel was not at all angry with her seemingly idiotic question. When Zachariah asked the same question "How will I know this is so" (Lk 1:17) regarding the birth of John the Baptist to an elderly Elizabeth, God punished him for his doubt. (Lk 1:20) But Mary wasn't doubting God. She honestly didn't know how she would have a child and remain a virgin in her marriage.

In the English language we say "I am hungry" and we say "I am human." One state of being is temporary and the other is permanent. "Being hungry" is temporary but "being human" is ongoing. Greek has two different words for the temporary and permanent states. Mary used the permanent state of the verb "I am a virgin" which meant that her virginity would be ongoing. Why didn't she use the temporary state of the verb in the phrase "I am a virgin" since she was about to be married? Catholics think she knew it would be a chaste marriage.

Evangelicals say that the idea of a marriage with no sex is bizarre. Sure. But a virgin birth and having the Saviour as your kid are also pretty out of the ordinary. Catholics think Mary and Joseph had a very special relationship. They were a very cool family. They were visited by angels, had prophetic dreams, and were running from town to town, from country to country, trying to keep from getting their only child killed. They were bringing up the Saviour who would redeem all mankind from the beginning to the end of history. Sure they were special. This was not an average Brady Bunch middle class comfy-cozy family. God had a very special plan for them and Catholics have no reason to doubt that part of that plan would include chastity. Catholics think God wanted it that way and let them know that that was his will from the outset. In that context, Mary's question "How can this be since I am (will always be) a virgin?" makes perfect sense.

Evangelicals have pointed to Mt 1:25 that says "but had no marital relations with her until she had borne son". They say it is proof that she had children after she had Jesus. The word "until" implies that an action did not take place up to a certain point. It says nothing of what happened after that point. For example, 2 Sam 6:23 says, "Michale the daughter of Saul had no children until [heõs] the day of her death."  This doesn't mean she had children after her death. In heõs 1

Did Mary retain her virginal integrity while giving birth to Jesus?

The Early Church Fathers are almost unanimous in the assertion that the birth was painless and had no loss of Mary's virginal integrity during the birth. In other words, her Hymen didn't break. St. Augustine said "Jesus passed through the womb of Mary as a ray of sun passes through glass." Pope Martin in 649 AD defined the doctrine that Mary:

This was confirmed by Pope Paul IV and many others before and after. If Jesus emerged from a sealed tomb, and passed through closed doors, surely he could pass through Mary's womb without breaking her hymen and causing her pain. If pain is the punishment of original sin and birth pangs the first punishment at the fall (Gen 3) for Eve's disobedience. It follows that Mary as the new Eve, who was obedient to God (Lk 1:38), would not have suffered giving birth to the "new Adam". If Eve came out of Adam's rib with no pain while he slept, it follows that Jesus (the new Adam) came out of Mary (the new Eve) without pain.

So what about the Book of Revelation Chapter 12? Don't Catholics believe that Mary is the woman giving birth in Revelation, and doesn't Revelation say the woman was in birth pangs?

There is a long answer and a short answer to that. The short is that Mary became spiritual mother to disciples of Jesus at the foot of the Cross when Jesus said to her "Woman, behold your son" (Jn 19:26). As Jesus died, a sword pierced Mary's heart (Lk 2:35). That was painful. There is physical birth and Spiritual birth. For Mary the painful part of giving birth to Jesus was on Calvary, not in Bethlehem. The book of Revelation goes on to talk about the children of the woman, being those who follow Jesus. This is the Church, and its birth was painful. St. Paul had had Spiritual birth pangs

My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you.” (Gal 4:19).

Labour pains are used metaphorically elsewhere in scripture (Rom 8:22, Jer 13:21, Hos 13:12-13, Mic 4:9-10). Father Terry Donahue has an in depth article on reconciling Mary's virginity with Revelation 12 here.

The Reformers' Views on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The following is research by Dave Armstrong www.BiblicalCatholic.org It has quotes from early reformers and influential Evangelicals:

{Max Thurian (Protestant), Mary: Mother of all Christians, tr. Neville B. Cryer, NY: Herder & Herder, 1963 (orig. 1962), pp. 77, 197}

{Raymond E. Brown et al, ed., Mary in the New Testament, Phil.: Fortress Press / NY: Paulist Press, 1978, p.65 (a joint Catholic-Protestant effort) }

{J.A. Ross MacKenzie (Protestant), in Stacpoole, Alberic, ed., Mary's Place in Christian Dialogue, Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1982, pp.35-6}

Martin Luther on Mary's Perpetual Virginity

Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that.

{Luther's Works, eds. Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) & Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (vols. 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (vols. 31-55), 1955, v.22:23 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539) }

Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that 'brothers' really mean 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.

{Pelikan, ibid., v.22:214-15 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539) }

{Pelikan, ibid.,v.45:199 / That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523) }

{Pelikan, ibid.,v.45:206,212-3 / That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523) }

Editor Jaroslav Pelikan (Lutheran) adds:

{Pelikan, ibid.,v.22:214-5}

John Calvin on Mary's Perpetual Virginity

{Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke, sec. 39 (Geneva, 1562), vol. 2 / From Calvin's Commentaries, tr. William Pringle, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949, p.215; on Matthew 13:55}

{Pringle, ibid., vol. I, p. 107}

{Pringle, ibid., vol. I, p. 283 / Commentary on John, (7:3) }

Huldreich Zwingli

{G. R. Potter, Zwingli, London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1976, pp.88-9,395 / The Perpetual Virginity of Mary . . ., Sep. 17, 1522}

{Thurian, ibid., p.76}

{Thurian, ibid., p.76 / same sermon}

Heinrich Bullinger

{In Hilda Graef, Mary: A history of Doctrine and Devotion, combined ed. of vols. 1 & 2, London: Sheed & Ward, 1965, vol.2, pp.14-5}

John Wesley (Founder of Methodism)

{"Letter to a Roman Catholic" / In This Rock, Nov. 1990, p.25}

Early Christian writings from the first centuries 

Athanasius: "Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary" (Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 [A.D. 360]).

Epiphanius of Salamis:"... the Son of God . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down and took flesh, that is, was born perfectly of the holy ever-virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit" (The Man Well-Anchored 120 [A.D. 374]). ..."And to holy Mary, [the title] ‘Virgin’ is invariably added, for that holy woman remains undefiled" (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 78:6 [A.D. 375]).

Hilary of Poitiers:  "If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate" (Commentary on Matthew 1:4  

Didymus the Blind: "It helps us to understand the terms ‘first-born’ and ‘only-begotten’ when the Evangelist tells that Mary remained a virgin ‘until she brought forth her first-born son’ [Matt. 1:25]; for neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone else, nor did she ever become the Mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever an immaculate virgin" (The Trinity 3:4 [A.D. 386]).

Ambrose of Milan: "Imitate her [Mary], holy mothers, who in her only dearly beloved Son set forth so great an example of material virtue; for neither have you sweeter children [than Jesus], nor did the Virgin seek the consolation of being able to bear another son" (Letters 63:111 [A.D. 388]).

Pope Siricius I: "You had good reason to be horrified at the thought that another birth might issue from the same virginal womb from which Christ was born according to the flesh. For the Lord Jesus would never have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the eternal king" (Letter to Bishop Anysius [A.D. 392]).

Origen: ...And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the firstfruit among men of the purity which consists in [perpetual] chastity, and Mary was among women. For it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the firstfruit of virginity" (Commentary on Matthew 2:17 [A.D. 248]). [A.D. 248], Hilary of Poitiers [A.D. 354],

Augustine: "In being born of a Virgin who chose to remain a Virgin even before she knew who was to be born of her, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And he wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom he took upon himself the form of a slave" (Holy Virginity 4:4 [A.D. 401]). ..."It was not the visible sun, but its invisible Creator who consecrated this day for us, when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?" (Sermons 186:1 [A.D. 411]). ..."Heretics called Antidicomarites are those who contradict the perpetual virginity of Mary and affirm that after Christ was born she was joined as one with her husband" (Heresies 56 [A.D. 428]).

"That same power which brought the body of the young man through closed doors, brought the body of the infant forth from the inviolate womb of the mother."

Leporius: "We confess, therefore, that our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, born of the Father before the ages, and in times most recent, made man of the Holy Spirit and the ever-virgin Mary" (Document of Amendment 3 [A.D. 426]).

Cyril of Alexandria: "[T]he Word himself, coming into the Blessed Virgin herself, assumed for himself his own temple from the substance of the Virgin and came forth from her a man in all that could be externally discerned, while interiorly he was true God. Therefore he kept his Mother a virgin even after her childbearing" (Against Those Who Do Not Wish to Confess That the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God 4 [A.D. 430]).

Pope Leo I: "His [Christ’s] origin is different, but his [human] nature is the same. Human usage and custom were lacking, but by divine power a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and Virgin she remained" (Sermons 22:2 [A.D. 450]).

Council of Constantinople II: "... the Word of God ... came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, mother of God and ever-virgin, and was born from her,..." (Anathemas Against the "Three Chapters" 2 [A.D. 553]).


So there it the 'big stuff' about Mary. The stuff that irks Evangelicals. I am not an apologist. There is much more that could be said here in defense of these doctrines (see my links page for a list of apologetics who love to do that kind of thing). This article is intended to be a sketch of why the Church believes what it believes about Mary. Apart from all this doctrine and stuff, the reason I believe that Mary is in heaven helping us is because I had an experience with Mary that I cannot refute. No one can tell me she is dead. To me she is as plain as day. She is a friend who prays for me and she has shown me very cool things about her Son. I believe I am a better Christian today because of Mary.

If you are afraid to talk to Mary, I invite you to pray to Jesus about Mary. I'm sure any Evangelical would say it is perfectly safe to pray to Jesus about anything. Ask Jesus what's up with Mary. Give him time to respond. I pray you have the same experience that has led to my powerful convictions about the validity of Mary as a helper for the helpless, and a great prayer warrior.

Other Topics on Mary

Mary in Scripture
The Rosary
Is Mary a Pagan Goddess?
Martin Luther's quotes about Mary
Mary in the early Church and today
David's experience with Mary
Do Catholics pray to Mary?
Repetitious Prayers?
What's this Co-Redemptrix nonsense?


1 source: http://www.anawim.pair.com/CATHOLICS/MARY.htm

2 source: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Official_Report.htm and http://www.csicop.org/si/2003-03/bonebox.html

Catholic Encyclopaedia.
Catholic Answers
 Mary's perpetual virginity here

Some of this research was taken from Patrick Madrid's "Surprized by Truth" as well as personal conversations with Fr. Bob Bedard founder of the Companions of the Cross.

Another source was Dave Armstrong's research. www.biblicalcatholic.org

See also: