Did Mary have other children?


maryOne of the more controversial teachings of the Catholic church deals with the perpetual virginity of Mary. This doctrine maintains that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus and that biblical references suggesting Jesus had siblings are really references to cousins (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 510).

As the veneration of Mary increased throughout the centuries, the vehicle of Sacred Tradition became the means of promoting new doctrines not explicitly taught in the Bible. The virginity of Mary is clearly taught in scripture when describing the birth of Jesus. But is the doctrine of her continued virginity supported by the Bible? Did Mary lose her virginity after Jesus was born? Does the Bible reveal that Mary had other children--that Jesus had brothers and sisters?

The Bible does not come out and declare that Mary remained a virgin and that she had no children. In fact, the Bible seems to state otherwise: (All quotes are from the NASB.)

  • Matthew 1:24-25, "And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus."
  • Matthew 12:46-47, "While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. And someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You."
  • Matthew 13:55, "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?"
  • Mark 6:2-3, "And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?"
  • John 2:12, "After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples; and there they stayed a few days."
  • Acts 1:14, "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers."
  • 1 Cor. 9:4-5, "Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?"
  • Gal. 1:19, "But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother."

An initial reading of these biblical texts seems to clear up the issue: Jesus had brothers and sisters. But such obvious scriptures are not without their response from Catholic Theologians. The primary argument against these biblical texts is as follows:

In Greek, the word for brother is adelphos and sister is adelphe. This word is used in different contexts: of children of the same parents (Matt. 1:2; 14:3), descendants of parents (Acts 7:23, 26; Heb. 7:5), the Jews as a whole (Acts 3:17, 22), etc. Therefore, the term brother (and sister) can and does refer to the cousins of Jesus.

There is certainly merit in this argument; however, different contexts give different meanings to words. It is not legitimate to say that because a word has a wide scope of meaning, that you may then transfer any part of that range of meaning to any other text that uses the word. In other words, just because the word brother means fellow Jews or cousin in one place, does not mean it has the same meaning in another. Therefore, each verse should be looked at in context to see what it means.

Lets briefly analyze a couple of verses dealing with the brothers of Jesus.

  • Matthew 12:46-47, "While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. And someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You."
  • Matthew 13:55, "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?"

In both of these verses, if the brothers of Jesus are not brothers but His cousins, then who is His mother, and who is the carpenter's father? In other words, mother here refers to Mary. The carpenter in Matt. 13:55 refers to Joseph. These are literal. Yet, the Catholic theologian will then stop there and say, "Though carpenter's son refers to Joseph and mother refers to Mary, brothers does not mean brothers but "cousins." This does not seem to be a legitimate assertion. You cannot simply switch contextual meanings in the middle of a sentence unless it is obviously required. The context is clear. This verse is speaking of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus' brothers. The whole context is of familial relationship: father, mother, and brothers.

Psalm 69, A Messianic Psalm

There are many arguments pro and con concerning Jesus' siblings. But the issue cannot be settled without examining Psalm 69, a Messianic Psalm. Jesus quotes Psalm 69:4 in John 15:25, "But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, they hated Me without a cause."

Jesus also quotes Psalm 69:9 in John 2:16-17, "and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Fathers house a house of merchandise." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Thy house will consume me."

Clearly, Psalm 69 is a Messianic Psalm since Jesus quoted it in reference to Himself two times. The reason this is important is that what is written between the verses that Jesus quoted. To get the whole context, here is Psalm 69:4-9,

"Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies; What I did not steal, I then have to restore. 5 O God, it is You who knows my folly, And my wrongs are not hidden from You. 6 May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; May those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel, 7 Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; Dishonor has covered my face. 8 I have become estranged from my brothers And an alien to my mother’s sons. 9 For zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me."

Now, we have to be a little careful because we can't attribute everything in Psalm 69 as being messianic.  But, this Psalm clearly shows that the speaker had brothers. The implication is strong that Jesus had brothers.  As Amos 3:7 says, "Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets."

Did Mary have other children? The Bible seems to suggest yes. Catholic Tradition says no. Which will you trust?

Of course, the Catholic will simply state that even this phrase "my mother's sons" is in reference not to his siblings but to cousins and other relatives. This is a necessary thing for the Catholic to say; otherwise, the perpetual virginity of Mary is threatened, and since that contradicts Roman Catholic tradition, they must interpret the Psalm in a manner that is consistent with their tradition.

The question is, "Was Jesus estranged by His brothers?" Yes, He was. John 7:5 says "For not even His brothers were believing in Him." Furthermore, Psalm 69:8 says both "my brothers" and "my mother's sons." Are these both to be understood as not referring to His siblings? Hardly. The Catholics are fond of saying that "brothers" must mean "cousins." But, if that is the case, then when we read "an alien to my mother's sons," we can see that the writer is adding a further distinction and narrowing the scope of meaning. In other words, Jesus was alienated by his siblings, His half-brothers begotten from Mary.

It is sad to see the Roman Catholic church go to such lengths to maintain Mary's virginity, something that is a violation of biblical law to be married and fill the earth.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.