I recently received the following question in email: Did Mary the mother of Jesus Christ have other children? Since the answer to this question might be useful to others, I decided to post it on the website.
To answer the question: Of course St. Mary had other children. She's the mother of all saints, and the mother of us all. She will also become the mother of many other children.
But of course the question is asking if she physically gave birth to other children than the Word of God. The short answer is no. We believe in her perpetual virginity. She was a virgin before giving birth to God and she remained a virgin after the fact.
The long answer is through prophecies, her life, tradition and through logic as well. Let me explain…
Old Testament Prophecies
There are many prophecies in the Old Testament about the Theotokos (Mother of God) St. Mary. Some of them address her perpetual virginity. A couple of them jump to mind. The first one is in the book of Ezekiel where he saw the outer gate of the sanctuary which was shut. "And the Lord said to me, ‘This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.'" (Ezekiel 44:2) Here we see that the Gate is a symbol of Saint Mary through which our Lord entered, and it's also a symbol of her virginity where the door was shut. Moreover, the door remains shut for the Lord God of Israel has entered by it. In the NIV translation it reads "...It is to remain shut because the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered through it."
Also, King Solomon in the Song of Songs describes St. Mary saying "A garden enclosed Is my sister, my spouse, A spring shut up, A fountain sealed." (Song of Solomon 4:12). The church fathers have seen this as a prophecy about St. Mary which specifically speaks to her virginity describing her as enclosed, shut up and sealed.
So from the Old Testament prophecies we see that it talked about St. Mary's perpetual virginity. She's described as the Tabernacle of the Lord and the Throne of God. What other person could ever dwell in the Lord's Tabernacle or ever sit in the Throne of God?!
St. Mary's Vow
Besides the prophecies, we also know about St. Mary that she dedicated her life to God and to serve the temple. She chose to keep herself unmarried in order to offer this gift back to her creator. We know of many other virgin saints (males and females) who also chose to give the gift of their virginity back to God as a sign of their love to Him. So through the virtues of her life and her choice of celibacy we know that she remained a virgin.
In Luke 1:31,34, St. Mary's response to Archangel Gabriel when he tells her that she will conceive is "How shall this be?" This response demonstrates that she had taken a vow of lifelong virginity. The Archangel Gabriel announced to St. Mary that she "will conceive" in the future. St. Mary's response was "How shall this be?" If St. Mary had not taken such a vow, her question would not make sense for it was not a question on how a child is conceived, but it was because she was consecrated to the temple as a virgin.
This vow of celibacy that St. Mary made to God binds her to it, and we know that "When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you." (Deuteronomy 23:21) This means that it's a sin to vow and not fulfill. If St. Mary had other children and didn't fulfill her vow then this would have been accounted as a grave sin. Not that marriage is a sin, but making a vow and not fulfilling it is a great sin. "Better not vow than to vow and not pay." (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Not only is it a sin, but it's also foolish to do such a thing. "When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed-" (Ecclesiastes 5:4). If St. Mary had other children and broke her vow that she willingly offered to God, then she would be considered a sinner and a foolish person in which God takes no pleasure in. This alone would disqualify her from being the Mother of God because God in His foreknowledge would have just chosen a better person who would keep their vows. However, God chose the pure and the holy Ever Virgin St. Mary.
The Parents Searching for Jesus, and no Other Siblings
In Luke 2:41-51 St. Joseph and St. Mary were looking for Christ and they searched for Him everywhere. They finally found Him in the temple. In this narrative we don't hear about any other siblings in the story. Specifically "Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously" (Luke 2:48). The verse here doesn't mention the parents looking for other siblings. Also it doesn't mention any of the siblings looking for Jesus with His parents.
Taking Care of St. Mary After Christ's Death
So from the prophecies and from her life we know that St. Mary has to be a Virgin and remain that way. Moreover, there's another event that took place that if we were to consider logically we would know for certain that St. Mary didn't have any other children. On the cross, "When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!' Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!' And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home." (John 19:26-27) If St. Mary had any other children he would not have had the need to entrust St. Mary to St. John the Beloved to take care of His mother. It would be assumed that one of St. Mary's children would naturally take care of His mother and that St. Mary would live with them. So if St. Mary had other children, where were they at this point?!
Who Can Ever Take the Position of the Brother of Christ?
If Christ had a brother, would he be able to do the salvific work in place of Christ if Christ hadn't fulfilled it? We know from Deuteronomy the following: ""If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband's brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. But if the man does not want to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, 'My husband's brother refuses to raise up a name to his brother in Israel; he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother.' Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, 'I do not want to take her,' then his brother's wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, 'So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother's house.'" (Deuteronomy 25:5-9)
Christ's bride is the Church, and His duty to the church is the salvation for he laid His life for her. This is the act through which Christ builds up His house. Nobody else can ever perform this work except for our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ alone. What brother can ever be ready to perform Christ's duty towards the church? Even St. John the Baptist witnessed saying "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose." (Mark 1:7) That is to say, St. John the Baptist is not worthy to take up Christ's duty. This comes from St. John the baptism whom Christ witnessed to him saying "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist..." (Matthew 11:11) So if the greatest of those born of women is not worthy of performing this duty, who is?
At this point we can discuss some of the arguments that could be made against her perpetual virginity.
Arguments: Brothers of Christ
Some argue saying that the Holy Bible itself mentions the brothers of Christ at least in two different places. "While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You." (Matthew 12:46-47) This verse clearly mentions our Lord's brothers. Not only that, but there's also another verse that mentions Christ's brothers' name. "Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?" And they were offended at Him?" (Mark 6:3) So from the previous verses, how can we still say that St. Mary remained a virgin if the Bible mentions that Christ had brothers and mentioned them by name?!
The fact is however, that the use of the word "brother" in the old Jewish tradition, and certainly in the Holy Bible could mean an actual brother but it could also mean a cousin or a nephew. For example, When Lot, Abraham's Nephew, was taken captive the Bible described Lot as Abraham's brother. "Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan." (Genesis 14:14) Also after Abraham saved his brother's son Lot, the bible says again "So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people." (Genesis 14:16) From the previous two verses we clearly see that the use of the word "brother" in the Holy Bible does not necessarily mean a biological brother.
So now the question is: who is James the brother of Christ that was mentioned in Mark 6:3? In order to answer this question we need to take a closer look at Christ's family and close relatives.
There's the Holy Virgin St. Mary, the mother of our Lord. Salome is the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John. Salome is the daughter of Matata, of the house of Levi, of the house of Melki, of the house of Aaron the priest. Matata had three daughters; the name of the oldest was "Mary," and the second was called "Sofia," and the third was "Hanna." Mary brought forth Salome, and Sofia brought forth Elizabeth, and Hanna brought forth our holy lady, the Virgin Mary. Salome is the one that approached our Lord asking Him to place her sons one on his Left and one on His right (Matthew 20:20-23). This makes Salome to be Christ's aunt. This also means that James and John were Christ's cousins.
As a side note, traditionally Salome is said to have been brought up in the house of St. Joseph with our lady the Virgin Mary and she ministered unto her as a midwife and "witnessed" St. Mary's virginity. Even ancient icons have her depicted in the Flight to Egypt as she accompanied them on this trip.
There's also Mary the wife of Cleopas the mother of James the less, Joses, Judas and Simon. (Mark 15:40). From tradition, Cleopas is thought to be the brother of St. Joseph who is the Holy Virgin's fiancé. This also makes James the less, Joses, Judas and Simon to be Christ's cousins.
Arguments: The word "Till"
There's also the following verse saying "Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus." (Matthew 1:24-25) This verse says that she remained a virgin till Our Lord's birth, implying that she knew St. Joseph after this event. Specifically the word "till" implies that St. Mary didn't know St. Joseph up to the point of giving birth to Christ, then the situation has changed.
Correct understanding of the word "till" must be applied here. The word "till" in the original Greek "ἕως" ("heos") does not mean "did not… until after". The Greek word "heos" references the past only, not the future. There are many other examples of this term used this way, to mention a few:
If Christ had a brother, then who is he? And why don't we know anything about him? Wouldn't God have made His own brother known to us so that we could ask for his intercessions/prayers just like we ask for St. Mary's intercessions?
We see from the prophecies from St. Mary's vow and from logic that St. Mary remained a virgin. Also through correct understanding of the Holy Bible we see that the verses that might allude to Jesus having brothers show that they were cousins. We therefore can conclude that St. Mary was a virgin all her life.
May the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Mother of Christ, and the ever virgin St. Mary be with us all. Amen.
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