Welcome to Part 2 of this series discussing the four Marian Dogmas that the Catholic Church professes. We are joined by karlo Broussard who will accompany us in understanding a bit more about these Dogmas which might be a bit controversial for many Protestants. In Part 1 , we discussed Mary being the Mother of God. In this article, we will discuss, the perpetual virginity of Mary.
Bryan: Many Protestants cannot understand how Mary could be ever virgin, especially when the Bible is so clear in English that Jesus had other brothers and sisters. The Bible even goes on to name the brothers and sisters. So, if the Bible is so clear that Jesus had brothers and sisters, then how can we Catholics keep going against the Bible and claim that she’s still a virgin. Right?
Karlo: Well. In my book: Meeting the Protestant Challenge, I have a chapter on this. The bottom line is that we cannot appeal to the use of the term “brothers” and conclude from that, that Mary had children other than Jesus. And the reason is because the term brothers is more expansive. It has a wider semantic range than strict biological brotherhood. And there are a variety of scriptural examples to justify this. The Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures in the Septuagint of Genesis 14 is a good example: Lot is Abraham’s nephew, but yet Lot is referred to as Abraham’s brother. And there are other examples even in the New Testament where brother is used in a way that’s more expansive and wider than strict biological brotherhood.
And since that is the case, one cannot conclude that Mary had other children, simply based on the fact that the Bible speaks of Jesus’ brothers. It could very well be that these individuals, James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude are related to Jesus, in a way that goes beyond, or is more than a biological brotherhood, like some sort of cousin or kinship.
And so that’s how we could diffuse the challenge that appeals to the Bible’s mention of Jesus’ brothers. But then the question becomes, is there any positive evidence that Mary was a perpetual virgin?
This is where we, in the Catholic Tradition, have proposed a couple of biblical texts that would support the perpetual virginity of Mary.
One of being in Luke 1:34, when Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is going to conceive a child, and then she responds, “How shall this be, since I know not a man.” In other words, the implication is, she had to have some kind of vow of perpetual virginity. She was not planning to have natural conjugal relations with Joseph from which normally comes children. Otherwise, why would she ask the question how she’s going to conceive a child? So, the plausible explanation of why she would even ask the question is that she has some sort of vow of perpetual virginity.
Also, we appeal to the foot of the cross, Bryan, where our Lord entrusts Mary into the care of John. If Jesus had biological brothers, he would have entrusted Mary into their care, not some outsider. Since Jesus did not trust Mary into their care, Jesus did not have biological brothers. So that would be a summary of that argument from John 19:26-27.
As I point out in my new book, Meeting the Protestant response, there are variety of Protestant responses or counters to our use of those texts
Bryan: Yes. I always found it interesting that Mary asked that question: “How shall this be since I don’t know a man,” as I feel the angel would have said: “Wait, you’re betrothed, are you not?” Of course, Mary understood it, but she had just taken a vow of virginity. I think it’s a very powerful case especially since it’s pretty much unanimous among the early Christians and down through the centuries, and even among the “Reformers.” This teaching that Mary had other brothers and sisters came out much later in Christian history, didn’t it?
Karlo: It’s even more clear and poignant when we consider that Mary was not engaged to Joseph. Actually, Mary was married to Joseph, so she was betrothed, which means they were legally married. And so, the likely time when Angel Gabriel comes to the Blessed Virgin is during the interim period between the professing of the vows, becoming legally married and the consummation of the marriage. There would’ve been an interim period because normally the husband would go off to prepare a place for his bride, come back to his bride, take his bride to the home, and consummate the marriage. So, for Mary to ask the question, how am I going to conceive a child, becomes even more perplexing, when we consider that she was actually legally married to Joseph. if she were not legally, why would Joseph be considering divorcing her? He can’t be divorcing her if she’s not his wife. So, Matthew is very clear, that Mary is Joseph’s wife, and that even underscores the perplexity of the question: “How shall this be?” And the only plausible explanation for that again, is that she had some sort of vow to be a perpetual virgin, which Joseph consented to in marrying her.
Bryan: Let me put out one objection if you don’t mind. It’s the one I hear the most from Protestants and non-Catholics and even Jehovah’s Witnesses and such. They say that how can Mary be a virgin though, when the scriptures in Matthew 1:24-25, say that Joseph didn’t know Mary until she bore a son. So they are presuming up until that point, she didn’t know him, but after that point she did. So clearly to know in the Bible means to have relations with, and she didn’t know him up to that point, but obviously she did after.
Karlo: I actually addressed this objection as well, Bryan in my other book: Meeting the Protestant Challenge. First of all, the word until doesn’t necessarily indicate a change in the future when a select period of time is complete. Even within our own language, right? I could say to you, Bryan, until we talk again, God bless you. Does that mean that whenever we talk again, I no longer want God to bless you? Of course not. And we even see this in scripture. The word “Until” is used in a similar way without any indication of change in the future, once a select period of time is complete.
In Deuteronomy 34: 6, it speaks of Moses’ burial place, and it says: “No man knows the place until this day.” Does that mean at this day, now we know the burial place of Moses? The answer is No.
In second Samuel 6:23, it talks about Saul’s daughter Michal: “She had no children until the day of her death.” Does that mean after the day of her death she had children? Of course not. And we can give plenty of other examples where the word “Until” is used in a way to only emphasize a select period of time, leading up to a point, without any indication of a change after that point or in the future.
So, when we come to Matthew 1:25, it says Joseph did not know her until she bore a child. But remember that word “Until”, could be used to indicate a change in the future, but it could also be used to only emphasize the select period of time, without a change in the future. So, on that point alone, a Protestant cannot appeal to the word “Until“ itself, to show that Mary had other children. More evidence would have to be taken into consideration to determine how was Matthew using it. And actually, whenever you look at the context Bryan, Matthew’s whole point is not about what happens later after Jesus is born. The whole point is to emphasize that Jesus ended up in Mary’s womb without the cooperation of Joseph. That’s his point. So, he’s trying to emphasize the virginal conception. So he’s emphasizing only that select period of time without any indication of change in the future.
Bryan: And I think that’s very interesting. I’ve seen Protestant scholars who admit actually that we can’t know whether Mary was a virgin or not based on scripture alone because there’s not enough information given. The Greek word Adelfos could have a wide variety of familial relations or kinsman. So, we can’t know for sure just based on the text alone, because it doesn’t tell us how it’s applied. Also, with the word “Until” it doesn’t tell. So, it’s really difficult to tell, which is why we need to look at history as well.
Karlo: In response to that, I would say that these words “Until“ and “Brothers”, do not prove that Mary was not a virgin. And so, it thus leaves open the question, of whether Mary was a perpetual virgin. That’s where positive evidence would need to be used in order to show that Mary was a perpetual virgin. I’ve already shared a couple of lines of positive evidence from scripture, and then of course, you could appeal to the witness of the early Church Fathers and the mount of historical case to corroborate that biblical case. But that is kind of the structure of how the argument would go.
Bryan: Thank you so much for that. If you would like to know more information on this, I would push you toward his book: Meeting the Protestant Challenge, and his second book: Meeting the Protestant response. These will absolutely help you to know and defend your faith.