by Mark Bonocore
In the past few years, Ive been amazed by the growing number of Christians who have renounced the traditional belief in Marys perpetual virginity, citing as reason the brothers and sisters of the Lord referred to in Sacred Scripture.
Now, while many Protestants regard Marys perpetual virginity as a uniquely Catholic belief, it should be noted that the Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli ALL professed this belief as well (for documentation, see for example Mary, Mother of All Christians by Max Thurian, written while he was a Calvinist theologian).
So, while I myself am a Catholic, I present this argument ecumenically using Scripture alone, to prove that these brothers and sisters are NOT the children of Joseph and Mary, and that the belief in Marys perpetual virginity is in no way refuted by the New Testament. So, let us begin in Matthew.
Matthew 13:55 -- Jesus at Nazareth
-- carpenters son
-- mother named Mary
-- brothers: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas
-- sisters with us
Matthew 27: 55 -- The Crucifixion
Among them were Mary Magdalene and MARY THE MOTHER OF JAMES AND JOSEPH, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
This Mary is obviously the mother of the same James and Joseph mentioned in Matt 13:55.
Matthew 28: 1 -- The Resurrection
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and THE OTHER MARY came to see the tomb.
This other Mary certainly corresponds to the mother of James and Joseph, the companion of Mary Magdalene in Matt 27:55. However, she is presented as such a minor gospel character that she is apparently NOT the mother of Jesus.
Its interesting to note that whenever Matthew mentions the Virgin Mary, he always identifies her as Jesus mother. (See: Matt 1:18, 2:11, 2:13, 2:14, 2:20, and 2:21, in which the author all but beats us over the head with the phrase His mother.) Its unlikely, therefore, that Matthew is abandoning this point by later identifying her as merely the mother of James and Joseph: a secondary character, less important than Mary Magdalene. Taking all this into consideration, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and Jesus mother are apparently two different women. But first, lets turn to Mark.
Mark 6:3 -- Jesus at Nazareth (possibly the original source)
-- Is he not the carpenter? (Jesus had taken over the family business)
-- The son of Mary (Very unusual in a Jewish context, in which a son is the son of the father, not the mother)
-- brothers James, JOSE, Judas, and Simon
The same list as in Matt 13:55, with the exception of Jose in place of Matthews Joseph -- really the same name in Hebrew (Yoshef).
-- sisters are here with us
Both in Matthews account, and more clearly here in Marks, this phrase seems to suggest that these particular brothers of Jesus lived elsewhere. (Could they have been traveling with Jesus as His followers?)
Mark 15:40 -- The Crucifixion
Among them were Mary Magdalene, MARY THE MOTHER OF THE YOUNGER JAMES AND OF JOSE, and Salome.
Here, Matthews Mary the mother of James and Joseph reappears as the mother of ...James and of Jose, corresponding to Marks reference to Jesus brothers James and Jose at Nazareth in 6:3. If one compares Matthew and Marks accounts of Jesus at Nazareth with that of their accounts of the crucifixion, it becomes abundantly clear that they are speaking about the same two relatives of Jesus, whose mother -- like Jesus -- happened to be named Mary:
Matthew: James and Joseph James and Joseph
Mark: James and Jose James and Jose
And so, Mark continues...
Mark 15:47 -- Jesus burial
Mary Magdalene and MARY THE MOTHER OF JOSE watched where He was laid.
Jose corresponds to the one mentioned in Mark 6:3 and 15:40.
Mark 16:1 -- The Resurrection
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, MARY THE MOTHER OF JAMES, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint Him.
The same three companions appear again. Here, Mary is called the mother of James (a variant of the mother of Jose in 15:47). However, there is still no mention, or even a vague implication, that this woman is also the mother of Jesus; but merely a background character like Salome.
Luke 24:10 -- The Resurrection
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and MARY THE MOTHER OF JAMES; the others who accompanied them also ...
Again, the mother of James, but not the mother of Jesus. And, like Matthew and Mark (in 3:35), the author of Luke always refers to the Virgin Mary as Jesus mother (See: Luke 1:43, 2:33-34, 2:51, 8:19, Acts 1:14).
Others (aka, Salome and Suzanna, etc.)
John 19:25 -- The Crucifixion
Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother and HIS MOTHERS SISTER, MARY THE WIFE OF CLOPAS, and Mary Magdala.
This mysterious Mary appears again; this time called Mary the wife of Clopas. If this passage is speaking about three women, rather than four (as it almost certainly is), the comma after his mothers sister may be identifying Clopas wife as the sister (or tribal-relative) of Jesus mother. This would explain the gospel writers use of the Greek word adelphos (as a translation of the Hebrew ah), which could mean brother (or sister in the feminine), as well as cousin, nephew, relative, etc. If Clopas wife was the sister (i.e., close, tribal relative) of Jesus mother, then Clopas sons, James and Joseph (Jose), could very well be called Jesus brethren (i.e., part of His extended tribal family).
This seems to fit, since neither James and Joseph/Jose (nor any of the brothers) are EVER called the sons of Joseph.
It is also quite possible that, as Johns gospel so often does, this reference to Mary as wife of Clopas is a conscious intention to clear up any questions about the mother of James and Joseph (Jose) in the Synoptics -- that is, to clearly distinguish her from Jesus mother.
So, with all this evidence in mind, I hold that:
(1) Johns Mary the wife of Clopas is the same person as the Synoptics Mary the mother of James and Joseph/Jose (the Mary of the cross/tomb accounts).
(2) This Mary is in turn the sister (i.e., close tribal relative) of Jesus mother Mary.
(3) This is how Jesus is brothers with James and Joseph (Jose).
(4) His other brothers (Judas and Simon), as well as his sisters, and the brothers who dont believe in Him in John 7:5 are from other branches of His extended tribal family.
But, lets play devils advocate.
If James, Joseph (Jose), Simon, and Judas ARE INDEED Jesus fraternal brothers, then the Synoptics Mary of the cross/tomb (i.e., the mother of James and Joseph/Jose) MUST be Jesus mother as well.
And, after all, there ARE certain seemingly-logical arguments to support this:
-- James and Joseph (Jose) ARE called Jesus brothers.
-- And, their mother IS named Mary (the same as Jesus)
-- And, one must admit, its also possible that the comma between His mothers sister and Mary the wife of Clopas in John 19:25 may be distinguishing two different women instead of identifying Clopas wife as the Virgin Marys sister.
So, therefore, Mary the wife of Clopas may NOT be a relative at all NOR is she necessarily the same woman as Mary the mother of James and Joseph/Jose in the Synoptics.
So, can Mary the mother of James and Joseph/Jose be Jesus mother as well?
Well, if this is the case, then
(A) Why is she never called the mother of Jesus in the cross/tomb accounts? (Wouldnt that be easier than constantly switching between James and Jose?)
(B) Why is she never called the mother of the other brothers, Simon and Judas?
(C) Why isnt she simply called the wife of Joseph?
(D) Why is she always listed second (and in Luke, third) after Mary Magdalene?
(E) Why does Matthew refer to her as merely the other Mary in 28:1?
(F) Why does John cite a second Mary at the cross: Mary the wife of Clopas? (A character who doesnt appear in the Synoptics, unless shes the mother of James and Joseph.)
(G) If John is calling his Mary the wife of Clopas the virgin Marys sister, how can the word adelphos (or adelphe in the feminine) be taken literally? Two sisters both named Mary?!
It therefore must be admitted that, if Mary the mother of James and Joseph/Jose and Jesus mother are one and the same, then
-- The three Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are INTENTIONALLY neglecting to call her Jesus mother in their cross/tomb accounts (as if shes not Jesus mother anymore.)
-- The Synoptics are also INTENTIONALLY depicting her as a minor character, less important than Mary Magdalene. And, in the case of Matthew, shes reduced to merely the other Mary in 28:1.
Still playing devils advocate, I can imagine only one reason why the Synoptics would demote Jesus mother like this; since ALL THREE refer to her as his mother earlier in their Gospels. Perhaps, as some have argued, the Synoptics are UNDERLINING their accounts in Matt 12:46, Mark 3:35, and Luke 8:19-21, in which Jesus refuses to go out to meet His mother and brothers, but tells His disciples, Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother. Perhaps theyre making a theological point by calling her only the mother of James and Joseph/Jose in their later, cross/tomb accounts.
Well, although quite flimsy to begin with, this possibility is totally shattered, when one considers that in Acts 1:14 she is again called the mother of Jesus. Since Acts is the companion volume to Luke (produced by the same author), it doesnt make much sense for Luke to call her Mary the mother of James in 24:10, and then re-bestow the title mother of Jesus in Acts 1:14 if hes trying to make such a theological point.
Therefore, my whole devils advocate position is undone, and it is proved conclusively that the Synoptics Mary the mother of James and Joseph/Jose is NOT Jesus mother.
And, since this Mary is certainly the mother of the same James and Joseph/Jose who are also called Jesus brothers, then its equally proven that they COULD NOT have been the Lords brothers in a fraternal sense.
So, who are these brothers of Jesus? I hold that the term brothers refers to His entire tribal group: the boys He grew up with, and with whom He was somehow related.
But if these men were cousins or blood relatives, some argue, why not simply use the word kinsman or relative as found in Luke 1:36? e.g. in which Elizabeth is described as Marys relative.
I answer this quite simply. First of all, I claim that His brothers and sisters were members of His extended family WITH WHOM JESUS WAS RAISED. Elizabeths son, John the Baptist, on the other hand, would not have been referred to in this sense, because Jesus was not raised with him, although they were of the same blood.
Also, I argue that the term brother is used in the Gospels because these particular men were known BY THIS TITLE in the early Church. I give you: 1 Corinthians 9:4-5, in which Paul is defending his right to be called an apostle:
Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, AND THE BROTHERS OF THE LORD, and Kephas (i.e., Peter)?
Since Paul is writing to Corinthians: citizens of a city in far off Greece, it is obvious that the distinguishing TITLE of brother was well known to the universal Church, a Church which also knew very well what the title meant.
Conversely, if we take the term adelphos literally, that would mean that Joseph and Mary had a total of five sons and at least two daughters. This would make a total of seven children: in essence, a Biblical Brady Bunch. :-) Now considering that Josephs profession was that of a carpenter; and not that of a shepherd or farmer, in which large families are encouraged to work the land or tend the flocks, it seems rather ridiculous that he could have supported a family of this size, living in a small, most likely mud brick house in a little place like Nazareth.
Also, even assuming (as the early Church writers Clement and Origen did) that Jesus brothers were the children of Joseph by a wife previous to Mary, Mark 6:3 clearly refers to Jesus as the carpenter. Since the family profession was passed on from father to son, how many carpenters could a little town like Nazareth support? Certainly not five!
However, if the term brothers refers instead to Jesus extended tribal-family group (as I believe Ive shown it does), we are left with the image of five young boys (among others) playing in the streets of Nazareth:
JESUS: the son of Joseph and Mary
JAMES: and his sibling JOSEPH (or Jose): the sons of Clopas and Mary.
These were the Lords childhood friends, with whom He grew to manhood; and given the scope of first century village life, with whom He was almost certainly related. I look forward to any comments or objections you might care to add.
The Catholic Legate
December 24, 2004