The Question of the Virgin Mary's Lifetime Virginity and Jesus's Siblings
Question:
My question is regarding the Virgin Mary. Did she remain a Virgin after giving birth to Christ or did she go on to marry Joseph and mother his brothers, whom are referred to as his "brothers" in the bible many, many times?
I'm an Eastern Orthodox Christian and the belief of the Orthodox Church as well as the Catholic Church is that the Virgin Mary remained as a Virgin and a celibate for the rest of her life. How can this be when the bible is very clear about the events of her marital status and other references about Jesus' mother and brothers???
Matthew 12:46: "While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.' He replied to him, 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.' "
Doesn't this clearly mean that Jesus is saying that whoever follows the will of God becomes his family and that that is more important than the biological family, which here is his real mother, the Virgin Mary, and his real flesh brothers who have come to see him??? Which in turn means that the Virgin Mary has mothered the brothers that are referred to here in this parable???
Another reference in the Bible is in Matthew 1:20: "But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' "
Also, in Matthew 1:24: "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."
How can these be interpreted in any other way than what they clearly mean; that after the birth of Christ, Joseph took Mary as his wife as the angel of the Lord had commanded him??? How does the Orthodox Church explain this??? I look forward to your reply.
Sincerely, - Nadia
Answer:
I appreciate your question because a lot of Christians wonder about the same things that you've just asked me. I think the main reason why there is some question about this is because of the modern Christian tendency (which Martin Luther began about 500 years ago) to elevate certain interpretations of the Bible above the original interpretations of Scripture. To start with, the early Christians, who I agree with, do understand that the spiritual brotherhood is superior to familial relationships, but I think your main question here regards the Virgin Mary.
The Bible does not always explain itself. On many occasions, it requires an external system of interpretation to understand what God teaches us in His Word. The Bible sometimes reveals totally contradictory teachings, and some tradition behind these passages have always been needed and used to harmonize and explain them. For instance, one Scripture verse says that faith alone brings salvation. Another verse says that good deeds alone bring salvation. In another instance, there are various verses saying that God hardens hearts and forces people to become Christians, while other verses say that God doesn't do this, that people have total free will to choose eternal salvation or eternal damnation. So an external source of interpretation is required for anyone to harmonize such contradictions and inconsistencies behind what God is saying. The ancient Jews and early Christians called this system of Bible interpretation "Tradition", which was recognized to have derived from the Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles and their disciples. Tradition was considered to be equal to Scripture and it was just as well-preserved as the Bible. Anyone who deviated from the original intepretation of Scripture was immediately recognized as anti-biblical or heretical. In this way, Tradition has always been the only way to understand God's words and to determine true from false religion.
Throughout history there have been new traditions appearing and competing with the original Tradition. Some have died out and some still survive. This is what we face with the issue of Jesus's siblings. In this case, the original Tradition and a new tradition on how to interpret the Bible are at odds. The new tradition, which Martin Luther either started or inspired, looks at the Bible and says that the Virgin Mary had other children after Jesus was born. The original Tradition based itself on the apostolic witnesses and says that the Virgin Mary had remained a virgin all her life. The original Tradition also says that her husband Joseph was a very old man when he married Mary. He had other children from a previous marriage, who became Jesus's half-brothers and half-sisters. And Joseph's role as her husband had been arranged before the marriage as a means to preserve Mary's virginity. In ancient times, people viewed marriage more religiously, and sometimes married couples would abstain from sex for a while or sometimes they would never consummate their marriages for certain religious necessities that they felt needed to be practiced in order to improve their spirituality. Tradition says that this is what happened between Joseph and the Virgin Mary, and Tradition says this because of actual witnesses of the time. So, when the Bible talks about Mary being Joseph's wife, it doesn't say if or not the marriage was consummated.
Now the question if or not Joseph had other children by Mary is one that the early Christians also commented on. The early Christians weren't blinded by stupidity or naivete. They were highly skilled spiritual masters and biblical commentators. They looked at the Bible and the witness of Tradition and they saw no contradictions, even though there is a verse saying that Joseph had no union with the Virgin Mary until she bore Jesus. St. Jerome in the 5th century, for example, commented on this Bible verse in his book On The Perpetual Virginity Of Blessed Mary 6-7 because the Bible and Tradition seem to contradict here, which it can do without anyone condemning Tradition, for if the Bible can often seem to contradict itself, so can contradictions between Scripture and Tradition take place without any negative ramifications against Tradition. Anyway, St. Jerome looked at the word "until" in this verse about Joseph not having any union with Mary until she bore Christ, and he noticed that the Bible often uses the word "until" in the sense of "always", not its usual meaning (sometimes, English translations from the Greek may use a different word than "until"). For example, Isaiah 46:4 says, "Even until your old age I am He (God)." Does God cease to be God after a person's old age and death? Jesus in Matthew 28:20 says, "I am with you always, until the end of the age." Will Jesus cease to be with us after this age is over? St. Jerome then gives more examples of how the Bible often uses the word "until" as a poetic way of saying "forever", so there is no reason to assume that Joseph had children with Mary after she bore Jesus Christ. Tradition says that she remained a virgin all her life because that is what the apostolic witnesses had personally observed. Furthermore, in ancient times, half-brothers and half-sisters were automatically regarded as blood relatives, due to the remarriage of the new couple. People in ancient times took marriage and kinship very seriously, so that half-siblings, and in some cases even figurative or spiritual siblings, could be spoken of as blood siblings. So when the Bible speaks about Jesus's siblings, it doesn't exclude the idea of half-brothers and half-sisters.
I hope this answers your questions about the Virgin Mary's human virginity and Jesus's siblings. It's basically a question of which Bible traditions one wants to believe. As for me, I trust the original witnesses because modern Christian traditions are pretty much based on ideas that have no connection with apostolic times. But if you still have questions about all this, talk with your priest or other priests and/or read the early Christians, and then compare all this information with modern traditions. Or you can ask me more stuff. I love talking about all this. So thanks for writing in. -Gaius