ISSUE: How can the Catholic Church teach that Mary was a virgin after the birth of Christ when there are references in Scripture to the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus?
DISCUSSION: There are portions of Scripture that refer to the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus Christ. These passages seem to contradict the Church’s teaching that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ. However, if we carefully examine these passages in context, it becomes clear that these “brothers and sisters” are not other biological children of the Blessed Mother. Further, in light of both Scripture and Tradition, we know that Jesus had brothers and sisters in the broader sense of the words, that is, His cousins.[1] When looking for biblical “evidence” against Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, some Christians typically cite passages referring to the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus in Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 (see also Mk. 3:31; Lk. 8:20; Jn. 2:1; 7:3-5; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19; 1 Cor. 9:5). Although the Greek word adelphos is used in these passages and literally translates as “brother” (also adelphe, “sister”), resolving this issue is not as simple as it seems on the surface.
Dynamic Translation
To understand Sacred Scripture and the intended meaning of words, we must understand the idioms used at that time and how translators have rendered the biblical passages into our modern language. Every language uses idioms. An idiom is an expression of words that does not mean what it literally says. The intended meaning is different, but people of the same culture understand the intended meaning because of the context of the statement and their knowledge of the language. For example, “quit pulling my leg” usually means “stop telling untrue stories.” If this idiom were translated into another language, the translator would probably not use a literal translation. If he did, the wrong impression would be given. Instead, he would use the words of his language that best mean the same thing the idiom intended. This is called a dynamic translation. However, if the people using the translation understood the idiom, he would probably translate it literally so his audience could appreciate the original statement.
Hebrew, which is the original language of the Old Testament, and Aramaic, which is the language spoken by the Jews of Israel in Jesus’ day, do not have a word for cousin, nephew, or various other kinsmen. To say “cousin” in Hebrew or Aramaic, one must either say “son of my father’s brother” or, the more common choice, “brother” (Heb. ach). Your Bible in English will probably tell you in Genesis 14:14 that Lot is Abraham’s “nephew” or “kinsman.” There is no question that Lot is the son of Abraham’s brother (Gen. 12:5) and thus his nephew. But the typical translation of Genesis 14:14, as “nephew” or “kinsman,” is a dynamic one. The literal translation of Genesis 14:14 actually says that Lot is Abraham’s brother. Why?
When Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek—the version called the “Septuagint” or “LXX”—they had two options. They could translate Genesis 14:14 dynamically, because Greek has a word that means “nephew.” On the other hand, they could translate it literally as “brother,” following the Hebrew expression or idiom. Because they were Jews who understood the Hebrew idiom, they chose the Greek word adelphos (brother) as a translation of ach (brother, relative). This is a consistent practice in the Old Testament.[2] In contrast, the English translators use a dynamic translation and call Lot Abraham’s nephew.
It’s All Greek to Me
When the New Testament authors wrote in Greek, they too were faced with a choice. Jesus, His family, and His disciples spoke Aramaic. The audience of these authors generally used the Septuagint version of Sacred Scripture and were accustomed to the Aramaic idiom. The authors could follow the example of the Septuagint[3] and the Aramaic idiom, calling cousins and other kinsmen “brothers,” or they could use a dynamic translation, such as the Greek word anepsios (cousin). They chose to follow the Aramaic idiom, which was the most natural choice given their sources, and thus used the word adelphos (or the plural, adelphoi) for cousins and kinsmen. In contrast to the dynamic translations of the Old Testament, English translations often translate the New Testament literally and use the word “brother.”
The Greek word for “cousin” does not appear in the Gospels, perhaps indicating the use of the Aramaic idiom for “cousin.” Nor does the use of the word “relative” (kinswoman) for Elizabeth in Luke 1:36 disprove that the idiom for “cousin” was intended elsewhere. However, we know that the New Testament writers followed the Aramaic idiom because certain people were not “brothers” or “sisters” even though the literal translation implies it.
Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 speak of Mary, the mother of James and Joseph. In Matthew 27:61 and 28:1, she is referred to as “the other Mary.” John 19:25 identifies this Mary as the wife of Clopas, the adelphe (sister) of Jesus’ mother, Mary. When reading these gospels, particularly John’s, it is clear that three different women were at the foot of the cross, and all three had the name “Mary.” Were Mary the wife of Clopas and Jesus’ mother actually sisters as the Gospel of John states? It is very unlikely that two children of the same parents would be given the same name, so adelphe seems to be used by the New Testament authors in a broader sense here (cousin, kinswoman).
As noted above, Mary, the wife of Clopas is also the mother of James and Joseph. However, both men are described as the “brothers” (adelphoi) of Jesus in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. How can this be? If Mary the wife of Clopas is the cousin (adelphe) of Mary the mother of Jesus, and she is also the mother of James and Joseph, then clearly these men are not Jesus’ biological brothers. Rather, they are His cousins. In other words, in Matthew 13:55 adelphoi is being used in the Aramaic idiom (“cousins”) rather than its literal Greek meaning (“brothers”). In addition, because James and Joseph are grouped with
Jesus’ other “brothers and sisters” in Matthew 13 and Mark 6, we can logically conclude that these other brothers and sisters are Jesus’ cousins too.
There is no linguistic reason to believe that this is not true of all Jesus’ “brothers and sisters.” Because adelphoi does not always refer to literal brothers in New Testament Greek usage, Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” cannot form the basis of a conclusive argument against Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.
Relative Clauses
Similar arguments, based on the meaning of the words “until” and “before” and “first-born,”[4] do not refute Mary’s Perpetual Virginity either. They are based on false linguistic assumptions. For example, passages often cited to deny Mary’s remaining a virgin after Jesus’ birth include Matthew 1:18, which reads, “before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit….” This is often cited along with Matthew 1:25, which says that Joseph “knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.” The argument contends that the “before” and “until” clauses here imply that Mary and Joseph had marital relations following the birth of Christ. Yet, if understood properly, this is not necessarily the case.
In the Bible’s languages, as in the English language prior to modern times, clauses which begin with “before” or “until” (“till”) do not necessarily imply that after the completion of an action there followed a reversal of the situation described. In other words, to say “x did not happen until y” only meant that “x” did not happen up to a certain point in time (i.e., “y”); it did not necessarily mean that “x” did happen after “y.” A clear example can be found in Paul’s words to Timothy, “Till I come, attend to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, to teaching…” (1 Tim. 4:13). Obviously, Paul did not mean to suggest that Timothy should give up these activities after his arrival. Another such use of the “until” clause is found in Psalm 123:2, which reads, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he have mercy upon us.” Obviously, the psalmist does not mean that we should take our eyes off the Lord after He has mercy on us![5] The “before” clause, we know from experience, can be used in much the same way. A biblical example may be found in John 4:49, “Come down before my child dies.” From the context of the passage, we know that the child did not die—he was healed.
First and Last
Opponents of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity also cite the passage that identifies Jesus as her “first-born” (Lk. 2:7). They argue that Jesus could not be called Mary’s “first-born” unless she and Joseph had more children after His birth. While this argument may seem persuasive in our present culture, we must understand its usage in the light of the Middle Eastern culture of the time. For the Jews of Jesus’ time and their neighbors, “first-born” was always used to refer to the first male child of a marriage, regardless of whether other children were subsequently born to the couple. It was an important legal and religious term meaning that there were no prior male children.
To understand this better, look at Exodus 13. The Lord said to Moses that Israel should “set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb” (Ex. 13:12). This included “first-born” male humans: “Every first-born of man among your sons you shall redeem” (Ex. 13:13b; cf. Num. 3:12; Lk. 2:22-23). Further evidence is found in Exodus 12, when the first-born of Egypt die. Verse 12:30 says, “There was not [an Egyptian] house where one was not dead.” This would include the houses of young couples who only had one son.[6] That Jesus was Mary and Joseph’s “first-born” cannot refute Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.
Ark of the Covenant
In the words of noted Protestant theologian John de Satge, “There is certainly nothing in the Scriptures to invalidate the conclusion of the [ancient] Church … that Mary was a virgin all her life.”[7] On the contrary, Mary’s Perpetual Virginity is implied in the Bible.[8] For example, when Gabriel tells Mary (a betrothed woman) that she will conceive (a future event), Mary responds, “How can this be? I do not know man” (Lk. 1:34). The phrase “know man” is a Hebrew idiom for sexual intercourse (cf. Gen. 4:1), so Mary clearly knows where babies come from. “How can this be?” is an unusual thing for a betrothed
woman to say. In the words of Saint Augustine:
Because she had made a vow of virginity and her husband did not have to be the thief of her modesty instead of its guardian (and yet her husband was not its guardian, since it was God who guarded it; her husband was only the witness of her virginal chastity, so that her pregnancy would not be considered the result of adultery), when the angel brought her the news, she said: “How can this be, since I do not know man?” (Lk 1:34). Had she intended to know man, she would not have been amazed. Her amazement is a sign of the vow.[9] Indeed, Mary’s question, “How can this be?” only makes sense if Mary had previously decided to remain a virgin after her marriage. Gabriel’s answer, of course, is that the conception of Jesus will be miraculous, that is, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35).
Further, it is interesting to note that the Bible clearly refers to Mary as Jesus’ mother, but does not ever directly mention her as someone else’s mother, for example, as the “mother of Jesus and Joseph” or “with her was James, her son.” The most obvious reason for this, given the other evidence, is that she was not the mother of Jesus’ “brothers and sisters.”
Finally, the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament has been traditionally viewed by Christians as a type of Mary. Like the ark which carried the Old Covenant (represented by the tablets of the Law), Mary carried in her womb Jesus the New Covenant. This is why some biblical scholars argue that the mother of the Messiah (Mary) is mentioned immediately after the ark of the covenant in the Book of Revelation (11:19-12:1, 5, 17). The old ark and Mary appear to John at the same time because Mary is the ark of the New Covenant. What was one of the special characteristics of the ark of the Old Covenant? No one could touch it directly and live, because of its holiness; it was blessed by the Lord’s presence (2 Sam. 6:6-15).
Mary, likewise, was “full of grace” (Lk. 1:28)[10] and carried the Lord in her womb, and it is unlikely that a pious man (like Joseph) would want to “touch” someone set apart for the Lord. The Church Fathers, who believed the Church’s Sacred Tradition of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, also believed that this was a reasonable and very scriptural conclusion.


  • Praise God and peace be with you 🙂 well said (y) let hear it from Joseph then, is there any teachings and writtings?, how about Exodus 20:3 and Mathew 5:17, and last Genesis 3:22 🙂 God bless

  • Don Bob says:

    Our lady is ever virgin. She delivered the baby Jesus through the side of her womb like C-Section in a painless manner. The couple got slept and when they woke-up, the baby was already there on their side.
    It is true that Jesus has no biological brothers or sisters, because, His adopted father Joseph died when Jesus was still a Boy, and Our Lady has never been touched by her husband ever.This is according to the message of our Lord Jesus Himself to the heaven’s voice box Veronica Lueken.
    The Holy Spirit was with them and all the personages of Heaven is watching them because of the infant Jesus.
    Now imagine if: the supernatural true spirit of God will come to us, our worldly desires will be vanished and we will live the Holy life. I believe this is what happen to the Holy Family, They devoted Their time mostly in prayer.

    • suzyandrews says:

      Sex is a beautiful gift God gave mankind, between a man and a woman who remain faithful to one another (married). I thought marriage wasn’t consummated until sex, therefore was Mary not married?

      • Steve says:

        Can’t apply modern laws to ancient times. People used to consider you “married” if you lived together for 7 years.

    • Virginia Robertson says:

      There was no supernatural event concerning Veronica Leukan. Please refer to the Ordinary where she lived.

  • What mattersif Mary remAined avirgin or not after our Lord Jesus’s birth? What matters is she is a virgin when she gave birth to Him. Shall we not understand that Mary is also human and Joseph is too. I believe that Mary is he Mother of God respect Mother Mary no matter what.

  • Thinh Hoang says:

    Thank you for a great job to explain this confusion from the others who don’t believe the Virgin Mary (Y).

  • The Church has always taught the Mary remained a virgin. We know that Jesus had relatives since John the Baptist was his cousin. There were no other children. It’s a simple problem of translation of the Aramaic word that means, “all those of his generation”. Try to translate the German word Gestalt into English.

  • josie says:

    I’m a bit confused though…the Church teaches that the sole intent of marriage is to procreate. Would the marriage between Mary and Joseph not be considered a “marriage” then? I have always been taught that Mary remained a virgin her whole life. My reverence to her is not dependent on this! I am honestly just wondering if someone can answer it.

    • Virginia Robertson says:

      Actually, the purpose of a marriage is the creation of a family, one man one woman in a permanent union, open to life. This is what is meant by man was created in the image of God. Sex has two purposes, unitive and procreative. If a marriage does not produce offspring, it is still a valid marriage. The family can be added to by taking in orphans ands foundling.

  • LeeLoo says:

    I am so confused by this. Who cares if Mary stayed a virgin afterwards? And giving birth in her sleep?! Please… Mary gave birth like everyone else. Screaming and pushing. Jesus was like any baby, crying and feeding.
    If it says he had brothers and sisters later… Then he did. What difference does it make? Scripture was fulfilled and the Lord was born. End of story.

    • David Lamothe says:

      The difference is the attempt by Satan to lessen the roll of Mary in the redemption story. By lessening Mary’s role, he can lessen Jesus Christ’s role as the redeemer, making him just another spiritual leader, among many.
      Mary’s courage and obedience, allowed God to begin the Redemption of the world. If Mary had said no, would there have been a Birth in the Stable? or the proclaiming of the Kingdom of God? or the resurrection?
      As for how Jesus was born, I have no idea, but consider the following:
      In Genesis 3:14-19 where God curses Adam and Eve for their disobedience, He tells the woman “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring fourth children.” Every mother, because of sin, is subject to that curse.
      The Holy Mother “Conceived without sin” is not, she bore Jesus as God originally intended all women to bear their children in Joy and Happiness, with no or little pain.

    • Shelby says:


  • what ifJoseph had children…they would be his step brothers

  • Diane says:

    One last point, Jesus commended His mother to the care of his friend, John because at his death she would have no protector. If Jesus had had any brothers or sisters this responsibility would naturally fallen upon them. For Jesus to ask anyone else to care for her would have been outrageous.

  • Nelly says:

    This is an amazing expectations to those who criticise Virgin Mary, ever Virgin. She is indeed a powerful and wonderful Virgin. I will forever honor her for this.

  • Ursurla says:

     Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:  and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. – Matthew 1:24-25
    He knew her not (carnally) until she brought forth her firstborn (firstborn?) Son.

    • Steve says:

      Matthew 28:20 — “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” So according to your interpretation of the word “until,” at the end of the world, Jesus will leave us? Same author, Matthew. Same word. Did you even read the article and how the author addressed differences in language? The Bible was not originally written in English.

  • Kate says:

    Jesus did have biological brothers and sisters, James being one of his brothers. If you are taught anything else, you are being lied to. Mary was no longer a virgin after the first sibling was born. Jesus asked John to take care of his mother because he was the one standing at the foot of the cross with her. But that does not mean Jesus did not have any siblings. Perhaps they had run and hid like so many of Jesus’ followers did at the time. To worship Mary is wrong. Jesus Christ is who we should be worshipping.

    • stephen says:

      If God would not accept Aaron’s golden calf as a symbol of his glory,why should he accept images and statues in the churches of today?In the Bull Inneffabilis the Pope states:”She is the most powerful mediator,the reconciler of all the world with the only begotten son.She has destroyed all heresies and delievered us from many threatening perils and by her most powerful patronage will cause sinners to obtain pardon,the sick to be healed,and the afficted to find consolation.all those who err can obtain alleviation of their spiritual blindness”.Jesus did have brothers and sisters,according to the Bible!

    • lauriewhin says:

      Absolutely, Kate! There are several things in error in this article, the two most glaring:
      The treatment of Matthew 1:25. Joseph “knew” Mary after she gave birth to Jesus. That is what the Scripture says.
      Their claim that what are called brothers and sisters of Jesus are really cousins. Why not use the word for cousin that was used for John the Baptist, and Elizabeth, cousin of Mary?
      These are lame attempts to keep alive the heresy that we should worship a person, pray to an idol, and elevate Mary to a status that the Bible never gives her: a mediator between us and God. There is one mediator between God and man…Jesus. 1Timothy 2:5
      If people would read the Bible, asking God for discernment, they would not fall into such grievous error.

      • Dalibor says:

        Amen. I just saw your post, so my reply few moments ago is actually unnecessary.

      • Steve says:

        LaurieWhin, you should read and understand Catholic theology before you make false accusations about things you erroneously believe to be true. Catholics worship God alone; we absolutely do NOT worship saints or angels–that’s ridiculous! When you ask your Church elders to pray for you or a loved one who is sick or dying, are you worshipping them? Aren’t YOU then a mediator? Catholic belief that God allows the those in Heaven to hear our prayers only allows us to ask those who are now close to God (quite literally) to pray on our behalves as well! If God hears the prayers of people on earth, how much more lovingly He must entertain the prayers of those with Him in Heaven, especially His mother (as a prefigurement, read about King Solomon’s mother). As far as statues of saints go, Catholics worship them about as much as you worship the photos of your deceased loved ones on the living room wall. They simply remind us of a person whose life and closeness to God we admire; they are role models. God, Himself, instructed the Israelites to make angel statues to put on top of the Ark of the Covenant, angel patterns on the curtain surrounding it, a serpent on a pole to heal those who look at it, etc. Idolatry is when you worship idols as if they are a supernatural being with any sort of power (read Exodus 25:18-20, 26:1, Numbers 21:8-9, 1 Kings 7:23-29, 6:23-28, Colossians 1:15).
        Regarding interpreting the Bible on your own, St. Peter assured us in his second epistle (3:16) that in the letters of St. Paul “… there are certain passages in them hard to understand. The unlearned and unstable distort them (just as they do the rest of the Scripture) to their own ruin.” 2 Peter 1:20 reads “Know this first of all, that there is no prophesy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation.”–maybe that’s why there are over 45,000 Protestant denominations. Which one is correct?

    • Ken Cuneo says:

      James and John were the sons of Zebedee. So the were not Jesus’s brothers.

  • David Cole says:

    Mary didn’t have other children after Jesus was born but the Bible is clear she did not remain a virgin. She was wife to Joseph, not wife to God. The RCC is guilty of idolatry.

  • Shelby Rice says:

    I wholeheartedly disagree! Mary was righteous, she was a virgin and gave birth to God’s son. She was not condemned to a life without intimate relations with her husband. She was a virgin when she conceived and she was a virgin when she gave birth. After that, I believe that Mary and Joseph had a traditional marriage and all that it entails. Sex is a joyful part of marriage. Because they were chosen, why would God condemned them to a life without this precious part of being husband-and-wife?

  • macca says:

    What a load of nonsense. If you over-interpret any old document in a dead language, you can make up any kind of story you like. Like this one.

  • tolitz says:

    Matt. 13:55 to 56 is telling us that Jesus’ biological family includes his mother named Mary, a carpenter’s son and have brothers and sisters. This event is NOT talking about relatives or another family or any other sons of another mother named MARY. Believe on what you believed from your doctrines but what is written will never change even how many other teachings may arise other than it.

  • Dalibor says:

    There are a few points in Bible that suggest Jesus indeed had (half) brothers and (half) sisters:
    – If you think “brother” always refers to cousin, how come John the Baptist is never entitled as Jesus’ brother, and James was.
    – Matthew 1:25 “but knew her not until she had given birth to a son”. Why doesn’t it say “but knew her not…ever!”

  • Robert Anderson says:

    Matthew 1:24-25 clearly teaches Joseph took mary as his wife, and had sexual relations with her after Jesus was Born.. so much for the ever virgin.

  • Gabriel Anndrai says:

    There are peoples hatred of Mary as much as how Satan hates and tries to destroys her. Mary was the special design of God designed for his own purposes. Those of you who are up against Mary are basing your arguments base on anger and hatred just like your ancestor the Devil.

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