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Reagan Rice wrote:

Mr. DiMascio —

  • Does Catholic doctrine hold that Mary gave birth to no other children other than Jesus?
  • If so, does the Church's doctrine hold that Mary was always a virgin?

Thanks for your answer,

Reagan

  { Does Catholic doctrine hold that Mary gave birth to no other children other than Jesus? }

John replied:

Hi, Reagan —

In short the answer to both questions is Yes. Now here is the Biblical argument:

Let's deal with the latter question first, because if that answer is yes, then the other follows.

Looking at the Annunciation texts, we see the following in Matthew:

23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

Matthew 1:23-25

Now some Protestants are quick to point out that in verse 25, Joseph "did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn son." They focus on the word until, and say that implies he knew her after she brought forth Jesus.

Well, let's talk about the word until and what it meant in the original Greek. It is the Greek word heoce.

Strong's Greek Dictionary defines it as follows:

heos (heh'-oce);

  • of uncertain affinity; a conjunction, preposition and adverb of continuance, until (of time and place):
  • even (until, unto), (as) far (as), how long, (un-) til (-l), (hither-, un-, up) to, while (-s).

This is precisely the same Greek word used elsewhere in Scripture. In the Greek Translation of the Old Testament, which was prevalent during Jesus' day, we see the following text in 2 Samuel

23 Therefore Michal, the daughter of Saul, had no child unto the day of her death.

2 Samuel 6:23

Notice the word unto — it is the same Greek word hoece, this time translated unto as opposed to until.

  • Does this then mean to imply that Michal had children after she died?

No, clearly it does not. The point is: that while in English, the word until implies something happening afterward, in the original language, the word hoece does not necessarily imply the same.

Lets look at another verse.

24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:24-26

This verse is talking about the reign of Jesus. Look at verse 25. If we insist that the until in Matthew implies that Joseph knew Mary after the birth of Jesus, then this must mean that the reign of Jesus must come to an end after He put all His enemies under His feet.

Now I don't think any Protestant wants to go there!!

Having said all this, this neither proves nor disproves Mary's perpetual virginity. It simply asserts that such a belief is not contrary to Matthew 1:25.

So let's move on to the text in Luke:

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." 34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" 35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.

Luke 1:26-35

Note the following verses in this exchange:

27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.

31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus."

34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"

  • Mary is engaged to be married.
  • The Angel tells her she is going to get pregnant.
  • She asks how can this be, because she knows no man.

Let's break this down so the text makes sense.

Mary is a big girl and clearly knows the facts of life; she is engaged and she is told she is going to get pregnant.

Note the angel does not say, Mary you are pregnant; he says you are going to conceive. He talks about a future action.

  • Now why would Mary ever ask — how she was going to conceive?

This question makes no sense. The girl was going to be married; the angel never said when she was going to conceive. There had been other special conceptions in the Old Testament that had been announced by an Angel. Never did any of the women involved, ask about the mechanics of the conception. Mary would have assumed,

"Great, me and Joseph are getting married, and then we will have a child in the normal way."

That makes sense, but no, Mary seems bewildered.

This makes no sense — unless — Mary knew that her marriage to Joseph was not going to be your everyday marriage. Here is where being aware of the custom of the day helps. In that day, some young women (virgins) were dedicated to the temple for service. They took vows of celibacy or their parents made the vows for them. These young women were then "married" to older men, who supported and protected them, but the marriage was never consummated. Now if this was the case, then Mary's question makes sense. In fact, this very fact is recorded in the first century writing called the Proto-evangelism of James. No, this is not inspired Scripture, but it does record certain historical narratives which include the fact that Mary had been dedicated to the Temple to be a virgin for life.

  • So what about the brothers and sisters mentioned in the Bible?

Well, for one thing, in different cultures, the words brother and sister are not limited to actual brothers and sisters. Also, it is possible, since Tradition holds that Joseph was much older than Mary, then he may have had other children by another wife who had died. So the mention of brothers and sisters in the Gospel does not disprove the perpetual virginity, nor does it have to mean that they were more than kinsman.

I hope this helps

John DiMascio

Mike replied:

Hi, Reagan —

In addition to what John said, I found the following from James Akin's web site.

Hope this helps,

Mike Humphrey


Perpetual Virginity Of Mary


by Br. Anthony Opisso, M.D.

From the earliest biblical days adultery carried with it a sense of defilement, so that a woman who had know contact with another man, even if by force, was considered no longer fit to be visited by her husband (Genesis 49:4; 2 Samuel 20:3, re ibid. 16:21-22; Book of Jubilees 33:6-9; Epstein, Marriage Laws in the Biblical Talmud, p.51).

The deuteronomic code teaches that a woman who is divorced by her husband and thereafter marries another man likewise cannot return to her former husband (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). As the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah:

"If a man put away his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, shall he return to her again, shall not the land (his wife's body) be greatly polluted?" (Jeremiah 3:1; see Targum to Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

In rabbinic law a woman who has committed adultery is "defiled" and cannot remain the wife of her husband, but must be divorced. (Sifre on Dt, edit. M. Friedman (1864) 270 p. 122b; Sifre on Numbers, edit. M. Friedman (1915) 7 p. 4a and 19 p. 66) Furthermore any intimate male contact by the wife with Jew or gentile, potent or impotent, natural or unnatural makes divorce compulsory. (Sotha 26b; Yebamoth 55a, b, 87b; Kethuboth 9a, Babylonian Talmud; Kethuboth 25a; Sotah 27a, Yad, Sotah 2,2, Jerusalem Talmud)

Betrothed

In Jewish Law a man betrothed to a woman was considered legally married to her. The word for betrothed in Hebrew is Kiddush, a word that is derived from the Hebrew word Kadash which means holy, consecrated, set apart. Because by betrothal, (as in Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27), or marriage, a woman became the peculiar property of her husband, forbidden to others.

The Oral Law of Kiddushin (Marriages and Engagements) states:

"The husband prohibits his wife to the whole world like an object which is dedicated to the Sanctuary"

(Kiddushin 2b, Babylonian Talmud).

We know from the Gospel of Matthew 1:14 that Joseph, the husband of Mary, was a righteous man, a devout law-abiding Jew. Having noticed that Mary was pregnant and that he, her betrothed, had nothing to do with the pregnancy, Joseph had either to:

  • publicly condemn her and have her put to death for adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22-29) or
  • put her away privately.

His decision was made when an angel appeared to him in a dream, saying:

"Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21).

The angel does not use the phrase for marital union: go in unto (as in Genesis 30:3, 4, 16) or come together (Matthew 1:18) but merely a word meaning leading her into the house as a wife (paralambano gunaika) but not cohabiting with her.

For when the angel revealed to him that Mary was truly the spouse of the Holy Spirit, Joseph could take Mary, his betrothed, into his house as a wife, but he could never have intercourse with her because according to the Law she was forbidden to him for all time.

Marriage to the Holy Spirit

We also have to take into consideration that when Mary was told by the archangel Gabriel:

"Behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus" (Luke 1:31)

he also added that this was to come about because

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Holy one to be born shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

By stating it in those terms the archangel declared to Mary that God would enter into a marital relationship with her, causing her to conceive His Son in her womb, For to lay one's power (reshuth) over a woman (Targum to Deuteronomy 21:4) was a euphemism for to have a marital relationship with her.

Likewise to overshadow (Luke 1:35) by spreading the wing or cloak over a woman was another euphemism for marital relations. Thus, the rabbis commented (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 39.7; Midrash Ruth Rabbah 3.9) that Ruth was chaste in her wording when she asked Boaz to have marital relations with her by saying to him:

"I am Ruth you handmaid, spread therefore your cloak (literally, wing: kanaph) over your handmaid for you are my next-of-kin". (Ruth 3:9)

Tallith, another Aramaic-Hebrew word for cloak, is derived from tellal = shadow. Thus, to spread one's cloak (tallith) over a woman means to cohabit with her (Kiddushin 18b, see also Mekhilta on Exodus 21:8). Did not the Lord say to His bride Israel:

"I am married to you" (Jeremiah 3:14), and

"your Maker is your husband"? (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 31:32)?

And, what is more intimate than what the Lord said to His bride:

"You developed, you grew, you came to full womanhood; your breasts became firm and your hair grew... you were naked... and I saw that you were now old enough for love so I spread my cloak over you... I gave you My oath, I entered into a covenant with you and you became Mine, says the Lord God" (Ezekiel 16:7, 8).

Mary prohibited to Joseph

Having been enlightened by an angel in a dream regarding her pregnancy, and perhaps further by Mary concerning the words of the archangel Gabriel to her at the Annunciation, Joseph knew that God had conducted himself as a husband in regard to Mary. She was now prohibited to him for all time, and for the sake of the Child and Mary he could only live with her in an absolutely chaste relationship.

Living a celibate life within marriage was not unknown in Jewish tradition. It was told that Moses, who was married, remained continent the rest of his life after the command to abstain from sexual intercourse (Exodus 19:15) given in preparation the seventy elders abstained thereafter from their wives after their call, and so did Eldad and Medad when the spirit of prophecy came upon them; indeed it was said that the prophets became celibate after the Word of the Lord communicated with them. (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 19; 46.3; Sifre to Numbers 99 sect. 11; Sifre Zutta 81-82, 203-204; Aboth Rabbi Nathan 9, 39; Tanchuman 111, 46; Tanchumah Zaw 13; 3 Petirot Moshe 72; Shabbath 87a; Pesachim 87b, Babylonian Talmud)

Celibacy according to tradition

Elijah and Elisha were celibate al their lives (Zohar Hadash 2:1; Midrash Mishlei 30, 105, Pirke Rabbi Eliezer 33). When for the sake of the Torah (i.e., intense study in it), a rabbi would abstain from relations with his wife, it was deemed permissible, for he was then cohabiting with the Shekinah (the "Divine Presence") in the Torah (Zohar re Genesis 1:27; 13:3 and Psalm 85:14 in the Discourse of Rabbi Phineas to Rabbis Jose, Judah, and Hiya).

It is well known that the rabbis spoke concerning the obligation of all males to be married and procreated:

"He who abstains from procreation is regarded as though he had shed blood"

(Rabbi Eliezer in Yebamoth 63b, Babylonian Talmud; see also Shulkhan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) section Evenhar-Ezer 1:1,3,4).

According to Yebamoth 62b, B.T. a man is only half a man without a wife, citing
Genesis 5:2
where it is said:

"Male and female He (God) created them and blessed them, and called their name Adam (lit. "Man").

Nevertheless,

"if a person cleaves to the study of the Torah (i.e., dedicates all his time to it) like ben Azzai, his refusal to marry can be condoned"

(Skulkhan Arukh EH 1:4).

Rabbinic scholar ben Azzai (early second century A.D.) was extraordinary in his learning:

"with the passing of Ben Azzai diligent scholars passed from the earth" (Sotah 9:15).

He never married and was celibate all his life so as not to be distracted from his studies, and because he considered the Torah his wife, for who he always yearned with all his soul (Yebamoth 63b). He was an outstanding scholar (Kiddushin 20a, B.T.) and also renowned for his saintliness (Berakoth 57b, B.T.).

Other celibates

Jewish tradition also mentions the celibate Zenu'im (lit. "chaste ones") to whom the secret of the Name of God was entrusted, for they were able to preserve the Holy Name in "perfect purity" (Kiddushin 71a; Midash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 3:11; Yer. yoma 39a, 40a).

Those in hope of a divine revelation consequently refrained from sexual intercourse and were strict in matters of purity (Enoch 83:2; Revelation 14:2-5).

Philo (Apol. pro Judaeis 1X, 14-17), Josephus, (Antiq. XVIII. 21) and Hippolytus (Philosophumena IX, IV, 28a) wrote on the celibacy of the Jewish Essenes hundreds of years before the discovery of their settlements in Qumran by the Dead Sea.

Philo Judaeus (c. 20 B.C.-50 A.D.), a Jewish philosopher, described Jewish women who were virgins who have kept their chastity not under compulsion, like some Greek priestesses, but of their own free will in their ardent yearning for Wisdom.

"Eager to have Wisdom for their life-mate, they have spurned the pleasures of the body and desire no mortal offspring but those immortal children which only the soul that is dear to God can bring forth to birth." (Philo, Cont. 68; see also Philo, Abr. 100).

For

"the chaste are rewarded by receiving illumination from the concealed heavenly light" (Zohar 11. 229b-230a).

Because

"if the understanding is safe and unimpaired, free from the oppression of the iniquities or passions... it will gaze clearly on all that is worthy of contemplation" (Philo, Sob. 1.5).

Conversely,

"the understanding of the pleasure-loving man is blind and unable to see those things that are worth seeing... the sight of which is wonderful to behold and desirable" (Philo, Q. Gen.IV.245).

Joseph as celibate caretaker

As the recipient of the great revelation that what was conceived in the womb of Mary, his betrothed, was of the Holy Spirit and that the Child to be born was destined to save His people from their sins, surely Joseph knew that he was called to take care of Mary and her Child, the Messiah, for the rest of his life, which is why the angel told him to take Mary as his wife.

We may reasonable assume that Mary herself now shared with him all that the archangel Gabriel said to her. No less a Person than the Son of God (Luke 1:35) was to be entrusted to his care under the shelter of his humble home, now become the Holy of Holies.

Jewish tradition mentions that, although the people had to abstain from sexual relations with their wives for only three days prior to the revelation at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:15), Moses chose to remain continent the rest of his life with the full approval of God. The rabbis explained that this was so because Moses knew that he was appointed to personally commune with God, not only at Mount Sinai but in general throughout the forty years of sojourning in the wilderness. For this reason Moses kept himself "apart from woman," remaining in the sanctity of separation to be at the beck and call of God at all times; they cited God's command to Moses in Deuteronomy 5:28 (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 19:3 and 46.3).

Again, we may be sure that Saint Joseph remained celibate all his life because throughout his married years he was in daily attendance and communication with Jesus, the incarnate Word of God.

This article was written by Brother Anthony M. Opisso, M.D., who has been a hermit for the past thirty-one years. He lives in the woods of the Cistercian Abby in Rogersville, New Brunswick. Born in Manila, in the Philippines, he is a physician-surgeon graduate of Loyola University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois (1950). A Scriptural and Rabbinic scholar, he is the author of five books: The Bread of God, The Secret Joy of Repentance, The Revelation of Bethlehem, The Revelation of the Son of Man and The Book of Understanding.

 

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