From Matthew’s Gospel:
While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And 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.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 12:46-50 – May 30, 2012)
I am truly amazed at the lengths some people go to deny that Jesus had brothers and sisters. The Greek here is adelphos (pl. adelphoi) and it means “brothers”. It could mean a countryman, a fellow employee, or someone of the same ancestral lineage in some contexts, but do any of those apply here? No! Here, some men show up in the company of Jesus’ mother and with her they are described as “your mother and your brothers”! Could anything be clearer? ~ Those who argue in favor of some alternate meaning (like “cousin”) do so because they want to preserve the supposed “perpetual virginity” of Mary. But if these men are Jesus’ cousins why wouldn’t Matthew have used the word anepsios (which means “cousin”)? The second-century writer Hegesippus, calls James and Jude “brothers of the Lord,” but he uses this word anepsios of Simeon the son of Clopas, the “cousin of the Lord”, so it is possible to distinguish the two relationships and certainly the gospellers could have done so! ~ Others argue that these men were Jesus’ half-brothers, Joseph’s boys by a first marriage. If that’s the case, where is the biblical evidence for that? Where is there even a hint that Joseph was previously married, let alone that he was bringing a bunch of kids along? ~ And as for Mary’s “perpetual virginity”, what does one do with Luke’s description of Jesus as “her firstborn son”? (Luke 2:7) Doesn’t that somehow imply that there was at least a “second born son”, if not a few others? And maybe some daughters? Both Mark and Matthew report that Jesus had sisters. (See Mark 3:32 & 6:3 and Matthew 13:56) If she’d had no other children, wouldn’t Luke have used the word “only” rather than “firstborn”? ~ And as for the virginity thing . . . . Matthew says that Mary became pregnant “before they [i.e., Joseph and Mary] lived together.” (Matthew 1:18) The Greek here is sunerchomai, which specifically refers to conjugal cohabitation! And Matthew continues, saying that Joseph “had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son.” (Matthew 1:25) I mean, really! Can the biblical witness to Mary’s non-virginal status after the birth of Jesus get any clearer? ~ Finally, there’s the cultural argument. For this “perpetual virginity” story to hold water, Joseph would have had to live a life of complete abstinence and chastity! This would not have been a societal norm and certainly wouldn’t be in accord with Jewish marital custom. Under Jewish law, sex is not considered shameful, sinful, or obscene; indeed, there is an halakhic obligation to procreate, and partners are not permitted to withhold sex from one another! Failure to abide by the law is practically unthinkable from the parents of a man who said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets ; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18) ~ Why is this important? I suppose in many ways it isn’t! But for me . . . . I have this idea that the Christian church oughtn’t to promote ideas that are patently absurd. If the church has to perform all sorts of silly linguistic contortions and rely non-biblical and a-historic pious legends to support its dogmas and doctrines, can we really blame those who shrug their shoulders and walk away? ~ A virgin? Perpetually? C’mon! Get real!