Conducted by Fr. JOHN SYMON
Question — My workmate is a member of the Elim Church and the other day he dashed in and said, "Who were Jesus' brothers?" He then proceded to quote from the Gospel according to St. Matthew (chapter 13. verse 55), the Gospel according to St. Mark (chapter 6, verse 3), and the Epistle to the Galatians (chapter 1, verse 9). How do I answer this question?
I. G. L Brighton
Answer—Let's first have a look at the texts mentioned by your friend from the Elim Tabernacle.
In St. Matthew's Gospel the people of Nazareth are depicted as being astonished at Jesus' miracles and so they exclaim in wonder, "This is the carpenter's son, surely? Is not his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Jude?"
The passage from the second Gospel. according to Mark, is a parallel one and tells of thc same incident. In the Epistle to the Galatians St. Paul relates how he went up to Jerusalem and stayed there for fifteen days with Peter but he adds, "I did not see any of the other apostles: I only saw James, the brother of the Lord...
In all these passages the word translated as "brother" can he interpreted in two ways. Either it refers to a full brother in the normal sense in which we would use the word or it may equally well refer to a cousin or to a half-brother. By the way, scholars might want to add that this is because the Greek word is to he understood in an aramaic way and they might properly want to haggle about which gospel depends on which, and so on. Need less to say. I am not writing for scholars or specialists in biblical matters.
Schol..rs or not. we Catholics all believe that Our Lady was a virgin and. as I have mentioned pre
viously its th is column, although her perpetual virginity has never actually been defined by the Church, it is certainly part of our faith and there is every reason to believe that it could he defined. In other words. we do not believe that testis had any brothers or sisters and we would want to interpret these New Testanient passages as referring. not to any supposed brothers of .lesus, but to his cousins.
For your friend from the Elim Church, and for many Protestants, there is no difficulty in admitting that Our lady had other children and they may properly ask us if we have any scriptural backing for our belief that Mary remained a virgin. What reason have we for insisting on the interpretation of the word "brother" as referring to Our Lord's cousins? Granted that the word con mean this, how do we know that in these instances it does mean this?
There are several other Gospel passages which reinforce our belief and
which strongly suggest that Mary had no other children. If we read the account of the Annunciation in the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke, verse 27, we must deduce that, as Our Lady is addressed as a virgin, she did not have any children before the birth of Jesus. As is said so often in the Gospels. he was her first-born.
The question remains whether or not after Jesus' birth Mary had any subsequent children. Probably the strongest of several possible arguments is founded on the account in chapter 19 of St. John's Gospel, relating how Jesus on the cross commended Mary to the keeping of St. John.
If Mary had had any other sons and if Jesus had had one brother, let alone the four suggested in Matthew 13, 55, is it at all likely that he would have passed over them all and entrusted his mother to another disciple altogether? Chapter 19 of St. John's Gospel only makes sense on the assumption that Catholic tradition is right, that Jesus had no brothers, and that Mary remained for ever a virgin.