Tag Archives: Mary

Did Jesus’ Mother, Mary, Give Birth to Other Children?


At first glance, this question seems to fall into the “simple to answer” category: “Did you shut the garage door?” or “Is the earth round?” But when we really look into the history behind it, we find that it’s not quite that simple. In fact, Christians of different stripes have disagreed for hundreds of years about how best to answer it.

Historically, Christians in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions have thought “no” while Christians in the Protestant tradition have thought “yes.”

Catholic and Orthodox Christians (and some Protestants) teach that Mary remained a virgin all her life and gave birth only to Jesus.[1] This view was almost universally accepted by the Church from approximately the 3rd to the 17th centuries AD [2] and follows four basic lines of thought:

  1. Ezekiel 44:1-3 is a prophecy about the virgin birth of Christ.[3] According to this interpretation, Mary is the gate through which Jesus and only Jesus entered the world.
  2. If Mary had other biological children, Jesus would not have entrusted her into the care of John as he was being crucified.[4]
  3. The Greek words translated “brothers” and “sisters” have a wider range of meaning than the English and can mean “cousin” or “near relative.”[5]
  4. For both Catholic and Orthodox Christians, the Church’s long-standing tradition regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity validates this belief.

Protestants who don’t accept the perpetual virginity of Mary base their belief on three primary points of evidence:

  1. The teaching that Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage is not expressly taught in the Scriptures.
  2. The belief that Mary was “ever-virgin” is not clearly found in two of the earliest Christian theologians: Irenaeus of Lyons or Tertullian.[6]
  3. Protestants believe that the simplest and clearest reading of biblical passages like Matthew 12:46-50, Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke 8:19-20, John 2:12, John 7:3-10, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, and Galatians 1:19 lead us to believe that Jesus did have half-siblings.[7]

So, did Mary give birth to other children?  While we cannot know with absolute certainly whether she did or didn’t, what seems clear is that a person’s salvation and love for Christ does not depend on how they answer this question. Christians of all perspectives agree that Mary the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ occupies a unique and honored place. God chose her to carry and give birth to His Son who would save the world from its sins.


[1] This belief is commonly called the perpetual virginity of Mary. Some Catholic and Orthodox Christians also use the term “ever-virgin” when talking about Mary.

[2] Catholic and Orthodox believers point out that prominent Reformed theologians like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Jean Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Wesley believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. See Council of Trent 1545 ad.

[3] This interpretation was common among the early church fathers. St. Augustine clearly taught that Ezekiel 44:1-3 was prophetically speaking about Mary. “The Lord said to me, ‘This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it.’ ”

[4] John 19:25-27.

[5] There are three widely held opinions within Christianity regarding who these siblings/relatives were:

  1. Catholics believe that the adelphos/adelpha (brothers/sisters) were cousins or near relatives, not brothers and sisters.
  2. Orthodox believers say that they were older, non-biological half-siblings through Joseph from a previous marriage.[5]
  3. Most Protestants believe that they were younger half-siblings from the union of Mary and Joseph.

[6] In addition to the clear absence of a defense in Irenaeus and Tertullian, Helvidius wrote against the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary prior to 383 ad.

[7] Protestant theologians also point to two additional passages as support for their position: Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7.

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Why don’t Protestant Christians pray to Mary and other saints, seeking their help and intercession?

Christians who pray to Mary and saints in heaven to intercede for them sometimes say that praying to Mary and the saints is no different than asking living fellow believers to pray for them. They say that the Scriptures tell us to uphold each other and intercede for each other in prayer (Matthew 5:44; Ephesians 6:18; James 5:16).

Though Scripture doesn’t affirm it, it is conceivable that friends and loved ones who have preceded us to heaven are able to pray for us. But when Christians ask living friends and loved ones to pray for them, they don’t worship or attribute godlike qualities to them. They don’t assume they have unique intercessory abilities and special influence with the Savior. They don’t approach particular strangers and ask for their prayer support. Above all, they don’t “pray” to living friends. They ask them to share the burden of their prayer concerns with the Lord.

Christians who pray to Mary and the saints are assuming much more, believing that Mary and the saints are in a position to help in unique and specific ways: St. Anthony helps locate lost objects; St. Anne combats infertility; St. James the Greater heals arthritis; St. Jude offers hope to “lost causes”; St. Sebastian protects athletes; and many other “saints” are reputed to do specific things for many other categories of needy people.

The pagans of the Roman Empire once prayed to specific gods for help relating to the problems and challenges of life; and when Theodosius I officially outlawed pagan worship in ad 380, many people transferred their devotion from pagan gods to the saints. Thus, prayer to saints came to parallel devotion to the pagan gods of popular Roman religion.

Scripture doesn’t support the idea that “specialist” saints in heaven share with God the ability to hear thousands of prayers simultaneously. Nor does Scripture imply that particular people in heaven are able to intercede with God in a unique way in the case of particular kinds of needs. By attributing such abilities to these saints, we detract from the centrality of Jesus Christ as our divine and human mediator. We project the Savior’s unique qualities (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:26-28; Hebrews 9:24; 1 John 2:1-2) on fellow believers who share our own sinful tendencies and frailties. Instead of honoring the Son of God who gave His life for us, we glorify the needy creatures He came to save. (See the ATQ article Why don’t Protestant Christians worship Mary and the Saints?)


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How Should Christians View Mary, Jesus’ Mother?

The Bible doesn’t offer us much information about Mary, but her role in God’s redemptive plan was unique.

Luke 1:26-56 records Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel and her visit with her relative Elizabeth. In chapter 2, we see her pondering everything that has happened in connection with her son’s birth. In the same chapter, Mary gently rebuked 12-year-old Jesus for causing Joseph and her much concern by remaining behind in the Jerusalem temple instead of joining the caravan back to Nazareth ( Luke 2:41-49 ).

Mary is mentioned again at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee when Jesus performed His first public miracle ( John 2:1-12 ). She appears a few times after this in connection with our Lord’s brothers and sisters( Matthew 13:54-58 ; Mark 3:31-35; 6:1-6 ). When Jesus hung on the cross, He looked down and tenderly said, “Dear woman, here is your son!” ( John 19:26 ), assigning her to the care of the apostle John. The last mention of her is found in Acts 1:14 , where she is referred to as “Mary the mother of Jesus.”

Mary was a remarkable person. The angel who came to Mary with the announcement that she would bear the Son of God said that she had “found favor with God” ( Luke 1:30 ). God honored her above all other women by choosing her to become the virgin mother of the Messiah. However, the biblical accounts do not emphasize her role as the mother of Jesus. In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus even call her “mother.”

Although the Gospels portray her motherly concern, they clearly show her subordination to her son. In John 2:4 , Jesus called her “woman” (which wasn’t as harsh an expression in Greek as it would be in modern English), apparently to gently show her that His relationship to her as Savior must take precedence over that of son.

The Bible nowhere implies that she was born without sin. In fact, she herself recognized her need of a Savior ( Luke 1:47 ). She was qualified to give birth to the sinless Son of God because God chose her and miraculously caused her to conceive by the “overshadowing” of the Holy Spirit( Luke 1:35 ). While it is right to honor her as the mother of Jesus Christ, there are no biblical grounds for placing her in a position of mediation between ourselves and our Lord. The Scriptures declare:

There is one God and one Mediator between God and men,the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

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Did Jesus’ Mother, Mary, Have Other Children?

The question of whether or not Mary gave birth to other children besides Jesus is one that has been debated throughout the history of the church. Passages in which the other children of Mary are mentioned are Matthew 12:46-50; Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3 (mentioning sisters as well as four brothers); Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; John 7:3-10; and Acts 1:14. Several interpretations of these passages were given by early church leaders. Epiphanius believed they refer to the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. Jerome said they are cousins. Helvidius believed that they are the sons of Joseph and Mary (young half-brothers of Jesus).

There are several reasons to prefer Helvidius’s view. In the first place, it is the simplest and most natural interpretation of the text. If Mary was so much younger than Joseph that he had a large number of children by an earlier marriage while refraining from a normal marital relationship with her, why would children from an earlier marriage be mentioned repeatedly in close connection with Mary without any indication that they were step-brothers and sisters? It seems most likely that Luke’s reference to Jesus as Mary’s “firstborn” (Luke 2:7) and the statement in Matthew 1:24-25 (“Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus”) implies that she and Joseph had a large natural family following the Savior’s birth. This, after all, would be the normal and honorable pattern within Jewish culture.

The view that the brothers and sisters (Greek: adelphos, adelphe) mentioned in these passages are actual brothers and sisters confirms Paul’s references to James as “the Lord’s brother” in Galatians 1:19 and to “The Lord’s brothers” in 1 Corinthians 9:5. If they were cousins rather than brothers, Paul would have used the Greek word for “cousins” (anepsioi; see Colossians 4:10).

In light of these factors, those who would depart from the simplest and most natural meaning of the text carry the burden of proof. In our view, the reverence for celibacy and the exaltation of Mary that occurred within the early church is more likely an explanation for Epiphanius’s and Jerome’s interpretations than genuine historical fact.

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