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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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