Helvidius is a writer of the fourth century condemned for being the first to propose the novel position, never before discussed or suggested, that Mary the Mother of Jesus had other children. He maintained that the factual mention of sisters and brethren of our Lord in the Gospels was proof that the Blessed Virgin had subsequent offspring, and supported his opinion from the writings of Tertullian and Victorinus, writers who do not in fact directly discuss the matter.
Jerome passionately argues against Helvidius in The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius. He asserts that the sisters and brethren mentioned in the Gospels were either children of Joseph by a former marriage, or first cousins, children of the sister of the Virgin. Jerome's tract appeared about A.D. 383.
Jerome maintains against Helvidius three propositions:
1. Joseph was only putatively, and not actually, the husband of Mary.
2. The brethren of the Lord were his cousins, not his own brethren.
3. Virginity is better than the married state
(a position strongly rejected by Helvidius, but supported by Paul, who says, "it is well for them to remain single—he who refrains from marriage will do better" 1 Corinthians 7:8, 27-35, 39-40).
See the analytical discussion of Jerome's tract in the Catholic Encyclopedia
Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius (newadvent.org)
- 1 Matthew 1:25 textual exegesis
- 2 The debate: external links
- 3 Absence of support for the doctrine that Mary bore other children
Matthew 1:25 textual exegesis
- The following material is adapted from a marginal note in Harmony of the Gospel (Conservative Version) longer form Chapters 1-7: Chapter Three
"And knew her not at any time before she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS."
The phrase "at any time before" can be rendered less emphatically as simply "before".
The King James Bible reads this same passage as follows:
"And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS."
"Before" is the archaic meaning of "till", "until"
Greek ἕως heos
see Strong's number 2193
even (until, unto), (hither-, un-, up) to — defining a limit.
The word here signifies nothing about what occurs afterward, which is utterly unlike the meaning it has in modern American English usage, a meaning which does signify what occurs afterward.
Matthew 10:23 RSV "before"
Matthew 22:44 —Will the Lord then no longer sit at his right hand?
Matthew 1:25 is a statement about both the virginal conception of Jesus in Mary's womb, without any human sexual intercourse, and the chastity of Joseph and Mary during the entire period of her pregnancy from the very moment of conception. It is not a statement about what Joseph did immediately after Jesus was born. (Compare Leviticus 12.)
Again, in A.D. 382/3 St. Jerome complained that Helvidius interpreted Matthew 1:25 ἕως heos to mean that Mary had other children, noting especially that this was an entirely "novel" interpretation, a new idea that had never been suggested before the fourth century.
See English translation of Jerome's tract:
The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius, by St. Jerome (cin.org)
Moreover, it is utterly inappropriate to suggest from this text (Matthew 1:25) that Joseph "a just man", was eagerly awaiting an opportunity to have sex with Mary as soon as possible after Jesus was born.
The Protestant Reformers: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli
In the sixteenth century the chief Protestant Reformers, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, defended the traditional claim that Mary had only one child, Jesus.
- Martin Luther wrote that Mary was "a virgin before the conception and birth, she remained a virgin also at the birth and after it." (February 2, 1546 - Luther, Martin. Luther's Works. The American Edition. Jaroslav J. Pelikan & Helmut Lehmann, eds. 55 vols. St. Louis & Philadelphia: CPH & Fortress Press, 1955-1986. Vol. 22:214-215)
- Ulrich Zwingli wrote: "I speak of this in the holy Church of Zurich and in all my writings: I recognize Mary as ever virgin and holy." (January 1528 - Disputation of Bern (Switzerland). The acts of the synod were officially printed at Basel, 1532, again in 1728 sad 1778. Both the original and a modernized text were issued by Lauener, Basel, 1830. Consult M. Kirchhofer, Berthold Haller, pp. 169 sqq., Zurich, 1828; Billeter, in the Berner Beitrge, ed. F. Nippold, Bern, 1884 (especially useful); E. Bloesch, Geschichte der schweizerisch-reformierten Kirchen, i, 74-81, Bern, 1898.
- John Calvin, in his Commentary on Matthew called them "pig-headed and stupid" who insistently interpret the gospel of Matthew 1:25 to imply that Mary had other children—"no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation." (Calvin's Commentary on Matthew 1:1-25).
Αδελφος and Αδελφοι: adelphos and adelphoi, "brother" and "brothers" in the New Testament
The Greek word for "brother" adelphos and for "brothers" adelphoi all through the New Testament is always the same word, and it is used broadly—
- in reference to male siblings born from the same womb, having the same mother,
- in reference to male relatives having the same mother but different fathers,
- in reference to male relatives having different mothers but the same father,
- in reference to male relatives having different sets of parents, both mothers and fathers,
- in reference to male members of the same family group or members of a larger clan,
- to male members of the same tribe in Israel,
- to all descendants of Jacob (who was given the name Israel),
- and in reference to men who, while physically unrelated, share a common bond of mutual affection, struggle, dedication, political affiliation, or religion.
Paul's letters: women as adelphoi
Paul's letters to the men and women of the congregations of the churches also includes women as "brothers" in Christ, believers, using the same word adelphoi, making them equally co-heirs of salvation, "inheritors of the promises", as sons of God by the adoption of saving grace through the blood of Jesus Christ. See
Romans 1:13; 7:1, 4; 8:12, 29; 10:1; 11:25; 12:1; 15:14-15, 30; 16:17;
1 Corinthians 1:10-11, 26; 2:1; 3:1, 3; 4:6; 10:1; 11:2, 33; 12:1; 14:6, 20, 26, 39; 15:1, 6, 50, 58; 16:15, 20;
2 Corinthians 1:8; 8:1; 13:11;
Galatians 1:2, 11; 3:15; 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11, 13; 6:18;
Ephesians 6:10, 23;
Philippians 1:12, 14; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21-22;
Colossians 1:2; 4:15;
1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2:1, 9, 14, 17; 3:7; 4:1, 10, 13; 5:1, 4, 12, 14, 25-27;
2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:1, 13, 15; 3:1, 6, 13;
1 Timothy 4:6
2 Timothy 4:21;
Titus 2:1-5, 11-13; 3:1-2.
Hebrews 2:11-13, 17-18; 3:1, 12; 7:5; 10:19-25; 13:22;
James 1:2, 16, 19-22; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:10-13; 4:11; 5:7, 9-10, 12, 19-20;
1 Peter 1:22; 3:8-9; 5:9;
2 Peter 1:10-11;
1 John 2:7; 3:13-14, 16;
Revelation 6:9-11; 12:10; 19:9-10.
Public worship readings of the Epistles of the New Testament often amplify the intended meaning of the sacred author by reading "brothers and sisters" for the implicitly inclusive adelphoi "brothers". This is an accommodation for the benefit of those who are unaware of this fact, to avoid or correct any impression in the minds and hearts of the hearers that the teachings in the Epistles were addressed exclusively to men, except where women are explicitly mentioned and addressed.
Born "of the womb" of one mother, the simple, literal meaning
Literally, the Greek adelphos and adelphoi both mean "of the womb"—"[males] of the [same] womb" (see Strong's number 80).
However, the one hundred twenty "brothers", adelphoi, of Acts 1:15-16, "brethren" in Catholic Bibles and in the King James Version, could not all have been born from the same woman. The same applies to those entire bodies of the assemblies or congregations of the churches to whom Paul and James and Peter and John addressed their epistles, both men and women.
On this basis, according to the text of the Bible, Protestant Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians using the principle of sola scriptura cannot disprove the tradition and the dogmatic assertion of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches:
- that the brothers of Jesus, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas (and his sisters),
- that the brothers of Jesus, James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude (and his sisters),
- were not born of Mary's womb but were nevertheless closely related to him "according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3).
See discussion of both sides of the controversy based on scripture proof texts:
- Jesus' "Brothers" and Mary's Perpetual Virginity Mark J. Bonocore (biblicalcatholic.com) The author's conclusions are strictly based on scripture alone.
- Mary's Perpetual Virginity by James Seghers and Totus Tuus Ministries (scborromeo.org)
- The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus–His Cousins (frtommylane.com)
- Did Jesus Have Fleshly Half-Brothers?, by Dave Miller PhD. (apologeticspress.org)
The author, Dave Miller PhD., points out that the New Testament has a specific word for "cousins" anepsioi, and cites linguists who state unequivocally that adelphos "never" means "cousin" in the New Testament:
- Gehard Kittel, Colin Brown, John McClintock and James Strong, Jack P. Lewis, Henry Alford and others.
He says, "Indeed, the Greek language had a separate and distinct word for 'cousins'—anepsioi (e.g., Colossians 4:10)."
However, the word in Colossians is actually the singular form ἀνεψιὸς anepsios, and it occurs only once in the entire Bible: it is not "one example among many".
The linked article above by Michael D. Marlowe, "The Translation of Αδελφος and Αδελφοι", also clearly demonstrates on the basis of Greek linguistics and cultural usage, and from the Bible, that these words (Αδελφος and Αδελφοι) do include the meaning of "cousin/s" and "relative/s". Moreover, anepsios, anepsioi is not the only Greek term that can be translated "cousins", "kindred".
- See interlinear texts:
- Colossians 4:10 ἀνεψιὸς anepsios
"Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas" KJV —"Mark, the cousin of Barnabas" RSVCE
- Luke 1:36 συγγενίς syngenis
"And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age" KJV —"And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son" RSVCE
- Luke 1:58 συγγενεῖς syngeneis
"And her neighbors and her cousins heard" KJV —"And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard" RSVCE
Absence of support for the doctrine that Mary bore other children
The Protestant doctrine that Mary gave birth to other children after Jesus cannot be supported by sola scriptura, by internal textual evidence of the usage of "brother" and "brothers" within the whole of the New Testament, by linguistic evidence from either Greek grammar or Koine Greek vocabulary, nor by evidence from the first three hundred years of Christian tradition before Helvidius. From all of the available evidence, the Protestant doctrine that Mary gave birth to other children besides Jesus appears to be an eisegetical tradition of men added to the Bible. See Polemic and Libel.