Summary: Christmas means
The recent discovery of an ossuary (bone box) in Jerusalem that contained the phrase “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” has rekindled the controversy as to whether Mary had children other than Jesus. Catholicism claims she did not. What does the actual evidence reveal?
A few months ago, the world was stunned by the report of a limestone ossuary (bone box), discovered in Jerusalem, bearing the inscription, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” A number of prominent scholars believe this box once contained the bones of James, half-brother of Jesus, who is so prominently mentioned in the New Testament (cf. Mt. 13:55-56; Acts 15:13ff; 21:18-19; Gal. 2:9). For a brief discussion of the evidence, see the article elsewhere on this web site, “The “Jesus” Inscription”, “Penpoints”, October 21, 2002).
Aside from the obvious importance of this discovery as such relates to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, the inscription has rekindled the controversy concerning the alleged “perpetual virginity” of Mary. Both the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church (along with a few Protestant scholars), contend that Mary and Joseph, even after the birth of the Lord, remained celibate for life.
The Roman Catholic Church alleges that Mary’s parents presented her in the temple when she was but three years old, and that “the child herself mounted the Temple steps, and that she made her vow of virginity on this occasion” (Maas, 464F). This would suggest that at the tender age of three, Mary had considerable knowledge of human anatomy. It further hints that she understood the intricacies of sexual union. Moreover it indicates that she likely foreknew the fact that she would bear the Christ child, and that she perceived somehow that it would be inappropriate for her ever to engage in honorable intimacy with a legitimate husband. The absurdity of this claim is almost beyond belief, but such is the superstition that shrouds this deviate theological system.
This theory of Mary’s “perpetual virginity” became official dogma at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, and thus is binding upon both the Greek and Roman segments of the Church (Pelikan, 14.1000).
The Historical Roots of the Dogma
What is the biblical evidence for this dogma? There is none—absolutely none. As one scholar quaintly noted, the doctrine “is a matter of dogmatic assumption unmixed with any alloy of factual evidence” (Sweet, 3.2003).
The theory had its roots in the pagan environment of the post-apostolic age when there was a strong emphasis upon celibacy within certain heathen religions. In that day, sexual intercourse, even within marriage, sometimes carried the suspicion of sin.
Alexander Hislop has shown a remarkable concurrence between the Vestal Virgins of pagan Rome, and the propensity for virginity that evolved in the digressive church of the post-apostolic period (Hislop, 223, 236-238, 250).
The idea thus evolved that it was inconceivable that Mary should have engaged in normal marital relations. It is a baffling mystery how a Church, that holds marriage to be a “sacrament,” can entertain such a misdirected viewpoint (see Heb. 13:4).