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How can Mary have only one son, when Jesus appeared to 500 and called them brothers?  They certainly had large families back then.

At the time of Jesus and the Apostles, we find that people had very large families. For example, we know that Peter had 120 brothers because he spoke to a group of one hundred twenty people and refers to them as, "My brothers" (Acts 2:15,16). And Jesus came from a very large family too because "He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once" (1 Cor. 15:6).  It kind of makes you wonder how many sisters Jesus had. Do you think I am joking about this? Jesus had sisters. "Are not His sisters all with us" (Mt. 13:56). Of course, I have written all of this tongue-in-cheek for one purpose, and that is to show that the word brother or sister in Scripture does not always mean blood brother or blood sister. 

“The first thing to note . . . is that the term “brothers” has a wide meaning in the Bible.  It is not restricted to brothers germane or half-brothers. (The same goes for “sister.”  Of course, and the plural “brethren.”) Lot is described as Abraham’s “brother’ (Gen. 14:14), but Lot was the son of Haran, Abraham’s deceased brother (Gen. 11;26-28), which means Lot was really Abraham’s nephew. 29:15. Cis and Eleazar were the sons of Moholi. Cis had sons of his own, but Eleazar had no sons, only daughters who married their “brethren,” the sons of Cis.  These “brethren” were really their cousins (1Chron. 23:21-22).  

The terms “brethren,” and “sister” did not refer only to close relatives, as in the above examples.  Sometimes they meant only a kinsman (Deut. 23:7, 2 Esd. 5:7, Jer. 34:9). As in the reference to the forty-two “brethren” of King Ochozias (4Kgs. 10:13-14). The  words could mean even people apparently unrelated, such as a friend (2 Sam. 1:26, 3 Kgs 9:13, 3 Kgs. 20:32) or just and ally (Amos 1:9);”  ("Brethren of the Lord" Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17181, San Diego, California 92117, pg. 3).  

There are those who like to point out the two Mary’s in the Bible and suggest that one of the two is Jesus Mother Mary with her sons.  “There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome (Mk 15:40).   This sounds pretty good until you realize that there are not two, but three Mary’s.  

When the Mary spoken of is Jesus mother the text says that she is.   

1.“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother 

2. and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,

3. and Mary of Magdala”  (Jn 19:25). 

You cannot assume when you see Mary listed with other sons that they are Jesus Mother.   

And so this begs the question, how do you know which Mary is the mother of Jesus and not one of the other two Marys?  Because of the several Marys in the Gospels and in Acts, the authors of these books make it very clear when the Mary spoken of is the actually mother of Jesus. 

The text tells us when the Mary spoken of is the mother of Jesus.  

"His mother named Mary (Mt 13:55),
the mother of Jesus (Jn 2:1),
standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother (Jn 19:25),
Mary the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14). 

When the Mary spoken of is Jesus mother the text says that she is.   It is very clear, for example;

his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala” (Jn 19:25).
Mary the mother of James and Joseph, (Mt 27:56).

Jesus seems to have lots and lots of brothers (as many as 500) at one time, but how would you know if any of these brothers of Jesus were actually biological sons of Mary.  In John 2:1 the text says Mary “the mother of Jesus.”  In this instance if Mary were to have other sons, it would have read “the mother of Jesus, James and Joses, but of course it doesn’t.    

Where it is clear in Scripture that the Mary spoken of is the MOTHER OF JESUS, there is only one time when she is said to have had another son other than Jesus. And of course, this is the Apostle John, who was not actually her son, but Jesus disciple: "Woman, behold, your son" (Jn. 19:26).   There are those who insist that Mary had to have other biological children.  However, in their discussion, they don’t bring up exactly how we know which Mary is Jesus Mother and which Mary is the mother of other children.  This seems to be the ELEPHANT IN THE LIVING ROOM that those who reject Mary ever-virgin would prefer not to discuss. 

Where there are Marys that have other SONS please note that Jesus is not listed among the sons.   When Jesus is listed as the SON of Mary there are no other SONS listed. When there are brothers of Jesus who are listed with Mary the mother of Jesus, it does not say that these brothers are SONS of Mary.   We have already mentioned that brothers have a number of broad meanings and are not necessarily blood brothers. 

One of the primary verses that are used to support the idea that Mary had other sons is in Mark 6. “Is he [Jesus] not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him” (Mk 6:3).  First of all we know that this particular Mary is the mother of Jesus because it says He is referred to as “the son of Mary.”   Note that in this case Jesus had other brothers and so it is reasoned, by some, that if Jesus had other brothers they must be biological sons of Mary, even though the text doesn’t actually say that they are sons of Mary.   

Here is an interesting comment of one writer who claims that these are biological sons of Mary. “Again, the very context of scripture reveals that this is talking about the blood family of Jesus! In other words, Jesus, Son of Mary, brother of James and Joses, and He also had sisters. It's identifying a blood family, and it would be tortuous of scripture to deny this. 

The context does not say as this author suggests that James, Joses, Judas, and Simon are blood family of Jesus.  It says they are brothers of Jesus, not sons of Mary.   In order for us to know that the brothers of Jesus were in fact biological sons of Mary, Mark 6:3 would have to read like this.  “Is he [Jesus] not the carpenter, one of many sons of Mary along with James and Joses and Judas and Simon her other sons.”   The text of Mark 6:3 does not say this, but calls the brothers, Jesus brothers, not Mary’s sons.   This is an important distinction because the word BROTHER can have broad meaning (full brother, half brother, kinsman, disciple cousin or relative).   

The commentator goes on to say. If we're going to say that word Brother doesn't really mean His brethren, we have to also say that word Mother doesn't really mean Mary was Jesus Mother. For it's the same word that was used in Matthew 27:56 saying Mary was the Mother of James and Joses. And so it is utterly ludicrous to believe Mary was not the Mother of James and Joses.”   The commentator starts out fine because both the brother and brethren are synonymous, but again the word brother has broad meaning.   

He is also correct in that the same word MARY is used both in both Mathew 27:56 and Mark 6:3.   And so his point is that the Mary of Mathew 27:56 is the same mother of James and Joseph which would mean to him that Mary had other sons.  The problem with this line of thinking is that he makes the assumption that Jesus mother Mary in Mark 6:3, is the same Mary who is in Mathew 27:56.  They are not the same.  Mathew 27:56 does not say that this particular Mary is the Mother of Jesus.  She is the mother of James and Joseph. 

He in effect ignores the ELEPHANT IN THE LIVING ROOM.  He does not adequately distinguish between the Marys. Remember there are three different Mary’s listed in the Gospels and so how do we know which Mary is the MOTHER OF JESUS?   “There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.  Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Mt 27:56).  Note it doesn’t say that this Mary the mother of James and Joseph is “the mother of Jesus” (Jn 2:1); it doesn’t say "His mother named Mary (Mt 13:55); it doesn’t say “by the cross of Jesus were His mother”  (Jn 19:25); and it doesn’t say Mary the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14).   The text is clear, when the Mary spoken of is the mother of Jesus, it says so.  

It is true, the Mary of Mathew 27:56 does have other sons, but this Mary is not the mother of Jesus and the text does not say that she is.   She is in fact exactly what the text says.  This Mary is the mother of James and Joseph.   Note two of the three Marys are listed here, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, but not Mary the mother of Jesus.  She is listed in John with the other two Marys;“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala” (Jn 19:25).  The commentator for all his good intention has failed to distinguish one Mary from the other.  

Jesus is called THE Son of Mary but never referred to as A Son of Mary.  In the Gospel accounts there is a record of the birth of Jesus, but there is no record of Mary having given birth to any other children. 

The very earliest church believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  “An important historical document which supports the teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity is the Protoevangelium of James, which was written probably less than sixty years after the conclusion of Mary’s earthly life (around A.D. 120), when memories of her life were still vivid in the minds of many.”  (PROTOEVANGELIUM Mary: Ever Virgin Catholic Answers ).    

Many non-Catholic groups have a very high regard for the early fathers of the Church, in particularly Augustine. This is something that I don't entirely understand because you can't get much more Catholic than Augustine. Loraine Boettner, in his monumental work against the Catholic Church speaks of Augustine, "as admittedly the greatest theologian of the ancient Church” (Roman Catholicism pg. 160, Loraine Boettner, 1989 edition, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company). 

Well, let's take a look at what the greatest theologian of the ancient Church has to say about the virginity of Mary. Was she a perpetual virgin or not?  “When the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought Him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when He was invisible, she too was created. A virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual.  Why do you wonder at this, O man?  It was fitting for God to be born thus, when he deigned to become man” (The Faith of The Early Fathers, Volume 3 pg. 30 (1518), St Augustine of Hippo, Sermons  [A.D. 391-430]). 

When Augustine says, "It is fitting for God to be born thus," he is pointing to the fact that Mary's perpetual virginity, as well as other Marian teachings, ultimately point to Jesus. In other words, Mary's perpetual virginity is not an attempt to make Mary a deity as some would suggest, but for Mary to be a suitable vehicle for the coming of Jesus into this world. So the ultimate emphasis is not Mary, but Jesus. 

The Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin, Zwingly and Bullinger all believed that Mary had no other biological children.   Some of the main-line denominational Protestants today still believe in Mary ever-virgin.   Virtually none of the newer non-denominational churches that have come into being in the past 50 or 100 years believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary.  They do not have a sense for Protestant history and have been given a distorted commentary on what is meant by the brothers of Jesus in the Bible. 

Martin Luther; "Christ our Savior was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb. . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that." (Ref: On the Gospel of St. John: Luther's Works, vol. 22. p. 23, ed. Jaroslav Pelican, Concordia, 1957).