By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
Just as Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfill (Matt. 5:17), the New Testament is consistent with the Old, and in Jesus’ time brother had also a variety of meanings.
For instance: In Matt. 5:22 (Sermon on the Mount), brother means a fellow man, purely and simply, because of our common origin in father Adam. Our Lord says, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the Sanhedrin.”
Surely He is not saying that the only person you cannot get angry with is your blood-brother, but the rest, cousins, uncles, nephews, neighbors, foreigners, Gentiles, lawyers, politicians, you can hate as much as you please. Of course not.
In Matt. 18:21 brother can mean a blood brother, a relative and a fellow Jew: “Then Peter came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
We know His answer. But if we take it literally, Peter would be talking about Andrew, his blood brother. But we know it was not the case.
In Matt. 19:35: “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not each forgive your brothers from your hearts.” If you take it too literally, then you must only forgive your brothers but not your sisters and cousins….
In Mark 3:31-35 “brother” and “sister” and even “mother” mean anyone who does the will of God: “And His mother and His brethren came, and standing outside, they sent to Him, calling Him. Now a crowd was sitting about, and they said to Him, ‘Behold, thy mother and thy brethren are outside, seeking thee.’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Who are my mother and my brethren?’ And looking round on those who were sitting about Him, He said, ‘Behold my mother and my brethren. For whoever does the will of God, He is my brother and sister and mother’.”
It should be noted that here Jesus made a great public praise of His Mother. She’s His Mother in two different ways, both physically and spiritually, because she did the will of God to perfection. Let it be done unto me according to thy word. She was the first to give an unconditional “Yes” to God. You and I, and everybody else who wants to be faithful to God, follow her example.
On the cross, Jesus calls John His son and gives Mary to him as his mother: “Son, Behold thy Mother” and “From that hour he took her into his own home” (John 19:26-27).
Every decent non-Catholic Christian knows that Jesus had no sons.
In Acts 9:17 brother means a fellow-Jew: “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and laying his hands upon him, said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me — Jesus, who appeared to you on your journey — that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
In Acts 22:13 St. Paul accepts being called brother by Ananias: “Now, one Ananias, an observer of the Law, respected by all the Jews who lived there, came to me and standing beside me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And instantly I looked at him.”
But we know that Ananias and Saul were not blood-brothers, but only fellow Jews.
In 2 Cor. 2:13 St. Paul calls Titus his brother: “I had no peace of mind, because I did not find Titus my brother.” Yet in his epistle to the same Titus (1:4), he calls him son: “To Titus, my beloved son in the common faith, grace and peace from God the Father, and from Christ Jesus our Savior.”
Either we ask St. Paul to stop confusing us and make up his mind about his family relationship with Titus, or we must admit that the Jewish language in Jesus’ time was not exactly like American English today.
To confuse you even more, it is worth remembering that in Amos 1:9 brother means “an ally”; in Canticle of Canticles 4:9 “sister” means bride: “How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride.” In Gen. 29 (King James Version) we read about Jacob, Rebecca, Laban, and Rachel. It is not easy to understand who is who with just one quick reading:
“Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother. . . . And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, that he was Rebecca’s son. . . . And Laban kissed his sister’s son.”
Sometimes it is difficult to understand who should be kissing whom in those days. . . .
Conclusion: In Hebrew and Aramaic, the words “brother” and “sister” do not necessarily mean children of the same parents, or even of one parent. It may mean cousin, friend, bride, fellow Jew, member of same tribe, ally, son, nephew, etc.
The usage of words like brother, sister, son, etc., in the Bible have much too much of a general meaning for anyone to conclude that they mean what they do in English as it is spoken today. Therefore, the argument against our Lady’s perpetual virginity that is based upon the word “brother” in the New Testament proves nothing. It is inconclusive, purely and simply. The words brethren of Jesus neither prove nor disprove anything.
It is only anti-Catholic bigotry that leads certain people to insist in imposing their private interpretation as an infallible guide to oppose Roman Catholicism.
So we can state the faith of the early Christians again, not citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, by quoting from two of the main founders of Protestantism, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli:
“It is an article of Faith that Mary is the Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. . . . Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact” (The Works of Luther, Weimar, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, vol. 11, pp. 319-320; vol. 6, p. 510).
“I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the Gospel, as a pure virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remaining a pure, intact Virgin” (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, in Evang. Luc., Op. comp., vol. 1, p. 424).
We must ask our Protestant brothers and sisters (who are not necessarily our blood-brothers and sisters, of course, because as we all know in biblical language “brother” and “sister” have a variety of meanings) whether Luther and Zwingli were wrong in standing side by side with us R.C. folks in defending the perpetual virginity of Mary. If they were wrong, we must ask in which other areas they were also wrong. If they were right, why don’t they, today’s Protestants, defend the faith of the early Christians on Mary’s perpetual virginity with us Roman Catholics?
Next article: Did Joseph know her as a husband knows his wife after the birth of Jesus?
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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is: www.RaymondeSouza.com.)