Jesus Creed

Yesterday’s post provided a smattering of evidence, and drew some good response (especially from Dennis Martin and Jim Martin — no relations!) that anticipates where we have to go in this series, but the evidence is clear: there was an early and widespread belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity. Not only that she conceived as a virgin but that she remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. There are three historic views in this issue, and I wish today to look at each:
First, Helvidius, a Roman teacher who got nothing but heat from Jerome for his view, argued what has become the standard Protestant view. He argued that Mary conceived as a virgin, but after the birth of Jesus engaged in normal sexual relations with Joseph and they had children — names are listed in Mark 6:3. In a day or two we’ll look at Jerome’s remonstration with Helvidius.
Second, Jerome’s view (called the Hieronymian view) is found in some Roman Catholic scholars. This view is that the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus were actually “cousins.” Again, we’ll look at this view in a day or two when we look at Jerome and Helvidius.
Third, the Epiphanian view contends that Joseph was married previously, had children with another wife, that wife died, and then he married Mary, and that Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” are therefore “step brothers and sisters.” Notice, they are not in this view “half-brothers and sisters” for Joseph was not the blood-father of Jesus and Mary was not the blood-mother of Joseph’s previous children. In this view, Mary may have been perpetually virgin, and may not have been.
This view has recently been revived by none other than one of England’s finest scholars, Richard Bauckham. You can find his piece in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 56 (1994): 686-700. He criticizes the Roman Catholic scholar, J.P. Meier, for not being careful enough in his view of Epiphanius.
Now here’s the major contribution of this article: when “son of Mary” is used in Mark 6:3, Bauckham contends that calling Jesus by his mother’s name (a metronymic) indicates that locally there was knowledge that Jesus was to be distinguished from his “step brothers and sisters” because the locals knew these kids had different mothers.
Bauckham cites OT geneaologies where sons are “sons of a woman” and those texts indicate more than one mother and those texts are discerning within a family. Let be up front: I have published on Mark 6:3 and I have argued, with many others, that this “son of Mary” is a slur indicating that locals thought Jesus was a mamzer (“illegitimate child”). I still adhere to that local knowledge and to Jesus’ having been perceived in his world as illegitimate (though I believe in the virginal conception; that doesn’t mean Mary’s contemporaries believed her story).
Bauckham cites:
Hur the firstborn of Ephrath (1 Chron 2:50; 4:4)
Adonijah son of Haggith (1 Kgs 1:5, 11; 2:13; cf. 2 Sam 3:2-5; 1 Chron 3:1-9)
Other sons of David in rabbinic texts: b. Bat. 109b; b. Ketub. 62b
Philo, Fug. 73.
Joseph and Aseneth 22:11
What about Joab, Asahel and Abishai as the “sons of Zeruiah” (1 Sam 26:6 often)
What he is suggesting is that Epiphanius may have been onto something.
Now he actually goes further. Already in the 2d Century, there are three texts that assume the Epiphanian view, and these three texts are not connected to one another and may well preserve an old tradition that Joseph was previously married. Bauckham does not think these are solid texts, does not think they are always credible, but he does think they may preserve an older tradition that just might be reliable:
Protevangelium of James 9:2; 17:1-2; 18:1
Gospel of Peter (acc. to Origen, Comm. on Matt. 10:17)
Infancy Gospel of Thomas 16:1-2.
Now, where are we? Well, we have to reckon with some good argument, some possible evidence, and an abundance of Christian scholarship that is widespread and early that Joseph was previously married and that the “brothers and sisters” might not be blood-brothers and sisters (we’ll get to this issue soon but not today), and that Mary may have been perpetually virgin.
Now what do I think? I’m not sure. I tend to favor the Protestant view, but I want to be fair to this evidence. What do you think?

Previous Posts
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus