Coptic Church · History & Tradition

The Betrothed!

Did St. Mary remain a virgin after giving birth to the Lord?

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces towards the east, but it was shut. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut” (Ezk 44:1-2).

This sealed eastern gate is a symbol of St. Mary’s perpetual virginity. For the Lord alone entered her womb, and this gate was never opened to another.

The early Fathers of the Church all attested to St. Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Marriage or Betrothal!

According to Jewish tradition, marriage consists of two steps: betrothal and formal marriage. After certain financial arrangements were made, the couple was betrothed to one another in the house of the bride. The betrothal was in every respect equivalent to marriage without any sexual relationship. The betrothed woman was called the man’s wife. She would become a widow if her betrothed died, and could claim the financial settlement accorded to a wife widowed or divorced. In case of infidelity she was liable to the same punishment as an adulterous wife. If the betrothed woman had not been married previously, she usually waited a year before the formal marriage. That is why St. Mary is called “Joseph’s wife. They were betrothed and not married.

The Brothers of Jesus

Around 382 AD, a person by the name of Helvidius wrote a book asserting that after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph consummated their marriage and that Mary later gave birth to other children, the “brothers of Jesus” mentioned in the Gospels (Matt 13:55-56 and Mk 6:33). The book has not survived although its arguments are well known because of St. Jerome’s reply to it. What, then, does the Gospel mean by the words “the brothers of Jesus”? There are two views:

  1. There are some in the early Church who held the view that the “brothers of Jesus” were children of Joseph from a previous marriage.
  2. The more commonly accepted view is attributed to St. Jerome who showed that in the Scriptures, the word “brother” is used to mean:
    1. Blood brotherhood
    2. Common nationality
    3. Close relatives
    4. Friends

In the case of the Lord’s brothers, the third meaning applies. It is well known that at the time, cousins were called brothers, for they often lived under one roof in one large family. Until today, the same term is used in some villages in Upper Egypt. In the Aramaic language all these types of relationships were refereed to as “brothers.” According to St. Jerome, the brothers of Jesus were the sons of Mary, the wife of Clopas, the sister of the Virgin Mary (John 19:25). Also in verse 26-27, we see that Christ entrusted His mother to St. John the disciple. Surely, if He had any brothers, she would have been entrusted to them.

Fr Mattias Wahba

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