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The virgin birth of Jesus

Beliefs of Roman Catholics

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Beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church:

The Roman Catholic Church has consistently taught that Jesus' conception did not involve Joseph or any other human. They cite the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke, many creeds, and church tradition as supports for this belief.

Initially, the church taught a belief that is close to modern conservative Protestantism: simply that Mary was a virgin at the time of the conception of Jesus. Hans Küng writes that by the fourth or fifth century CE, church belief evolved to include Mary's:

"... virginity in the birth [of Jesus] (in partu == without birth pangs and/or rupture of the hymen). Finally, it came to be understood as virginity...after the birth (post partum = no sexual relations and no further children). That is, semper virgo, for all time, perpetual virginity.....According to Pope Siricius...even marital intercourse would have meant defilement for Mary." 1

Today, the Church teaches "that the Blessed Mother of Jesus Christ was a virgin before, during and after the conception and birth of her divine son." 2 Thus, Jesus had no full brothers or sisters.

The dogma of the Roman Catholic church also includes the perpetual virginity of Mary and Mary's immaculate conception. It teaches that:

bullet Mary's hymen was preserved intact during the delivery of Jesus. Although there is no mention of this in the Bible, this belief was accepted by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE.
bullet Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life. Her marriage to Joseph was never consummated, and thus the couple never had any more children. There are a number of ambiguous passages in the Christian Scriptures that some theologians believe contradict this belief:
bullet Matthew 1:25: "But he [Joseph] had no [sexual] union with her until she gave birth to a son..." (NIV) This verse states that Mary and Joseph remained celibate until after Jesus was born. The word "until," in its modern meaning, implies that Joseph and Mary actually consummated their marriage after the birth. However, the word "until," as used elsewhere in the Bible, does not necessarily have the latter implication. For example:
bullet 2 Samuel 6:23 states that Michal "had no children till the day of her death." That verse states that she had no children prior to her death; it also implies that she had no children after her death. 
bullet 1 Corinthians 15:25 states that Jesus Christ "...must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet." This states that Jesus would reign until he conquered his enemies, it also implies that his reign would  continue afterwards. 
bullet Matthew 6:3: "Isn't this [Jesus] the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?...". (NIV) There are also other references to siblings of Jesus in the Christian Scriptures. Many Christians accept that these are other sons by Mary and Joseph; others believe that they were really Jesus' half-brothers (sons of Joseph from a previous marriage) or cousins of Jesus, or friends of Jesus. 
bullet Luke 2:48: "...Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." In this passage, Jesus' mother Mary reproaches him, and refers to Joseph as his father. This verse is also ambiguous, because step-fathers were often called fathers in 1st century Palestine, as they are today.

As mentioned in another essay, a first century CE ossuary with the Aramaic inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" was found in the mid-1980's. If this is actually the bone box that contained James remains, then the inscription would give weight to the belief that Jesus and James were sons of Joseph. However, at least part of the inscription appears to be a hoax.

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  1. Hans Küng, "On being a Christian," Image, (Reprinted 1984). Page 453 -4. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. "Virgin Birth of Christ," Catholic Encyclopedia, at:

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Copyright © 1996 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Essay last updated: 2007-DEC-17
Written by. B.A. Robinson

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