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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jesus is the Firstborn? Doesn't that imply that Mary had other children?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
         and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

In other words, why do Catholic proclaim Mary to be a Perpetual Virgin?  If Jesus was the firstborn, then the must have been other children of Mary and Joseph.   And why are Catholics so hung up on what Mary and Joseph did AFTER Jesus was born?  Isn't the important part that Mary was a virgin BEFORE she gave birth to Jesus?  Who cares what happened after?

In light of this Sunday's reading I thought I'd re-visit the above questions that are often posed to Catholics.

From this Sunday's 2nd reading:

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness,
the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.--Rev 1:5
Fundamentalist Christians like to point out that the term "firstborn" implies that there were subsequent children.  And thus the Catholic Church's teaching on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is another Catholic teaching that contradicts Scripture.

However, the term “firstborn” refers to the Mosaic law, and can reference the eldest of several, but also can be applicable to an only son.
The firstborn sons of Israel received the inheritance.  If he were an only child, he would not be excluded from the inheritance because he is not, literally, a firstborn, but actually an only born.  Rather, it was understood that firstborn sons referred to both eldest AND only sons.

In this verse,  "The Lord said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and beast, is mine.’"--Exodus 13: 1-2   The Hebrews did not only present to God those children who were the eldest of many, but any child (son) who was born first.  Including only sons.

In Exodus 34:20 the Israelites are commanded to "redeem" their firstborn:  "The firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. The firstborn among your sons you shall redeem.  No one shall appear before me empty-handed." They did not wait until a second child was born before presenting their firstborn child.  He was a firstborn even if no further children were conceived.

The "firstborn" were not given this designation when there became a "second-born." They were deemed "firstborn" at their birth. Jesus being "firstborn" does not require that more siblings be born after him. 

As for why Catholics seem to be so focused on Mary's Perpetual Virginity, the response is this:  any doctrine/teaching on Mary only serves to enhance and highlight our understanding of Jesus.  An impoverished understanding of Mary leads to an impoverished understanding of her Son.

Because the womb which contained He Who Could Not Be Contained was especially set apart, we know that what was contained in Mary's womb was like no other.  If this womb held other sinful creatures, how special could that first "creature" have been?

It's like the Ark of the Covenant, when it was through carrying the Divine Presence, later carrying some pretty desert pebbles. That wouldn't make sense, would it?

Imagine trying to evangelize a Muslim. He could validly say to a Christian: "You believe Mary had other children? Hmmm....if Jesus were divine, how could the womb which carried him also carry other sinful creatures? I don't think Jesus could have been God if the womb which carried him also carried mere humans?"

So Catholics are better equipped to proclaim the Divinity of Christ, when we proclaim the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Apologist Mark Shea on Mary's Perpetual Virginity

Catholics Come Home
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15