This question specifically deals with the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Matthew 13:55-56 reads:

Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things? (NIV)

I have read that proponents of the doctrine claim that the word translated as "brothers" in Matthew 13:55 does not necessarily imply biological relationship (http://www.catholic.com/blog/matt-fradd/jesus-had-brothers). My question then, is whether the word translated as "sisters" has the same ambiguity?

  • See also: Can αδελφοί refer to cousins?. – Susan May 2 '16 at 18:25
  • @terminex9: Are you asking about ἀδελφή in the context of the Greek NT alone (and perhaps also the LXX), or in all the contemporary Greek literature of that era (i.e., including secular literature)? – user862 May 2 '16 at 18:39

To answer your question, yes, the same ambiguity is attributed to the word translated as "sisters".

There are three ancient views regarding Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters". They are summarized in an appendix to Laurent Cleenewercke's translation of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchal Text (The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible: New Testament, 2011):

The so-called Epiphanian view (named after St. Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus) is the traditional position of Eastern Orthodoxy and the preferred exegesis of the Greek Fathers. It holds that the brothers and sisters of the Lord are most probably children of Joseph by a previous marriage as well as other close relatives such as cousins, etc.

The Helvidian view (named after Helvidius who was Jerome’s opponent in the controversy) is that of most Evangelicals and Protestants today: it holds that the “brothers and sisters” mentioned in the New Testament are children which Joseph had with Mary subsequent to the birth of Jesus.

Finally, what I shall call the Jeromian [or Hieronymian] view is named after St. Jerome who did not accept the idea that the “brothers and sisters” could have been children of Joseph (whose virginity he also sought to uphold). Instead, he proposed an interpretation of the Scriptural data which concluded that the “brothers and sisters” were in fact close cousins. This is the preferred (if not official) position of Roman Catholic theology.

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