Certain Protestant critics will point to Luke 2:7 as a proof that Mary had other children: “And Mary; brought forth her FIRST BORN Son.” However, this designation “first born son” is a peculiarity of translation. The expression in ancient times merely meant that this was the first child to open the womb or that was born. The expression was used even when no other children were born to a woman. There was also the Mosaic command that every first child had to be presented to the Lord after forty days. Many other women in the history of salvation had singular births. Here too, with Mary, God demonstrates his power and favor in the birth of Jesus. He is God’s only Son. He is also Mary’s only Son.
I am reminded of Moses who removed his sandals when he approached the burning bush. God was present and Moses trod upon holy ground. Mary is the living holy ground of God. Joseph most of all appreciated this reality. He was the faithful guardian and protector of both Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, and Jesus, who was God come among us. Would we have a picnic and use the chalice from Mass to hold our soda pop? Would we use the paten to serve cupcakes? No, of course we would not! They are reserved for the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ. Similarly, Mary was a vessel reserved for the presence of our Lord.
I have often preferred the use of the term “brethren” over that of brothers in the texts which speak about the kin to Christ: Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, 7:10 and Galatians 1:19. If not true brothers, who were James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude? The word for brother in Hebrew was inexact and meant all sorts of familial relations. Of course, today too we give a wide definition to brothers and sisters beyond a definition of siblings with the same parents. The liturgy uses the address of brothers and sisters in prayers. Secular society uses the terms for close friends or affiliated representatives of the African-American community. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark designate two of the brethren, James and Joseph, as sons of the “other” Mary, who accompanied Mary Magdalene. She is the mother of the sons of Zebedee (see Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40). This Mary was related to the Virgin Mary (John 19:25). James who was called the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19) was actually the son of the “other” Mary, the wife of Clopas (Luke 24:10). The apostle Jude Thaddaeus (Matthew 13:55) announces himself a brother of Jesus (Jude 1:1) but we know that he is the son of Mary, the wife of Clopas. There are also intimations that Jesus is an only child by how he is addressed. When he goes home, people are taken aback by his public ministry and new popularity. It is remarked, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” Notice, the speaker does NOT say, “Is this not ONE OF the carpenter’s sons?”