Adelphos for “cousin” & “nephew” in the LXX; kecharitomene; Joseph & Mary’s abstinence; prototokos; Jesus alone is called Mary’s “son”
Steve Christie was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools up through college. He became a Protestant in 2004 at age 34, and is a frequent lecturer at Protestant churches and events, has led home Bible studies for sixteen years, and is a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Toledo, Ohio. He has participated in many oral debates with Catholics, and authored the self-published book, Why Protestant Bibles Are Smaller: A Defense of the Protestant Old Testament Canon in 2019. If my memory is correct, I have not interacted with him until now.
See the first two installments:
Reply to Steve Christie on Catholic Mariology (Part I: Steve’s 15-Minute Opening Statement, Covering the Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, & Bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) [+ Part II] [7-11-23]
I will be responding to Steve’s portions of his two hour long audio debate with Catholic apologist Trent Horn (it originally appeared on Pints with Aquinas with Matt Fradd): posted in transcript on the Catholic Answers website (5-2-22), under the title, “Debate: Do the Marian Dogmas Contradict Scripture?” I have not read Trent’s replies, so mine can be completely “fresh.” Steve’s words will be in blue. My biblical citations are from RSV, unless otherwise noted.
This is a response to Steve’s further rebuttal and the cross-examination and Q&A portions.
As I had mentioned about the Greek word, adelphi, let me remind everyone that this is about what scripture actually teaches and to remind that the Septuagint is a translation. It is not considered inspired. If it was, the New Testament writers would not deviate from it occasionally and use their own Greek translation. It’s a good Greek translation. The New Testament writers used it, but they did not use it universally for that reason. And again, what I argued is how adelphi is used consistently in the New Testament Greek, not how it’s used in a Greek translation of the Old Testament. You would expect there to be deviations from it. But even at that, the Greek word for adelphi, in the Old Testament, when it’s used, it’s used even in a translation, not to mean anything other than a biological sister or a believing sister, like the sister nations of Israel and Judah.
First of all (as relevant background information), we know that the usual Greek words for cousin: syngeneís and anepsios, only appear only five times and once, respectively, in the Septuagint, just as they appear only fifteen times and once (Col 4:10) in the NT, and most of the fifteen instances of syngeneís or its cognates (sungenia: Lk 1:61; Acts 7:3, 14; sungenis: Mk 6:4; Lk 1:36, 58; 2:44; 14:12; 21:16; Jn 18:26; Acts 10:24; Rom 9:3; 16:7, 11, 21) refer to kinsmen, kinsfolk, or kindred (in KJV): that is, in a sense wider than cousin.
By contrast, adelphos appears 346 times in the NT and 654 in the Septuagint (“brother[s]”: 390, “brethren”: 154, and “sister[s]” 110). In the RSV, cousin appears only four times in two books. For the entire Bible (minus the Deuterocanon), the numbers in the LXX and the NT are 1028-5, or “cousin” used instead of “brother” or “sister” once in every 206 times a relative is mentioned. It was clearly a word not used much for first cousins or even more distant cousins in both Testaments. The usual word for those was the equivalent of the English brother.
In the OT we have two clear cases of “brother” being used for a non-sibling: for a nephew and an uncle. The excellent site, Apologetics Press, explains in the article, “Oh Brother…or is it Nephew?” (by Eric Lyons, 31 December 2002). The article was designed to refute atheists, seeking to establish biblical contradictions. In this case, it also refutes a Baptist seeking to refute Mary’s perpetual virginity by partial means of false statements. I quote the article:
Allegedly, Lot cannot logically be described as Abraham’s “nephew” and his “brother” at the same time. Because Genesis 14:12 states that Lot was “Abram’s brother’s son” (NKJV; “nephew”—NIV), and Genesis 14:14 and 14:16 say that Lot was Abram’s (or Abraham’s—Genesis 17:5) “brother,” skeptics allege that the writer of Genesis erred. . . .
The truth is, however, there is a “simple, straightforward” solution to the problem. In Genesis 14:12, the Hebrew terms ben ‘achi are used to indicate that Lot literally was Abraham’s “brother’s son.” Lot was Haran’s son, and thus Abraham’s nephew (Genesis 11:27; 12:5). At the same time, Lot was also Abraham’s brother (Hebrew ‘achiw). He was not Abraham’s brother in the literal sense we so often use this word today, but he was Abraham’s brother in the sense that they were family. For the skeptic’s argument to hold any weight, he first must prove that the term for brother (‘ach) was used in the Bible only when speaking of a male sibling. Unfortunately, for them, they cannot prove that point. . . .
In Genesis chapter 29, Laban is called Jacob’s “brother”: “And Laban said unto Jacob, ‘Because though art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought?’ ” (vs. 15, emp. added, KJV). Just before Laban’s statement, “Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s [Laban’s] brother” (v.s 12, KJV). Considering that Jacob was only Laban’s nephew (24:29-31), when these men used the term “brother” in discussions with (or about) each other, they merely were speaking of one another as blood relatives, and not actual male siblings. . . .
Every indication in Scripture leads the unbiased person to conclude that the term “brother” has a wide variety of semantic shadings to it.
This non-literal use of brother for nephew and uncle holds in Hebrew, English (as just proven), and also in the Greek Septuagint. An online Greek-English parallel Septuagint bears this out: adelphios or one of its cognates appears in Genesis 14:14 and 14:16 in describing Lot’s relationship to Abraham, even though he was literally Abraham’s nephew. The same thing occurs at Genesis 29:15 with regard to Jacob, who was literally Laban’s uncle. And there is much more of the same to be found, too:
The LXX shows that ἀδελφός/ή [adelphos] was felt appropriate to translate חא [Hebrew ach = “brother”] to predicate “brotherly” relation of many whom we would not term “brothers” or “sisters” at all—some not even in the same generation. One finds this relationship predicated . . . of near-relatives as a collective (e.g. Gen 31:23, 37), cousins (e.g. Lev 10:4b; 1 Kgs 10:13; 1 Chr 23:21–22), and occasionally more distant relations (e.g. Job 42:11). . . . The Chronicles translator can use ἀδελφός for חא predicated of a cousin (1 Chr 23:22), yet at another point goes out of his way to render חא predicated of an uncle with the more detailed ἀδελφός τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ (2 Chr 36:10). The translators, at least in this example, were aware of the relationships to which their texts referred (and not only in famous examples like Abraham and Lot), and still felt ἀδελφός/ή appropriate in most cases. (James B. Prothro, “Semper Virgo? A Biblical Review of a Debated Dogma”, Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology, Vol. 28, Issue 1, March 7, 2019)
Prothro also observed that the first century Jewish historian Josephus sometimes used adelphos in similar non-literal ways as well. This is strong evidence of the Greek language cultural milieu of the NT:
Josephus can use ἀδελφοί as a collective as an equivalent of συγγενεῖς [syngeneís: usually rendered “cousin”] (BJ 6.356–357). . . .
All of this decisively refutes Steve’s falsely alleged factual contention above: “You would expect there to be deviations from it. But . . . the Greek word for adelphi, in the Old Testament, [is] used . . . not to mean anything other than a biological sister or a believing sister, like the sister nations of Israel and Judah.” This now documented and proven usage precisely upholds the Catholic argument about the usage of adelphos in the NT too. Sometimes it means cousin, as I have already, I think, proven in prior installments. And we maintain that this is the case with regard to Jesus’ “brothers”.
Trent had mentioned about, “Well, it could mean sister-in-law.” Well, the apostle John actually quoted from the Old Testament, from the Septuagint, frequently. And if he had meant sister-in-law, such as Mary’s sister in John chapter 19, he would’ve utilize the Greek word, [Greek 00:47:36] that’s used in the book of Ruth to describe Orpah’s relationship with Ruth.
First of all, Steve seems unaware that John 19:25: “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas”, if interpreted as Mary wife of Clopas being the Blessed Virgin Mary’s literal sister (sibling), would entail the unlikely and odd scenario of there being two daughters being named Mary in one family. Secondly, straightforward deductions from relevant cross-referencing and some early Church data that I have presented in various articles of mine on this topic (and some earlier in this series), strongly indicates a more distant relationship (most likely sister-in-law, in my opinion).
Thirdly, there is no necessity or likelihood at all for John to use syngeneis or anepsios in this context, since it was not normative Jewish usage for a sister-in-law: neither in the NT nor Septuagint nor the equivalents in the Hebrew Bible, whereas adelphe was normative. Steve apparently has an incomplete knowledge of the standard, overwhelmingly common use of terms for relatives in Hebrew culture. One can readily see how I have gone into much more depth — both biblical and linguistic — in refuting his contentions. If he tries to refute all that (assuming he answers me at all), he’ll have a very difficult task in front of him. But if he retracts (as it seems he must, from where I sit), he undercuts and weakens much of his own case.
Steve argues that the deuterocanonical passage Sirach 18:17 (in LXX) goes against Luke 1:28 because it also applies kecharitomene to a man. I addressed this in my 2004 book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants:
That verse also applies generally: “Indeed, does not a word surpass a good gift? Both are to be found in a gracious man.”
Moreover, this is proverbial, or wisdom literature. According to standard hermeneutical principles, this is not the sort of biblical literature to build doctrines or systematic theology (or even precise meanings of words) upon. The reason is that proverbial expression admits of many exceptions. For example, the statement “Happy people smile” may be true much of the time, but it is not always true. Proverbial language is, therefore, too imprecise to use in determining exact theological propositions. Meaning depends on context, as any lexicon will quickly prove.
Even apart from the important factor of the proverbial style of writing found in Sirach, linguists attribute different meanings to kecharitomene in the two verses. As Joseph Thayer, another great biblical Greek scholar, writes:
Luke 1:28: “to pursue with grace, compass with favor; to honor with blessings.”
Sirach 18:17: “to make graceful i.e., charming, lovely, agreeable” (Thayer’s [Greek Lexicon], 667; Strong’s word no. 5487). (p. 189)
First Corinthians chapter seven, again, it says, “For a season in order to separate,” but then it says, “So that you go back,” married couples to go back so you do not get tempted by Satan because of your lack of self-control. And the fact that Trent is saying that the holy family would not need to apply to that, he’s imputing his Catholic theology into the text.
Not at all. There are almost always exceptions to rules. There are couples who are infertile for various reasons, and this may cause a lack of sexual desire, up to and including a sexless marriage. Say two such people get married after the woman has gone through menopause. There’s no sin in that, because they can’t have children, anyway. It could be from disease or injury or simply age. Not absolutely every marriage must include a sexual component. Paul refers to a “season.” Very well. The “season” for Mary and Joseph was simply longer than what was usual. Steve doesn’t care for that? Well, with God all things are possible.
Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9) and “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her” (Mk 10:11). This seems utterly absolute. Yet Paul states,
1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace.
So that’s an exception to the biblical rule that married couples ought not ever separate. In effect, it allows a sort of “divorce.” Catholics say it is an annulment. In any event, it’s something other than lifelong marriage. By the same token, one can conceptualize a marriage between the Mother of God the Son and her spouse Joseph, where it’s agreed that sex would not be a part, due to the uniqueness of the One Whom Mary carried in her womb. If ever there was an exception to the rule, it would be in this case: an absolutely unique pregnancy bringing about the incarnation, that began supernaturally by the Holy Spirit.
I think much of the problem that Protestants have with this (that the earliest Protestants like Luther and Calvin did not have) is the notion that one can actually live without sex. That’s why (at least partially, in my speculation) many of them fight so vigorously against a celibate priesthood. It’s because they can’t comprehend a heroic resolve to sacrifice a good thing (marital sexuality and marriage) for the sake of serving an even greater good: God. This was never the slightest problem for me to understand when I was an evangelical, because I loved Paul, and Paul spoke very clearly:
1 Corinthians 7:28 . . . those who marry will have worldly troubles . . .
1 Corinthians 7:32-35 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord;  but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife,  and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband.  I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
This is why Catholics believe that priestly celibacy is a good thing. It’s a heroic self-sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom, so that the priest (or nun) can “secure . . . undivided devotion to the Lord” and be freed from being “anxious about worldly affairs.”
So in the case of Mary and Joseph, both of them consecrated themselves to the Lord, and simply lived together in a celibate state, because it was fitting and proper, as we would say. See my related article, “Holy Ground” & Mary’s Perpetual Virginity [5-24-16].
Let’s stick with what scripture actually supports. Prototokos, I don’t have a problem with the term, meaning first out of the womb, but in Luke chapter two versus 22 to 23, this is a different event. This is a separate event than from what Luke is talking about earlier in Luke chapter two, verse seven. He’s simply talking about Jesus being the firstborn. And again, if he meant only child, he would’ve used monogenes like he used it elsewhere in Luke’s gospel.
Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged ed., p. 967, “prototokos”) addresses this: “Of itself it dies not necessarily imply that Mary has other children. But it also does not mean monogenes; indeed, it includes the possibility and expectation that other children will follow.”
Now, Steve may think this supports his view. But it supports ours just as much, since neither “possibility” nor “expectation” means that a thing must necessarily happen, which is the thought here. It might. But if the word prototokos doesn’t necessarily require more children, then it doesn’t, and the argument from it is much weakened. This means that Mary’s perpetual virginity cannot be refuted from this word alone. We can’t build a theological system or a polemical argument based on what I have called “coulda woulda shoulda” theology. I think we can rest assured that Luke, writing under inspiration from God, selected precisely the word that God wanted him to choose. And it doesn’t require the presence of further children.
Trent, in your recent podcast rebutting Ray Comfort, you said Jesus is the only person referred to as the son of Mary. So in Mark chapter one, verse 19, it says, “James is the son of Zebedee,” and it uses the Greek definite article. So does this mean that James was Zebedee’s only son?
This is not a valid attempted analogy. The question is whether anyone is called Mary’s son (or she their mother) besides Jesus. It’s not analogous to bring up Zebedee’s sons and Greek grammar. No one needs to argue that grammar when we have so many crystal-clear passages about James and John being Zebedee’s sons. The question is whether someone is regarded as Zebedee’s son or daughter but is never described as such in Scripture. In that instance, they are described as such many times. But in Mary’s case, no one but Jesus is, even though His “brothers” are mentioned many times (and since the word can mean something other than sibling, etc., it’s not decisive in and of itself).
We know that the sons of Zebedee are James and John because Scripture expressly says so many times, and leaves no room for doubt whatsoever: “James the son of Zeb’edee and John his brother, in the boat with Zeb’edee their father” (Mt 4:21); “James the son of Zeb’edee” (Mt 10:2; cf. Mk 1:19; 3:17); “the sons of Zeb’edee” (Mt 20:20; cf. Jn 21:2); “the two sons of Zeb’edee” (Mt 26:37); “the mother of the sons of Zeb’edee” (Mt 27:56); “they left their father Zeb’edee” (Mk 1:20); “James and John, the sons of Zeb’edee” (Mk 10:35); and “James and John, sons of Zeb’edee” (Lk 5:10).
There are no analogous verses such as the above in the case of Mary and Jesus “brothers”. Certainly that is significant, and the above data only highlight that fact and make it a stronger argument; thanks to Steve for that! No one is specifically called her son and she is not called anyone’s mother except Jesus. It’s the same thing with Joseph . . . We see how easy it would be to specify that, in light of the above verses, just about two men and their father. But it never happens. And the reason is because it’s not the case, and “brothers” in those cases mean “cousins.”
If Jesus was referred to as “the carpenter’s son,” and it’s a patronym, would this eliminate his brothers being older stepbrothers, according to the Protoevangelium of James?
No. But whether He had step brothers (sons of Joseph from a previous marriage) is irrelevant to the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity, since she is not involved. This is the predominant view of the Orthodox and (I think) Eastern Catholics, and it has a respectable pedigree. Personally, I think it’s less strong than the “cousins” view that I hold.
So since Jacob is referred to as the son of Isaac, and Reuben as the son of Jacob, then were they only children? The only son?
Once again, this is a non sequitur, since Genesis 35:22-26 lists twelve sons of Jacob, from four different women. Genesis 49 lists them again. They are the basis of the twelve tribes of Israel. No one doubts this. Jacob also had one daughter, Dinah (Gen 34:1). So it’s irrelevant if one or more are referred to as the “son of Jacob” in light of all the information we have. The twelve sons are specifically named as his. No one (who holds to biblical inspiration) can question it. But the “brothers” and “sisters’ of Jesus are never described as sons or daughters in relation to either Mary or Joseph. These supposed “counter-arguments” which really aren’t merely strengthen the plausibility of the case for Mary’s perpetual virginity based on zero references to anyone but Jesus being her son or daughter.
How do we know that Andrew and Peter are brothers?
It’s a deduction, seeing that they are called “brothers”, and both came from Bethsaida, “the city of Andrew and Peter” (Jn 1:44), and both were fishermen. We have “Simon the son of John” (Jn 1:42; cf. 21:15-17), but Andrew is not called John’s (or, Jonah’s / Jonas’) son. So we can’t be absolutely sure from Scripture alone that they are blood brothers. They could be step-brothers, half-brothers, or even cousins.
A purpose of a bodily assumption into heaven is so an individual would not see death. If she was immaculately conceived, she would not have bodily assumed… needed to be rescued from death because that’s the purpose of assumption, which we see from Enoch and Elijah.
And as I have noted more than once now, the Two Witnesses of Revelation died and then were taken up to heaven. So not all “assumption”-type phenomena involve a lack of death:
Revelation 11:7, 11-12 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit will make war upon them and conquer them and kill them, . . .  But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up hither!” And in the sight of their foes they went up to heaven in a cloud.
Photo credit: Istanbul: Chora Church Museum (Kariye Cami). Nartex. A mosaic showing the Virgin Mary beside Jesus. Photograph by Giovanni Dall’Orto, May 29, 2006. Released into public domain by the photographer [Wikimedia Commons]