The Scripture tells us that the shepherds came to adore the infant Jesus in the stable. Luke further tells us that Mary "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" This description has formed the church's thought down through the centuries. Mary is loved but in no church is she co-equal with Jesus. Some evangelicals insist Roman Catholicism teaches Mary is a co-redeemer but this is not the case, not if the dogma of the church is read carefully.

Roman Catholic teaching about Mary includes four dogmas, several of which became dogmas of the church in the last few hundred years. These dogmas are: Mary's Immaculate Conception, which kept her from original sin; Mary's sinlessness; Mary's perpetual virginity; and the Assumption (her body went directly to heaven after her death). Only the dogma of perpetual virginity is taught by the Orthodox. Many Orthodox theologians and Christians also believe in the Assumption but they do not consider it necessary to make this a dogma of the church. And the Orthodox have a different understanding of Mary and sin. They teach that she was the most sinless natural person ever but this is again not a dogma. The Orthodox are willing to say that she probably did display the human foibles of the fall, such as impatience and anger.

Protestants generally reject almost all of these teachings. Most regard Mary as a good mother to Jesus and think little else about her. By default this position gives her little, if any, serious respect, much less devotion.

2441707836_6b8a14cb41_m All of this can be seen in the debate about Jesus' brothers. One Bible trivia game asks: "How many natural brothers and sisters did Jesus have?" The answer takes the reader to Mark 6:3 and says he had at least six natural siblings. But both the Catholic and Orthodox Church have held since antiquity that Mary had no other children with Jesus. Martin Luther and John Calvin, interestingly enough, believed the same based on reading the Bible. How can this be?

In the ancient church Joseph was always understood as "the betrothed" in order to emphasize that he undertook to protect Mary and Jesus but Joseph and Mary never consummated their relationship. An ordinary interpretation of the Scripture's references to James as Jesus' brother says that Joseph, as an older man, had several children from a previous marriage. The other siblings mentioned in Mark may have been members of Joseph's family, perhaps cousins. Or they all could have been offspring from a previous marriage.

Before you reject all of this as strange consider that Jesus referred to the apostle John, from the cross, as Mary's new son, which meant he was being charged with taking care of Mary. John was possibly Jesus' second cousin. It was not unusual in the culture for close relatives to be referred to in this way.

Tomorrow: Jesus siblings. How should we think about them?