“What Can You Tell Me About the Infancy Gospel of James?”

Can you give me some information on the writings of the Protoevangelium of James [also known as the “Infancy Gospel of James”]? I know that has to do with proving the hows and whys that Mary was a perpetual virgin. Can you give me some historical background of it and how we as Protestants refute that heretical teaching?

Thanks for your letter. You can find some helpful scholarly information on this gospel here: www.earlychristianwritings.com/infancyjames.html The introductory article offers some useful background information. To simply highlight a couple of important points:

1. Our earliest manuscript of this gospel dates to the third century. However, the text itself probably dates to the middle of the second century. This fact, combined with the fact that the historical James (the brother of Jesus) was put to death by Ananias in 62 A.D., clearly make it a pseudonymous work (i.e. it was not actually written by James, the brother of Jesus).

2. In addition, the work is clearly dependent on the infancy narratives found in Matthew and Luke.

3. Since it was not written by James, the brother of Jesus, and since it clearly contains mythological embellishments and historical inaccuracies, the early Fathers of the church were wise not to include the book in the New Testament canon.

4. Finally, for more information on the criteria of canonicity, please see the section entitled “The Formation of the New Testament Canon” in my article on “Redeeming the Da Vinci Code” here: www.probe.org/redeeming-the-da-vinci-code/. Actually, the entire article has much information that is relevant as background material to your question.

Concerning the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity: although Roman Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life, this doctrine seems biblically problematic. In Matthew 1:24-25 we learn that Joseph took Mary as his wife, but “had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” The verse seems to clearly imply that Joseph and Mary did have normal sexual relations after the birth of Jesus. And this is confirmed by references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters in Matthew 13:55-56.

But could these have been children of Joseph from a previous marriage, as some Roman Catholic teachers have suggested? This does not seem to be a very plausible explanation; indeed, it has a very serious difficulty. As one commentator has observed: “Joseph could not have had children by a previous marriage, as some suppose, for then Jesus would not have been heir to the Davidic throne as the oldest son of Joseph.” Hence, the most plausible interpretation of the biblical evidence is that Mary remained a virgin until the birth of Jesus, but afterward conceived and bore other children via normal sexual relations with her husband, Joseph.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn