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Siblings of Jesus? Unforgivable Sin? Father Dave Answers Questions From the Gospel of Mark


At the start of a recent homily, Father Dave addresses two things from the Gospel of St. Mark that Catholics and non-Catholics alike often have questions about.  

In the Gospel of St. Mark and in a few other places, we hear about Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Father Dave explains that those who translated Gospel texts from the original languages wanted to keep faithful to the language. In the culture of Jesus’ time, immediate and extended family were considered almost the same, to the degree that they would actually use the same word for “brothers” and “cousins” – two family members that we have distinct names for in today’s culture.  

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The Greek term “Adelphos” used by St. Mark in his Gospel is an ambiguous word that could mean either brother or cousin. This passage could actually say that Jesus had blood brothers and sisters, or it could refer to cousins or more distant relatives, common parlance in Near East family descriptions. 

“So we’re left with a big shrug, right?” Father Dave says. “Which is why many of our Christian brothers and sisters would adhere to the fact that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth, but not necessarily after that, whereas we, from our sacred Tradition, have always believed and always taught that Mary is blessed Mary ever virgin, and that she did not give birth to any more children. So for us, our faith always comes with a balance of Scripture and Tradition. And tradition isn’t simply, well, we’ve always thought that so I guess it must be right. It is, we believe, Holy Spirit-inspired sacred Tradition, in a similar way that the Scriptures are inspired. So for us, if we take those two together, we know that we must be talking about cousins, and not literal brothers and sisters here.”

The second question Father Dave answers comes from the Gospel of St. Mark when Jesus refers to the ‘unforgivable sin.’’ He begins with Jesus’ own words, “All sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness.”  

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“What does that mean?” Father Dave asks.

Father Dave notes that St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical about the Holy Spirit specifically addresses this concept.

“Scholars and official Church teachings have been unable to really pinpoint exactly what Jesus means by that. St. Pope John Paul II said that it really emanates from God’s gift of free will –that God desires that all be saved and offers forgiveness. But he doesn’t ever force it down our throats. So in that sense, John Paul II defined this ‘blaspheming the Holy Spirit’ as a complete, utter rejection of God with our own free will. So it’s not that God can’t, but that God won’t force it on us.” 

Father Dave goes on, “So is there an unforgivable sin? Is there some secret list somewhere, like the secret menu at a fast food place? No. There’s not something that you can utter by mistake or even intentionally that will cast you away from God if you seek God’s forgiveness, which is what we’re encouraged to do all the time. There’s also not one particular thing you or I could ever do, that God wouldn’t forgive if we asked.”