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Q: #198. Did Jesus have brothers?

     A: This is a question that basically boils down to Catholic vs Protestant doctrines, and in general I try to steer away from non-essential doctrines that divide religions. However, since I am Protestant, let me try and answer by explaining how I view the Bible’s teaching on this.

     First, the Bible seems to say pretty clearly that Jesus did indeed have 4 brothers and at least 2 sisters. Let’s look at a few verses.

(Mt 13:55-56) Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas (Jude)? (56) And his sisters, are not they all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?

(Mk 6:3) Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda (Jude), and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.

     Doesn’t it seem pretty obvious that Jesus had brothers and sisters from these verses? Well, it isn’t that easy 🙂 . The Catholic view (as well as some Protestants i.e. Luther) is that in these verses, and others, “brethren” or “brother” can also mean relatives or cousins in Greek: “adelphos.” (more on this below)

     Why do most Catholics view it this way? Primarily, because the Catholic church teaches that Mary (the mother of Jesus) was a virgin for her whole life. (Most) Catholics believe that if Mary had other children after Jesus, it would have defiled her in some way. Mary is said to have been sinless her whole life, born without original sin “The Immaculate Conception” (decreed as dogma [or supported by scripture] by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1854). If she had been born with sin, she would have passed it on to Jesus. (My question: Didn’t Mary’s mother need to be sinless as well so she didn’t pass on original sin to Mary?) In addition, Pope Benedict (1914-1922) decreed that Mary was a co-redeemer with Jesus. Since the Bible is clear that Jesus was sinless (2 Cor 5:21)(Heb 4:15)(1 Jn 3:5) and therefore could redeem us from sin (Rom 3:24)(Gal 3:13)(Eph 1:7), it follows that Mary must also have to be sinless to redeem us from sin.

     I don’t mention these Catholic teachings to refute them (although I do disagree with them), but simply to show why they have so much riding on their views of Mary. If Mary had other children, she would have been defiled, if she was defiled, she couldn’t have been sinless, if she wasn’t sinless, she couldn’t be a co-redeemer. OK… enough about that! So, let’s look at more in the Bible on why I believe Jesus did have brothers.

     In addition to the verses above, there are a number of others that point to Jesus having brothers.

(Jn 7:3-5) His brethren (brothers) therefore said unto him (Jesus), Depart hence, and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. (4) For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world. (5) For neither did his brethren (brothers) believe in him.

     It is important to understand here that during Jesus’ life on Earth, His brothers never believed in who He was (God, Messiah, Savior). This is one example. This is why, as Jesus was dying on the cross, one of the last things He did was to hand the care of His mother over to John (Jn 19:26-27) rather than one of His brothers, which was the normal custom. (It appears they weren’t there anyway.) However, after Jesus died, they DID become believers after His resurrection (app. 8 months after Jn 7). In fact, Jesus made an appearance to His brother James during His resurrection (1 Cor 15:7). This might have had something to do with them becoming believers 🙂 . We later see them meeting in the Upper Room with the disciples and Mary (their mother) to pray (Acts 1:13-14).

     In addition, two of Jesus’ brothers later wrote books in the Bible: James and Jude. In the opening to both of their books, they humbly refer to themselves as “a servant of Jesus Christ.” In (Jude 1:1), Jude also refers to himself as James’ brother.

     There is some controversy as to whether or not the writers of these books were indeed the Lord’s brothers or simply one of four other men named James or several other Judes (Juda) mentioned in the Bible. Let me show some of the proof for James (the Lord’s brother) as the author.

     We can know that the writer of James wasn’t the apostle James, the brother of John, because he was martyred in (Acts 12:2) in 44 A.D. and the book of James wasn’t written until 48-49 A.D. The other three people named James in the New Testament were obscure people who little is said about. James (son of Alphaeus) was almost unknown except in the list of apostles. James (called “The Less”), son of Mary (not Jesus’ mother) is barely mentioned as well (Gr. “mikros” can mean less “well known.”) James, the father (KJV says brother) of Judas (Lk 6:16) was even more obscure (only 2 references). Also, keep in mind the fact that because the author of James could simply identify himself as James, with no other distinguishing titles shows he was pretty well known.

     Josephus, a well-known Jewish historian, writing in the 90’s A.D., confirms that James was the Lord’s brother saying, “the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, whose name was James” (Antiquities- Book 20: Ch 9). He also says James, the Lord’s brother was martyred in 62 A.D. One of the early church fathers, Origen (185-254 A.D.) in 3 of his writings confirms that Josephus did indeed say this: (1. Commentary on Mt 10:17)(2. Against Celsus 1:47)(3. Against Celsus 2:13).

     James, the Lord’s brother, was an elder in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13-21) (Acts 21:18). It is interesting to note some similarities in language between the book of James and when James was speaking at the Council At Jerusalem. For example, the Greek word “episkeptomai” (visit) is used only in (Acts 15:14)(James 1:27) and 2 other places in the New Testament. Also, the Greek word “chairo” (greeting) is used in a letter that was drafted during that council (Acts 15:23). It is only used elsewhere in (James 1:1) and one other place in the New Testament.

     Paul also called James, the Lord’s brother in (Gal 1:19), “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”

     Now let’s look at another controversial verse.

(Mt 1:24-25)….and unto him his wife (Mary): (25) and knew her not TILL she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. (Caps on TILL mine)

     The “knew” her not in this verse is referring to sex. (See Lk 1:34 for more proof “knew” is referring to sex) Notice it says “till” (until) she had given birth to Jesus. It is important to understand that according to Jewish law, sex was a part of completing the marriage vows (she then was no longer a virgin and they were no longer betrothed). Look at (Deut 22:23-24) and (Gen 29:21-30) for examples of this. Also, according to the Bible, sex is NOT sinful (1 Cor 7:3-5) and it is “honourable” (Heb 13:4). It does not make a woman (or man) “unclean.” There is no Biblical reason to believe that Mary and Joseph did not have sexual relations after the birth of Jesus, and have other children.

     Finally, let me go back to the subject that when “brethren” is used in reference to the Lord’s brothers, it may not necessarily mean actual brothers, but rather relatives or cousins. While it is true that the Greek “adelphos” can mean relatives or cousins, its more literal meaning is actual blood brothers. Some Catholic apologetic sites use the argument that brethren was used because there was no Greek word for relative or cousin. This is not true. For example, Elizabeth is referred to as Mary’s cousin (Gr: “suggenes“) in (Lk 1:36). “Suggenes” is used to describe Elizabeth’s “cousins” in (Lk 1:58). “Suggenes” is also used to describe “kin” (Mk 6:4), “kinsfolk” (Lk 2:44), and “kinsmen” (Jn 18:26)(Rom 16:11) in the KJV (translated as “relatives” in other versions). In (Col 4:10), Paul calls Mark a “sister’s son to Barnabas” (KJV)(other versions Barnabas’s cousin). Therefore, it seems pretty apparent that the Bible DOES make a distinction between cousins/relatives and blood brothers of the same parents (or same mother in Jesus’ case) when it is deemed necessary.

     Let me close with what I believe may be the clearest proof of all in the Bible that Jesus had brothers. This is found in Psalm 69 which is filled with prophecy about Jesus. Let’s look specifically at (Ps 69:8-9).

(Ps 69:8-9) I am become a stranger UNTO MY BRETHREN, and an alien UNTO MY MOTHER’S CHILDREN. (9) For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; And the reproaches of them that reproached thee are falled upon me.

Copyright: © Steve Shirley

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I thought your article was well written. I am no longer a Christian, but in the time that I was, I was very disappointed in the influence of the Catholic church, on the Protestant religions. At the time I felt that if we would discard the left over paganism, there would be a real revival in the church. Alas, it never happened and convinced that if God really had a… Read more »