Friday, March 27, 2009

The Brothers of Jesus Don't Scare Me

Why does the Bible say that Jesus had brothers if Mary was a virgin her whole life?

There are several verses in Scripture that refer to the “brothers” of Jesus (cf. Mt 12:46; 13:55-56; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19; Jn 7:1-10; Acts 1:14; Gal 1:19). However, it is not necessary to believe that these “brothers” were actually His siblings.

Remember, the New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word for “brother” in these verses is adelphos. This word can mean “sibling,” but it is also used in Scripture to refer to those of the same nationality; any man, or neighbor; persons with like interests; distant descendants of the same parents; persons united by a common calling; mankind; the disciples; and all believers.

Considering the broad meaning of the word, we can just as easily say that the “brothers” of Jesus were not Jesus’ siblings but instead were related to Him in some other way. Scripture tells us that at least four of them – James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas – were actually Jesus’ cousins, since their mother was Mary’s sister (cf. Mt 27:56,61; 28:1; Mk 15:47; Jn 19:25). That fact alone is reason to give us pause, instead of jumping to the conclusion that every brother of Jesus mention in the NT is an actual sibling of Jesus.

The customs of the day are helpful here as well. For one, Jesus was the first born of the family, so these brothers would be younger than Him. In Jn 7:1-10 we see them giving Jesus orders and practically reprimanding Him. Yet, in Jesus' day, no younger brother would dare speak to the eldest the way these brothers speak to Jesus.

Also, it was Jewish custom for the eldest son to take care of his mother once his father died. Once the eldest son died, this responsibility fell on the next son, and so on. Yet, Jesus gave his mother to the Apostle John, not to any of His brothers (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

Furthermore, there are a couple of places where one would expect to see these siblings of Jesus, but they are conspicuously absent. For example, if Jesus had siblings, where were they when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus on the way back from celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem? These siblings certainly would have been traveling with them. Yet, there is no mention of them at all in the account of what happened. Note also that, when Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was gone, they didn’t go to his supposed siblings, which would have been the logical thing to do. Instead, they looked among their “kinfolk and acquaintances” (Lk 2:44).

Where were the siblings of Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana? Mary was invited, Jesus was invited, even Jesus' followers were invited, but we don't read of any invitation for His siblings, for "Jesus and His brothers" or anything like that (cf. Jn 2:1-2). Were they just snubbed? Highly unlikely. Marriages were a whole community affair. Everyone in town would celebrate. The most plausible explanation for why the siblings of Jesus weren't invited is because they did not exist.

Why, if Jesus had other siblings, is He referred to in Scripture as "the" son of Joseph and Mary, instead of "a" son (cf. Mk 6:3; Jn 1:45; 6:42). Maybe there's nothing there, but it seems to me that if Mary had multiple sons, "a son" would have been the more appropriate phrase.

So, we can see from the underlying Greek, from the customs of the day, and from other peculiarities in Scripture, that it's quite reasonable to conclude that Mary did not have other children.

We even have reason to believe that she never intended to. How else do we explain the confusion that Mary expressed when the angel told her she would conceive and bear a son? From Lk 1:34, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man" (KJV), "since I have no relations with a man" (NABRE). If she intended to have children, there would be no confusion. She would have just assumed that once she entered into Joseph's house, they would have marital relations and she would conceive a son. But, she's confused. She doesn't understand how this can happen.

Does she not know how babies are made? I think she's confused because she intended to be a virgin dedicated to the Lord. The angel relieves her anxiety and concern by basically saying, "Don't worry, you will remain a virgin, the child will be conceived not in the usual way, but by the power of the Holy Spirit" (cf. Lk 1:35)

All of this explains why Catholics have nothing to fear when they read of the “brothers of Jesus” in Scripture.

Peace of Christ to you,


  1. Your reasoning seems rather closed minded and prejudiced. If you read additional scripture you will see that it says that Joseph did not know Mary until after Jesus was born. This infers that he did know her in the biblical way after Jesus was born. So Mary would not be a virgin her whole life as the Catholic church teaches. According to the society and culture in those times, they would have had many more children. The BIble does not mention a lot of things directly, so not saying that Mary and Joseph looked for Jesus with his brothers means nothing. They most likely would have looked there first as most of us would have done. There is also a word that is usually used in Greek to mean cousins or distant relatives. The word that you propose means cousins or distant relatives does not make sense in the context is is used. I am not a Bible scholar by any means, but it seems that you are trying to add your meaning to the Bible to fit your beliefs instead of making your beliefs fit the Bible which is the Word of God.

  2. Your comment is incorrect the text does not require the opposite after the event. See Luke 2:37 where Anna lived as a widow until 84. Does this infer she got married then?

    I recommend reading the fathers of the Church, who are in agreement with the Catholic Church on this issue:


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