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Christ's Brothers And Sisters





E) NOTE ON LUKE 2:4-5.






In Mark 6:3 we are told:  “Is not this the Carpenter, the Son of Mary, the Brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda [rather Jude, who sustained a near relation to our Lord Jesus, being, as James was, “the Lord’s brother,” Gal. 1:19] and Simon? and are not His sisters here with us?”  Another list given to us is “James and Joseph and Simon and Judas,” Matthew 13:55.


When Jesus was a little more than 30 years of age, He had at least 4 brothers mentioned by name in Scripture, and at least two sisters (the operative of the plural, i.e., “sisters”).  Just how Jesus was related to His brothers and sisters is uncertain (the older only belonging to Joseph’s first wife -- see below -- thus being half brothers or sisters, the younger, whether full or half, belonging to only a full sister, but not a brother, because Jesus is being mentioned as Mary’s “firstborn” in regards to males).  However, with the mention of Christ being Mary’s, “firstborn,” Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7, we can be fairly certain that Mary had other children after Jesus.  Why?


Here is my Colossians 1:15-17 explanation:  The Greek word for “first born” is “prototokos.”  In Hebrews 1:6, “prototokos” clearly refers to the incarnation of Christ.  In Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7, “prototokos” is also usen of Christ as being the “first-born of Mary.”  In Hebrews 11:28, the word is used to refer to the “first-born of Egypt.”  And in Hebrew 12:23, the word describes the members of the “Church of the first-born.”  When the word applies to Christ, we find it here as it is also understood to be referring in Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 1:6.  To make it refer to anything beyond that is to stretch the text further than can be understood.


The true meaning of “prototokos” is in reference to “priority of position,” as opposed to “priority of origin.”  If we were to look at its five uses in Scripture (noted above), we can clearly see how “position” is its clearly distinguishable application.  The literal translation of the Greek instead of “firstborn,” would be, “preeminent.”


One interesting fact does stand out for us.  And that is, that the Gospels picture Jesus’ brothers as trying to control Him; see Matthew 12:46 where “His brethren” were most likely coming to speak to Him about changing His course of action; and John 7:3-5, where they were most definitely bossing Him around.  These instructing of Him as to what to do would be something more along the nature, and more likely to be true, of older brothers, than of younger ones.


If we look at Matthew 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?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Whence then hath This Man all these things?”  And Luke tells us that:  “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.”  Acts 1:14.


How many brethren we are not told, but the statement is plural.  Thus, we could have learned that Christ had brothers and sisters born to Joseph and Mary after the conception of Himself, except for the fact that Roman Catholics and some Protestants have held that these “brethren” were not brothers in the flesh, but kinsmen, due to the Roman Catholic doctrines comprised in exalting Mary to, “Mother Mary” [God] status.


The phrase, “His brethren,” occurs NINE times in the Gospels, and ONCE in the Book of Acts.  The natural interpretation could be that at least some were His blood brothers, sons of Mary, until the Roman Catholic doctrines came into play.  Two places (Mat. 13:55; Mark 6:3 sited above) mention His sisters.  Had it not been for the dogma that Mary remained a “virgin,” a dogma that has no foundation in the Scriptures, it would never have been doubted that at least some of these “brethren” and “sisters” were born of Joseph and Mary, possible blood relatives of Christ, as the word “firstborn” not only suggests, but could have demanded.






Let’s look at the argument that the “brothers and sisters” mentioned were half-brothers and half-sisters of Jesus.  They were most likely Joseph’s children from a previous marriage (and most likely some were; as proved in the example of His brothers bossing Him around; sited above), thus preserving Mary’s perpetual virginity.  This argument began with Jerome, who stated that these mentioned, “brothers and sisters,” were Jesus’ cousins, not blood brothers (see “Ludwig Ott Note 12,” page 207).

The major argument used to defend these interpretations is that in the Hebrew language there are no specific nouns for “kinfolk.”  The Hebrew word, “ah,” and the Aramaic word, “aha,” can mean either brother, stepbrother, cousin, nephew, or any blood relative.  However, although this is absolutely true to the structural integrity of the Hebrew, it is not true in the Greek language.  Thus, this interpretation ignores the fact that all the four Gospels were written in Greek, not Hebrew (with the understanding that originally, They were in Hebrew; and we now have the original Book of Matthew in Hebrew).

In the Greek language there are two distinct words for “brothers” and “cousins.”  The Greek word for “brother” is, “adelphos” (also used for “stepbrother” see below), and for “cousin,” the Greek word is, “anepsios.”  The latter is used in Colossians 4:10, where Mark is described as the “cousin,” i.e., “anepsios” of Barnabas.  But the word “cousin” is never used in the references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters.  Had the Gospel writers known that James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, were Jesus’ “cousins,” they would have used the word “anepsios,” in order to avoid any confusion.

The words, “brother,” and “sister,” are consistently used in the New Testament in a family setting, and always referring to a literal blood brother or sister (see Mark 1:16,19; 13:12; John 11:1-2; Acts 23:16; Rom. 16:15).  Therefore, why should one assume that the terms, “brothers,” and “sisters,” were used by Matthew figuratively, when he uses the term “mother” literally?  If “sister” is literal in Acts 23:16 (Paul’s sister), there is no reason to interpret the same word in a different sense in Matthew 13:56.  It is an established hermeneutical principle that words should be understood in their literal sense unless a literal interpretation involves an obvious contradiction.

Indirect support for this conclusion is provided by the accounts of Joseph and Mary’s travels, first to Bethlehem, and then to Egypt.  Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, “To be taxed [or better, to be enrolled in the tax],” Luke 2:5.  If Joseph had at least six children from a previous marriage, we would expect them to travel with him as a family.  The fact that Luke mentions only Joseph and Mary, suggests that at the time of their betrothal, Joseph had no children (although it could be that they are just not mentioned; or that he left his children not birthed by Mary with relatives while traveling with Mary).


The same support for this conclusion is provided also by Matthew in his account of the flight into Egypt and back there from.  An angel instructs Joseph in a dream to take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt, (Mat. 2:13).  Then, after the death of Herod, the same angel tells Joseph to return to the land of Israel with no mention of any other children other than Jesus (Mat. 2:20).  These considerations lead us to conclude or assume that Mary most likely had NOT given birth to other children besides Jesus.  HOWEVER, it is VERY customary for the Bible to only focus upon the prominent figure (i.e., Jesus), thus leaving out obvious others that were around at the time.






A KEY VERSE to consider that Jesus’ mother Mary had other children besides His probable half-brothers and sisters, is Psalm 69:8, in which it states the Jesus became “an alien unto My mother’s children.”  Meaning, she must have had other children.  NOTE THAT it is not stated that Jesus became “an alien unto Joseph’s children,” for Joseph was not His blood father.


First, we must establish that Joseph and Mary were married.  In Matthew 1:24 we learn:  “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.”  Second, we must establish that the marriage was even consummated so that they could have had other children.  “And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn Son:  and he called His name JESUS.”  This does not mean that Mary had other children.  It does however, establish that it wasn’t, “till she had brought forth her firstborn son,” that Joseph and Mary consummated the marriage by sexual union; enabling them to have had children.  And for our Roman Catholic friends, Mary is now no longer a “virgin.”


However, it must be considered that the Hebrew word, “adelphos,” used for “brethren” in Matthew 13:55, is also used in Greek literature to refer to a “stepbrother,” which is where we get the idea that Joseph was previously married.  According to John 19:26-27, these verses about Jesus giving to John the responsibility and care of His mother Mary, could show that Christ had no blood brothers to take care of His Mother.  Thus, the “brothers” that He did have must have been His half-brothers and not obligated to Mary as a full blood relative would be.  Or simply, that Jesus, being the [eldest], “firstborn,” had the right to delegate that responsibility to whomsoever He would.


However again, the conclusion that these “brothers” were not, “half-brothers,” ignores the fact that Jesus’ brothers at that time were not believers (John 7:5).  And if that is the case, either because of the shame of having their brother crucified, they were presumably not present at the Cross, or they were there, but the delegation of the “firstborn” lay with Jesus.


The argument that, according to the Mosaic Law, the closest blood relative was required to watch over Mary, overlooks the fact that Jesus was showing His compassion for His mother in the absence of those who should have been caring for her.  Moreover, Christ taught that commitment to Him superseded the closest blood ties (Mat. 12:48-50).  Therefore, He could only entrust His own mother into a believer’s hands.  And John was close enough to Jesus in order for him to be entrusted with His mothers keeping.


ANOTHER FACT TO CONSIDER, is that it was the duty of the eldest son in a family to stay at home to work with his father and eventually take over the family business.  Since Jesus was the eldest Son of Mary, He fulfilled His duty to His earthly remaining parent (since Joseph is never mentioned again in Scripture, it is well founded that he had died at this point), by placing her in John’s care.  For Jesus to leave Joseph in the carpenter shop when He left to start His Own ministry would have been an insult to Joseph, and as such, not honoring His parents.  Thus, Jesus would not be considered the “Eldest Son” of Joseph; again, promoting the presumption that Joseph was previously married.


BY THIS we can know that Jesus must have had half brothers, which would have taken up the duty of “Eldest son of Joseph,” thus showing that they were Joseph’s sons and Jesus’ half brothers in regard to taking over the family business.  Therefore, it is quite possible that Mary would have been only their “stepmother” in regards to the appointing of the Apostle John to take care of her after the death of Jesus.  Also, the younger sons of Mary, as blood relatives to Christ, He could have placed within their charge His mother, in case of His death.  The normal procedure would have been for the next in line to assume that responsibility.  By contrast, Christ removes them from this duty by His declaration of John in this position; or BETTER, there were not younger “male” blood relatives to pass her onto.


By contrast, according to John 2:12, Jesus, “went down to Capernaum, He, and His mother, and His brethren, and His disciples.”  Also, John records:  “For neither did His brethren believe in Him.”  John 7:5.  So here, along with other verses (Mat. 12:47; Mark 3:32), we might establish the plurality of Jesus’ brethren being blood relatives (doubtful), and their non-belief in Him.


However, at least one or all changed their attitude about belief in Him as the promised Messiah, for Paul tells us about at least one being converted:  “But other of the Apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”  Galatians 1:9.  Clearly, James is a converted brother of Jesus, for he is called an “Apostle.”  And the fact that Paul specifically mentions James in First Corinthians 15:7, gives us an indication that this may have been (was) the James that presided over the Jerusalem council (see Acts, Chapter 15).  The objection would be, why did not Jesus give the care of His mother over to James at the cross?  As pointed out above, because at that time, James was not a believer.






We may never know for sure how many brothers or sisters Jesus had of the same parentage as that of Joseph and Mary; confirmed by seeing Psalm 69:8 again.  However, Jesus Himself establishes who is the most important of all His “brethren” when He was confronted with a problem in a certain situation:  “Then one said unto Him, Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee.  But He answered and said unto him that told Him, Who is My mother? and who are My brethren?  And He stretched forth His hand toward His Disciples, and said, Behold My mother and My brethren!  For whosoever shall do the Will of My Father which is in Heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.”  Matthew 12:47-50.


From my favorite Bible commentator we have these three statements:  “The sons of Joseph, His brethren, enlisted Mary to go with them; for they knew that His love for her would add to their influence in seeking to prevail upon Him to be more prudent.”  ST, October 1, 1896.  This would indicate that Jesus had no blood brothers via Joseph.


Speaking on John 7:3 & 5:  “His brothers, as the sons of Joseph were called. . . Being older than Jesus. . .”  DA:86-87.  This is clear in establishing that Jesus’ “brothers” were half-brothers, and from a previous marriage of Joseph.


“The sons of Joseph were far from being in sympathy with Jesus in His work.”  DA:321.  This would also indicate that Jesus had half-brothers via Joseph, but it does not rule out that He did have brothers from Joseph and Mary (see Psalm 69:8 again).


Therefore, all together and to conclude, Jesus had half-brothers, all being older and from a previous marriage of Joseph.  He also had blood brothers younger than Himself.  Therefore, for sure, Mary had other children (Psalm 69:8).  In regards to the “sisters” being full or half is uncertain and unattainable.






The focus of Luke is on Christ, not Joseph’s other children which were with them on the journey to Jerusalem.  Just because they are not mentioned does not mean they did not exist.


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