Who Were the Brothers and Sisters of Jesus?


Q. If the Blessed Virgin Mary was always a virgin, then who are the brothers and sisters of Jesus in sacred scripture ?

A. There are two possibilities. The oldest view was that St. Joseph had been previously married and was a widower of great sanctity and devotion to God with children. As Mary was dedicated to the temple and virginity, she needed a protector once she reached adolescence. Joseph was chosen to be her husband/brother and so the brothers and sisters of Jesus were actually step siblings.

The second view, put forward by St. Jerome, is that the word in Greek (adelphos) can be translated as brother meaning a literal sibling; or it can be translated to mean a kinsman. St. Paul uses the exact same Greek word in Galatians 1:11 as is used in Mark 6:3adelphos.
In the Mark passage the reader could easily and legitimately interpret it to mean literal siblings of Jesus. But, in the Galations passage, it is obvious that Paul is addressing them as kinsman or brethren in the Lord and not as his own literal brothers/siblings. Protestants freely interpret the passage in Mark as sibling and sibling ONLY and will not allow any other interpretation; and yet when it comes to the exact same word in the Galations they interpret it to mean “brothers of the Lord” and not literal siblings. And yet there is no reason why both passages cannot be interpreted to mean something other than literal “siblings.” And this is what the Catholic Church does. At times from the text we know that the word adelphos refers to literal siblings. And at other times adelphos is used to mean kinsman or something more like…”Bro” or “brother of the Lord.” The Protestant rejection of the doctrine that Mary was ever -Virgin (Calvin and Luther accepted this doctrine) causes them to approach the Mark passage with an entrenched bias.

Also, if we start looking into the historical record, we see that the Mark use of adelphos, in this case, must also mean either step-brothers and sisters or kinsman/cousin/relative. It has always been known to Christians that Mary had no other children after Jesus. Even the Reformers all taught and believed in Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. As did the witness of the early writings of the Church Fathers. She was vowed to perpetual virginity (why else would a betrothed woman ask how could she possibly get pregnant) Therefore we understand the Mark 6:3 passage to be referring to kinsmen of Jesus and not siblings of Jesus.

Reformers on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

Early Church Fathers on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

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12 Responses to Who Were the Brothers and Sisters of Jesus?

  1. ultraguy says:

    “why else would a betrothed woman ask how could she possibly get pregnant”

    Um, because she hadn’t been with a man yet prior to her wedding?? Why would any pre-marital virgin ask that? Am I missing something here?

  2. bfhu says:

    Ultraguy,

    Thanks for the question. Everyone knew, even 2000 years ago, that when a man and woman came together in marriage or other liasons a child was often the result. But in

    Luke1:30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

    34″How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

    Why ask the angel this question if she was planning to marry in the usual way, which ordinarily produced children? Wouldn’t a more normal question be,
    “When?” or
    “Why are you telling me what everyone knows already” “Why this angelic visit to tell me I will have a baby?”

    …unless you were vowed to virginity? She was probably
    wondering if her Lord wanted her to renounce her vow of virginity. And the Angel’s answer:

    “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

    I will grant that this reading of the text doesn’t jump off the page. For the Father’s of the Church comments on Mary’s perpetual virginity click here

  3. ultraguy says:

    bfhu – Thank you. It did not jump off the page (for me). Some people tell me that’s true of many other things as well! :)

    Just to get this straight, I ask this in full faith that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit in her and so we’re only talking about events subsequent to his birth.

    The counter-argument could be made that, if Mary were pledged to lifelong virginity, a more likely response to the second part of her question to the angel in Luke would have been something like:

    “…since I am pledged to lifelong virginity”, or
    “…since I have vowed to remain a virgin”, or
    “…since I’m an Essene and we all know what that means”, etc…

    One needs to interpret her actual response here in Luke in a more complex way in order to get to that pledged/lifelong view as compared to the very simple explanation that no earthly conjugal union = confusion about how pregnancy will happen… all in an immediate, temporal and very plain context. (The plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things).

    Then there is the angel’s interaction with Joseph to contend with (Matt 1:20-24):

    “…an angel of the Lord appeared to him [Joseph] in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

    When scripture wants to talk about kinsmen, it talks about kinsmen (e.g., Ruth). When it says ‘wife’ (twice: command and then action/response), that implies, well… marriage. And that comes along with some very specific things, which we don’t need to into in gory detail here, but which would certainly be consistent with other children who would be Jesus’ non-divine half siblings: Joseph’s kids.

    Am I missing something here?

  4. ultraguy says:

    OK, still thinking and reading and praying and trying to keep an open mind here. this (the Protoevangelium of James) is amazing. Explains a lot!!

  5. bfhu says:

    Well, I wish Mary’s response had been more explicit too. But the Church’s understanding is based on the historical fact that Mary had no other children after Jesus b/c she was vowed to virginity. Joseph was a sort of husband-brother-protector.

    At the time Luke wrote this everyone KNEW Mary had no other children so he was not trying to refute future misreadings due to splits in the Church. But I am with you, I wish it jumped off the page too.

  6. Tito Edwards says:

    I’d like to add that the Catholic Church holds to Tradition (with a capital ‘T’), so back almost 2000 years it was well known that Mary had no children and she lived a life of chastity and abstinence (I hope I’m saying that right). Because we have these oral traditions, it wasn’t necessary to have this in the Bible, it was common knowledge. Like knowing the sky was blue, why do we have to say ‘the sky is blue’ if it is known as such by all.

    It’s the wonderful thing of being Catholic, we have the three pillars that hold up our faith, Holy Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium.

    In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,

    Tito

  7. aboriente says:

    I like to add that the “until” thing loses some flavor when read in the Bible without a clear open head. I mean the argument that she would have regular children after the birth of our Lord is partially justified by misguided people in that it says he did not have marital relationships with her “until” she had borne a child.

    “Until” especially in Semitic thought, means exactly that with no implications of what comes afterwards. No one reads Matthew 12, and says after he brings justice to victory, he’ll break a bruised reed and etc. Similarly and a much better example is found in Isaiah 42 which the Matthew 12 lines reference: “He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth” does not mean that after justice has been established, he will be crushed!

    Let’s look at another example… in Matthew 22, it says: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.'” If anyone was to say that after Christ’s enemies were put under His feet, that He would be kicked out or taken out from being at the right hand, people would get upset.

    So why is no one getting upset at the one instance where the Blessed Virgin Mary is being degraded? Why the double standards in language?

    By the way… a very similar construct is “bookhra”, which means first-born, which does NOT say anything about having any other kids. In Semitic context that is very very straight forward. Parents with only one kid still often explain with love in their eyes that the child is their first-born. Just as there is no reason to assume God the Father had other sons {God the Son is called Bookhra}, similarly there is no reason to assume that St. Mary had others.

    In my particular instance, by Semitic, I mean the Aramaic speaking Church of the East and its population from the Middle East.

  8. billy says:

    All you have to do to have it jump off the page is read in Matthew and who are the children of Mary written there? It clearly states that they are her children. We are not to twist scripture to fit our traditions. We must read the Holy Word and belive it.

  9. bfhu says:

    Where does it say anywhere that anyone besides Jesus is a child of Mary? I think you are mistaken.

  10. Did Jesus have brothers and sister of his own, if yes, how many in numbers ?

    With warm regards,

    Dr. O. P. Paliwal,
    198 – E, Pocket – One,
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  11. bfhu says:

    Jesus had no siblings born of Mary and Joseph.

  12. Anonymous says:

    any relative

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