Jesus’ Brothers And Sisters

“Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3; Matthew 13:55-56).

Did Jesus have four brothers and sisters plural? This is what the Bible says. Philip Schaff remarked, “The only serious objection to it is of a doctrinal and ethical nature, viz., the assumed perpetual virginity of the mother of our Lord and Savior (Note: Some have a perverted understanding that would make Mary less than holy if she was not a perpetual virgin, B.H.), and the committal of her at the cross to John rather than her own sons and daughters (John 19:25). If it were not for these two obstacles, the brother-theory would probably be adopted by every fair and honest exegete” (History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, p. 273).  

There are alternative views.  Let’s consider them…

(1) Some have argued that the brothers and sisters were children of Joseph’s from a previous marriage. There are difficulties with this view: (a) The Bible does not speak of a previous marriage. One has to assume such without Biblical evidence. (b) If the brothers were from a previous marriage, then they were older than Jesus. This would mean that Jesus would not have been the next in line to inherit the legal right to the throne of David.

(2) Some have argued that these brothers and sisters were actually cousins. There are difficulties with this view. (a) The ordinary usage of adelphoi and adelphai is of literal brothers and sisters: “While the terms brother and sister were sometimes used in Hebrew style for more remote relationships, it is unquestionably true that their ordinary significance among Jewish writers was the same as with us. When, therefore, these terms occur, they must be understood in their ordinary sense until proof to the contrary is discovered. On him who denies their literal sense in this case falls the burden of proof” (McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark, p. 299). (b) There were other terms available. The word for kin folks or relatives in general was suggenes (cf. Luke 1:36; 2:44; 21:16; Mark 6:4, etc.). The word for cousins was anepsios (cf. Colossians 4:10). These terms were not used.

(3) Some have argued that the brothers and sisters were not blood relatives of Jesus, but disciples. There are difficulties with this view: (a) They are connected with Mary, time and again (Matthew 12:46; 13:55-56; Mark 3:31; 6:2-3). (b) They are distinguished from the disciples (John 2:12).

What about John? Why did Jesus entrust the care of his mother to John? (John 19:25). (a) John was a relative, a nephew of Mary (Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40; cf. John 19:25). (b) Jesus may not have been entrusting her care exclusively to John. (c) It may be that such was entrusted to John, due to the present unbelief of the brothers (cf. John 7:5).

Greater blessings are found in being spiritually related to Jesus, than in being physically related to Jesus. (1) Once, a woman raised her voice and said of Mary, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!” Jesus replied, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28). (2) Once, Jesus was told, “Look, your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you.” Jesus replied, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother” (Mark 3:31-35). This is the relationship that Jesus most especially cared about. (3) Both James and Jude described themselves simply as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1; James 1:1). May we each be so. He does not play the nepotism game.


About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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