There has been, and still is, a strong debate on Jesus’ relationship with the four men named in the Bible as his brothers, and more than one unnamed sister. Biblical scholars and theologians haven’t stopped debating this issue for over two thousand years. The discussion pertains to whether those brothers and sisters were biological, half-blood, step-siblings, cousins, or spiritual siblings:
A small group of biblical scholars, affirm that Jesus was just another child of Joseph and Mary, without divine intervention whatsoever.
Most theologians and scholars agree that they were his siblings, children of Joseph and Mary, born after the birth of Jesus, and younger than him.
Others are adamant about defending the position that they were children of Joseph from a prior marriage. They were older than Jesus and not his blood relatives at all.
Some defend the point of view that they were cousins of Jesus, sons and daughters of an unidentified sister of Mary.
According to another interpretation, when the Bible refers to the brothers and sisters of Jesus, it is talking about spiritual brothers or disciples.
In support of this position, its defenders, sincere believers in the divinity of Jesus and God the Father, affirm that Jesus was one of at least seven children of Joseph and Mary, fully human from birth to adulthood, and not necessarily the oldest. To support their belief, they make the point that the Old Testament does not teach that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Furthermore, Jesus could not be born sinless because his mother was human and would have a sin nature. They believe the Bible referred to him as the Son of God because he was saved from birth, and grew up sinless into adulthood until he was “adopted” by God to be the Messiah, and His only “begotten son,” (John 3:16). Adoptionists do not agree as to when the supposed adoption happened. They blame their disagreements on the Bible’s lack of clarity on the subject. Nevertheless, all of them cite scriptures to support each of their four positions. A majority of Adoptionists believe it happened at his baptism (John 3:16; Luke 2:22); the rest are divided. Some opine it was at his resurrection (Acts 13:33; Romans 1:4), at his ascension (Hebrews 1:3-5), or at his return to earth as king (Psalm 2:7).
This is the position most supported by the Bible, which is why a majority of theologians and scholars share the opinion that they were Jesus’ siblings, children of Joseph and Mary, born after the birth of Jesus, and younger than him. These believers are convinced they were Jesus’ blood brothers and sisters. Just by reading Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7, you understand this to be a clear and convincing way to understand it. There is undisputable biblical evidence of their physical existence, throughout the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James and Jude. Jesus being called the only “begotten son,” and the “firstborn” (John 3:16, Luke 2:7) implies that his mother had other children. For some Christians and most Catholics, however, it is difficult to accept that Jesus could have had at least four brothers and more than one sister (Matthew 13:54-56; Mark 6:3), making for a family of at least seven children, six or more of them fathered by Joseph, and one – Jesus – by the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus was not engendered by Joseph, his brothers and sisters were sons and daughters of Mary and Joseph, and thus they were his siblings on his mother’s side. The Scriptures teach that Mary was committed to marry Joseph, but before they had sex she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). Luke records the conversation Mary had with an angel where she learned that the child’s father was God (Luke 1:26-38). Please note that she is called a “virgin” (Luke 1:27). Matthew tells us about Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. He was ready to divorce an adulterer, until an angel appeared to him in a dream to make him realize it was proper to accept her as his wife because the child was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:19-20). Then – Matthew continues – Joseph did not have sex with Mary until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:24-25). The key word here is “until,” because it implies that Joseph was obedient to the commands of God’s messenger, but after Jesus’ birth, they started and maintained a normal marital relationship during which they may have procreated at least six other children. Most Christians accept that Jesus was conceived by a creative act of God through divine conception; accordingly, he was fully human but sinless.
There is abundant biblical evidence to support the position of those who believe Jesus had siblings. To confirm it, they take us to those passages where the Bible mentions Jesus’ brothers. There is a defining passage where the Bible tells us that Jesus had four brothers, and more than one sister. The event happened when Jesus was teaching at the local synagogue in Nazareth, where the neighbors knew the Lord and his family for many years. The leaders of the church asked: “isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Matthew 13:54-56; Mark 6:3). Matthew is clear when he establishes that, in addition to his four brothers, Jesus had more than one sister. They are unnamed; however, the plural form indicates more than one sister.
Matthew is referring to brothers and sisters who were the children of Mary and Joseph. These other children were naturally fathered by Mary’s husband, Joseph (Matthew 1:25). To strengthen their position, its defenders cite the many verses where it is stated that Jesus had at least six siblings. The Lord himself always acted as if he was an only child, he did not mention his brothers or sisters at all. To justify his behavior regarding his siblings, these believers explain that, in ancient Israel, the only child was often looked upon favorably.
In many instances the brothers accompany Mary, implying they were her children. One of the most notable evidence of the blood relation between Jesus and his brothers and sisters is the biblical account where his mother and brothers are seeking an audience to speak with him to no avail. "While he [Jesus] was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him." (Matthew 12:46). "Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd." (Luke 8:19). “Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.” (Mark 3:31). In another verse, Jesus’ brothers go on to a Jewish festival while he stays behind (John 7:1-10). Furthermore, we learn that, after the wedding celebration at Cana, Jesus' siblings accompanied him and his mother to Capernaum (John 2:12). Note the clear distinction between his brothers and his disciples. Furthermore, in another verse, the Scripture says that “his brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him” (John 7:5). To expose more evidence that Jesus had brothers, its defenders tell us that we should look no further than the Book of Acts where, after he ascended to his Father (Acts 1:4-9), his eleven remaining disciples went back to Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). There, they were reunited in “prayers and supplications, together with the women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus and his brothers (Acts 1:14). Nevertheless, this fact is stated as a clear revelation by the gospel as written by Mark (Mark 6:3; Mark 6:31). The Bible also describes a moment when his brothers and mother are praying with the disciples (Acts 1:14). The Sacred Book also mentions that James was “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). And Jude says that he is the brother of James (Jude 1:1). If Jude is James’ brother, and James is the Lord’s brother, then Jude is also Jesus’ brother.
An extra biblical support for the abundant evidence recording Jesus having brothers comes from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary which contains the most recognized definition of the meaning of “brothers” when the Bible refers to Jesus’ siblings, which states: “The most natural way to understand ‘brothers’ . . . is that the term refers to sons of Mary and Joseph and thus to brothers of Jesus on his mother’s side.” Additionally, Flavius Josephus, a first century Romano-Jewish historian born in Jerusalem, mentions “James, the brother of Jesus” in his extensive work “The Antiquities of the Jews.” Furthermore, James and Jude, two of the brothers mentioned in the New Testament, had very important participations in the early Christian growth. The Bible left no doubts when it teaches us that James, the brother of Jesus, lead the church at Jerusalem for many years (Acts 12:17; 15:13). This is confirmed by Paul who tells us that, during his visit to Jerusalem, he met with Peter, and "James, the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:18-19). Additionally, he was the author of the book of James in the New Testament. Judas (not the Iscariot, also known as Jude) was the author of the book of Jude in the New Testament. He wrote the epistle of Jude where he identifies himself as the "brother of James," (Jude 1). Although in the beginning, taking it from the biblical passages, they doubted his brother was the Son of God, which is easy to understand if you imagine you had a brother with whom you have lived your entire life, and, suddenly, he is telling you he is the Son of God.
This is why they urged him to prove it (John 7:3-5). These two brothers of Jesus, James and Jude, after more than 2000 years, still impact the Christian faith throughout their writings. The resurrection was a powerful influence in Jesus’ siblings, which converted and became believers in his divinity only after he resurrected, and united with his disciples in "prayer and supplication" prior to Pentecost (Acts 1:13-14). Alice McCallum, who believes she was Mary Magdalene in a past life (Mary Magdalene: The Lord’s Wife – by Ignazio Giuseppe), told that James started to believe when Jesus appeared to him while he was meditating in the garden at his home. The Bible confirms that the resurrected Jesus appeared to his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7). Most Christians are against the perpetual virginity of Mary, alleging that having intercourse with her husband, and bearing children, do not taint her reputation.
The most energetic defense of this position comes from the Catholic Church. This large religious organization has supported the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity for centuries, and cannot entertain anything different. Without biblical support, the Catholic Catechism teaches that Mary was always a virgin and did not bear more children after the birth of Jesus. Most Catholics fervently believe that Mary was a perpetual virgin who never had a sexual relationship with Joseph, or anyone. Some defend this position by citing the prophesy of the Temple Gate (Ezekiel 44:2). Most base their assertion on the work of St. Jerome, a Latin priest, theologian, and historian (380 ac), mostly known for his translation of the Bible into Latin, who wrote extensively about the perpetual virginity of Mary. St. Jerome teaches that Mary never had sexual relations with her husband Joseph, ever; therefore, she was always a virgin, and could not have had children, other than Jesus who was supernaturally conceived. St. Jerome considered that to say she had other children after Jesus is nothing more than a “novel, wicked, and daring affront to the faith of the whole world.” Based on St. Jerome’s speculations, Catholics assert that Jesus did not have siblings. This is the reason why they reinterpreted all the passages related to Jesus’s brothers and sisters. To contradict this assertion, Helvidius, (about 380) wrote a work denying the perpetual virginity of Mary the mother of Jesus. In the book, he speculated that, after the supernatural conception and birth of Jesus, Mary had normal marital relations with her husband Joseph that resulted in at least six more children.
While St. Jerome and Helvidius were arguing about the relationship between Jesus and his “brothers and sisters,” the bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius, entered the debate by stating the possibility that these children came from Joseph’s previous marriage. The bishop told those who wanted to participate in the debate that Joseph was an old widower who died when Jesus was still a boy; consequently, he did not have time to have other children. This is one of those misinterpretations of the passage, the Bible clearly teaches that Joseph was alive when Jesus is twelve (Luke 2:41-42), giving Mary and Joseph more than enough time to procreate their other children. Epiphanius’ conjecture that his “brothers” were not blood brothers but sons of Joseph from a prior marriage. This is pure speculation, there is nothing in the Bible to support this invention. In fact, the bishop’s adventurous theory contradicts the Scriptures, since the Sacred Book distinguishes Jesus’ brothers from his disciples (John 2:12). Furthermore, Jesus inherited Joseph’s earthly possessions, and the kingship promised to David (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Luke 1:32). If Joseph had a child older than Jesus, he would have been Joseph’s legal heir. Additionally, there is no mention of these prior children in neither the trip to Egypt or the return to Nazareth. Regarding the supposition, believed by most Catholics, that they were the children of Joseph from a previous marriage, there is no biblical basis for this concoction.
There is no mention in the Bible that Joseph was married or had children before he married Mary. Similarly, the Bible clearly teaches that Mary wasn’t previously married (Luke 1:26-27). The entire conjecture is based on apocryphal works, which seem to suggest that Joseph was a widower who had children from his prior marriage. The works supporting such beliefs are the Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Peter, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. These writings, although not accepted by established churches, are defended by a few scholars who position themselves as interpreters of early church tradition theology. The Bible does not support these assertions. To most scholars and theologians, the early writers tell them that Mary was a virgin until she had Jesus; after that event, she had a normal marriage to her husband Joseph.
This version of Jesus’ relationship with his siblings is nothing but a compilation of legends used by the Catholic Church to defend the perennial virginity of Mary, and claim that these children were sons and daughters of Joseph. Why then are they not mentioned in Joseph’s and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-7) or their trip to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15), or their trip back to Nazareth (Matthew 2:20-23)? During my research, I couldn’t find one single piece of biblical information to indicate that Joseph was married before he married Mary.
In 649, after more than 5 centuries since Jesus’ crucifixion, the First Lateran Council declared that Mary was “ever virgin and immaculate.” This is the work most Catholics use to justify their belief that Mary and Joseph did not have children during their marriage which lasted for a short period of time. In their teachings, the Roman Catholic Church elevates the perpetual virginity of Mary to a superior status, much more divine than being the mother of Jesus. Pope Paul IV, in his 1968 Credo of the People of God, Solemn Profession of Faith, solemnly said: "We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ." The Pope and all the defendants of this invention rely on legends and tradition. None of it is recorded in the Bible.
The Catholic Church tells us that the brothers named in the New Testament - “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55) – are simply male relatives. To justify this assertion, they cite Abraham calling Lot his “brother” (Genesis 13:8), even though he was his nephew (Gen. 12:5). Another argument they use is why Jude decided to identify himself as “brother of James” and not as brother of Jesus? Jude had his reasons to decide to identify himself as a Christian, a “servant of the Lord Jesus.” He preferred not to mention his family connection with the Messiah. To make this work, Catholics, without biblical support, must interpret that “brothers” is a generic term for male relatives. Their interpretation goes like this: Jesus, James, Joses, Simon, and Jude are “brothers” in this broad sense. Similarly, Mary the mother of Jesus and the other unidentified Mary are “sisters” (John 19:25). It would make sense if this interpretation had any biblical support, which it doesn’t.
There are those who claim that these “brothers” were actually Jesus’ cousins. This belief is not supported by the Bible. Although there is a Greek word for “cousin,” in all instances, the specific word for brother, meaning blood brother, is always used. Additionally, for the most part, they are mentioned accompanying their mother. This is another example of this perennial debate, similar to the one that occurred between Helvidius, a fourth-century theologian, who wrote about Mary, saying that she had at least six more children with her husband Joseph, after the birth of Jesus, and St. Jerome, who strongly opposed him by stating the common understanding promoted by the church that Mary never lost her virginity and stayed as such for the rest of her life. St. Jerome argued that these children were actually cousins born from Mary of Clopas, sister of Jesus’ mother, whose identity is unproven. The defenders of this theory claim that the “brothers” were actually Jesus’ cousins. This belief is not supported by the Bible. Although there is a Greek word for “cousin,” in all instances, the specific word for brother, meaning blood brother, is always used. Additionally, for the most part, they are mentioned accompanying their mother.
To support their asseveration, however, they tell us that James and Joses are listed as the sons of Mary of Clopas (Mark 15:40; John 19:25). Jude is not mentioned. They also point out the fact that Jesus left His mother in the care of the apostle John (John 19:26-27) rather than with one of His brothers, implying that he was her only son. There is nothing in the Bible even hinting that these relatives of Jesus were anything other than his brothers and sisters.
To support this position, their defenders cites Jesus himself. There was a time – they cite – when Jesus, speaking to a crowd gathered there to listen to him, was told: “your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you,” to which he replied by rejecting them when he said: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:19-21). This was nothing more than a rhetorical answer to the question asked by the multitude about his mother and brothers, he responded with a question asking who were his mother and brothers (Matthew 12:48). Then, he proceeded to answer his own question by saying that his family were those with whom he had a close spiritual relationship, who obey the will of God the Father.
Other skeptics about the veracity of the biblical account on the relationship between Jesus and his brothers and sisters, contend that doing the will of God the Father makes one a brother or sister of Jesus. They base their assertion on Jesus saying that “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).
The Bible is sufficiently clear about Jesus and his siblings. All biblical readings indicate that they are all the children of Joseph and Mary. The different versions about them being anything other than actual brothers and sisters of Jesus are not supported by the Bible. They were invented by those who defend the perpetual virginity of Mary, a concept created by interested church leaders’ years after the birth of Jesus and of his siblings. In my book – Mary Magdalene: The Lord’s Wife – Alice McCallum, who believes she was Mary Magdalene in a past life, tells that she knew Jesus’ brothers and sisters in an intimate way. Furthermore, during an interview she told me she is willing to take a polygraph test to show that she is telling the truth, her truth.
The Bible evidences that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. It also teaches that Joseph did not have intimate relations with her until the birth of the Son of God. Although there is no mention about them having a normal marriage after Jesus’s birth, the word “until” in the biblical passage seems to indicate that, after the birth of Jesus they had a normal marital sexual relationship.
I hope this debate on whether Jesus had brothers and sisters, or not, will not obscure his sacrifice on the cross to pay for the sins of all of us. Those who oppose the idea that Jesus had half-brothers and half-sisters do so, not from a reading of Scripture, but from a preconceived concept of the perpetual virginity of Mary, which is itself clearly unbiblical: “But he (Joseph) had no union with her (Mary) until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25). Jesus had half-siblings, half-brothers and half-sisters, who were the children of Joseph and Mary. That is the clear and unambiguous teaching of God’s Word.