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What about the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus?

In several places the Bible makes reference to Jesus having “brothers” and “sisters”. Here is a list of them:

  • Matt 12:46  “He [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds when his mother and his brothers appeared; they were standing outside and were anxious to have a word with him.” (JB)
  • Mark 3:31   “His mother and brothers now arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him.” (JB)
  • Mark 6:3    “`This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him.” (JB)
  • Luke 8:19-21 “His mother and his brothers came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd. He was told, `Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you’. But he said in answer, `My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.'” (JB)
  • John 7:5    “Not even his brothers had faith in him.” (JB)
  • Acts 1:14   “All these joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (JB)
  • 1 Cor 9:5 “And the right to take a Christian woman round with us, like all the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (JB)

However, the Bible does not always use the terms “brother(s)”, “sister(s)” or “brethren” to refer to children of the same parents. (The Bible also refers to St. Joseph as the father of Jesus when step-father would be more accurate from our perspective. It is not an error, just a reflection of the different ways in which different cultures deal with kinship.) In his defense of Mary’s perpetual virginity, St. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate lists four different usages of these terms in the Bible. They are:

  • offspring of the same parents
  • close relatives who are not offspring of the same parents including:
    • children by a previous marriage
    • cousins [It was common to have cousins in the household especially if they were being cared for because their natural parents had died.]
  • any fellow Jew (Israelite)
  • those who are followers of Jesus (“spiritual” brethren)

In this passage, it is most likely that the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus fall into category number two. It should be noted that it is not necessary that these people be either children from a previous marriage or all of them be cousins. Some of them may be cousins while others are children from Joseph’s earlier marriage. I shall try to prove this from the Bible and from the writings of early believers.

© 2017 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.


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Written by Gary J Sibio