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Don Stewart :: Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?

Don Stewart

The birth of Jesus was the result of a supernatural union between God and Mary. She was a virgin at the time Jesus was conceived. There are some who maintain that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. If this were the case, then Jesus would have been an only child. The Scriptures, however, indicate that Jesus did have brothers and sisters.

The Testimony Of Matthew

The first testimony that Mary did not remain a virgin can be found in the opening chapter of Matthew. When Joseph had discovered that Mary was going to have a child, he decided to secretly divorce her. He had not had sexual relations with her and knew the child was not his. But an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that his wife's pregnancy was through God, the Holy Spirit. Later we are told:

And he did not know her until she gave birth to a Son; and he named him Jesus (Matthew 1:25).

Matthew 1:25 strongly suggest that Joseph had normal sexual relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. Thus this passage provides a strong argument against any idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Furthermore, Scripture gives testimony to the fact that Joseph and Mary had other children who were brothers and sisters of Jesus.

While he was still talking to the multitudes, . . . one said to him, 'Look, Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak to you.' But he answered and said to the one who told him, 'Who is my mother and who are my brothers?' And he stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother' (Matthew 12:46-50).

On another occasion we are told that the people in His hometown of Nazareth became indignant at His claims.

Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?' And they were offended at him (Mark 6:3).

Three Possible Solutions As To The Identity Of Jesus' Brothers And Sisters

Who were these brothers and sisters of Jesus? There are three possibilities.

  1. There were children born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus, hence His younger brothers and sisters (natural half-brothers and sisters).
  2. They were children of Joseph from a previous marriage (step-brothers and sisters). Epiphanius - a fourth century defender of the perpetual virginity of Mary, held this view. It was also the view held by the ancient scholar Jerome. Modern defenders of this view include the great scholar Joseph Barber Lightfoot.
  3. They were cousins of Jesus not actual brothers and sisters. They were the sons of Cleopas who was supposedly a brother or brother-in-law of Joseph.

The reason some believe that they were not children of Joseph and Mary is due to the way they are designated. In Mark 6:3 Jesus is called the "Son of Mary" and is distinguished separately from the brothers who are named as well as the sisters.

The Account In The Upper Room

In the upper room were "Mary the mother of Jesus, and . . . his brothers" (Acts 1:14). Here they were called His brothers not her sons. This has led some to speculate that they were sons of Joseph from a previous marriage.

Summary

Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters. They could either be Jesus younger brothers and sisters, older half-brothers and half sisters who were children of Joseph from an earlier marriage, or his cousins.

Although one cannot be absolutely certain on the matter, the natural sense in which to take the references is they were his actual younger brothers and sisters.

John tells us that during the ministry of Jesus "even His brothers did not believe in Him" (John 7:5). Later, however, they became active leaders in the church with two of them (James and Jude) writing letters that became part of the New Testament.

This would seem to indicate actual brothers, other children of Joseph and Mary, rather than stepbrothers. But one cannot be absolutely certain. What is certain, however, is that the Scripture does not rule out the possibility of Jesus having brothers and sisters born to Joseph and Mary.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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