The virgin birth of Jesus
Did Jesus have 4 brothers & 2 sisters (or more)?
they half-siblings, cousins or just friends?
Possible biblical references to Jesus "brothers" and "sisters:"
|An incident in the synagogue in Jesus' home town:|
|Mark 6:3: People in the synagogue in Jesus' home town asked:
"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and
Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And
they were offended at him."|
|Matthew 13:55-56: These verses were apparently based on
Mark's account. He has the people ask: "Is not this the carpenter's son?
is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and
Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? "|
|People at Jesus' execution:|
|Mark 15:40-41: These verses listed Jesus' female supporters
who were present: "There were also women looking on afar off: among whom
was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses,
and Salome ... and many other women which came up with him unto
|Matthew 27:55-56: "And many women were there beholding
afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among
which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and
the mother of Zebedee's children.|
|People at the empty tomb:|
|Mark 16:1: "And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene,
and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that
they might come and anoint him."|
|A family visit while Jesus is preaching:|
|Matthew 12:46-47: "While he yet talked to the people, behold,
his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.
Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand
without, desiring to speak with thee."|
|A discussion at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles:|
|John 7:3-5: His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart
hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works
that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and
he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew
thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him.|
Various religions' teaching about Jesus' "brothers:"
Current teachings vary, concerning Jesus' conception and what the Christian Scriptures
(New Testaments) refer to as his "brothers."
|Liberal theologians typically teach that Jesus was the first
child of many conceived by Mary and Joseph via sexual intercourse, as
for any other human. In Galilee, this often happened before marriage. Couples lived together in a type
of trial marriage until the woman became pregnant or gave birth. At that point, they
In support of this belief, they quote many of the references in the
Christian Scriptures referring to Jesus' "brothers."
|Other Protestant churches, the Baha'i Faith and Islam
generally teach that Jesus was conceived by Mary when she was a virgin as a
result of the
overshadowing of the Holy
Spirit. She and Joseph later had additional children.
| Eastern Orthodox Churches teache that Jesus'
"brothers" referred to in many places in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
were in fact Jesus' step-brothers fathered by Joseph during a previous marriage.
It presumably had ended when Joseph's former wife died.
|The Roman Catholic church teaches that
Mary remained a virgin all of her life.
Jesus' "brothers" were in fact his cousins or close
associates. "...the terms "brothers" and
"sisters" are generic words that indicate a close
relationship with Jesus, but not necessarily a kinship."
|Many religious leaders of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints (the largest of the Mormon
denominations) once taught that Mary conceived Jesus after God came down to
Earth and engaged in
sexual intercourse with her. However, this is now rarely taught within the church,
and was never proclaimed as a formal belief of the church.|
Some arguments favoring Jesus "brothers" being step-brothers, cousins, or
The Roman Catholic concept that Mary, the mother of
Jesus, remained a perpetual virgin requires that Jesus four brothers, as
mentioned in the synagogue passages of Mark and Matthew, were not his full
brothers. Further his two sisters were not full siblings. Rather, they were step
brothers, cousins or friends. Some arguments in favor of this are:
|It might be argued that the Mary, the mother
of "James the less and Joses" who was present at Jesus' execution, is
not Mary the mother of Jesus. If she were, then she would have undoubtedly
have been referred to directly as such by Mark and Matthew. If this same
James and Joses are the persons previously discussed in the synagogue
incident in those same Gospels, then the two males would be at most
step-brothers or cousins of Jesus. They might even have been simple friends.
If that is true, then Juda, and Simon --
the other two "brothers" referred to in the synagogue event -- might not
have been Jesus' full brothers either. Also, the two or more daughters who
were called sisters of Jesus may not have been full sisters. 4|
|In John 19:26-27, it is widely believed that
Jesus gave his mother over to the care of one of his disciples -
traditionally believed to be John:|
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his
mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary
Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple
standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy
son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that
hour that disciple took her unto his own home."
Some argue that he would not have made this
arrangement if Mary had any sons to look after her. In Jewish law, the
eldest son would have had the responsibility of caring for his mother. If he
was unable to do so, then the next oldest would take over, and so on.
4 We know that James the "brother" of Jesus was alive decades
after Jesus' execution because he was head of the Jerusalem Jewish Christian
church. On the other hand, Jesus might have simply
wanted to identify the disciple that he loved as a quasi family member.
There is nothing in the text that shows that
Jesus actually assigned his beloved disciple the responsibility of caring
for his mother. He is merely recorded as saying that the disciple should be
considered like a son to Mary.
Possible archeological evidence?
A fascinating archeological find which
some scientists thought may
support the liberal and Protestant Christian position surfaced on the antiquities market in
the mid 1980's. It is an ossuary (bone box) dating from
the 1st century CE with the
Aramaic inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." James,
Joseph, and Jesus (actually Yeshua) were common names at the time. However,
a small possibility exists that the inscription might refer to the Joseph in
the New Testament, the
husband of Mary, and two of their four sons Jesus and James. Ben Witherington, professor of New Testament at
Asbury Theological Seminary, commented:
"The dominant Catholic
tradition is that the brothers of Jesus are actually cousins because Mary
didn't have any more children, or they were step brothers in that they were
Joseph's sons by a previous marriage. This inscription could call into
question that doctrine."
Bible Archeological Review editor Hershel Shanks said:
be, probably, the most significant archaeological discovery of this
generation...the most important find in the history of New Testament
It appears that the part of the inscription that says "brother
of Jesus" is a forgery, but that the rest is genuine. 3
Tests show that this same ossuary may be the missing ossuary
from a crypt discovered in Jerusalem in 1980. That crypt had ossuaries from the
Herodian era, identified as for a Yeshua (Jesus' Hebrew name); a Maria (the
Latin for Maria, Jesus' mother's name); a Maria
Mariamne e Mara (Greek for "Mary known as the master" -- a possible name for
Mary Magdalene); and a Yose (the name of a "brother" of Jesus, and others. Some
suggest that this may be the tomb of Jesus' family. Other theologians.
historians, and archeologists recoil from the suggestion, and suggest that the
tomb might simply be of a family whose members coincidentally had identical
names to Jesus' family. A statistician agrees that this is possible, because
Yeshua, Mary, Yose, etc. were common names at the time. However, he computes the
odds of this happening as miniscule. More details.
- "Did Jesus have brothers?" at: http://www.rockinauburn.com/
- "Brethren of the Lord," at" http://www.catholic.com/
- Gordon Govier, "Stunning New Evidence that Jesus Lived: Scholars link
first-century bone box to James, brother of Jesus,"
Christianity Today, 2002-OCT-21, at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/
- Fr. William Saunders, "Brothers and Sisters of Jesus," The Arlington
Catholic Herald, 1994-JUL-21. Online at:
- "Lillie," "How many brothers did Jesus have? And did he have sisters too?"
Copyright © 1996 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on
Essay last updated: 2007-DEC-18
Written by: B.A. Robinson