The life of Jesus of Nazareth still fascinates people even 2,000 years after he walked on earth. In addition to his teaching and ministry, his family is of interest to many people. People want to know more about his earthly parents, Joseph and Mary. They also want to learn more about his brothers and sisters. A common question people have is how many siblings Jesus had.
Jesus Christ had four half-brothers and an unknown number of half-sisters. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark mention the names of Jesus’ brothers. However, only Mark mentions his sisters but doesn’t list their names. Some argue that these were Jesus’ cousins. Others believe they were his step-siblings.
What does the Bible say about each of Jesus’ brothers and sisters? Why do some believe that Jesus’ so-called siblings were actually his cousins? Did Jesus have step-siblings? Did Jesus’ siblings believe he was the Messiah? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
What does the New Testament say about Jesus’ siblings?
There are two verses in the Gospels that list Jesus’ siblings. One is Mark 6:3, which reads, “Is not 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? And they took offense at him.” The other is Matthew 13:55, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (ESV)
There are several men with the names James, Joses or Joseph, Judas, and Simon in the New Testament. Therefore, it’s important to make distinctions between them.
|James||There are four men named James in the New Testament. This James isn’t the son of Zebedee (Matt. 4:21), the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3), or the father of Judas (Luke 6:6). This is the James that became a leader in the early church (Acts 12:17).|
|Joses||Some translations say “Joseph” (NIV, NLT), while others say “Joses” (ESV, KJV, NASB). It’s the same person. This Joseph isn’t Barnabas (Acts 4:36) or Barsabbas (Acts 1:23). Very little is known about this Joses/Joseph.|
|Judas||There are four different men named Judas in the New Testament. This Judas isn’t Jesus’ betrayer (John 12:4), the son of James (Luke 6:16), or the Galilean (Acts 5:37). Some believe this may be the author of Jude.|
|Simon||There are eight different men named Simon in the New Testament. This Simon isn’t the Apostle Peter, Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15), Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21), or any of the other Simons (cf. Luke 7:40; John 6:71; Acts 8:9; Acts 9:43).|
There are other passages that reference Jesus’ brothers but don’t mention their names. None of them mention his sisters.
- John 7:3, “So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing.”
- Acts 1:14, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
- 1 Corinthians 9:5, “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
Did Jesus’ brothers believe in him?
Jesus’ family didn’t believe he was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Mark 3:21 reads, “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind'” (cf. John 7:5). However, Paul reports that Jesus “appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:7). James then became a leader in the church (Gal. 1:19; 2:9; Acts 12:17).
Why do some believe that Jesus’ siblings are his cousins?
Despite the testimony of Matthew and Mark, some believe that Jesus’ siblings are actually his cousins. This teaching isn’t based on a passage or verse in the New Testament, but on the belief that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was a perpetual or life-long virgin. If Mary remained a virgin her entire life, she wouldn’t have given birth to any more children, and Jesus wouldn’t have any siblings.
Does the Catholic Church believe Jesus had brothers and sisters?
The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus’ “brothers” and “sisters” were his cousins as Mary didn’t have other children, given her life-long virginity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man” (499).
The next catechism addresses Jesus’ siblings (or the allegation of them). It teaches that a different Mary gave birth to Jesus’ siblings. This viewpoint argues that the New Testament refers to them as Jesus’ brothers and sisters because their families were close.
“Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus,’ are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary.’ They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression” (500).
Who is the “other Mary”?
The New Testament mentions six different women named Mary. The “other Mary” that catechism 500 refers to is mentioned five times. Scholars often identify her as “Mary, the mother of James and Joseph.”
|Matthew 27:56||among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.|
|Mark 15:40||There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.|
|Luke 24:10||Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,|
|John 19:25||Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.|
|Matthew 28:1||Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.|
There is no indication that this James and this Joseph are the same that Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 mention. Furthermore, the New Testament doesn’t mention Judas and Simon in connection with this Mary anywhere in the New Testament.
Was Mary a perpetual virgin?
Those who think that the New Testament doesn’t teach Mary’s perpetual virginity of Mary, believing that it’s a doctrine that the Catholic Church created, make several arguments.
The Gospels don’t use the Greek word for cousin
First, the words translated “brothers” (adelphos) and “sisters” (adelphai) in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 use Greek words that sometimes imply non-biological relationships. For example, the words sometimes refer to followers of Jesus who aren’t related. However, the Gospel writers also don’t use the Greek word cousin anepsios, which the New Testament uses elsewhere (see Col. 4:12).
Mary and Joseph had sexual relations
Second, they argue that the New Testament refers to Joseph and Mary having sexual relations. For example, Matthew 1:18 reads, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (emphasis added; cf. Matt. 1:25). This phrase suggests physical intimacy in marriage.
Jesus is called Mary’s firstborn
Third, they argue that the New Testament refers to Jesus as Mary’s firstborn. Luke 2:7 reads, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The term firstborn implies she had other children.
Tertullian believed Jesus had half-siblings
Fourth, it’s true that certain leaders in the early church, like Jerome (342-420), believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. It’s also true that other leaders, like Tertullian (155-220), believed that Jesus had half-brothers and half-sisters who were born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus’ birth.
Did Jesus have step-siblings?
Another viewpoint from Christian history is that Jesus had half-brothers and half-sisters from Joseph’s previous marriage. The New Testament doesn’t mention that Joseph had been married previously. The birth stories of Jesus in Matthew and Luke don’t mention them. Nevertheless, this is the position of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which also believes in the perpetual virginity of Mary.
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