brothers and sisters of Jesus


Was Mary a virgin before and after Jesus' birth

The Bible speaks of "brothers and sisters" of Jesus (Mt 13:56-57). But the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus had no blood brothers or sisters and that his Mother Mary always remained a virgin. These truths have been arrived at from the Bible and from sacred Tradition.

Even today "brothers and sisters" may be used in many ways. When we hear speakers address audiences as "brothers and sisters," we assume that the words refer not to blood relatives, but to friends or to members of a particular nation, group, or race. In the Old Testament, "brothers and sisters" might refer to members of the same tribe (Dt 15:12) or race (Dt 23:7), or to nephews (Gn 13:8), cousins (Lv 10:4), or relatives in general (2 Kgs 10:13).

In the New Testament, two of those who are called brothers of Jesus, namely James and Joseph (Mt 13:56-57), are later identified as sons of another woman (Mt 27:56). The word "brothers" is often used for the followers of Jesus. For example, the risen Jesus asked Mary Magdalene to "go to my brothers." Mary "went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'" (Jn 20:17-18). Jesus said that those who do the will of his Father are his brothers (Lk 8:21), and in the New Testament, believers are called "brothers" more than 100 times.

The New Testament never speaks of other children of Mary or Joseph, so it is impossible to prove from the Bible that Jesus actually had blood brothers or sisters. If there had been such blood brothers, it is difficult to explain why Jesus, as he hung on the cross, would have given Mary into the care of the beloved disciple. "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home" (Jn 19:26-27). If Mary had other children, it seems that they would have cared for her.

Some people think that the expression found in Mt 1:24-25 (see also Lk 2:7) referring to Jesus as Mary's "first born" implies that Mary must have had children after Jesus. But "first born" was a legal term for Jewish people: the "first born" was to be presented in the Temple, as Jesus was (Luke 2:22; see Exodus 13:2). "First born" does not imply that there was a "second born," for there are ancient documents stating that a mother "died in giving birth to her first-born son."

Some people have a problem with the expression in modern English translations that Joseph "had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus" (New American Bible translation). Our English word "until" implies "only up to and not beyond," but the Aramaic word Jesus used usually meant "up to" without ruling out the beyond. The word "until" in English suggests that Joseph did have relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. But the Aramaic expression behind the New Testament Greek does not suggest either that he did or that he didn't. It focuses only on the time up to the birth of Jesus and says nothing about what happened after. There is a similar expression in 2 Samuel 6:23 where it is said that Michol was "childless to the day of her death"...The New American Bible uses "to" instead of "until," but the Semitic expression behind both phrases is the same: and obviously Michol did not have children after her death.

A New Testament passage which clarifies this usage of "until" is Matthew 28:20, where Jesus says, "I am with you always, until the end of the age." Here Jesus obviously means that he will be with us until the end of the world and beyond the end of the world...that is, forever.

Further, if Jesus actually had blood brothers and sisters, it would be difficult to explain why the Church would have denied their existence. The most plausible reason why the Church has always held that Jesus was an only child is that he actually was an only child!

Early Christian writers agreed that Jesus had no blood brothers and sisters and that Mary remained a virgin. St. Jerome (345-420) wrote that "Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and all the other learned men going back to apostolic times" testified to the perpetual virginity of Mary. Our Catholic belief, therefore, goes back to the earliest days of the Church and has been a constant belief for almost 2,000 years. Since the Holy Spirit guides the Church, we can believe that the Holy Spirit led believers to the fact of Mary's perpetual virginity.

This fact points to the uniqueness of Jesus as the only Son of God. The Bible states that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:31-35). The tradition of the Church teaches that Mary remained a virgin. Why? Because she and Joseph witnessed the miracle of Jesus' conception and birth. They realized that God had entrusted them with the greatest treasure in the history of the world, God's only Son. They understood that their task in life was to nurture and protect the Savior of the human race. Many years later, Jesus would speak of those who renounced marriage "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12). It cannot be surprising that Mary and Joseph would have wanted to renounce their right to have other children in order to dedicate their lives to the care of God's Son.

The Church's belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary is significant because of what it says about Jesus and about us. The fact that Jesus was Mary's only child underlines his uniqueness as the only Son of God. The fact that Jesus was Mary's only child results in a special relationship between Mary and us. Since we are the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), Mary is our Mother, and she has the same Mother's love for us that she has for Jesus. Jesus says to us as beloved disciples, "Behold, your mother."

These facts, rooted in the Bible and clarified by the Church's tradition, help us to see Christ in the clearest possible light. They help us to know Mary as the Virgin Mother of Jesus and as our Virgin Mother. These beliefs, old as the New Testament and new as today, have enriched the lives of countless generations of Catholics.



(The questions and responses 1-20 come from Catholic Home Study Service, Rev. Oscar Lukefahr, C.M., Director. If you would like to enroll in a free course of instruction in the Catholic faith, check out the Catholic Home Study Service.

The Association of the Miraculous Medal is an apostolate of the Congregation of the Mission Midwest Province:


Last updated: 03/27/2000 12:16:50



(this is a revision of a previous article of same name)

Mt. 13.55 and Mk 6.3 name the following as brothers of Jesus: James, Joseph (Joses - the manuscripts vary on the spelling), Simon and Judas.

But Mt 27.56 says at the cross were Mary the mother of James and Joseph. Mark 15,40 says Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses was there.

So, although the proof is not conclusive, it seems that--unless we suppose these were others with the same names, that the first two, James and Joseph (Joses) had a mother other than the Mother of Jesus.

Therefore the term brother was used for those who were not sons of Mary the Mother of Jesus. So the same easily could be the case with the other two, Simon and Judas.

Further if Mary had other natural sons and daughters too at the time of the cross, it would be strange for Jesus to ask John to take care of her.

Especially, James the "brother of the Lord" was alive in 49 AD (Gal 1:19).He should have taken care of her.

Lot, who was the nephew of Abraham (cf. Gen 11.27-31) is called his brother in Gen 13.8 and 14.14-16.

The Hebrew and Aramaic "ah" was used for various types of relations: Cf. Michael Sokoloff, "A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic" (Bar Ilan University Press, Ramat-Gan, Israel, 1990, p. 45.) Hebrew had no word for cousin.They could say "ben-dod" which means son of a paternal uncle, but for other kinds of cousins they would need a complex phrase, such as "the son of the brother of his mother" or, "the son of the sister of his mother". For complex Aramaic expressions see Sokoloff, p. 111 and 139.


Objection 1: We should not consider the Hebrew--Greek did have a word for cousin and other kinds of relatives also, and the Gospels do not use the other specific words for the relatives of Jesus. They use only Greek

"adelphos," which means a real brother.

Reply 1: The Septuagint (the old Greek translation of the Hebrew OT--

abbreviated LXX) uses Greek "adelphos," brother, for Lot - who as mentioned above, was really a nephew.

Furthermore, the writers of the Gospels and Epistles often had Hebrew words in mind when they wrote Greek words. This is specially true with St. Paul.

And, as we shall see presently, there is strong evidence that St. Luke at

some points was translating Hebrew documents - two kinds of Hebrew - with meticulous care.

The LXX for Mal 1:2-3 has this: "I have loved Jacob and hated Esau." St.

Paul in Rom 9:13 quotes it the same way in Greek. Yet the LXX translators knew both Hebrew and Greek and so did Paul, yet they used a very odd, even potentially misleading Hebrew expression. How did it happen? Hebrew and Aramaic lacked the degrees of comparison (such as: good, better, best; clear, clearer, clearest) and so they had to find other way to express such ideas. Where we would say: "I love one more, the other less", the Hebrew said "I love the one and hate the other." In Luke 14:26 Our Lord tells us that we must hate our parents." Again,it means to love them less than one loves Christ. Similarly,in 1 Cor 1:17 Paul says: "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach"--yet Paul had just said he did baptize some. He really means, in the Hebrew way of speaking: My more important mission was to preach, less important was to baptize.

St. Paul in 1 Thes 4:5 speaks of the gentiles "who do not know God". He uses "know" in the sense of Hebrew "yada," a broader word, to know and to love.

In fact quite a few times we must think of what Hebrew word was in Paul's mind to fully understand his Greek words.

All scholars admit that St. Luke's Gospel has more Semitisms than the books written by Semites (even though Luke was not a Semite himself, but a Greek Physician). Why? It had been thought that Luke did this to imitate the style of the LXX but a study I made (In my article, "Did St.Luke Imitate the Septuagint?" published in the international "Journal for Study of the New Testament" (July 1982, pp. 30-41 from the University of Sheffield, England) showed statistically that Luke did not try to imitate the Septuagint. I made a study of a very strange Semitism in Luke, the apodotic "kai," which reflects Hebrew apodotic "wau." Here is an example from Luke 5:1: "And it happened--when the crowds pressed on Him to hear the word of God--and He stood by the Lake. The underlined and would be in place in Hebrew- but not in Greek, not even in Aramaic. By actual count, St.Luke uses it only about 20 to 25% of the times he would use it if he were imitating the Septuagint. Clearly that was not his reason for using it. So why did he do it at all? In his opening lines, St. Luke says he took great care, spoke to eye-witnesses, and read written accounts about Jesus. Now written accounts could have been in Greek (a few Jews grew up speaking Greek), Hebrew, or Aramaic. So it is possible that St. Luke had used written accounts in those languages. Greek on Greek would not show, of course, but if he used Hebrew documents part of the time, and if he translated them with meticulous care - so extreme that he would bring a Hebrew structure into Greek, where it did not belong - then we could explain what he did. The odd stricture was not normal in Aramaic either, so we gather that St.Luke seems to have used,at some points, not at all points, Hebrew documents, and that he translated them with extreme care.

Luke knew how to write fine Greek - yet he did this, Why? It was his extreme care to be faithful to the original texts he used.--So again, we need to know the underlying Hebrew to understand (of course in this item, English translations just skip the and--it appears only if we read St. Luke in Greek).

There is an important word in Romans 5:19 which speaks of the many as becoming sinful--original sin. Of course, St.Paul really means all. Yet the Greek he uses is "polloi." In normal Greek it always means just many, not all. But if we know the Hebrew in Paul's mind it clears up. There was a strange word "rabbim" which is first known in Isaiah 53, the prophecy of the passion. By context there we see it is clear that it means all, yet it also means many - to be more exact, it means the all who are many.If I were in a room with 3 others,I could say all, but could not say many. Now if we use a Greek concordance to find every place in St.Paul where "polloi" is used as a noun,it always,without exception, means all, as we gather from context, such as that of Rom. 5:19. Hence we really need to go back to the Hebrew to understand Paul's Greek here.

Again, St. Paul often uses the Greek "dikaiosyne" not in the narrow usual Greek sense, but in the broad sense of Hebrew "sedaqah." There are many other times in the NT where we must consider the underlying Hebrew in order to get the right sense of the Greek.We have given only samples, but they should be enough to show how the NT writers worked, and the need to avoid stopping with the Greek and insisting that we should ignore the underlying Hebrew, as those do who point out that Greek had words for cousins and other relatives, even though Hebrew did not.


Objection 2: J.P. Meier, in "A Marginal Jew" (Doubleday, 1991, pp. 325-26) says that "The New Testament is not translation Greek",and says it would be a "wooden" translation to follow the Hebrew usage on brother.


Reply 2: Many scholars do think part or all of the Gospels were translation Greek. The evidence cited above in "Journal for Study of the New Testament" seems to show that.

Further we have just given extensive evidence to show that regardless of whether or not the writers were translating,they often used Greek words in such a way that to understand them we must look to the underlying Hebrew.

This is specially true of Paul in spite of Meier's claim that Paul was not translating and that he knew "James the brother of the Lord" in person.

Meier also (326-27) asserts that Josephus, a Jew writing in Greek does at times use the special word for cousin, yet he does use brother for the "brothers of Jesus."--We reply that we grant Josephus does this. But, did Josephus have direct information on the real nature of the "brothers" of Jesus. Not very likely. Meier does not even mention this point.


Objection 3: Meier argues, p. 323, that if we want to say "ah" could mean

cousin, then we should read Mt 12:50 thus: "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my male cousin, my female cousin, and my mother."Similarly, on p. 357 he says that Mk 3:35 should read "not even his cousins believed in him."

Reply 3: Meier seems to be deliberately obtuse here. If "ah" had the broad meaning, we should keep it in translation,not narrowing it to cousin - it would include cousin,but not be limited to it.


Objection 4,on Mt 1.25: Protestants like to point to two words here,

"until" and "firstborn".

Until: Most ancient words have a broad span of possible meanings. Sometimes the word for until leaves room for a change after the time point indicated. However not nearly always. In Dt. 34:6 Moses was buried, "and to this day no one knows where the grave is." That was true in the day of the writer of Dt- it is still true even today. In Psalm 110:1,as interpreted by Jesus Himself (Mt.22-42-46), "The Lord said to my [David's] Lord: 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'" Of course, Jesus was not to stop being at the right hand of the Father at any point. So the word until here does not mean a change of status. Psalm 72:7, a messianic Psalm, says that in his days "peace will abound until the moon is no more."

Again, the power of the Messiah is not to stop when the moon no longer gives its light (Mt.24:29). In 2 Samuel 6:23 that David's wife Michal had no son until the day of her death." Of course,she did not have one after rhat! In Mt. 11:23 Our Lord says that if the miracles done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom, "it would have lasted until the present day." Had it lasted, Jesus did not intend to destroy it in His time. In Mt 28:20 Jesus promised to be with His Church, His followers until the end of the world -nor would He desert them in eternity. In Romans 8:22 St. Paul says that all creation groans, waiting for there revelation of the sons of God until Paul's day. Nor did it stop then, that will continue until the restoration at the end. In 1 Timothy 4:13 the Apostle tells Timothy to devote himself to reading, exhortation and teaching "until I come." He did not mean Timothy should stop such things when Paul did come.--and there are more, but these should be more than enough to show that not always does until in OT and NT, mean a change of things is to come at the point referred to.

Even J.P. Meier,who works so strenuously to try to show that most probably Jesus had real siblings,admits that the arguments from "until" proves nothing (In CBQ Jan. 1992, pp. 9-11).

firstborn: Jesus is called that in Luke 2:& (and also in Mt 1:25 if we take the Vulgate addition to the Greek). This reflects Hebrew "bekor" which chiefly expressed the privileged position of the firstborn among other children. It need not imply there were actually others. We can see this from a Greek tomb inscription at Tel el Yaoudieh (cf."Biblica" 11, 1930 369-90) for a mother who died in childbirth: "In the pain of delivering my firstborn child, destiny brought me to the end of life." For another epitaph of the same sort, from Leontopolis, see "Biblical Archaeology Review," Sept/Oct, 1992, p. 56.


Objection 5:.Some early Christian writers think the brothers were true


Reply: Meier, who so diligently collects all data against virginity after the birth of Jesus, mentions only four: (1) Hegesippus, in the second century. Yet Meier admits on p. 329: "...the testimony is not without its problems and possible self-contradictions"; (2) Tertullian--yet Meier admits that it was his "fierce opposition to [the] docetic view of Christ's humanity' that caused him to say this. In fact, Tertullian even, in the same vein, argued that the body of Jesus was ugly (On the Flesh of Christ 9)! He was a real extremist, as shown by the fact that even the Montanists were not severe enough in morality - he formed his own subsect; (3) Meier also suggests that two passages of St.Irenaeus might imply a denial of virginity--in one Irenaeus works out in detail the parallel between Adam and Christ, for the sake of his favorite "recapitulation" theology; in the other, Irenaeus develops the New Eve theme.--It is hard to see any hint of a denial of virginity in these passages. Even Meier admits the texts are not probative; (4) Helvidius in the 4th century.--But these few texts are little compared to the extensive Patristic support of perpetual virginity. Cf. "Marian Studies," VIII, 1956, pp. 47-93. In his summary of conclusions, pp. 331-32, Meier does not even mention these early writers.


Objection 6: Meier, p. 331, says we have the criterion of multiple attestation", namely, Paul, Mark, John, Josephus and perhaps Luke speak of the brothers of Jesus.

Reply 6: He is begging the question.He has not proved that any of them mean true sibling by brother. Meier adds that the natural sense of brother is sibling--but we have shown in reply 2 above that it need not be so. He also says that there is no clear case in the NT where brother means anything but true brother or half-brother. Again he is begging the question: he has not shown that even one of the texts has to mean sibling.


Conclusion: Meier himself admits, on p. 331, that "all of these arguments even when taken together cannot produce absolute certitude. "WE add: In Mk 3:20-21 his relatives go out to get Him-younger brothers would not have done it in that culture - and He was the firstborn. -And at age 12 in Temple,if there were younger brothers, they would have been along - women did not have to go. So she would have stayed home with the younger ones.

So we can see that there are no solid evidences in Scripture that Our Lady had other children. We have just answered all claims. But the decisive reason is the teaching of the Church. The most ancient creeds all call her "aei-parthenos" = "Ever-virgin".

Meier seems to have an axe to grind. In his long CBQ article, 1992, pp. 1-28, he says on the last page that we must ask whether the hierarchy of truths should not let us accept Protestants into the Catholic Church without asking them to believe in Our Lady's perpetual virginity. There is a hierarchy of truths, in that some are more basic than others. But this does not at all mean we can countenance denial of even one doctrine taught repeatedly by the Ordinary Magisterium and the most ancient Creeds - and therefore infallible. Really,if some Protestants seemed to enter the Church, but did not accept the teaching authority, they would not be really Catholics, even if they accepted all but one of our teachings. That authority if really accepted leads them to accept all, not all minus one.

Even Meier,so inclined to deny perpetual virginity,admits (pp. 340-41) that there is a strong rabbinic tradition that Moses, after his first contact with God, refrained from knowing his wife. This first appears in Philo, is taken up the the rabbis. Therefore,if Moses with only an external contact with God did that way, what of Our Lady who was filled with the divine presence at the conception of Jesus, and caried divinity itself within her for nine months?

Actually, Luther himself and Calvin, as Meier admits on p. 319 of his book, accepted Our Lady's perpetual virginity. Why then does Meier argue so strongly against it?

Really, Protestants should not, if they were logical, appeal to Scripture at all for anything - for they have no means whatsoever of determining which books are inspired. Luther thought that if a book preached justification by faith strongly, it was inspired, otherwise not. But sadly, he never proved that was the standard--he, or I could write such a book, and it would not be inspired. And many books of Scripture do not even mention justification by faith. Also sadly: Luther did not know what St. Paul meant by the word faith - on that Cf. the standard Protestant reference work, "Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible," Supplement, p.



We offer from

Expressions of the Church Fathers regarding the same problem:

[Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History 3:11] "After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and the disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions, with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive), to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with once consent pronounced Symeon, the Son of Cleopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention [note the Gospels only list Symeon as one of the Brother's of the Lord], to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Savior. For Hegesippus records that Cleopas was a brother of Joseph." [note: Hegesippus was a 2nd Century Palestinian Jew. Eusebius preserves one of the few fragments left of his works, since he had access to the great library of Ceasarea and of Alexandria—the contents of which were mostly lost later.]

A few additional points on this subject:

1) The Apostle James, the Son of Alpheaus is not necessarily the same as James the less. They are not connected in the Gospels, though this connection is possible. James the less was the son of Cleopas, but as I have read up on this, it is possible that "Cleopas" is a variant helenized transliteration of the Aramaic name "Chalphi".

2) Yesterday I quoted from Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History in which a fragment from St. Hegesippus was preserved. As I dug about last night, I found some more:

"Some of these heretics, forsooth, laid an information against Symeon the son of Clopas, as being of the family of David, and a Christian. And on these charges he suffered martrydom when he was 120 years old, in the reign of Trajan Caesar, when Atticus was Consular legate in Syria. And it so happened, says the same writer, that, while inquiry was then being made for those belonging to the royal tribe of the Jews, the accusers themselves were convicted of belonging to it. With show of reason it could be said that Symeon was one of those who actually saw and heard the Lord, on the ground of his great age, and also because the Scripture of the Gospels makes mention of Mary the [wife] of Clopas, who, as our narrative has shown already, was his father. The same historian mentions others also, of the family of one of the reputed brothers of the Savior, named Judas, as having survived until this same reign, after the testimony they bore for the faith of Christ in the time of Domitian, as already recorded. He writes as follows: They came, then, and took the presidency of every church, as witnesses for Christ, and as being of the kindred of the Lord. And after profound peace had been established in every church they remained down to the reign of Trajan Caesar: that is, until the time then he who was sprung from an uncle of the Lord, the aforementioned Symeon son of Clopas, was informed against by various heresies, and subjected to an accusation like the rest, and for the same cause, before the legate Atticus; and while suffering outrage during many days, he bore testimony for Christ: so that all, including the legate himself were astonished above measure that a man 120 years old should have been able to endure such torments. He was finally condemned to be crucified...." [St. Hegesippus [who reposed 170 ad], Fragments from his five books of commentaries on the acts of the Church, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 8, p 762]


Straight Answers from Fr. William Saunders

Brothers and Sisters of Jesus:
A Misunderstanding of Word Meaning

Did Jesus have brothers and sisters? A recent biography program about the life of Mary on A&E said that she had six other children. I was always taught that Mary and Joseph did not have other children.

— A reader in Alexandria

The A&E program apparently reflected the Protestant understanding of certain passages of Sacred Scripture. In the New American Bible's English translation of the Gospel of St. Mark, we do indeed read about the crowd asking, "Isn't this the carpenter, the son of Mary, a brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters our neighbors here?" (Mk 6:3). A similar reference occurs earlier in Mark 3:31 _ "His mother and brothers arrived...." At first glance the words seem to state that Jesus did indeed have blood brothers and sisters.

The problem emerges in understanding the meaning of the word brother. In the original text of the gospel, we find the Greek word adelphos, meaning brother, used. However, adelphos does not just mean blood brothers born of the same parents. Rather, adelphos was used to describe brothers not born of the same parents, like a halfbrother or stepbrother. The word also described other relationships like cousins, nephews, etc. For example in Genesis 13:8 and 14:1416 the word adelphos was used to describe the relationship between Abraham and Lot; however, these two men did not share a brother relationship, but one of uncle and nephew. Another instance is that of Laban, who was an adelphos to Jacob, not as a brother, but as an uncle. (In the New American translation, "kinsman" or "relative" will be used in these Old Testament cases; I do not know why this is not true in the English translation of the gospel.) The same is true for the word sister.

Actually the confusion originates in Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages of most of the original Old Testament texts and of Christ. In these languages, no special word existed for cousin, nephew, halfbrother or stepbrother; so they used the word brother or a circumlocution, such as in the case of a cousin, "the son of the brother of my father." When the Old Testament was translated into Greek and the New Testament written in Greek, the word adelphos was used to capture all of these meanings. So in each instance we must examine the context in which the title is used. In all the confusion arises in English because of the lack of distinct terms for relatives in the Hebrew and Aramaic, and the usage of the Greek adelphos to signify all of these relations.

Nevertheless, other Gospel passages clarify these relationships. James and Joses were the sons of Mary of Clophas (Mk 15:40). Judas, and by extension Simon were the sons of James (not either of the apostles) (Lk 6:16). James the lesser was the son of Alphaeus (Lk 6:15). James the greater and John were the sons of Zebedee with a mother other than our Blessed Mother Mary (Mt 20:20ff).

The gospels are also very clear that Mary was a Virgin at the time she conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 1:1825, Lk 1:2638). Remember when the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary God's plan, she responded, "How can this be since I do not know man?" After the birth of our Lord, although the Gospels do not give us many details of His childhood, no mention is made of Mary and Joseph ever having other children. Never does it refer to the "sons of Mary" or "a son of Mary," but only son of Mary.

This point is again corroborated at the crucifixion scene: Before He dies, our Lord says to Mary, "Woman, there is your son," and then to St. John, who is definitely not a blood brother, "There is your mother." According to Jewish law, the oldest son had the responsibility of caring for the widowed mother, and that responsibility would pass to the next oldest if anything happened to the first born son. By this time, St. Joseph has died. Since Jesus, the first born, had no "blood brother," He entrusted Mary to the care of St. John, the Beloved Disciple.

Interestingly, the Orthodox Churches solve this problem over brothers and sisters by speculating that St. Joseph was a widower who had other children before he married Mary. These brothers and sisters would really then be halfbrothers and halfsisters. Perhaps this notion is why St. Joseph sometimes appears elderly in paintings.

Actually, this whole confusion in not new. About 380, Helvidius suggested that the "brethren" were the children born of Mary and Joseph after Jesus. St. Jerome declared this as a "novel, wicked, and daring affront to the faith of the whole world." In his On the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mary, St. Jerome used both Scripture and the fathers like Saints Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr to refute Helvidius. Later, the First Lateran Council (649) definitively declared that Mary was "ever virgin and immaculate." Therefore, as Catholics, based on Sacred Scripture and Tradition, we do not believe that Mary and Joseph had other children and consequently that Jesus had blood brothers and sisters.

Fr. Saunders is president of Notre Dame Institute and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria.

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October 16, 1995

MATTHEW 13:55-56, and MARK 6:3, both say, "Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the brother of JAMES, and JO'SES (JOSEPH), and of JUDE and SIMON? And are not His sisters here with us?" (Note! Only the 'carpenter' is called 'THE Son of Mary', not 'A Son of Mary')

Some people refer to these verses as 'proof', that Mary had other children. See also: Mt 12:46, Mk 3:31, Lk 8:19, Jn 7:5.

Let us examine this more closely, using your bible...

The word: 'Brethren'...appears over 530 times in the Bible.

· 'Brother' - appears over 350 times.

· 'Brothers' - appears only once, in Num 36:11.

· 'Sister' - appears over 100 times.

· 'Sisters' - appears over 15 times.

BRETHREN: This is a plural word for 'brother' as shown in dictionaries.

BROTHER: The Hebrew word 'ACH', is ordinarily translated 'brother'. Since Hebrew, and Aramaic in which the Gospel of Matthew was written, had fewer words than our English, the Jews at that time, used it in a broader sense to expresses kinship. The Hebrew terms for different levels and degrees of relationship did not exist. 'Brother' meant the sons of the same father, and all the male members of the same clan or tribe. In Greek, in which the Gospel of Mark was written, 'brother' is Phratry, from the Greek Phrater, meaning a fellow member of a clan. Even today, the word is used in a larger meaning, so that friends, allies, fellow believers, and fellow citizens can be included in the same brotherhood. It was no different in the time of Christ. Four dictionaries I have checked list three or four classes of meanings of the word 'brother'. The first class concerns sons of the same parents. The other two or three classes say, kinsman, fellow man, a close friend, a pal, a member of a religious order, a fellow member of a Christian Church, etc. How many times have you seen T.V. Evangelists address their audiences as 'Our brothers and sisters'? Marian detracters accept the last three meanings to suit themselves, but when it comes to Mary, the mother of GOD, they always refer to the first meaning. Is this fair to her? How do you explain this?

See: Num 8:26, 1Sam 30:23, 2Sam 1:26, 1King 9:13, 2Chron 29:34.

For Example... If you will read Gen 29:15, "And Laban said to Jacob, because thou art my brother..." At first you would think Jacob and Laban are blood brothers. Now compare Gen 29:5, "..know ye Laban, the son of Nahor..." Compare Gen 25:21-26, and you will see Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah. Laban was the son of Nahor. They were not blood brothers but fellow citizens. Christ tells the Multitude and His disciples in Mt 23:1-8, "AND ALL YE ARE BRETHREN." In Mt 12:50 and Mk 3:35, Jesus says, "For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in Heaven, the same is my 'BROTHER', and 'SISTER', and MOTHER." That verse says it all.

In 1Cor 15:6, Jesus appeared to five hundred 'brothers' at one time. Could all of these be blood brothers? Hardly. Then there is Peter speaking before one hundred and twenty brothers in Acts 1:15-16. Paul speaks of one 'called a brother', in 1Cor 5:11. The Bible has many more similar verses.

Now we have four 'brothers', JAMES, JO'SES, SIMON, and JUDE to account for as written in Mk 6:3...

From these four passages, we see we have another 'Mary', who was the wife of Cleophas (Alphaeus), and the mother of three of Jesus's 'brethren', JAMES (the less), and JO'SES, and JUDE. This clearly shows that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not the mother of JAMES, JO'SES, and JUDE of Mk 6:3. To keep Mk 6:3 in harmony, since three are not children of Mary, the mother of Jesus, then SIMON is not either. SIMON is the Canaanite Mk 3:18, also called the 'Zealot' (Zelo'tes), Mt 10:4, Lk 6:15, Acts 1:13. Jude, who authored the Epistle of Jude, says he is the brother of James in Jude 1:1. Jude was also called 'Thaddeus' in Mt 10:3, and in Mk 3:18. This was to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot. Lk 6:16 further distinguishes the two by saying, "And Judas (Jude) the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor."

More on the topic of 'Mary's other children', I have another point to make...

Jn 19:26-27, "When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved..." The disciple was John, the author of the Gospel of John. "Then He said to the disciple, BEHOLD THY MOTHER." Was John a child of Mary and blood brother of Jesus?

Read the following verses to see...

In neither of these passages is it said that Jesus saw a blood brother or even recognized them as men that He knew.

A comparison of Mt 27:56, and Mk 15:40, clearly shows that Zebedee had a wife whose name was Salome. She is called the 'mother of Zebedee's children' in Mt 27:56, and 'Salome' in Mk 15:40. They had two children, JOHN and JAMES, Mk 3:17. JOHN at the foot of the cross to whom Jesus gave His mother, was not a child of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but of Zebedee and Salome. If Jesus had blood brothers, why then did He not give His mother to them? Jewish law would have demanded it...



+ >------begat------James and John----------------------




+ >------begat------James (the less), Jo'ses, and Jude--

---Mary---(the other Mary, Mt 27:56,61, 28:1, Jn 19:25)--


---THE HOLY SPIRIT---------------------------------------

+ >------begat------JESUS THE CHRIST--------------------


This 'Genealogy' shows who the real parents of the 'brothers' in Mark 6:3, and Matthew 13:55, are, and makes the word 'brother' a non-argument.

Additional notes...


Bible References:

Gen 8:7, Gen 25:21-26, Gen 29:5,15, Ex 13:2, Num 3:12, Num 8:26, Deut 23:7, 1Sam 30:23, 2Sam 1:26,6:23, 1King 9:13, 2King 10:13-14, 2Chron 29:34, Mt 1:25, Mt 4:21, Mt 10:2-4, Mt 12:46, Mt *12:50, Mt 13:55-56, Mt 20:20, Mt 26:26, Mt 27:56,61, Mt 28:1, Mk 1:19, Mk 2:14, Mk 3:17-21,31,35, Mk 6:3, Mk 15:40,47, Lk 1:34, Lk 2:7 Lk 2:41-51, Lk 5:10, Lk 6:16, Lk 8:19, Lk 24:10, Jn 7:2-7, Jn 19:25-27, Acts 1:13-16, Rom 8:29, 1Cor 5:11, 1Cor 9:5, 1Cor 15:6, Gal 1:19, 1Pet 5:12, Jude 1:1








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