Who Were the Brothers & Sisters of Jesus?

Q. If the Blessed Virgin Mary was always a virgin, then who are the brothers and sisters of Jesus in sacred scripture ?

A. There are two possibilities. The oldest view was that St. Joseph had been previously married and was a widower of great sanctity and devotion to God with children. As Mary was dedicated to the temple and virginity, she needed a protector once she reached adolescence. Joseph was chosen to be her husband/brother and so the brothers and sisters of Jesus were actually step siblings.

The second view, put forward by St. Jerome, is that the word in Greek (adelphos) can be translated as brother meaning a literal sibling; or it can be translated to mean a kinsman. St. Paul uses the exact same Greek word in Galatians 1:11 as is used in Mark 6:3adelphos.
In the Mark passage the reader could easily and legitimately interpret it to mean literal siblings of Jesus. But, in the Galations passage, it is obvious that Paul is addressing them as kinsman or brethren in the Lord not as his own literal brothers/siblings. So, using scripture alone, the Protestant interpretation of the two passages makes sense. Paul is using the word adelphos to mean brethren in the Lord but in the Galations verse and Mark is using it to mean literal siblings of Jesus.

Everything is simple as long as one sticks to Sacred Scripture ONLY.

But, if we start looking into the historical record, we see that the Mark use of adelphos, in this case, must also mean either step-brothers and sisters or kinsman/cousin/relative. It has always been known to Christians that Mary had no other children after Jesus. Even the Reformers all taught and believed in Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. As did the witness of the early writings of the Church Fathers. She was vowed to perpetual virginity (why else would a betrothed woman ask how could she possibly get pregnant) Therefore we understand the Mark 6:3 passage to be referring to kinsmen of Jesus and not siblings of Jesus.

Reformers on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

Early Church Fathers on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

6 Responses

  1. hey bfhu, what kind of bible do you have? i have been wanting a catholic bible that has the proper translations to the words because i have a lot of protestant and non-denomenational christian friends that always use their bible to prove me wrong on my catholic beliefs. Once My friend actually showed me these exact same verses in his incomplete protestant bible who is a non-deno. christian. and told me that jesus had blood brothers and mary had more kids and therefor wasnt a virgin and he showed me the verses and for a moment i didnt kno what to think but i knew it wasnt true. I would just really like to prove them wrong and show them how they have changed the translations to their liking. I really like the bible you use. what kind is it???

  2. I have a Greek interlinear New Testament Bible that has the Greek and below it the English translation of the Greek. The sentence structure is different than in English but this Bible, since it is a Protestant one in a sidebar it also has a normal English NIV translation .

    But to explain this topic of the brothers and sisters of Jesus one also would need Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Then you can compare the various Greek words translated into English as in this case, brother (adelphos). The Vine’s gives various definitions of the Greek word as well as cross references to other verses the same Greek word is used. But b/c this is a Protestant book you have to do your own research about where else in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) or New Testament the word might have been used to assist a Catholic Exegesis. For this one can use a Strong’s or Young’s Concordance.

    These are tools I bought years ago to assist me in understanding what the Bible really said because I was a zealous Sola Scriptura Protestant. I rarely use them now although I did use them a lot as I was converting to the Catholic Church.

    So it won’t be so easy to show a Protestant what these words mean very easily and it will take some work to learn to use these tools. It might be easier to learn the Catholic explanation of the of the way we translate and interpret scriptures as opposed to Protestant interpretation and then tell them that “Based on the Greek word….” and let them go and look it up if they don’t believe you.

    • I’m glad to know you use Vine’s also, I did want to make a point on (adelphos) that is seemingly intentionally ignored.

      bfhu quote:
      “The second view, put forward by St. Jerome, is that the word in Greek (adelphos) can be translated as brother meaning a literal sibling; or it can be translated to mean a kinsman. St. Paul uses the exact same Greek word in Galatians 1:11 as is used in Mark 6:3 –adelphos.

      According to Vine’s there are more than 2 simple translations to this word. Also, it is interesting to note that according to Vine’s, the word “brethren” used in Matt 13:55 “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” is adelphos.

      Let’s do a quick break down & analysis of the meanings according to Vine’s, which you also use.
      1. male children of the same parents
      a. well, it should be immediately obvious to anyone in Christianity of any denom that this would not apply to Jesus & his siblings/relatives. Because the man Jesus was fathered by none other than the Spirit of God. While no one else in history has come into the world this same way according to His Word.

      2. male children of the same parents
      a. they very well could be male descendants of the same parents, and in fact they were according to Scripture.

      3. male children of the same mother
      a. well of course they could not have been male children of the same Father(refer to 1.) However, they could, and according to Vine’s, did have the same mother.

      Let me not stop with Matthew 13:55 only, because there are always ways and philosophy that can try to change what the Bible says. Let’s use other Scripture given to us directly from our trusted source, Vine’s, that pertains to the word brethren(adelphos) as used in relation to Jesus & his brethren.
      1 Cor 9:5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
      Gal 1:19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

      My brother, you are an educated man and know that I am not grasping at straws. I am using one of the same sources you use to help us better understand Scripture.

      Please, anyone who reads this post, take a look at the following Scripture(s) and allow Scripture to speak for itself. God’s Word needs no defense from man. He is the Creator, and as such is more than capable of defending Himself. Not that He needs a defense, because His “word is settled in heaven.”(Psalms119:89)

      Matthew 13:55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
      Matthew 27:56 Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children
      Mark 6:3 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.
      Mark 15:40 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
      Mark 15:47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.

      (Scriptures pasted from e-Sword KJV as to avoid typing errors)

      To hopefully avoid a follow up post about the word mother or “meter”(Vine’s) used here. Vine’s does not give a Scripture reference to meter for the Scriptures provided. However, am I not correct in this statement. During a study which involves the use of a dictionary, if the meaning of a word in question is not given in a specific bullet point or at the least alluded to in said bullet, the first meaning is generally applied.
      However, an obvious call of attention to her maternal relationship with James is stated here. 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.” (Matt 13:55, 27:56 & Mark 15:40)

      We see repeatedly that Mary the mother of Jesus is also the mother of James & Joses, with other mention of Juda & Simon, along with sisters. Adelphos is used in the Scripture provided above as a maternal link that can not be denied when ALL SCRIPTURE is applied.

      In conclusion, brothers & sisters in search of Truth, and seeking to rightly divide the word of truth(2Tim2:15). Col 2:8 “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” If Christ Jesus, “who being the brightness of glory, and the express image of his person”(Heb 1:3), who “In the beginning was the Word”(Jhn1:1), and “was made flesh”(Jhn1:14), is the “author and finisher”(Heb12:2). How can we, through philosophy and speculation decide He did not say exactly what He meant in His own Word? If I offend you with my belief in Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) as the defining tenets of my faith and beliefs, I propose that you are not offended at me. But at He, who through “inspiration” gave it to us because it “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”(2Tim3:16)

      In Jesus name. Amen.

  3. Dear Steve,
    I do use Vine’s but I also know that it is a Protestant book with Protestant bias. In spite of this it is a very good resource as long as one remembers it cannot be counted on to go with a Catholic interpretation vs a Protestant interpretation.

    You gave us the first three definitions of adelphos but not the next seven ways it can legitimately be translated.

    4. people of the same nationality
    5. any man, a neighbor.
    6 persons united by a common interest
    7. persons united by a common calling
    8, mankind
    9. The disciples and all believers.
    10. believers apart from sex

    Therefore, when St. Paul addresses his epistles to the Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, Thessalonians etc. calling them “Brethren” they were categorically NOT Paul’s siblings. They were brethren by way of definitions 4,6,7, 9, & 10.

    IF adelphos could ONLY be translated to mean a sibling then Protestants would have a leg to stand on when asserting that Mary had other children after Jesus. I am not saying that the Protestant interpretation is illigitimate. It is certainly legitimate. However, the Catholic interpretation that these “brothers and sisters” of Jesus were kinsmen and NOT siblings is also perfectly legitimate. So, in order to decide which interpretation is correct I will go with the historical one that goes all the way back 2000 years and not the more recent one that is less than 500 years old and was rejected by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. So, where exactly did it come from?

    Regarding the multiple Mary’s:

    Matthew 27:56 “Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”

    If you note Mary the Mother of James…is no where designated as Mary the Mother of Jesus. And for a good reason. She was not the Virgin Mary. She was “the other Mary” as pointed out in John:

    John 19:25 2Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother (Holy Mary), his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

    Three Marys…And Salome.

    So we have the Virgin Mary was Jesus’ mother and Mary the wife of Clopas was most likely the mother of James and Joses etc., “sister” of the Virgin Mary; Mary Magdalene‘s children are never mentioned so Salome was probably the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

    Matthew 27:56 “Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.“
    Mark 15:40 There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome.

    Note that the sister of Jesus’ mother is called Mary. Most families do not name two of their children the same name. So, this is further evidence that the Greek word adelpha translated here as sister is more accurately translated as kinswoman.
    You come to scriptures with a bias that James and Joses etc.are Jesus’ siblings and therefore “see” this undefined “Mary” (in Mt.) as Jesus’ mother even though nothing in the Matthew passage identifies this Mary as Jesus’ mother.

    Your belief in Sola Scriptura does not offend me because i used to hold to it as well. However, Sola Scriptura is a tradition of men begun by Martin Luther. You criticize Catholic beliefs because you do not see them spelled out in Scripture and yet you base this method of criticism on a Doctrine NOT FOUND IN SCRIPTURE.

    I am not trying to be pejorative, but is that not hypocritical? Please forgive me for using such a harsh word. I do not address it to you personally but to the Protestant hermenutic.

    • Dear BFHU,

      To clarify, I gave the first 3 definitions because according to your own beliefs the other 7 are irrelevant to our discussion. Feel free to point out that initially you only listed 2 possible meanings, quote “put forward by St. Jerome”. 😉

      Addressing Paul’s epistles to the church spread abroad, that point again is irrelevant to our discussion. We are not discussing if Paul was writing his legitimate family, we are discussing Jesus & His siblings. I don’t believe there was ever a question in the mind of anyone reading this forum who Paul was writing to. That is as far as I will go for now about “adelphos” when used to people that were obviously in NO WAY blood kin, or that are not in question about relation.

      First, since I have been addressed as Protestant, I want to make known that I am not, nor have I ever been a Protestant. I am an Apostolic Pentecostal. I believe in One God, and His name is Jesus. I believe the Holy Ghost, with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, is still for us today. I do not believe the gift of the Holy Ghost is something that can be taught, but it is exactly what it says, a gift, & gifts are received. They are NEVER taught as some would put forward. I have been baptized in Jesus name, in accordance with Scripture. I believe in living a holy life, that is acceptable unto God. I believe that miracles happen today & have been witness to two(2) miracles of healing in my local home missions church. I also believe that you still desire & are seeking more than you’ve found. I am your witness that He is there with more for you!

      “I am not saying that the Protestant interpretation is illigitimate. It is certainly legitimate. However, the Catholic interpretation that these “brothers and sisters” of Jesus were kinsmen and NOT siblings is also perfectly legitimate. So, in order to decide which interpretation is correct I will go with the historical one that goes all the way back 2000 years…”

      I am going to go a bit further back in Matthew than we have been to help illustrate and set our scenery.

      Mat 1:24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
      Mat 1:25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

      I would like to address a few very specific words here.

      Mat 1:25 “And knew her not TILL…”

      what exactly does the word, “till” mean?
      up to the time of, until, before, near or at a specified time
      We know, in this instance, it is not referring to a money drawer or a plowing tool, so no need for those definitions.

      Why would God put in His Word that Joseph “knew her not till” (a specified time), if there was NEVER any marital relations between them? I know one of the Catholic stances on Jesus’ “siblings” was that they “could have possibly been” Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. It should not be necessary to point out that making such a claim is completely without regard to fact, and is nothing more than an assumption in an attempt to validate a philosophy. According to Jewish tradition marriage is viewed as a contractual bond commanded by God in which a man and a woman come together to create a relationship in which God is directly involved(Deut 24:1). They do not believe procreation is the sole purpose. HOWEVER, a Jewish marriage is expected to fulfill the commandment to have children(Gen1:28). Let me ask you, was Joseph & Mary Jewish? Or were they Catholic? Did they follow the truths & commandments they found in what is called the Written Torah or Tanakh today? Or in Christians terms, the Old Testament? Or did they follow the decisions of the first council of Nicaea? The Jewish people believe(d), and rightly so, Gen 1:28 was a commandment! To say Joseph & Mary would have disobeyed what they viewed, due to their nationality/religious orientation, as a commandment would automatically disqualify Mary from being perfect as Catholic theology/philosophy suggests. This one simple fact in itself should be enough to prove to anyone seeking Truth in His Word on this matter that Mary was a virgin “till” she brought forth her firstborn son. Amen.

      The other word that I find so completely and insanely telling in this same passage is “firstborn.” Let me go a step further and emphasize it was not HIS(Joseph) firstborn that the Scripture indicated here, it was “her firstborn son.” Is God in the habit of wasting words? Is God the author of confusion? We can both agree that He never wastes time with meaningless drivel & confusion is far from Him. Why even bother calling Him her firstborn son, if He was in fact her ONLY son? Is there another use for firstborn in the NT that could help prove your case? You can’t prove it by saying, “well, Jesus was/is called the Firstborn & only begotton of the Father, & He only had one(1) child.” Why can’t you use that you may ask? John 3:7 “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” John 1:12 “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God…” I don’t know about you, but I call Him Father, and not just as a title, but because I have a relationship with Him! Mary delivered her “firstborn son” & Joseph “knew her not till” she had brought Him forth.

      These are two of the very first holes in the Ever Virgin philosophy. I won’t teach a doctrine to you that I can’t show you strictly out of the Bible, because It is good for it, while man has continually shown that our “hearts are on evil continually.” Even David, who was a man after God’s own heart.

      By the way, Sola Scriptura was the only thing the prophets & Apostles had to go by. It seemed to work out pretty well for them wouldn’t you say? 😉

  4. Dear Steve,
    I never said that according to my own beliefs the other 7 definitions of adelphos are irrelevant. Quite the contrary. They are the whole point. Since the NT, in Paul’s epistles use adelphos to refer to other than siblings there is NO reason to believe adelphos MUST mean siblings in any scripture. We must take context into consideration. And if that isn’t enough then historical interpretations need to be explored. You cannot say that adelphos MUST mean sibling just because you think so in one place and something else in another place. Both the Protestant and the Catholic interpretations are perfectly legitimate. Neither one can be excluded based on Scripture alone. The Catholic Church, however, excludes the Protestant interpretation based on how this verse and others have been interpreted for 2000 years.

    Very few Protestants refer to themselves as “Protestant” but your church has descended from the Protest-ant rebellion. And as you can see you have joined in the protest against the Catholic Faith. It is just what Protestants do…protest.

    I have addressed the attempt to use the “until” argument against the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. Please see my response–> Mary Was Only a Virgin UNTIL Jesus was Born.

    Did you know that Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli firmly believed in her perpetual virginity? So, by whose authority was it rejected among Protestants?

    Martin Luther: “It is an article of faith that Mary is the Mother of the Lord and still a virgin…Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” (Works of Luther, V. 11, pp319-320; V. 6, p 510)

    John Calvin: “there have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage (Mt 1:25) that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company…And besides this our Lord Jesus Christ is called the firstborn. This is not because there was a second or third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or no there was any question of the second.” (Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25, published 1562)

    Ulrich Zwingli: “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.”.” (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, in Evang. Luc., Op. comp., V6,1 P. 639

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