Did Jesus have brothers?


Hi Jeff!

Did Jesus have brothers? How can we explain that a word such as "wine" has so many meanings depending on the context and root of the word in Greek, but that the word "brother" means just that? I ask because some denominational churches teach that when the Bible said "brother" it really meant "cousin" or other close relatives. I kind of feel the same way if I try to explain the wine thing to someone based on an ancient language neither me nor that person speaks. I would appreciate your advice on this matter.



See: It's Greek to Me and Greek, How Should a Knowledge of It be Viewed?

"While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with 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).

"Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You." But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?" And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother"" (Mark 3:31-35).

"Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd. And it was told Him by some, who said, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You." But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it"" (Luke 8:19-21).

The crowds following Jesus had become so great that when Mary and her children approached, they were unable to get close to Jesus. Word was passed along to Jesus that they were waiting outside to see him.

Jesus responds in an interesting way. Taking a mundane event, he turns it into an opportunity to teach an important principle. He asks who is his mother and brothers? The seeming callousness of question would have grabbed everyone’s attention. He then responds that his family was already with him. His family are those who listen and do the will of God. It is the same point that he had made several times in the sermon on the mount. Merely knowing God’s Word is not enough. A person must apply it to his life to be pleasing to God.

These verses are difficult ones for Roman Catholics for they mention that Jesus had brothers. Mark gives a list of their names and also mentions that Jesus had sisters as well. "Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:3). The common response is to claim that the Greek word for “brothers,” adelphos, can also mean “cousin.” The problem is that in Jesus’ closing statement he says, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). The word for “sister,” adelphe, is not used to indicate a cousin. The use of brother, sister, and mother together shows that Jesus is discussing near relations.

It is sometimes argued that these siblings were Joseph’s children from a prior marriage. However, to draw this conclusion, one must assume what is not said anywhere in the Scriptures. There is no mention of Joseph being married before, let alone having children before he married Mary. A second problem is that Jesus was only the adopted son of Joseph. If Joseph had children by another woman, they would not technically be Jesus’ brothers or sisters. But if these siblings shared the same mother, then they would be related.