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My neighbor would like to know about the brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Can you help my neighbor - he calls himself a lapsed Catholic! He wants to know about the brothers and sisters of Jesus. I have exhausted my study books. (4/4/2009)
Matthew 13:54-55a Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother called Mary? And his brothers - James and Joseph and Simon and Judas - and his sisters, aren't they all with us?
Mark 6:3a,b Isn't this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judah and Simon? And aren't his sisters here with us?
Galatians 1:19 But I [Paul] saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.
Acts 12:17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he [Peter] described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, "Tell these things to James and to the brothers." Then he departed and went to another place.James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
Acts 15:13, 19 After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me. ... Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God..."
Acts 21:18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
1 Corinthians 15:7 Then he [Jesus] appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Galatians 2:9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me [Paul], they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Galatians 2:12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
Jude 1:1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
It's easy to exhaust the study books on this topic, because little is written in the scripture about Jesus' brothers and sisters. There are two main schools of thought about them.
1. The "plain reading of the text" school says that the Greek words "brothers" and "sisters" probably mean "brothers" and "sisters." Under this reading, Jesus had at least four brothers and at least two sisters. The brothers James, Simon, Joseph/Joses/Joset, and Judah/Judas/Jude are called out by name in the scripture. The names of the sisters are unknown. This school holds that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary had the ordinary relationship of a married couple and that the other children are theirs.
2. The "only son" school says that Mary remained a virgin all of her life and had no other children. Translators, scholars, and denominations who belong to this school most commonly translate the Greek words as "brothers" and "sisters" everywhere they occur. Nevertheless, when these words occur in connection with Jesus, they add a strongly worded footnote to the effect that "this really means 'relatives.' " Even John Wesley has such a footnote, so clearly it's not an issue of Catholics vs. Protestants. One subset of the "only son" school takes the James and Jude named as brothers of Jesus to be the sons of Alphaeus or of Cleopas. Another subset of this school is that the other children are Joseph's by a previous marriage, and thus step-brothers and step-sisters of Jesus; there is no scriptural basis for this idea, except that Joseph disappears from the picture sometime after Jesus is about 12 and before he is 30. This is taken to mean that Joseph was an old man when he and Mary got married. (I've done enough genealogy to know that lots of parents died young before antibiotics.)
I belong to the first school, because I believe that one should do the best translation possible and then draw one's theology from the text, rather than choose a theology first and then translate the text to suit the theology. However, I'm willing to admit that the James and Judas and brothers and disciples are all poorly documented and difficult to straighten out, and I don't think it's worth arguing about.
Jesus, James, Simon, Joseph, and Jude were all extremely common names in first-century Judea. There are two brothers named James and Jude, the sons of Alphaeus, who were Jesus' disciples, and there are two brothers named James and Jude who were the sons of Cleopas. The plain reading school does not take either pair as the brothers of Jesus. Some people take these two pairs as one set. (Note that "brothers" often means "fellow church members," but that's always clear from context.)
Except for James and Jude, we know virtually nothing about the siblings of Jesus from the Bible. James was the de facto leader of the church in Jerusalem, as shown above, and he is the author of the book James.
Jude is not mentioned other than as shown above, but he is the author of the book Jude
. Outside the Bible, much has been written about James, brother of the Lord. He was the first bishop of Jerusalem, and is probably identical with James the Just. What weight you want to give to the extra-Biblical sources, most of which were written well after the fact, is something you have to decide on your own. Some of the extra-Biblical sources say James was the brother of the Lord, and some say not.
One of the most beautiful things about Jesus' siblings is their change of heart about him. Early in Jesus' ministry, they wanted him to give it up and come home (Mark 3:20-21, Mark 3:30-32):
"Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, 'He is out of his mind.' ... for they [the scribes] were saying, 'He has an unclean spirit.' And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, 'Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.' "
Although you probably won't find a commentary that says this, it looks to me as if they are worried about him. He is over-worked, and the religious leaders are accusing him of being demon-possessed, and his family comes to take him home. That seems natural to me. If you thought your brother was exhausted, have psychotic episodes, and getting into trouble with the law, wouldn't you find him and bring him home? Jesus gently replies that his listeners are like family to him. Most commentaries, I admit, put a different spin on this passage.
Another passage tells us that Jesus' brothers want him to go to Jerusalem and reveal himself (John 7:1-6):
"After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, 'Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.' For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, 'My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.' "
Again, I read this a little differently than most commentators, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.
Most scholars read the brothers' comment to be in the nature of a sneer: "If you're so smart, why aren't you
rich?" Admittedly, vs. 5 is in favor of this reading. I take it more as a challenge: "You've been doing
all these miracles around home; don't you think it's time to get out and strut your stuff?" Vs. 4 is in favor of my reading. Either way, the brothers didn't have faith in him at that time, or they would have been content to let him guide them, rather than try to guide him.
After the resurrection, however, James and Jude each says in his letter that he is the "slave" of Jesus Christ. Neither claims any kinship in his letter with Jesus, either from humility or from the knowledge that the readers knew who they were. Jude only identifies himself as the "brother of James." Again, this could have been from a sense of humility, or it could have been to distinguish himself from all the other Judes running around. What is clear is that both men have abandoned all thought that Jesus needs their help or that they should try to guide him, in favor of perfect faith in him.
Here is the one thing to remember about all this: If all these people and their exact relationship to Jesus was important to our salvation, it would be clear in the scripture, because the Holy Spirit has made clear in the Bible everything we need to know about salvation. Curiosity is not the same as need to know.
Copyright 2009, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by Deanna Rains.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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