Reader Questions Answered

Return to homepage

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) 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. 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): 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): 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.

Our Sponsors:

St. John's United Methodist Church, "Transforming Lives Through Christ."
2626 Arizona NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110

St. John's Music Ministries now has a YouTube channel, bringing you free concerts and choral music. Check it out!

Traditional worship services are held Sundays at 8:15 and 11:00 a.m. in the sanctuary.  Casual worship services are held Sundays at 9:30 a.m. in the Family Life Center.  Jazz Vespers are held monthly on the second Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. St. John's feels especially called to the worship of God and to the service of our neighbors through our music program.

Storm Dragon SoftwareTM

Ducks in a Row, Inc.

This website is supported in part by the generosity of Mrs. J. Jordan.