Let’s begin by asking, does anyone believe that Jesus had biological siblings — brothers or sisters born of the same biological mother? Yes. (And that’s probably no revelation to you.) The follow-up question is, why does anyone believe that Jesus had biological siblings? The most prominent answer to that question will be, “Well, the Bible says Jesus had siblings.” And if that’s why you believe that Jesus had biological siblings, born of the womb of Mary, then I understand where you’re coming from. I believed the same thing for a long time.
The task then is to read the Scriptures that lead people to believe that Christ had biological siblings, and to examine them closely enough to determine whether or not that is the most tenable or probable case. And where do we begin? Perhaps the best place would be Matthew 13:55-56 (which has a close parallel in Mark 6:3). In this passage, the people of Nazareth are responding to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue:
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Again, that seems straight-forward enough, so nobody is jumping to any conclusions here by thinking these are biological siblings. That said, we must note that in the language of the New Testament, the terms here are not absolutely indicative of siblings. The Greek term, which is adelphoi, is also indicative of other familial relations. Fine, but that’s merely a possibility, that doesn’t demonstrate that these four men named are other than Mary’s children. So, let’s see if the NT can clarify for us who these men are in relation to Jesus and Mary.
Jump to Matthew 27:55-56 :
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Here we find another mention of “James and Joseph”, and here their mother is named Mary. However, it is fairly clear that this Mary who was looking on from a distance is not the Mary who bore Jesus. Why? Well, the central character is Jesus, and quite frankly, being the mother of Jesus is a far more important and distinguishing piece of information than being the mother of anyone else. And that this is a different Mary than Jesus’ mother is reinforced a few verses later (v.61) when Matthew writes:
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
“The other Mary”? Yes. Once again, the Mary who was paired with Mary Magdalene just a moment ago is now called “the other Mary”. It’s not easy to justify the idea that Matthew would refer to the mother of Jesus Christ as “the other Mary”, which is probably why there’s almost no Scripture scholar on earth who believes this other Mary is the mother of our Lord.
Maybe you’re not totally convinced; I get it. So, let’s look at another account of the crucifixion to see how another Gospel writer recorded the presence of these people. John 19:25 :
but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
Alright, John has given us three Marys. One he identifies by her being the mother of Jesus. Another is the famed Mary Magdalene, and the last is, we’re fairly certain, the “other Mary”, the wife of Clopas and the sister of Jesus’ mother. So, Jesus’ mother is named Mary, and his mother’s “sister” is named Mary. Of course, that Jesus’ maternal grandparents gave two daughters the same name is extremely improbable. So, this is probably another one of those instances where that Greek term adelphoi is used to indicate a non-sibling relation. In other words, it’s quite likely that Clopas’ wife is the cousin of Jesus’ mother.
- So, that gives us good reason to conclude that the first two “brothers”, James and Joseph, named in Matthew 13 are of some other familial relation to Jesus. In fact, the evidence strongly indicates that they are Jesus’ second cousins. And if the first two adelphoi named are only second cousins of Jesus, it is certainly improbable that the men and sisters mentioned after are of closer relation, certainly not the children of Mary and Joseph.
Does this “prove” that Jesus had no siblings? No, but it tells us that it’s highly improbable. When the people of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth thought of Jesus’ family members, the first people they named are second cousins
Visit David’s website at www.sperolaus.com
David Rummelhoff is a stay-at-home dad whose three little girls have him on a short leash since he finished his MA in theology. He pretends to have time to read and write, but he really spends his days incessantly preparing food for children with insatiable appetites and dangerous minds. He is the founder of Peter’s Mark.