Brothers and Sisters of Jesus

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There are various places in the New Testament where reference is made to the relatives of Our Lord. "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon? And are not also his sisters here with us?" (Mk 6.3; cf. Mt 13.5556). In John2.12; 7.3, 5, 10; and Acts of the Apostles 1.14, mention is made of "His brethren." St. Paul calls James "the brother of the Lord" (Gal 1.19). The Synoptics speak of "His mother and His brethren" who came to see Him as He was preaching (Mt 12.4650; Mk 3.2125; Lk8.1921; 1 Cor 9.5). In all languages the words "brother," "brethren" and "sister" are used in the strict sense of blood relatives as well as in the broader sense of some one or ones united in a religious or other common bond. The same is true of the Sacred Scriptures. Our Lord Himself used the terms in reference to those who are united to Him through the fulfillment of the will of God (Mt 12.4650). Paul and his group "greeted the brethren," that is, the Christians, at Ptolemais (Acts 21.7). In the Old Testament the word "brother" is used by Abraham in reference to his nephew Lot (Gn 14.14). While the names of the so-called "sisters" are not given in the New Testament, four "brothers" are named: James, Joseph, Jude and Simon. Three of these names occur in the list of the Apostles (Mt 10.24; Mk 3.1419; Lk 6.1216; Acts 1.13), with one, namely, that of James, being given twice. There is little doubt that "James of Alphaeus, and Simon called the zealot; Jude the brother of James" (Lk6.1416) are the ones called the brothers of Our Lord. Paul's reference to "James the brother of the Lord" (Gal1.19) is most likely to the Apostle, James of Alphaeus [see james (son of alphaeus), st.].

Of these listed, James and Joseph are called the sons of Mary, one of the women mentioned in the story of the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord (Mt 27.56,61; 28.1; Mk 15.40,47; Lk 24.10). This Mary cannot be the Mother of Jesus; some, however, identify her as "His mother's sister" who stood at the foot of the cross (Jn 19.25). She may thus be the same as the "Mary of Cleopas" mentioned in this text, as some scholars hold. It is possible that cleopas, or Clopas, is another spelling of Alphaeus. If so, then the conclusion is that James and Joseph, as well as Simon and Jude (although there is more doubt about these two), are the sons of Mary and Cleopas, otherwise known as Alphaeus. Another opinion would make Cleopas the brother of Joseph, the foster father of Our Lord. There is no probability to the theory of the Protoevangelium Jacobi, Origen and Ambrosiaster (Patrologia Latina, 17:344345) that "the brothers of Jesus" were the children of Joseph by an earlier marriage. The variety of opinions is an indication that the texts in the New Testament mentioning "brothers and sisters and brethren" of Our Lord cannot be used to pinpoint their relationship.

Sacred Scripture is very definite about Mary being a virgin when she conceived Jesus (Mt 1.1825; Lk1.2627; 2.7). He is the firstborn, a term meaning the first "to open the womb" without any implication of other children to follow. The very definiteness with which Our Lord is called "the son of Mary" (Mk 6.3) would seem to point to an only son. From the cross Our Lord charged John, the beloved Apostle, with the care of His Mother, which would have been a strange action if she had other sons.

The New Testament writings are the products of men who were the first members of the Church established by Christ. They are inspired in their teaching and preaching; they reflect what the early Church believed. It is by placing these writings into the background of the Church that we are able to understand them and interpret them; in this way light is thrown on the New Testament text concerning the problem of the "brothers of Jesus," which involves the perpetual virginity of Our Blessed Mother, a doctrine of the Church. The Church from its earliest days taught that Mary was always a virgin. In view of this, then, there can be no doubt that Mary did not have any other children; therefore the "brothers and sisters" mentioned in the New Testament cannot be the blood brothers and sisters of Our Lord.

Bibliography: f. prat, "La Parenté de Jésus," Recherches de science religieuse, 17 (1927) 127138. j. blinzler, "Zum Problem der Brüder des Herrn," Trierer theologische Zeitschrift, 67(1958) 129145, 224246. m. j. lagrange, Évangile selon S. Marc (4th ed. Paris 1947) 7993. j. j. collins, "The Brethren of the Lord and Two Recently Published Papyri," Theological Studies, 5(1944) 484494. Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890).

[g. h. guyot]

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Brothers and Sisters of Jesus

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