Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?

Did Mary and Joseph Have Other Children After Jesus?

Did Jesus Have Siblings?
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Did Jesus Christ have younger brothers and sisters? In reading the Bible, a person would conclude he did. However, Roman Catholics believe those "brothers" and "sisters" mentioned in Scripture were not half-brothers at all, but step-brothers or cousins.

Catholic doctrine teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary; that is, Catholics believe she was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus and remained a virgin her entire life, not bearing any more children.

This stems from an early church view that Mary's virginity was a holy sacrifice to God.

Many Protestants disagree, arguing that marriage was instituted by God and that intercourse and childbearing within marriage are not sins. They see no damage to Mary's character if she bore other children after Jesus.

Does 'Brothers' Mean Brothers?

Several Bible passages refer to Jesus' brothers: Matthew 12:46-49, 13:55-56; Mark 3:31-34, 6:3; Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12, 7:3, 5.  In Matthew 13:55 they are named as James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas.

Catholics interpret the term "brothers" (adelphos in Greek) and "sisters" in these passages to include nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers and half-sisters. However, Protestants argue that the Greek term for cousin is anepsios, as used in Colossians 4:10

Two schools of thought exist in Catholicism: that these passages refer to cousins of Jesus, or to step-brothers and step-sisters, the children of Joseph from a first marriage.

Nowhere does the Bible say Joseph had been married before he took Mary as his wife. After the incident in which the 12 year-old Jesus was lost in the temple, Joseph is not mentioned again, leading many to believe Joseph died sometime during that 18-year span before Jesus started his public ministry.

Scripture Suggests Jesus Did Have Siblings

One passage seems to state that Joseph and Mary did have marital relations after the birth of Jesus:

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25, NIV)

The word "until" as used above seems to imply a normal marital sexual relationship. Luke 2:6-7 calls Jesus Mary's "firstborn," perhaps indicating that other children followed. 

As shown in the Old Testament cases of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah's wife, and Hannah, barrenness was considered a sign of disfavor from God. In fact, in ancient Israel, a large family was seen as a blessing.

Scripture and Tradition vs. Scripture Alone

In the Roman Catholic Church, Mary plays a larger role in God's plan of salvation than she does in Protestant churches. In Catholic beliefs, her sinless, ever-virgin status elevates her to more than the mere physical mother of Jesus. In his 1968 Credo of the People of God, Solemn Profession of Faith, Pope Paul IV said,

"We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ."

Besides the Bible, the Catholic Church relies on tradition, the oral teachings the apostles passed on to their successors. Catholics also believe, based on tradition, that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven by God after her death so her body would not suffer corruption. That event is not recorded in the Bible either.

While Bible scholars and theologians continue to debate whether or not Jesus had half-brothers, ultimately the question seems to have little bearing on Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the sins of humanity.

(Sources:  Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition; International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, general editor; The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger; The Bible Knowledge Commentary, by Roy B. Zuck and John Walvoord; perseus.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de, www-users.cs.york.ac.uk , christiancourier.com)

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Zavada, Jack. "Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/did-jesus-have-brothers-and-sisters-701981. Zavada, Jack. (2017, January 16). Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/did-jesus-have-brothers-and-sisters-701981 Zavada, Jack. "Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/did-jesus-have-brothers-and-sisters-701981 (accessed March 21, 2018).