"Brothers" of Jesus


There are a few Gospel passages that mention Jesus supposedly having brothers, but in this context it is often interpreted that “brothers” are referring to cousins or otherwise very close friends that Jesus came to think of as a brother.

Lately this thought came to mind. Does the Church have an official teaching on whether Joseph had been married before? Is it possible that his “brothers” here could mean half-brothers, sons that Joseph had had from an earlier marriage?


Yes,that has already been proposed.I believe it may have originated in the Eastern rite ,but I am not sure.

The Church has no official teaching on the matter except that Joseph and Mary never had any children together. Her perpetual virginity I believe is dogma.


Another thread on the same subject, started less than a month ago, is up to 73 posts so far:



The “brothers” were not close friends.

Two or more brothers would share a house with their wives and children. This living arrangement was typical in ancient Israel and throughout the ancient world. All adults in the household shared domestic responsibilities including raising the children.

These living arrangements are cultural and historical facts and likely the way Mary and Joseph lived. Living arrangements were one set of parents had a house to themselves was something only the rich could afford.

All children in the household were considered “brothers” and this is how Jesus could be lost in the caravan at 12 years old, how Mary and Joseph could assume that someone else was caring for Jesus.



There is actually internal evidence for these NOT being blood brothers or even brothers of another wife of Joseph.

You will probably see protestants qoute this passage

"Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

this is clear Mary had other children with Joseph. Well to put it simple these protestants are not reading the scriptures close enough.

While it is not clear what brother may mean in this context, when you simply follow who is who you can understand what brother probably means here.

Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Protestants may see this passage and say well there is the evidence, Mary is the mother of these people scripture says it. The problem is the Virgin Mary isn’t the only Mary mentioned in the Scripture. You have four, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Mary the Wife of Clopas. There is nothing necessitating that The virgin mary is the Mary in this part of the story.

It is interesting that none of the synoptic gospels mention that Mary the Mother of Jesus is at the cross. Protestants may use that as evidence that Mary had more than one son. But that is bad evidence. Because they ignore John 19

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.

Mary had a Sister named Mary. I think it’s obvious, Mary’s sister had sons James Judas Joseph and Simon

IT is very reasonable to hold that Mary never had a second child, there is no evidence in the scripture that necessitates that Mary had a second son. Actually it is pretty clear that the scriptures never mention any blood son of Mary other than Jesus.


Mary’s sister was the mother of Zebedee’s sons.


not sure what your point is here. I believe what is clear from scripture is that John James Simon and Judas are all called brothers, they even call themselves brothers. These 4 men are also called brothers of Jesus. But what scripture makes clear is that there are other woman who are called married, called the sister of Mary the Mother of Jesus, and these sisters may be the mother of some of the Apostles.

Mary doesn’t have to have many children to have a child.

Note: because the Apostles have very common names for Jewish and Gentile Children. John is common, Judas is very common, James very common, Joseph very common. It is hard just from scripture alone to know who exactly is the son of who unless it is specifically stated, like Mary being the Mother of James and Joses (Joseph)

But these distinctions don’t matter too much, all that matters is that those who are called brothers of Jesus can be shown to have parents other than Mary and Joseph.

Note: I’m still convinced that these 4 brothers come from the same Mother. I THINK Catholic tradition can back me up on this one, but I have to get back to you on that. (James the Just, Simon, Judas of James (this is actually the greek) and Joseph. are all sons of Mary the wife of Clopas)


Clopas, according to Eusebius was Joseph’s brother, making Mary of Clopas a sister in law of Mary. The mother of Zebedee’s sons was at the cross so it makes sense that she would be Mary’s sister.


I need to do some more reading on this. Eusebius is not authoritative on this. But this is for another time and place. But that does sound reasonable.

Here is the best way I can make it out

James The great and John are the Sons of Mary’s sister wife of Zebedee

Mary Wife of Clopas (lets assume you are correct, sister in law of Mary)
James the less or the just (Traditionally understood as the Author of the Epistle of James.)
Judas of James (this is the greek, I don’t think he is the son of James he is the brother of James)

All the Above are Cousins of Jesus, but it is likely that during time of the Roman Empire in the Holy Land, Brothers both meant Blood brothers and relational brothers. I was told by my friend from Kenya it is typical that they call their cousins brothers.


Its clear that they are.


It is possible that Joseph had children from an earlier marriage. Some picture Joseph as an older man to whom Mary was married off to in order to protect her virginity.

However, it is quite possible that the “brothers” of Jesus were close relatives but not brothers in the literal English sense of the word, and not half-brothers and not children of Joseph.

The idea of Joseph as virgin and as a young man when he married the Blessed Virgin Mary has some advantages. It would show a more dedicated and greater sacrifice that he gave to protect the holy family. And the context of his life seems to support this idea of Joseph being younger man. He had to have the stamina to take his family down to Bethlehem and then down to Egypt and to provide for them there. Southern Israel is like a desert. The journey had to be quite taxing on anyone. An “older Joseph” would be more of a liability than an asset. So, I think he had to be younger in order to provide for them.

Brothers in the OT

Although the Greek does have a word for first cousins the Hebrew Language does not.

Only Paul, in one place in the New Testament, uses the Greek word for cousin “anepsios.”

The writes in the New Testament use the pattern that was used in the Greek Septuagint where the Greek word for brothers, “adelphos,” was used to translate for the Hebrew word “ach” Strong’s # 251, which had a broad meaning of brothers, cousins, second cousins or relative, etc. While it might have been appropriate to use the Greek word for cousins in some cases it was not appropriate in all cases since the Hebrew word could have meant second cousins for example. So they just used
“adelphos” in every case since that word had come to have a larger meaning itself. See web page below.

We can see this pattern carried over in some modern translations. For example:

Abraham and Lot are called brothers.

Genesis 14:14-16 “**And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, … and pursued them unto Hobah, … And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.” **KJV

And yet, the genealogy given early makes clear that Abraham is Lot’s uncle.

**Genesis 11:26-28;   “Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. **

Another example is found in Chronicles below. Sisters are said to have married their brothers, yet the context makes clear that the husbands were actually cousins to the brides, not brothers as we define the word.

1 Chronicles 23:21-22 “**The sons of Merari; Mahli, and Mushi. The sons of Mahli; Eleazar, and Kish. And Eleazar died, and had no sons, but daughters: and their brethren the sons of Kish took them.” **KJV

In the New American Standard Bible it uses the word “brothers” in place of the word “brethren” in the above quotation. We can see that cousins are meant. The NAB uses the word “kinsmen.”

See the following for more information. Tradition also tells us that Mary was an every Virgin.





If one is going to interpret the word “brethren” as a blood relative, it is helpful to look at all the instances in the bible where the word is used.

For example, in Matthew 12, Jesus said all who do the will of His Father are His brethren. That would be a lot of brethren…

The gospels also refer to Abraham as father. That would be a lot of children.

Unfortunately, the goal seems to be refuting Catholic doctrine/dogma.

Some folks will then refer to the original Greek or Hebrew as proof. I do not speak these languages. However, without fully understanding the cultural context of first century Israel, I am not certain such an answer holds water. To me, the version that is closest to first century Israel is Saint Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (which fed the DRA version).


A simple answer: Did Jesus have brothers? Yes. Were they sons of Mary? No.



This is only mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James which was written about mid second century.


Ephiphanius mentions it as well.


About 150 years later. The origin of the speculation that Joseph was married before marrying Mary is the Protoevangelium of James.


You can actually see it indicated in Scripture.


Okay then give us the book, chapter and verse because I don’t believe you.


It is my understanding that there is no ancient Hebrew word that differentiates between cousins and brothers. If I am wrong about that could anyone tell what those words are?


Remeber in John 7:1-5 when Jesus’ brothers advise him. In Jewish culture, you could not speak to your brothers that way unless you were older.
Also during the council of Jerusalem, James was the last person to speak. In Jewish culture the eldest person would speak last. This would have been a testament to James’ age at the time of Jesus birth.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.