Cousin in scripture bro and sis of Jesus


I have a friend that asked me about Mary having other Children. I know the Church teaches of her perpetual virginity. I was able to show evidence of for instance Joseph being a devout Jew and knew that her pregnancy was a result of God and would therefore not touch her since she was the “spouse of the holy spirit”. and so forth…

She mentioned how it says Jesus has “brothers and sisters” in the gospel…

I told her something I’ve heard time and time again … that the term cousin was not used back then in that extremely close knit familial culture. Everyone considered their kin as brother and sister… then she came back at me with…well why then is Mary’s cousin Elizabeth mentioned as “Her cousin Elizabeth” in scripture.

Please help!


She isn’t – she’s described as a ‘kinswoman.’ That description could mean things that we would describe in terms like “third cousin, twice removed, on your step-father’s side.” Definitely not ‘cousin’ in the way that we think about it today. :wink:


[quote="MichaelHowling, post:1, topic:332716"]
I have a friend that asked me about Mary having other Children. I know the Church teaches of her perpetual virginity. I was able to show evidence of for instance Joseph being a devout Jew and knew that her pregnancy was a result of God and would therefore not touch her since she was the "spouse of the holy spirit". and so forth.....

She mentioned how it says Jesus has "brothers and sisters" in the gospel....

I told her something I've heard time and time again .... that the term cousin was not used back then in that extremely close knit familial culture. Everyone considered their kin as brother and sister............. then she came back at me with....well why then is Mary's cousin Elizabeth mentioned as "Her cousin Elizabeth" in scripture.

Please help!


Because your friend is reading form the king James version, which has many, many flaws :p


Ok, so it’s just a bad translation (because I know we call her "cousin Elizabeth " in my catholic bible and it’s how she’s remembered when I pray a rosary with others.

It’s just a bad translation and it would have been better to have used “kinsmen” ?

Thank you very much!


The word “adelphos” and its Hebrew equivalent “ah” referred to a relative of ones same generation, whether offspring of the same parents, half-siblings, or first/second cousins. The term Luke uses for Elizabeth is anepsios, which most translations render “kinsman” or “relative” and is probably used in recognition of Elizabeth’s being of a different generation from Mary (see Paul’s use of the same term to describe the relationship between Barnabas and Mark in Colossians).

Adelphos is also the word that the early Christians used to refer to one another, as when Paul addresses his epistle to “brethren” or “brothers and sisters.” So it’s just silly when people try to insist that it HAS to mean “child of the same parents.”

Some scholars have pointed out that the Greek writers of the NT could have used “homomêtôr” (half-sibling/sharing the same mother) if they had wanted to distinguish Mary’s other children from others who would have qualified as adelphoi.

The other fact that those who want to “prove” that Mary did not remain a virgin (which is of course the point of the argument) tend to overlook is that the mothers and fathers of James (the greater), John, James (the younger), Joses, Simon, Levi and Jude are all named in the New Testament.



Up until the mid 1950s, in southern Italy cousins were often called brothers and sisters, when you think about it the DNA is awfully close.

  1. The only Hebrew word for relative is ‘ah. It covers masculine relatives of varying degrees (brother, half-brother, cousin, even brother-in-law). The same is true in Aramaic for ‘aha, which Jesus and the people around Him spoke. There is no dedicated word for sibling.

  2. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word ‘ah with the Greek word adelphos (which normally means a true brother) even when it is clearly not a true brother. For example, in Gn 13:8 and 14:16 Lot is called Abraham’s “brother” when this is not so (Gn 12:5). Another example is Gn 29:15 which is not the case from Gn 28:2 and 29:10. See also Lv 10:4 as compared to Lv 10:1-3.

  3. Consistent with the above, Herod Philip was in fact a step-brother of Herod Antipas. Yet in the NT he is called his “brother,” adelphos, (Mt 14:3; Mk 6:17; Lk 3:19). From historical sources we know that Herod the Great, the father of Herod Philip, had 10 wives, and that Herod Philip and Herod Antipas were born of different wives.

  4. The Catholic teaching that Mary had no other children than Jesus shows up early in the 200s AD. How could this have happened if four of her sons were well-known Christians; and one of them, James, perhaps the Bishop of Jerusalem!

  5. It is odd that Jesus would commend his mother to John (Jn 19:26-27) if He had four brothers. Unless Jesus’ mother’s sister was married to Zebedee, thus making John a relative.

  6. There are definitely two, maybe three, men named “James” in the New Testament:
    a) James, prominent in the Jerusalem Church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18), was called “brother of the Lord” by Paul (Gal 1:19).
    b) James, son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve, may or may not be the same as James “brother of the Lord”. [If he is, he can’t be Jesus’ brother.]
    c) James, son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve, is not at issue here because he was executed by Herod (Acts 12:2).

  7. • At the cross, “Mary, the mother of James (the Younger) and Joseph (Joses)”, is present (Mt 27:55-56; Mk 15:40, 47; 16:1; maybe Lk 24:10). However, she is not referred to as the mother of Jesus. Joseph Fitzmyer in his Anchor commentary on Luke notes that it is “hardly likely that Mark would mean thereby the mother of the person hanging on the cross. Why would he have used such a circumlocution?” (I, 723-4). John (19:25) lists Jesus’ mother specifically plus Jesus’ “mother’s sister” and a “Mary, the wife of Clopas.”
    • Mary (wife of Clopas) could be the same as Mary (mother of James and Joseph (Joses)). This is possible since Mary Magdalene is out and Jesus’ mother’s sister is not likely to be named “Mary” also. [If so, James and Joseph (Joses) aren’t Jesus brothers]
    • “James the Younger” (or “the Less”), whose mother Mary is at the cross (Mk 15:40), may be James, son of Alphaeus. Christian writers have often made this link. [If so, he can’t be Jesus’ brother.]
    • James (son of Zebedee’s) mother (Mt 27:56) and Jesus’ mother’s sister (Jn 19:25) could be the same person. If so, this would give Jesus “brothers” according to the Aramaic word for relative (see #1 above).

There is no proof from the NT that Mary had children other than Jesus.


Jesus may have had stepbrothers and stepsisters from a first marriage of Joseph.

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
-Mark 6:1-3

He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 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 this?”
-Matthew 13:54-56

Mark and Matthew would probably not have mentioned the brothers of Jesus by name if they were simply cousins. I’m sure Jesus had more cousins than that, including John the Baptist. In fact, most people in a small town back then were probably cousins one way or another. And since most of the people in town did not know Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, they assumed Jesus was the half-brother of James, Joseph (Joses), Judas, and Simon.


There is no evidence to support this. This only appears in the Protoevangelium of James which was written more than 100 years after the death of Jesus and is not considered inspired by the Church.

The fact that Jesus on the cross entrusted Mary to John is evidence in my view that he had no step siblings because if he had the Jewish custom would have been for them to take care of Mary.



**I’m afraid that you have gotten your James mixed up. James the Just was the brother of the Lord via Joseph. He wasn’t one of the Apostles named James. **

He was also the first bishop of the Church (not Peter).

Church History (Eusebius) Book II, Chapter 1, Number 2

  1. Then James, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the excellence of his virtue, is recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem. This James was called the** brother of the Lord because he was known as a son of Joseph, **and Joseph was supposed to be the father of Christ, because the Virgin, being betrothed to him, “was found with child by the Holy Ghost before they came together,” Matthew 1:18 as the account of the holy Gospels shows.

New American Bible Revised Edition (2011), Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 15, Verse 19

" It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God"
[James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is speaking].

Some claim that the “brothers” of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels were really “cousins” because Henrew/Aramaic has no word for cousin and uses brother for both. They evidently forget that the gospels were all writtten in Greek which does have different words for a brother and a cousin.

Nowhere, in the (Greek) New Testament is the Greek word cousin used when referring to Jesus’ brothers. His brothers are always referred to correctly as brothers.


Possibly also of interest. According to Jerome, Joseph too was a perpetual virgin. (In fact many of his statues have him carrying a lilly, a sign of perpetual virginity).

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary (Jerome),
Against Helvidius.

"You say that Mary did not remain a virgin; even more do I claim that Joseph was virginal through Mary, in order that from a virginal marriage a virginal son might be born. For if the charge of fornication does not fall on this holy man, and if it is not written that he had another wife, and if he was more of a protector than a husband of Mary, whom he was thought to have as his wife, it remains to assert that he who merited to be called the father of the Lord remained virginal with her.


Or John could have been a nephew of Jesus.


It is true that the Coptic Church and Eusebius regard the “brothers of the Lord” as children of Joseph by a wife before the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jerome and other fathers dispute this.

Whether James the son of Alphaeus was or was not be the same as James “brother of the Lord” was disputed by the fathers with Jerome, as I said, falling on the side that the two were identical.

The use of adelphos for those other than full brothers in the Gospels, see #3 in my original post. As I pointed out it #2 the Septuagint uses adelphos when it is clearly not a sibling and this translation was used by the NT authors.

The fact that Jesus and those around him spoke Aramaic, which does not have a dedicated word for siblings as opposed to other relatives of one generation, and the fact that the Septuagint and even Gospel authors use adelphos when it is not a true brother, makes it difficult to hold that the Gospel statements about Jesus brothers must mean He had true brothers by Mary.

The information in #7 makes it even more unlikely.

Neither I nor the CC claim that Peter was the first bishop of the church. Besides all Eusebius says is James was the first bishop of Jerusalem.


Something interesting I found out was that in the ancient world in general, the distinctions made by people between relatives was very indistinct. When scholars read correspondence from the time where people are talking about their family situations, it is extremely difficult for them to figure out who is actually being referred to.

This was the case in an article I read about letters to home written by a Roman soldier living in about the beginning of the 2nd century AD and stationed in Alexandria, Egypt. He went to live with his uncle’s family and wrote home to his father in Italy and was fluent in both Latin and Greek. He referred to his aunt as his “mother” and others in the household as sisters and brothers-- even though they were (apparently) his cousins. The title “brother” especially was very fluid and could refer to either his actual brothers (one or more of whom also may have been living there), his cousins, or even to his fellow soldiers. Since the same word is used in all cases, the only way one can really be sure of the actual relationship is from other things he says about them.

The same is true in the Scriptures. Since the word “adelphos” has such a broad usage, the exact relationship cannot be assumed from the word alone, but from the context and other textual evidence.

[Ancient warfare magazine Vol V - 5: Securing seas and shores (“A Voice From Egypt”, page 10)](“Ancient warfare magazine Vol V - 5: Securing seas and shores”)


Good points. I’ve seen studies noting this as well, but I don’t have them at my finger tips.


How could Jesus have had a nephew when he had no brothers and sisters? Where do you think nephews come from?


Actually, accoprding to Eusebius who wrote the History of the Church, Jesus had nephews and grandnephews:

Church History (Eusebius) Book III,

Chapter 20. The Relatives of our Saviour.

  1. Of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord’s brother according to the flesh.

  2. But when they were released they ruled the churches because they were witnesses and were also relatives of the Lord. And peace being established, they lived until the time of Trajan. These things are related by Hegesippus.

Thus Jude’s children would be Jesus’ nephews and their children his grandnephews!:smiley:


The Greek word for cousin “anepsios” is used in the New Testament. See Paul, below. More importantly, Jesus’ brothers and sisters are never referred to as cousins (anepsios). They are called brothers or sisters.

Paul uses the term “anepsios” (Strongs G 431) correctly referring to Barnabas’ "anepsios"cousin in Colossians 4:10

" My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas."

And lets look how ridiculous Mark 3 becomes if we try to make Jesus’ brothers and sisters into cousins.

Mark 3: 31-35

The True Kindred of Jesus:

31 And his mother and his **cousins **came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your cousins are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my cousins?” 34 And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my **cousins **35 Whoever does the will of God is my male cousin, and female cousin, and mother."


[quote="MichaelHowling, post:4, topic:332716"]
Ok, so it's just a bad translation (because I know we call her "cousin Elizabeth " in my catholic bible and it's how she's remembered when I pray a rosary with others.

It's just a bad translation and it would have been better to have used "kinsmen" ?

Thank you very much!


Actually, Strong's G4473 "syggenēs" if dealing with one individual means "of the same kin, akin to, related by blood"

Elizabeth was a "daughter of Aaron," hence not Davidic.


Thiis might help you, [Thats if you want the truth].

Scriptural and Greek proof that Mary wasn’t always a virgin and she had other children.

1)The Greek word for Brethren, Is “Adelphos”, It can mean,
[A] Brothers of the same womb.
** Spiritual brothers.
[C] Near-Kinsman.

It can means Spiritual brethren or kinsman, But only in it’s right context.

Just like the word, “Save”, It doesn’t just mean salvation from sin.
It means, among others,
SAVED FROM SIN, Matt 1: 21.
SAVED FROM THE SEA, Matt 14: 30.
HEALED, Lk 18: 42.
And you have to put it in it’s right context.

The context of Brethren, As in, “Kinsman”, Lk 2: 44.
The context as “Spiritual brethren”. 1 Cor 14: 26.

2)Biblical proof That Mary had other children.
The Greek word for “Brethren” is Adelphos"
Matt 13: 55. Mk 6: 3. Jn 7: 3-5. Acts 1: 13–14. 1 Cor 9: 5.
In this context it means, I Quote,
“Brothers of the same womb as Jesus”.

3)The Greeek word for, “Cousin”, Is, [Sungenis]
And Kinsfolk is,[Sungenes].
Lk 1: 36,& v58. Lk 2: 44. Lk 21: 16.

Lk 21: 16. Jn 7: 3-5. Acts 1: 13–14. & 1 Cor 9: 5. Puts the difference between Jesus’s brothers and the other kinsmen and the other Disciples.

4)If Jesus’s brothers in Matt 13: 55. Mk 6: 3. meant Cousin or kinfolk, The Greek word would be, “Sungenis, Or Sungenes”.

And it would read like this,
“Is this not Mary His mother, and His Sungenes, Sungenis, James, Joses, Simon and Judas”.

But it reads like this.
“Is this not Mary His mother, and His Adelphos, James, Joses, Simon and Judas”.

You have to put the right meaning to the right Scriptures.

5)Sisters. "Adelphe"
Spiritual sisters, Matt 12: 50. Rom 16: 1.
Family sisters of the same mother, Matt 13: 56. Matt 19: 29.

NOTE, The Sisters in Matt 13: 56, Are Jesus sisters and their mother is Mary.
6)Mary lost her virginity.
As we have seen Mary had other children.
And Matt 1: 25 proves she had a normal marital relationship with Joseph.
Matt 1: 25.
Joseph knew her not till she brought forth her first born".

[A] The Greek meaning for, “Till”, is, Until.
This is how it reads in the Greek.
“Joseph didn’t have a sexual relationship with Mary Until after Jesus was born”…Meaning He did after the birth of Jesus.

**NOTE The word, “Firstborn”… Not only born.
The meaning for “Firstborn” is self explaining.

The Greek word for firstborn is, “Prototokos” It’s meaning is made up of, “Protos”, First, And, “Tikto” to be born.

If Jesus was Mary’s only born, The Greek word would be, “Monogenes” Mono, Only, Geno, Born
So it would read like this.
“Until she brought forth her [mongenes] son”.

But it reads like this.
“Until she brought forth her [Prototokos] son”.

So, Not only does the Bible say Jesus was Mary’s firstborn, But the Greek says He was, And proves that Mary had other children.

Prototokos is always used in the new testament as, FIRST among others.
For instance,
Rom 8: 29, Says Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren, He was the first, And Born again Christians are the people who are just like Jesus. Jn 17: 20–23.

Col 1 : 18, Says Jesus was the first to be born again, He was the first, And born again Christians are the rest.

NOTE, Matt 1: 25, says,
Mary brought forth HER firstborn. …Not only born.

So, If the Bible and the original Greek meanings won’t convince you, Nothing will.****

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