Did Jesus have brothers?

I was reading a tract with an explanation that the word brother as used in the Bible could refer to a spiritual brother. However in John 2:12 it seems to distinguish between his disciples IE spiritual brothers and brothers…

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

The correct word is “kinsmen”, since the Hebrew didn’t have a separate word for brother as the word is used today.

For example, in Genesis, Lot is called Abraham’s brother when it’s clear that the relationship is uncle and nephew.

Also, consider Joseph’s brothers from the Old Testament - only Benjamin shared the same mother and father; all of the other brothers (who sold him into slavery) had the same father, Jacob, but different mothers. The same word for “brother” was used in that story.

It may be that in the New Testament, before Joseph was betrothed to Mary, he had children with another wife and she died, leaving him with children from that marriage who would be considered brothers and sisters to Jesus.

Nope. Check this out from up in the Ask An Apologist forum.

*] Doesn’t Scripture imply that Mary had children other than Jesus?
*] Did Jesus have brothers?
*] Perpetual Virginity: Why is this important?
*] Mary: Ever Virgin

Every Christian agrees that Jesus had no full brothers, since He was not a son of Joseph.

Catholics and Orthodox additionally insist that Mary had no subsequent children, so He had no half-brothers on that side. (It should be noted that, while the Scripture clearly mentions Jesus having brothers and sisters, it never identifies anyone but Him as a child of Mary.)

The common Eastern view is that the brothers and sisters were step-siblings, children of Joseph with an earlier wife. This tends to go along with a view of Joseph as an older man who wedded the teenaged Mary more to serve as her guardian than as a husband in the traditional sense.

Among us western Catholics, we seem to like a younger image of Joseph and so we often cast the brothers and sisters as cousins. Depending on how you parse the lists, cross-referencing the various descriptions of those present at Jesus’ Crucifixion in the different Gospels gives us another Mary who was mother to “James and Joses,” the latter being an unusual variant of “Joseph” otherwise found only in the list of Jesus’ brothers. A different Gospel places “his mother’s sister” at the foot of the Cross and might name her as “Mary the wife of Cleopas” (again, depending on how you parse the sentence). Thus, traditionally, St. Mary of Cleopas and her husband St. Cleopas have been regarded as the aunt and uncle of Jesus and the parents of those identified as His “brothers and sisters.” (Two sisters both named Mary also seems odd, so it is possible that they too were more distant relations or that St Cleopas was Our Lady’s brother and his wife her sister-in-law rather than biological sister.)

The devil cannot attack the mother of our Lord Jesus. Rather, in his burning envy, he incites the well-meaning to do his work for him. Part of this is to attack Mary’s vow of eternal servitude of her Divine Son. A handmaid, bond slave or other indentured servant can serve no one but their master. Aside from oblique reference to the easily misinterpreted ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, there is not one - zip, zero, nada, reference to the children of Mary - except our Lord.

First, get yourself a good Catholic (i.e. complete) bible, as it contains the books from the Septuagint, which is used for many of our Lord’s and the Apostles’ quotes in scripture. Then, read the Book of Tobit. In it, you see that a man married his “sister” and she married her “brother” - which means from the same tribe of the twelve tribes. Brother and sister also meant those from the same geographical area - still does in most areas of the earth today.

As well we cannot shred the Gospel into separate verses and pick them apart - the fatal error of “proof-texting.” That is akin to driving at high speed through a fog. Scripture is a seamless garment, and nothing may be taken in isolation from anything else written. It is all related.

If Mary had other children, or even stepchildren, then why did she live with John after Jesus left earth?

I suppose it’s conceivable that Joseph could have had children from a previous marriage, but nothing in the Infancy Narrative supports this. There were no other kids in tow during the journey to Bethlehem, indicating that Joseph did not have older children, and no siblings were mentioned when Jesus got left behind in Jerusalem, discounting the idea that Mary had more children after Jesus.

Yes. Jesus had “brothers” but their exact biological relationship, if any, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph is unclear. They could be Joseph’s sons by a previous marriage, i.e., Jesus’ step-brothers, or more distant family relations, such as cousins or uncles, or orphaned boys whom Joseph and Mary had adopted, i.e., Jesus’ adopted brothers.

If Mary had any other biological children besides Jesus, it would be expected that, after his death, one of them would care for their mother, in keeping with the Commandment to honor one’s father and mother. However, from the cross Jesus entrusted his mother to his beloved disciple. Why would Jesus do this?
Here are some possible explanations from most likely to least likely:

  1. Mary was a widow and had no other biological children, i.e., Jesus was an only child. This is perhaps the simplest and most likely explanation and is in keeping with the prophecy of Zechariah:
    And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. (Zechariah 12:10)
  2. Jesus meant for Mary to abandon her husband, if he was still alive, and all her other biological children for the sake of the kingdom of God and live with his disciples instead.
  3. Mary’s husband, if he was still alive, and all her other biological children were utterly incapable of caring for her. Such widespread incapacity seems unlikely.
  4. Jesus wished to indirectly insult Mary’s husband, if he was still alive, and all her other biological children with his dying breath. This would seem to be out of character and is perhaps the least likely explanation.

Yes. He had four step brothers and at least two step sisters from Joseph’s previous marriage. I doubt the writers of the Gospels would name four random cousins, especially without naming John. But remember, they kept Mary’s virgin pregnancy a secret, so to everyone outside the family they would have been his half brothers and half sisters.

*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 13:55-56

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 6:3*

It’s possible that John, the beloved disciple, was a nephew of Jesus through one of his older step brothers. It would explain why Mary was left in his care, and why he was allowed at the foot of the cross with her. He was very young and an older man would have been arrested as being a follower of Jesus. Plus, I don’t think he’s ever referred to as an apostle, so he’s not the same person as the apostle John. Which would explain why he wrote his Gospel so late.

It wasn’t relevant to the narrative. Plus, the writers tried to avoid mentioning Jesus’ relatives because people would want to follow them as the “rightful” successor. In those days the closest living relative was chosen as someone’s successor.

Again, it wasn’t relevant to the narrative. Just because it wasn’t mentioned doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. For all we know, Joseph’s parents, and some of his uncles, aunts, and cousins were living in Nazareth too. His other children might have gone ahead with them while he took care of his slow pregnant wife.

The New Testament was written in Greek. In the Old Testament Hebrew, the word ach was used for kinsmen/distant relative or actual brother or sister. There weren’t separate words to distinguish relationships in Old Testament Hebrew.

In the New Testament Greek when Jesus’ brothers and sisters are mentioned in verses like John 2:12 forms of the words adelphos and adelphe are used. These words always mean brothers or sisters - including spiritual brothers and sisters of the same faith.
There is also the word anepsios which means cousin or nephew.
There was also the term suggenes which means cousin, distant relative or kinsman.


…consider the fact that all of the Jews called Abraham their father… they were adamant about being descendants of Abraham so much so that both John the Baptist and Jesus had to check them on that claim…

…so why would Mary’s and Joseph’s relatives not be considered Jesus’ brothers and sisters?

Conversely, if the Virgin Mary (which is really what is at issue when forcing only the understanding of blood-relations) had other children, would Jesus not have broken the Commandments by withholding His mother from them as He passed custody of her to His Disciple, John?

Jesus would be sinning so profusely from the Cross that it would undo everything He Taught in His Ministry:

  • Jesus would take away the obligation of a family member to care for the widow (an issue the Church faced and instituted 7 Deacons to take care of that particular Ministry)
  • Jesus would have to be holding a grudge against His siblings as He would oppose their custody of the Virgin
  • Jesus would be demonstrating vanity as His hurtful spirit would reject those who rejected His Ministry
  • Jesus would be setting religious and cultural tradition on its head–causing mass confusion and enabling those who would neglect caring for their elderly parents to use Him as an example of circumvention of the Commandment
  • Jesus would be circumventing His Own Command to Love and to Forgive
  • Jesus would be setting enmity between the two houses–his siblings and John

What is the most probable understanding of those passages that allude to Jesus’ siblings, that these were Jesus’ relatives but not Mary’s children or that Jesus, prior to His death on the Cross, was spiteful and vengeful against His own siblings?

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Maran atha!



St Paul sometimes used the word brethren (adelphos) to mean kinsmen (suggenes) by race:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren (adelphos), my kinsmen (suggenes) by race. (Romans 9:3)

Just a thought, but of Aramaic would have used a common word for kinsman/cousin/brother/sister, then when translated to Greek the specifics may not have been translated. For example, let’s assume that “James the brother of Jesus” was actually a cousin, but in Aramaic, everyone referred to him by the word which means brother/cousin/kinsman. That could be carried over into the Greek as brother.

Anyway, I’m not committed to them being very near kinsman (not just blood relations, but in a sense where aunts and uncles and cousins all live very near that everyone sees each other every day and the children are always playing together like siblings). It was just a thought. Maybe they were step siblings.

When the NT was written, the majority of Christians were Greek speaking Jews who would have been familiar with the Semitic idiomatic usage of the words adelphos and adelphe. We read in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT:

*υἱοὶ Μεραρί· Μοολὶ καὶ Μουσί. υἱοὶ Μοολί· ᾿Ελεάζαρ καὶ Κίς. καὶ ἀπέθανεν ᾿Ελεάζαρ, καὶ οὐκ ἦσαν αὐτῷ υἱοί, ἀλλ᾿ ἢ θυγατέρες, καὶ ἔλαβον αὐτὰς υἱοὶ Κὶς ἀδελφοὶ αὐτῶν. υἱοὶ Μουσί· Μοολὶ καὶ ᾿Εδὲρ καὶ ᾿Ιαριμώθ, τρεῖς.

The sons of Merari; Mooli, and Musi: the sons of Mooli; Eleazar, and Kis. And Eleazar died, and he had no sons, but daughters: and the sons of Kis, their** brethren** (brothers), took them. The sons of Musi; Mooli, and Eder, and Jarimoth, three.
1 Chronicles 23, 21-23

The Greek word for “brother” (adelphos/ἀδελφοὶ : of the same womb) is used in sacred Scripture in reference to cousins (ἀνεψιός/anepsios) in keeping with Hebrew parlance. The daughters of Eleazar married the sons of his brother Kish. There’s a Greek word for cousin, but it isn’t used.

By the way, Matthew originally wrote his gospel in Hebrew.

In the New Testament Greek when Jesus’ brothers and sisters are mentioned in verses like John 2:12 forms of the words adelphos and adelphe are used. These words always mean brothers or sisters - including spiritual brothers and sisters of the same faith.

The Gospel of Mark was originally written in Greek, so you’re mistaken that the word adelphos “always” means uterine brothers. Observe Mark 6:17-18*: ‘For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”’* Are we to presume that Herod Antipas and Philip were uterine brothers? Certainly not! Herod Antipas was the son of Mariamne the Hasonean, Herod the Great’s second wife. Philip the Tetrarch (Herod Philip 1) was the son of Cleopatra of Jerusalem, Herod’s fifth wife. Thus the two men are half-brothers, having the same father but different mothers. Mark employs the Semitic idiomatic term because there is no single word for half-brother or step-brother in Hebrew and Aramaic - just as there are no Hebrew words for uncle, nephew, aunt, and niece. Unfortunately, Protestants overlook or choose to ignore this passage when citing Mark 6:3 (cf. Mt. 12:46-50) as a proof-text against the Catholic dogma of Mary Ever-Virgin. And they fail to notice or choose to ignore that these supposedly biological brothers and sisters of Jesus are actually never called children of Mary, though Jesus himself is explicitly referred to as a child of hers (Jn. 2:1; Acts 1:14).

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…the Greek is still Greek to me… :whacky::whacky::whacky:

:yeah_me::yeah_me::yeah_me:–you’re #1!

Excellent point clarifying the terms used both in Greek and Hebrew, in regards to blood relations.

I fully concur with your conclusion about the Protestant mindset; it seems to me that they are so invested in faulting Catholic Teaching that they completely ignore the objective of Sacred Scriptures and they even deep-six commonsense altogether.

[FONT=“Palatino Linotype”][size=]Merry Christmas!
Maran atha!



1 Chronicles 23:22 uses the Hebrew word “’ă·ḥê·hem” which is a form of the word “ach” which means brother or relative. It isn’t specific for sibling, cousin, aunt, etc. This proves to be challenging when translating. Most of the English translations for this verse use brother or brethren for this term. This doesn’t mean that in English brother means cousin, but that the translation is complicated by the Hebrew word ‘ach.’ It doesn’t seem too surprising that the Greek Septuagint translators encountered the same thing and translated the term to adelphos/brother the same way English translators have. It doesn’t mean that ‘adelphos’ means cousin in Greek.

I didn’t use “uterine” in my post. I said that the Greek words “adelphos” and “adelphe” always mean brother and sister. Half-brothers and step-brothers are still brothers. I didn’t assert that Mary gave birth to other children, but that the terms used mean brother and sister. This doesn’t exclude half and step-siblings.

This is easily proven to be false, as in Genesis the word *adelphos *is used to describe an uncle/nephew relationship.

In 1 Chronicles, of the Septuagint, *adelphos *does mean “cousins”. The daughters of Eleazar married the sons of his brother Kish. The girls and boys, therefore, were cousins. We don’t need the Greek word for cousin (anepsios) to see how they are related as kin. So adelphos can be used to mean cousins, just as it is in the NT when referring to James, Joseph, Judas/Thaddeus, and Simon, three of whom were also members of the Twelve besides being cousins of Jesus.

I didn’t use “uterine” in my post. I said that the Greek words “adelphos” and “adelphe” always mean brother and sister. Half-brothers and step-brothers are still brothers. I didn’t assert that Mary gave birth to other children, but that the terms used mean brother and sister. This doesn’t exclude half and step-siblings.

But *adelphos/adelphe *mean “of the same womb”, so I assumed you meant brothers and sisters who are actual siblings. In Hebrew parlance, these Greek words may extend to other relatives and even clan members.


1 Chronicles 23:22
New American Standard Bible
“Eleazar died and had no sons, but daughters only, so their brothers, the sons of Kish, took them as wives.”

King James Bible
“And Eleazar died, and had no sons, but daughters: and their brethren the sons of Kish took them.”

American King James Version
“And Eleazar died, and had no sons, but daughters: and their brothers the sons of Kish took them.”

Douay-Rheims Bible
“And Eleazar died, and had no sons but daughters: and the sons of Cis their brethren took them.”

Does brother(brethren) mean cousin in English? The form of the Hebrew word “ach” is translated adelphos in Greek and brother in English. Some English versions do use cousins or kinsmen for “ach,” but most use brother/brethren. What does this say about Greek that is not said about English?

From what I see on online study tools the roots of adelphos/adelphe is “from” and “the same womb,” but the word is used in a broader sense. The terms adelphos/adelphe are used the same way brother/sister are used in English today.

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