In a discussion about the perpetual virginity of Mary, one of the priests of our parish suggested that some scholars (Raymond Brown, for example) note that ‘brothers and sisters’ of Jesus in the bible could refer to previous children of Joseph.
Has the Church (Magisterium), Church Fathers, or Doctors of the Church ever supported or theorized that Joseph was married and had other children before he was betrothed to Mary? Is this something, as Catholics, we’re free to believe?
While little is know from Scripture about Joseph, less people believe that he was a young man who took Mary as his wife.
The other theory is this:
Joseph was a much older man, and highly respected in the Jewish community. It was common for young women to devote their future lives, as Mary did, to one of chastity and virginity. Yet they still needed to be “protected” or looked after during their lives. It was a custom for them to be espoused to a man (generally older, wiser etc) who could provide this security as they dedicated their lives to God.
Joseph, it is said, was a widower with other grown children. He had a business (carpentry), a home, and security… and the ability and desire to perform as a guardian.
When Mary said “…how can this be, I know not man…” she was certainly puzzled because she knew that even though Joseph would be her husband, she would remain a virgin and know not man.
Anyway, yes it is certainly okay to think that Jesus grew up in a home with older “brothers”. But they were not Mary’s children as we see at the foot of the cross where the beloved disciple is given the responsibility to take the Blessed Mother into his care.
Finally… be careful with Fr Brown… lots of good stuff, but some of his opinions are wacky. (must be human)