How many "brothers" did Jesus have?

My son is a middle schooler at an LCMS (Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) school. He was part of an academic quiz bowl team this weekend, and many of the questions were related to biblical knowledge. One question was “How many brothers did Jesus have?” The supposedly correct answer was “four.” Neither team answered correctly, but then there was no elaboration by the moderator as to who these supposed brothers were. (Although he did smilingly say, “They would have been half-brothers, of course.”) Any idea about who these brothers (cousins?) were? And I guess this leads to the larger question of “Why did the Reformers feel it necessary to reject the Marian doctrines long held by the Church?” Isn’t Luther said to have venerated Mary? Did he stop venerating Mary at some point, or was it his later followers who did that? :confused:

Luther never stopped respecting Mary although he stopped short of veneration as understand theologically, he did regard her as a virgin as did many of the other reformers. That question appears to have been advanced by the person compiling the quiz to forward an agenda. Shame your son was not aware of the tradition in some Churches that Joseph had sons from a previous marriage, that would have been a great opportunity to undercut the question.

Luther honored Mary as Mother of God and Perpetual Virgin. And Lutherans have always continued to honor Mary. Lutherans are free to accept or reject the PV as we consider it adiaphora. I lean towards it. My pope (pastor) disagrees with me.

That would mean that the four brothers of Jesus mentioned are half brothers or kinsman of some sort, James, Joses, Jude, and Simon. I lean more towards the kinsman theory as I find it unlikely that Joseph was an older guy that had a previous marriage.

My previous post on this topic

Biologically, none. But it’s still a common opinion that Joseph was an older man and a widower, so Jesus would have had half-brothers.

I’m so confused.

Luther excised parts of the Bible that didn’t agree with his theology but a Lutheran school is quizzing its students on apocryphal writings?

Am I reading this correctly?

Step brothers. Half-brothers share a biological parent, my wife’s younger brother is her half brother as they share the same mother but not the same father.Joseph was not Christ’s father in a literal sense such as that.

Exactly! I guess this is where Sola Scriptura starts to fall apart. :shrug:

I misspoke, but the point still stands. Stepbrothers is a common opinion.

Yep and nothing wrong it either, some Catholics hold that been the case, whilst others disagree. But Christ certainly had no biological brothers or sisters.

No, you are not. Nothing apocryphal or even deuterocanonical is being referenced here.

The New Testament names four men as Jesus’ “brothers” – James, Joses, Simon, and Jude, as someone already posted.

The argument is not over their existence but over the exact meaning of “brother.” Those who do not hold to Mary’s perpetual virginity generally presume that they are younger half-brothers, children of Mary and Joseph. Those of us who do accept the perpetual virginity have a choice between them as older stepbrothers (children of Joseph and an earlier wife) – an extremely ancient tradition – or more distant relatives called “brother” in the sense of “kinsman” (not as old, but with some backing in the Gospels since a different Mary at the foot of the Cross is identified as “the mother of James and Joses”).


We, if indeed Christ had brothers, at least the moderator got the Confessional answer correct, though maybe not knowingly, had he said step-brothers.
From the Solid Declaration, Formula of Concord:

On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed Virgin, bore not a mere man, but, as the angel [Gabriel] testifies, such a man as is truly the Son of the most high God, who showed His divine majesty even in His mother’s womb, inasmuch as He was born of a virgin, with her virginity inviolate. Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin.

House is correct that a belief in the perpetual virginity is adiaphoron, but a belief in the PV is also definitely confessional.
I am ot aware of any theologians of the Lutheran Church that did not believe in the perpetual virginity, including LCMS stalwarts Walther and Pieper.



Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible contained 74 books, the 73 books typical of a western Bible, and the addition of the Prayer of Manasseh.

Please explain how a question regarding Jesus “brothers” has anything to do with the deuterocanonical books or the apocryphal books.

I think it is quite appropriate and indeed necessary for Lutheran children to be familiar with the scriptural heritage found in the Deuterocanon. It seems like it is only in English speaking settings that Lutherans have tended to ignore the DC’s, to our great loss, because we have settled for English language Bibles that lack them. Luther would not approve of them being neglected.

The issue them becomes making sure the “moderator” gets Lutheran confessional understanding correct. :rolleyes:


No, this is when catechesis falls apart. Assuming the moderator was reflecting his opinion regarding the PV of the Blessed Virgin, he ought to have also understood that, since the issue is one of adiaphoron for Lutherans, there is no doctrinally correct answer to the question for Lutherans, since it isn’t an issue of doctrine for us. Historically, the answer from the confessions, and from Lutheran theologians would have been no blood brothers, but the possibility of step brothers on Joseph’s side.


Let me ask this: Assuming, as we must, that Joseph was a God-Fearing man, does anyone truly believe he could ever have relations with Mary knowing who and what had lived inside Mary’s womb?

I do not see how anyone could

The two things people always seem to get wrong about Lutheranism:

  1. While, yes, Luther removed 7 books from canon, he still considered them worth reading. He just didn’t think they were divinely inspired (and probably disagreed with the theology a bit). It’s similar to the Catholic Church’s view on a few books like the Protoevangelium of James or the Didache. We still think they’re worth reading. We just don’t think they’re divinely inspired. For that matter, Luther actually treated deuterocanon BETTER than we treated a few apocryphal books. He still published them with his Bibles! It was only later reformers who removed them completely.

  2. From what I understand, the Lutheran definition of sola scriptura is different from that of most Protestants. Most Protestants define it as “The Bible is the only source for teaching. Oral tradition is not valid.” Lutherans (to the best of my knowledge) define it as “Oral tradition is also valid, but the Bible is a more important source.”

That is very interesting, Jon. I had no idea that Walther believed in the PV of Mary. I bet most modern Lutherans would be surprised to hear that, at least around here where so much evangelical theology has crept in to many of the LCMS churches. I personally was never taught about it one way or the other since I grew up Methodist. It was mainly Christmas Mary in my childhood church.

Jesus had 120 brothers (Acts 1:15). They all met in the upper room on the Pentecost. There you have it. Biblical proof.

Does anyone note that Isaiah prophesied the virgin to bear “a son”? (Isaiah 7:14) Singular.

Does anyone note that Zechariah prophesied that Jesus would be lamented over as a “firstborn” and an “only son”? (Zech 12:10) Singular.

Does anyone note that Gabriel told Mary that she would have “a Son”? (Luke 1:31) Singular.

Does anyone note that Gabriel told Joseph that Mary would have “a Son”? (Matthew 1:21, 1:23, 1:25) Singular.

Does anyone note that Mary vowed before Gabriel to be the bond slave/handmaid of her own Son? (Luke 1:38). How many masters may a slave serve? (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13) Singular.

Name the “children of Mary” from scripture:

  1. Jesus. Singular.

Name the “other children” of Mary from scripture.

  1. None in scripture. All who do this are adding to scripture.

An absolutely great read in this regard (and many others) is the Book of Tobit. There, we see the use of brother and sister as the sole term to describe relatives from the same tribe. Ah, but here’s that Deuterocanonical bugaboo once again.

When you ultimately reject the Apostles via the truth they handed on, demanding written proof before you will believe, then rely solely on the sacred but fragmentary “Cliff’s Notes” of Christ (scripture), you can be easily lead astray. Demons are waiting to help.

I think that simply excluding the Deuterocanonical books from the bible would have been a far lesser sin than to unilaterally declare them “not inspired.”

1.5 billion+ Catholics and Orthodox suffer no such confusion (who is the author of confusion?), as they have always accepted those seven books for use in the divine liturgy.

Matthew 1:25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

Bible says that Joseph waited until Jesus was born and all the things associated with child birth, before having sex with Mary. Then he consummated the marriage once she was ready. It is a pretty simple concept. There is absolutely no evidence that Joseph was an older man. According to the customs of the day, they were most likely to be teenagers, about 15 or 16 when they got married and again according to Jewish customs, if Mary didn’t have lots of children, she wasn’t considered to be blessed by the lord, so Mary and Joseph having other children is the cutural norm of the day. Mary never took the Nazarite vow.

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