Jesus siblings were step siblings?


This is my first time back to this forum in a number of years.

The last time I was here we had some great discussions, and on one occasion was given a link to a members personal website (I think) which had information about how Jesus’ brothers and sisters were actually his step relatives.

This has been on my mind for a very long time and I’m hoping to find some more information about it if anyone can help please.

Thank you.


The words used in the Bible for Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” actually meant “relative”.
They could have been cousins, nieces, nephews… whatever. St. Joseph and St. Mary were celibate and had no children together.


There are lots of theories about this and some traditions from early Christian writings. Here are a couple of the possibilities.

There are some who think that Jesus’ ‘siblings’ might be children from a previous marriage of Joseph.

I have also heard it suggested (and this seems more likely to me) that the ‘siblings’ might be the children of Joseph’s brother. Since Joseph doesn’t appear in the Gospels after Jesus begins his public ministry it seems he was probably deceased. If his death occurred prior to Jesus reaching adulthood it would have fallen to a male relative of Joseph to take in Mary and Jesus. Jesus would have been raised with his step-cousins and they would have been treated as and referred to as siblings.


St. Joseph and Blessed Virgin Mary were perpetually continent, not celibate.


I saw that theory put forth before, I think in one of Lee Strobel’s books, the theory being that Joseph had children prior to his marriage to Mary and that he was a widower. I don’t think that conflicts with Church teaching, as I believe Traditions holds that Joseph was considerably older than Mary. He had passed away some time between when Jesus was 12 and when he was 33.


Thank you all for your responses.

I wonder why this topic just came up into my head?
It was 2012 when I gave a cursory glance at this subject on this forum, and now I’m having to follow up on it.

I found the original reference I was looking for as well, how fortunate was that!

I always find this forum welcoming, and I really appreciate that.


Why do we think so about St. Joseph? :confused:


I posted this reply in another recent thread:

When the issue of brotherhood arises it is useful to remember Genesis Chapter 12 and 13

Abraham was Lot’s uncle.

Genesis Chapter 12:5
And he (Abram) took his wife Sarai, and Lot, the son of his brother, and all the substance which they had come to possess, and the lives which they had acquired in Haran, and they departed in order to go to the land of Canaan. And when they arrived in it,

Genesis 13:11
And Lot chose for himself the region around the Jordan, and he withdrew by way of the east. And they were divided, one brother from the other. 12 Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan. In truth, Lot stayed in the towns that were around the Jordan, and he lived in Sodom.

And there you have it, uncle and nephew are called** “Brothers” **and this is not the only instance of this custom.

Hope this helps you…


There is an apocrophal book from the Early Church that gives some information about the life of Mary.

It is known as the Protoevangelicum of James. While not Canonical scripture, it is sem-accepted in the Church. It is where, for example, we get the names of the parents of Mary, SS Joachim and Anne.

It also describes Joseph as being an older widower who has children.

And the priest said to Joseph, You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel

If you look at medieval and Renaissance art, St. Joseph is often portrayed as being white haired, that is a result of this book.


I think there are numerous possible rational explanations for Jesus having “brothers”: those presented here and maybe even adoption though I don’t know if that was practiced culturally at the time, but possibly it was at least for taking on the orphaned children of a family member.

What’s required is that we believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. For the rest it is enough, for me at least, to assume that there are multiple possible reasonable explanations for why He would have “brothers”.

Just as we don’t know all the intimate personal details of all of our acquaintances nor do we know those of Joseph and Mary that aren’t integral in explaining Jesus to us. For instance, I was adopted as an infant, but most of my parents’ acquaintances other that close family would have had no idea that I wasn’t their biological child.


A three-way debate on this question was held in the 380’s under Pope Damasus I. Jerome was then living in Rome, where he was employed as Damasus’ secretary, and two other theologians were there for the Council of Rome: Epiphanius of Salamis and the otherwise unknown Helvidius (sometimes called “Helvetius”). Here is a summary of what they said, with the respective objections raised by their opponents:

**Helvidius: **James, Jude and the other “brethren” named in Matt 13.55 and Mark 6.3 were all the children of Joseph and Mary, i.e. Jesus’ younger half-brothers and half-sisters. Objection: the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

**Epiphanius: **James, Jude, and the others were the children of Joseph’s earlier marriage. Objection: Jesus would rank as a younger son of Joseph and therefore not eligible for the Davidic succession (John 7.40-42).

Jerome: Joseph and Mary had no children together. The “brethren” were either Jesus’ half-brothers by Joseph’s earlier marriage (the Epiphanian view) or his cousins (the Hieronymian view). Objection to the latter: in the NT, *adelphos *can mean full brother, half-brother or stepbrother, but never “cousin”.

It goes without saying that all three, of course, were Catholic theologians. This debate took place more than a thousand years before Luther and Calvin.


An odd argument considering that in the Septuagint the relationship of Lot and Abraham used the term adelphos. If it could be used for an uncle and nephew, why not a cousin? My understanding is that adelphoi/adelphos can be applied to any near relative, kinsman or even someone from the same town.


This is accurate.:thumbsup:
St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, our Blessed Mother, were both celibate throughout their earthly lives.

St. Joseph, pray for us.
Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.
Immaculate Conception, pray for us.
Immaculate Conception, help guide us on our journey in this earthly life to grow ever so much closer to your Divine Son.


This is not accurate.

“Celibate” means unmarried.

Joseph and Mary were perpetually continent with each other. Mary was perpetually continent through her whole life, we know not what Joseph did. He might have been married before Mary, he might have been much older than her, but these are all just theories not based in the canon of Sacred Scripture.

As to the real topic, aren’t we glad for Catholic Answers professional apologists and their tracts?
Brethren of the Lord

So, if it is established that the “brethren of the Lord” were not Jesus’ brothers or half-brothers through Mary, who were they?

Today, the most commonly accepted view is that they were Jesus’ cousins. Of the four “brethren” who are named in the Gospels, consider, for the sake of argument, only James. Similar reasoning can be used for the other three. We know that James the younger’s mother was named Mary. Look at the descriptions of the women standing beneath the cross: “among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matt. 27:56); “There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome” (Mark 15:40).

So it’s probable that James the younger is the son of Mary and Clopas. The second-century historian Hegesippus explains that Clopas was the brother of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus. James would thus be Joseph’s nephew and a cousin of Jesus, who was Joseph’s putative son.

This identification of the “brethren of the Lord” as Jesus’ first cousins is open to legitimate question—they might even be relatives more distantly removed—but our inability to determine for certain their exact status strictly on the basis of the biblical evidence (or lack of it, in this case) says nothing at all about the main point, which is that the Bible demonstrates that they were not the Blessed Virgin Mary’s children.

Did Jesus have Brothers? (video)


As mentioned before there are several theories being the step brother’s one of many. After reading a lot about all these theories I agree with the above that the theory that makes the most sense to me is the one mentioned I’m the second paragraph, that st Joseph does leaving a young Jesus and Mary, a widow, which in the society at the time would have been the mist disgraceful thing that could happen to a widow with a child. In consequence st Joseph’s brother (most likely Clopas) would have taken into his house Jesus and Mary so Jesus would have belong to the same household of his cousins and would have grown up with them as siblings, which would also explain the presence of Mary of Clopas with the virgin at the crucifixion site and Jesus leaving his mother to John.


Just a couple of thoughts. The tradition that Joseph was considerably older or even an old man grew out of the desire to emphasize the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is a dogma of the Church. St Josemaria de Escriva thinks Joseph was a young man, perhaps a few years older than Mary when they married. Joseph and Mary had a true marriage and it would not have been normal for Mary to marry or to be betrothed to an old man. The love between Mary and Joseph was of a very pure spiritual love, a union of spirits. Further, Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem for the census where Jesus was born and then they took flight to Egypt upon the Angel’s message to Joseph. Then from Egypt, the angel told Joseph to go back to the Holy Land where they set up home in Nazareth. Now, all these journeys would not be suitable for an old man but rather for a young man who had the strength and vigor for such journeys. Joseph is also the Patron of the Universal Church and the greatest saint next to our Blessed Lady who is the Mother of God. Joseph was called by God to be the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary and to provide the support for the Holy Family. Jesus learned the trade of carpentry from Joseph. Joseph was also a very pure and chaste man being the husband of the most pure Virgin Mary and the foster father of purity itself Jesus, the Son of God. From all these considerations, Joseph was most likely a very pure, chaste, virtuous (Holy Scripture calls him simply, a just man) young man when he married our Blessed Lady. The “brothers” of the Lord mentioned in the scriptures are relatives or cousins of his, that is, relatives of Joseph or Mary. If we consider that Joseph was most likely a young man when he married Mary, then these relatives of Jesus are definitely not sons or daughters of Joseph from a previous marriage and they certainly are not the offspring of the Blessed Ever Virgin Mary.


I won’t debate you on whether the adephoi of Jesus were Joseph’s children from a former marriage because I don’t know. It’s a theory, and not my theory.

But as someone who is 42 years old, I’m not a little offended that you think we’re incapable of traveling on foot for some distance. Every theory I’ve read has theorized that Mary was probably 14 or so at the time of the birth of Christ, so Joseph being “considerably” older could mean he was 30-40, not 70 or 80. But it would mean that by the time Jesus began his ministry, that Joseph may well have died at 60-70 years old. I’m more inclined to go with Church Tradition than the belief of a single priest, no matter how esteemed he was.

And for the record, I never suggested that I thought any of the adelphoi of Jesus were begotten my Mary.


This is not a matter of Sacred Tradition but of pious speculation.


It was most likely applied to his cousins, who were the children of Clopas and Mary, probably siblings with either Joseph or Mary (the Blessed Mother).

I did a quick Google search, and this article seems to layout the theory pretty well.


One of the most overlooked facts of Jesus and Mary’s filial son relation is within the context of the prevalent culture of the time.
The Bible gives us clues as to what were the customs and prescriptions in the Moses tradition of relations between mother and son.

Now if the proponents of the existence of Jesus brothers are right, we have a huge issue, Jesus would have totally insulted HIS direct family when HE entrusted HIS mother to the care of the Apostle John not a kinsman of Jesus.
It was the custom that at the disappearance of the first born the brothers would take on the responsibility and in fact the duty to care for the parents.

We see this played out over and over in the Bible.
And that having children was seen as something of utmost importance while having no children was often considered a curse from GOD.
This reason or argument is much more convincing IMHO, that Jesus had in fact no one to take care of HIS mother and entrusted her to John.

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