Tradition has Mary as a perpetual virgin, but what about Jesus' brothers?

I know all about the cousin argument, and the half brother argument (not by blood - Joseph’s children from an earlier marriage, and how there is no word for cousin in the language the NT writers spoke, and when it was translated “relative” was simply translated as brother.

But how do I reconcile Paul using the word cousin for Barnabas AND brother with reference to James the brother of Jesus? How do I reconcile this?

See the non-Catholic argument here:

Problem with the Aramaic/Hebrew/cousins argument is that the NT books were written in Greek; and there is a specific word for “cousin” in Greek, used in Colossians 4:10

Μᾶρκος ὁ ἀνεψιὸς Βαρναβᾶ

Mark the cousin of Barnabas

cousin = anepsios (English phonetics)

If they were cousins, the NT writers would have used them.

Also, there are other words for close relative, cousin, as in Luke 1:36 “your relative Elizabeth”

Ἐλισάβετ ἡ συγγενίς

How do we understand Paul specifically using both “cousin” AND “brother”?

Why wouldn’t St. Paul, a native Greek speaker use the term “James, the Cousin of our Lord”? He had the word for cousin on his tongue right?

Please help! I’m confused… how do I refute this to a Protestant? how do I under stand Paul using both words???

The book of James is written by Jesus’ brother.
Paul apparently knew James personally and he uses that word to describe him.

James is regarded as a younger brother to Jesus, is he not?
If so, how could he be Joseph’s son from a *previous *marriage?
And if Joseph had six children before Jesus was born…i wonder, why would none of them be mentioned in Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem or trip to Egypt or trip back to Nazareth?

I think that there was, indeed, a separate Greek word for “cousin” and another one for “brother”.
If James and the others were Jesus’ cousins…why would they so often be described as being with Mary instead of with their own parents?


I’m hoping a priest on the forum will answer this.

Catholics hold to Mary’s perpetual virginity.
Jesus had no siblings.
For ex: just because the or Deacon says “My brothers and sisters” in homilies, does not mean that he is addressing his blood relatives. It’s a literary device and a way of speaking that points to our Christian brotherhood.
But, as I said, a priest will be able to explain this more fully, and with the proper references from the Bible as well as the catechism.

This has been a stumbling block for me over the years.


You can get solid understanding on Mary’s perpetual virginity at this link here.

Mary and Joseph,in their unique roll ,in protecting the Christ Child,and Mary specifically,in cooperating with her Son in His mission,would not have had other children Christ was the center of her life.

You might want to do a “key word search” using thensearch feature at the top of the web page.

This is an often discussed issue on this forum, so there are some really good answers in the archives if you search it.

While I have no way to back this up, this is a scenario that has been suggested to me by someone I consider very wise. I doesn’t solve all the linguistic problems but it does offer a possibility.

Joseph may have died before Jesus was old enough to have properly supported himself and Mary. As such, it would have likely have fallen to one of Joseph’s brothers (or perhaps some other relative) to take in Mary and the teenage Jesus. Assuming this relative had children of his own, Jesus would have grown up with these step cousins as if he was a brother.

If one or more of these cousins had unusually close relationships to Jesus they might have been referred to as brothers even by those who knew the actual relationship.

I once had the Sisters at a Catholic school explain
that Mary and Jesus were part of a very tribal culture.
Tribal. Meaning they traveled in groups, all the women cared
for all of the children and many different families
could live in one dwelling.
That is illustrated by the fact that Mary lost Jesus
temporarily on the way back from a religious celebration.
It took her some time to realize he wasn’t with the party
and had to return and look for him.
You see the same thing family relationship wise
in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel with Saul and David and
the rest. They were all brothers those cousins lol!

Does that help brother?
My sisters in Christ agree with it anyway. :slight_smile:

Maybe it just wasn’t St Paul’s desire to be that specific. It’s perfectly fine to say of my cousin, “Oh, that guy’s my relative,” even though I could be more specific, it’s not a mandate of language for me to do so.

I have never heard this before; what is tour evidence for it?

Paul apparently knew James personally and he uses that word to describe him.

James is regarded as a younger brother to Jesus, is he not?

Not by Catholics; Christ had no siblings.

This might not be as satisfactory of an answer as you’re looking for, but sacred scripture makes no attempt to concretely establish the Marian dogmas (though they can be inferred). It is dubious and an outsider reading the Bible could very easily pick it up and assume that Mary & Joseph had children. We know James isn’t Jesus’ biological brother with Mary & Joseph because that is what the Church & Traditional tell us. It was a no-brainer to 1st century Jewish Christians that the woman that bore God in the flesh would remain continent in her marriage, nor is there any tomb of Mary, even as there are tombs of so many early saints. There is no point trying to refute an idea through scripture which never really came about in substantial force until ~3 centuries ago; not even by first and several subsequent generation protestors. If you don’t use extra Biblical sources, you can’t coup de grace the matter of Mary’s virginity, though you can still make rigorous parallels to the Old Testament as to why Catholic teaching on Mary is more plausible than newer alternatives.

Can anyone comment directly on the Paul quote?

James the Apostle was described as “brother of the Lord.” Yet in the lists of the Apostles, he is listed as James, son of Alphaeus. (There were two apostles names James. One was a son of Alphaeus, the other was a son of Zebedee. Scripture scholars seem to have consistently identified James ‘the brother of the Lord’ with the one who is the son of Alphaeus. In either case he could not have been a blood brother of Jesus.)

Now, do we really think that Mary had an affair with Alphaeus? Or that she was married to Alphaeus before or after the birth of Jesus? Hardly. James was a close relative but not a blood brother. So, for that matter, was Jude Thaddeus, another of the apostles.

Thank you for this answer and God bless you.

One question though, does this keep in line with Paul using the word Cousin elsewhere and Brother for James? I’m guessing it does?

I have never understood why this is a difficult point for people. It seems to be there is one incontrovertible argument for there being no other children of Mary:

Why would Jesus, on the cross, entrust the care of Mary to John? Why would Mary move into John’s home after the death of Jesus?

The Protestant answer is that Mary’s other children were disbelievers and had disowned her or visa versa. But I’ve never understood this because went these “brothers” with her at Pentecost a little while after the crucifixion? If they were truly her children, wouldn’t have our Lord know they would have taken care of her like they should have? Thoughts?

Their argument forces a cascade of assumptions, as your post implies. So they claim James, an apostle and the author of a New Testament book as an apostate? Defies all logic.


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