What Eusebius Caesariensis really says about Jesus’ “brothers”

There has been another discussion here about Jesus’ so-called “brothers”, and, apart from a lot of confusion about a Greek word (αδελφος) which does not mean what the English “brother” does (e.g., Plato uses it to describe laws which are similar to one another), there has been some … misunderstanding of what Eusebius of Caesarea says about Jesus’ family.

The following passages come from Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica, available here, and in translation here.

1.12 James, ‘εις …] των φερομενων του σωτηρος αδελφων (“one …] of the alleged brothers of the the saviour”)
2.1 James, τον του κυριου λεγομενον αδελφον οτι δη και ‘ουτος του Ιωσηφ ωνομαστο παις (“the one called the brother of the lord just as also this one [Jesus] was called the child of Joseph”)
2.1 Joseph, του δε Χριστου πατηρ (“father of Christ”)
2.1 James, τον του κυριου αδελφον (“the brother of the lord” – quoting Gal 1:19)
2.23 James, τον του κυριου …] αδελφον (“the brother of the lord”), once as narrator, once quoting Hegesippus, once quoting Josephus
3.11 γενους κατα σαρκα του κυριου (“the clan - according to the flesh - of the lord”)
3.11 Simeon, ανεψιον, ‘ως γε φασι, γεγονοτα του σωτηρος, τον γαρ ουν Κλωπαν αδελφον του Ιωσηφ (“the cousin, as it is said, related to the saviour, Klopas [being] the brother of Joseph”)
3.19 grandsons of Judas, τουτον δ’ ειναι αδελφον κατα σαρκα του σωτηρος (“the one [claimed] to be the brother - according to the flesh - of the saviour”)
3.20 (very shortly after 3.19) Judas, του κατα σαρκα λεγομενου αυτου αδελφου (“the one - according to the flesh - said [to be] the brother of him [the lord]”)
3.22 James, τον του σωτηρος ‘ημων αδελφον (“the brother of the saviour of us”)
3.32 grandsons ‘ενος των φερομενων αδελφων του σωτηρος (“of one of the alleged brothers of the saviour”)
3.32 απο γενους του κυριου (“from the clan of the lord”)
3.32 Simeon, the son εκ θειου του κυριου …] Κλωπα (“of the uncle of the lord, Klopas”)
4.5 James, ‘ο του κυριου λεγομενος αδελφος (“the so-called brother of the lord”)
4.22 Simeon, ανεψιον του κυριου (“cousin of the lord”)

Eusebius says that Jesus was conceived εκ πνευματος ‘αγιου (“via the Holy Spirit”), and identifies James very early on as being Jesus’ brother in the same sense that Joseph was Jesus’ father (2.1), i.e. not really at all. Eusebius then fairly consistently, even insistently, qualifies such expressions as “brother of the lord” with expressions for report or allegation (rendered above as “alleged” or “so-called”: 1.12, 2.1, 3.19, 3.20, 3.32, 4.5). Only twice does he use just “brother” (2.23, when he also quotes two other people using that short form, and 3.22), and he does similarly use just “father” for Joseph’s relationship to Jesus (2.1). He also qualifies other references to Jesus’ relatives as “according to the flesh” (3.11) or even “reportedly according to the flesh” (3.19).

Far from reporting that Jesus had even half-siblings, Eusebius repeatedly employs distancing expressions for them, and parallels Joseph’s and James’ respective familial ties to Jesus.

There are also interesting references to Simeon, where we read that, because his father Klopas was Joseph’s brother, he is “said to be” the saviour’s cousin (3.11): saying later that Klopas is Jesus’ “uncle” (3.32), and Simeon is Jesus’ “cousin” (4.5). Thus, Eusebius bases Simeon’s relationship to Jesus upon Joseph, not upon Mary: he explicitly uses designations such as “father”, “uncle”, and “cousin” for relationships which he states have no blood connection, and thus his usage of “brother” cannot be logically read as implying a blood connection.

Eusebius does not say that Mary had other children.

thank you for your well researched reply

So what are you saying; that Jesus didn’t have brothers?


I couldn’t find the definition for “according to the flesh”. Does it include:

a) full blood relations
b)half blood
e) how far remove before it gets disqualified to be called “accord to the flesh”

The opposite is according to the spirit. Which means spiritual relatives such as Christian brothers and sisters.

I have googled and fell short of definitive answers.

Thanks Mystophilus for the fine post (here).

Appears well-researched.

God bless.


I am not saying that exactly, no, although I believe that to have been the case at least in the sense of other children of Mary.

There was some discussion in another thread about the Catholic dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary, and, in that discussion, some erroneous claims were made about what Eusebius says. The purpose of this post was to put into plain view what Eusebius does say.

As for whether or not Jesus did have siblings, I would have to say, “Probably not.” Our nearest historical source to the situation is the Bible, and it is decidedly non-affirmative on the topic (mostly because the Greek terms often translated as “brothers” and “sisters” could be used not only for step-siblings, but also for colleagues, associates, etc). The next nearest historical sources include a second-century text which says (and a reference to a first- to second-century lost text which apparently said) that he did not have siblings.

Subsequent claims that he did have siblings are, quite simply, chronologically farther from the events, and curiously devoid of the one piece of evidence which might support them: members of the venerated bloodline who claimed for themselves descent from Mary, and therefore a blood-relationship with Jesus.

So, it’s all speculation, as history usually is, but the weight of the historical evidence is against the idea of Mary having had other children.

Glad to be of service.


Where in the world are Jesus’ descendants? Their silence in history speaks volumes.

Eusebius uses the phrase (κατα σαρκα) to describe a genealogy dependent upon Joseph, whom he defines as not truly Jesus’ father and thus not connected in any biological way to Jesus (in Eus 3.20, your option d, above).

His usage thus seems to be much along the lines of Paul’s usage of the same phrase as a synonym for worldliness/lack of understanding (q.v. Romans 8:4-9): rather than saying, “They are his earthly relations”, which he has already denied regarding Joseph, he appears to be saying, “They are presumed by those who think according to the flesh to be his earthly relations”, i.e. “They would have been his earthly relations if Joseph actually were his father”.


Bump. :slight_smile:

This was such a well researched and well reasoned OP that it deserves a bump up. I would love to see the poster that it was directed to respond to it.

Thanks, Mystophilus…you would not mind if we borrow your research…I presume.

Anyway, in reading other responses that you were talking about, it seems Randy did some research and found a claim that Mary married Cleophas, I think, is what the theory is based on…:eek:

Feel free.

Anyway, in reading other responses that you were talking about, it seems Randy did some research and found a claim that Mary married Cleophas, I think, is what the theory is based on…:eek:

And the evidence for that claim is where? Speculating about what might fall outside of the scope of evidence is all well and good, so long as it is clearly labelled as speculation.

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