The Catholic Church has told us Jesus didn’t have siblings. However, as we have learned in the first part of this article, the Canonical Gospels give us a different version.
As per the Gospels and other sources we’ll review later on, Jesus did have blood brothers and sisters. Then again, as usual, our beloved Catholic Church tried to hide this issue to protect one of its dogmas. This time was the turn of the “perpetual virginity” of Mary. This is, that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after Jesus’ birth.
Paul of Tarsus, the self-called apostle and author of the oldest scriptures of the New Testament, mentions “Jesus’ brothers” twice in his epistles.
Galatians I, 19: But I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother (adelphos).
1st Corinthians IX, 5: Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers (adelphos) of the Lord and Cephas?
As in the Gospels, Paul’s letters were originally written in Greek, and the Greek word used for “brothers” was adelphos.
In Paul’s letters we found another fragment where a cousin is mentioned.
The Greek word used for “cousins” was anepsios and, in the following passage, Paul and his community show us that they knew it very well.
Colosenses IV, 10: Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin(anepsios) of Barnabas.
If Paul and his community knew that word, why didn’t they use it when referring to James in the first two passages mentioned above if they really wanted to say he was Jesus’ “cousin”?
Maybe the authors of the Canonical Gospels, who were Christians with a high-level education, which allowed them to write in Greek, also knew that word.
Almost for sure, neither Paul nor the authors of the Canonical Gospels used it because they were talking about a blood relationship, the blood brothers of Jesus, not about his cousins, as the Catholic Church maintains.
Unlike the Gospels, Paul doesn’t narrate events transmitted to him by third parties. Paul writes about what he saw and knew. If he refers to the “brothers of the Lord” is because they existed.
What do the sources other that the New Testament tell us?
Hegesippus, father of the Church of the second century, cited Jesus’ relatives in some of his texts:
“”the brother of the Lord (adelphos), James, who was called by all ‘the Just.’”
Hegesippus, like Paul and the Evangelists, used the Greek word adelphos to allude to James. What’s interesting about this text is that, later on, in the same narration, Hegesippus also mentions Jesus’ uncle and a cousin. The author uses the Greek word anepsion, a variation of the word used by Paul in his epistles, to refer to the one who’d be his cousin, and a third word to cite the uncle. Which means that Hegesippus makes a careful distinction between Jesus’ brother, cousin and uncle, using different Greek words for that. When he alludes to James as the “brother” of Jesus, it is quite evident he is referring to a blood brother.
In his work “Antiquities of the Jews”, Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian of the 1st century, also cites James as “Jesus’ brother”.
After reviewing the Canonical Gospels, the epistles of Paul, and some sources other than the Bible, we could conclude, outside the Catholic faith and doctrine, that Jesus had blood brothers and sisters.
For most scholars of the Bible, it is evident that Jesus had blood brothers and sisters, and that some of them played an important role in the first years of Christianity. Nonetheless, this is not what we’re told in the Sunday sermons or what kids are taught at school. Jesus’ blood siblings had been historically hidden by the Catholic Church in its urge to keep Mary’s virginity intact. Specially one of them, known as “James the Just” or “James the brother of the Lord”.
It is important to establish the truth about Jesus’ brothers because “James the Just” became the leader of the movement that was born in Jerusalem. But this will be the theme of another article.
(The Bible quotes correspond to the New Revised Standard Version Holy Bible with Apocrypha. Oxford University Press, 1989. We have also used, as a support in case of discrepancy, The Word Study Greek-English New Testament with Complete Concordance de Paul R. McReynolds, Tyndale House Publishers, 1999.)
- John P. Meier (1991). A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume I: The Roots of the Problem and the Person. Anchor Bible.
- Jeffrey J. Butz (2005). The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity. Inner Traditions.
- Robert H. Eisenman. (1998). James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Penguin.