A recent Protestant Bible program presented the individuals described in the Bible as the brothers and sisters of Jesus as literally being the children of Mary. This is indeed the view of some modern churches, but what are the facts and why is this important?
In the Old Hebrew “brother” could refer to cousins, in-laws and even political allies (2 Sam 1:26; Amos 1:9) Lot is called Abraham’s “brother” (Gen.14:14), even though he was actually Abraham’s nephew. Similarly, Jacob is called the “brother” of his uncle Laban (Gen 29:15)
Neither Hebrew nor Aramaic had a special word meaning “cousin”. So the Jews normally called cousins “brothers”. The writers of the New Testament were brought up using the Aramaic equivalent of “brothers” to mean both cousins and sons of the same father – plus other relatives. Furthermore the first writings about Jesus were almost certainly in Aramaic. When writing the New Testament, the Gospel writers drew on this earlier material. In the Aramaic the word “brother” included cousins. When translating those early writings into Greek, the Gospel writers used the Greek word for brother, even thought it had a narrower meaning.
Real problems arise if we assume that Mary had children other that Jesus. When the angel Gabriel told her that she would conceive a son, Mary asked, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34). If she had anticipated having children in the normal way, she would hardly have to ask how she was to have a child.
The people of Nazareth referred to him as “the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3), not as “a son of Mary.” No one else in the Gospels is referred to as Mary’s sons. Also, the attitude taken by the “brethren of the Lord” implies they are older than Jesus. Older sons give advice to younger, but younger seldom gave advice to older. We find Jesus “brethren” saying to him that he should go to Judea so he could make a name for himself. (John 7:3-4). Another time, they sought to restrain him for his own benefit: “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him.” (Mark 3:21). This kind of behavior could make sense for ancient Jews only if the “brethren” were older than Jesus.
When he was dying, Jesus entrusted his mother to the apostle John (John 19:26-27). The Gospels mention four of his “brethren”: James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude. It is hard to imagine why Jesus would have disregarded family ties and made this provision for his mother if she had four other sons of her own.
Some claim Jesus could not be Mary’s “first born” unless there were other children that followed him. But this shows ignorance of the way the ancient Jews used the term. For them it meant the child that opened the womb (Ex 13:2; Num 3:12). Under the Mosaic Law, it was the “first-born” son that was to be sanctified (Ex 34:20). Did this mean the parents had to wait until a second son was born before they could call their first the “first-born”? Hardly. The first male child of a marriage was termed the “first-born” even if he turned out to be the only child of the marriage.
It wasn’t until 380 AD that we find the first questioning of Mary having other children. In reply to the heretic Jerome used not only the scripture arguments given above, but cited earlier Christian writers, such as Ignatius, Polycarp & Irenaeus, all of whom were closely linked to the disciple John, who of course knew the Virgin Mary intimately.
So, if the “brethren of the Lord” were not Jesus’ brothers who were they? A book written in 125AD claims that Joseph was a widower with children when he married Mary. This seems to have been the common view then, but there is a different answer in scripture that could equally stand up to scrutiny:
Take James the younger, one of the four “brethren” of Jesus. His mother was named Mary. Look at the descriptions of the women standing beneath the cross: “among whom were Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matt 27:56); “There were also women looking of from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome” (Mark 15:40) If it was the same Mary who was mother of Jesus and also of James and Joses would this not be mentioned here? Now look at what John says: “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalen” (John 19:25).
If we compare these parallel accounts of the scene of the crucifixion, we see that the mother of James and Joseph must be the wife of Clopas In (Matt 10:3) James is described as the son of Alphaeus. Alphaeus and Clopas are the same person, since the Aramaic name for Alphaeus could be rendered in Greek either as Alphaeus or as Clopas. So it’s probable that James the younger and Joses were the sons of Mary and Clopas.
Why is this matter so important? It is crucial because an ancient prophecy predicted that in the latter days people will deny the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, and later, the Divinity of Christ. This is all taking place now. Two Christmases ago an American News Reader openly claimed that Mary had Jesus through rape by a Roman Soldier – on National TV!!! Let us all know the true facts and stand up for our faith.