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Association of the Miraculous Medal
Bible and "brothers and sisters" of Jesus

9. Bible & "brothers & sisters" of Jesus

 See also topic 6 of these FAQs.

Regarding your comments about the Bible's references to the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus, I'll summarize Catholic belief here (repeating some of the things said in my book). In the Old Testament, "brothers and sisters" might refer to members of the same tribe (Dt 15:12) or race (Dt 23:7), or to nephews (Gn 13:8), cousins (Lv 10:4), or relatives in general (2 Kgs 10:13). In the New Testament, two of those who are called brothers of Jesus, namely James and Joseph (Mt 13:56-57), are later identified as sons of another woman (Mt 27:56). The word "brothers" is often used for the followers of Jesus. For example, the risen Jesus asked Mary Magdalene to "go to my brothers." Mary "went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'" (Jn 20:17-18). Jesus said that those who do the will of his Father are his brothers (Lk 8:21), and in the New Testament, believers are called "brothers" more than 100 times.

The New Testament never speaks of other children of Mary or Joseph, so it is impossible to prove from the Bible that Jesus actually had blood brothers or sisters. If there had been such blood siblings, where were they when Mary and Joseph took Jesus, age twelve, to the Temple? If Mary had other children, it is hard to explain why Jesus, as he hung on the cross, would have given Mary into the care of the beloved disciple. "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your Son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home" (Jn 19:26-27). If Mary had other children, they would have cared for her.

Some people think that the expression found in Mt 1:24-25 (see also Lk 2:7) referring to Jesus as Mary's "first born" implies that Mary must have had children after Jesus. But "first born" was a legal term for Jewish people: the "first born" was to be presented in the Temple, as Jesus was (Luke 2:22; see Exodus 13:2). "First born" does not imply that there was a "second born." The gravestone of a first century Jewish woman in Egypt reads that she "died in giving birth to her first-born Son." Obviously, there was no second.

Some people have a problem with the expression in modern English translations that Joseph "had no relations with her until she bore a Son, and he named him Jesus" (New American Bible translation). The word "until" in English suggests that Joseph did have relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. But the Semitic expression behind the Greek does not suggest either that he did or that he didn't. It focuses only on the time up to the birth of Jesus and says nothing about what happened after. There is a similar expression in 2 Samuel 6:23 where it is said that Michol was "childless to the day of her death"...The New American Bible uses "to" instead of "until," but the Semitic expression behind both phrases is the same: and obviously Michol did not have children after her death.

Further, if Jesus actually had blood brothers and sisters, it would be difficult to explain why the Church would have denied their existence. The most plausible reason why the Church has always held that Jesus was an only child is that he actually was an only child! Early Christian writers agreed that Jesus had no blood brothers and sisters and that Mary remained a virgin. St. Jerome (345-420) wrote that "Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and all the other learned men going back to apostolic times" testified to the perpetual virginity of Mary. Our Catholic belief, therefore, goes back to the earliest days of the Church and has been a constant belief for almost 2,000 years. Since the Holy Spirit guides the Church, we can believe that the Holy Spirit led believers to the fact of Mary's perpetual virginity.

This fact points to the uniqueness of Jesus as the only Son of God. The Bible states that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:31-35). The tradition of the Church teaches that Mary remained a virgin. Why? Because she and Joseph witnessed the miracle of Jesus' conception and birth. They realized that God had entrusted them with the greatest treasure in the history of the world, God's only Son. They understood that their task in life was to nurture and protect the Savior of the human race. Many years later, Jesus would speak of those who renounced marriage "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12). It cannot be surprising that Mary and Joseph would have wanted to renounce their right to have other children in order to dedicate their lives to the care of God's Son.

So those who contend that the Bible says that Mary had other children are teaching something that is not in the Bible. Furthermore, they are contradicting what all Christians believed until the 15th century! When we Catholics state our belief that Mary had no other children, we are not adding anything to the Bible. When those who deny Mary's virginity and say that she had other children, they are adding to what the Bible says. It seems to me that we who are Catholics are the real Bible believers.