Skip to comments.Vanity: An argument that James was not Jesus' brother
Posted on 07/22/2004 11:27:00 AM PDT by dangus
I've read various apologetics concerning the assertion that Jesus had brothers.
One Protestant argument is that the word, "first-born" implies that there were others born later. That's simply false, and not worthy of serious consideration. We see the word "first-born" used for only children throughout history; it signifies status as a preferred heir.
The Protestant argument I want to address is that the bible specifically mentions that Jesus had brothers (Mark 6:3: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?")
The Catholic counter-argument is that these are Jesus' cousins. Hebrew culture does not distinguish between brothers and cousins, and even lacks a word for "cousin." Greek does have a word for cousin, but often uses the word "adelphi," the word used in the bible, to refer to cousins.
Protestants are unswayed by this, pointing out that it's odd to use the word to mean male cousins and female cousins separately in the same context. But would it be wierd for a Jew, thinking in Hebrew, to do so? The Greeks have always treated the Bible as if it were written in perfect classical Greek, but isn't it likely that a Greek-speaking Jewish culture would "over-translate" certain words? I remember reading in "Confessions," that in sinful younger years, St. Augustine had contempt for the gospels because they were filled with what he considered poor grammar. It would be such a help for the Catholic argument if it could be asserted that Jesus did, in fact, have cousins with those names.
John 19:25 lists the women at the cross of Jesus as "his [Jesus'] mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the [wife] of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene."
In other words, you have three "Marys:" Jesus' mother (who I'll call BVM, for "the Blessed Virgin Mary," Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. The King James bible actually gets it right with the punctuation: John always puts the word "and" (trans. of "kai") between each item in a list. So, we know that "his mother's sister, Mary the [wife] of Cleophas" is actually one person.
This seems strange. How could a woman named Mary have a sister named Mary? That simply wasn't done! Well, in ancient times, there was no concept of an "in-law." Mary of Cleophas was apparently BVM's sister-in-law.
From the books of Luke, Matthew and Mark, we find that there is again another "Mary" at the resurrection. This Mary is defined as the "mother of James the lesser and of Joses." (Mt 27:56)
James the less also has a brother named Jude, according to Luke 6:16: "and Judas, [the brother] of James." We can't be mixing up Jameses either, because Luke 6:14 pairs the other James up with John. We know the other James is the brother of John. For instance, Matthew 4:21 refers to, "...James [the son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father."
So, we have James, Joses and Judas who are sons of a woman named Mary who is not the mother of Jesus. And we know that we have at the same time a sister-in-law of the mother of Jesus who is also named Mary. But don't we know that James, Joses and Judas are sons of Alphaeus? How could they be sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas?
Here's where the business of translation gets tricky. The King James bible calls James, "the [son] of Alphaeus." Why the brackets? Because the word, "son" does not appear in the original text. James is simply James of Alphaeus. Judas is simply Judas of James. Mary is simply Mary of Cleophas.
[Actually, that's Mary of "Clopas," in fact. The "e" and the "h" are inventions of the King James Bible. The authors of the King James bible sometimes changed names to distinguish between two people of the same name. For example, Judas the saint became known as Jude, while Judas Iscariot remained Judas. Why change "Clopas" into "Cleophas?" One of the disciples on the road to Emmaus was named Clopas, and there's no reason to doubt he's Mary's husband.]
While we know Clopas is a person, there is a city called Alphaeus in Northern Palestine. It seems odd for Jesus to have in-laws from that far North, but it seems stranger still for a Jew to be given the Greek name of a city. So, the two disciples who are called "[sons] of Alphaeus" are probably simply from Alphaeus.
In any event, we know that one apostle James is James of Alphaeus, and brother of Judas and Joses. We know the other James cannot possibly be the brother of Jesus, because he is the son of Zebedee. And in this case, we know that Zebedee is the name of James' father, because we meet him in Matthew 4:21, fixing the boat.
So, at this point, it seems more than likely that Jesus had cousins named James, Joses and Judas, and that neither James is Jesus' brother.
Not so long ago, newspaper headlines screamed that a New-Testament era ossuary had been found bearing the inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The inscriptions later proved to be a fraud, newly scratched on an ancient ossuary. (Didn't anyone check this out BEFORE publishing??? I mean, "Duh!") And the inscription did not say what people claimed it said. It said, "Yacoub [James] of Joses [Joseph] of Yasou [Jesus]." That would imply to me that James was a relative of Joseph, who was the closer relative of Jesus, but I digress. The point is that we had a parade of scholars opining that it was inconcievable, inconcievable that these three names could be mere chance.
Is it possible that Jesus had brothers named James, Joses and Judas, and then went out and found another group of brothers who also had a mother named Mary and who also were named James, Joses and Judas? In addition to disciples named who were also brothers and were also named James and Judas who also had a brother named Joses?
And where were these brothers when Jesus told Mary, "There is THE son of you." And, yes, in the Greek, the article means implies that there are no other sons.
Another odd thoughts: The bible lists five brothers of Jesus, and uses the plural, "sisters." That's seven siblings. When Jesus was twelve, there's no mention of other siblings. Now, here he is at 30, and he's got at least seven? Could "James the elder" have been only 17 when Jesus died?
Later thought: Just to clarify, Mathew 27:56 refers to "Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children." These are two separate people and not simply a truly bizarre way of expressing one woman's relations. I've established that James and Joses are also Judas' brothers. But the James who is the son of Zebedee is also the brother of John. The bible pairs one James and John as brothers, and in the same list that James and John are mentionned together, calls another James and Judas brothers.
Incidentally, I read in a book (not an apologetic on this subject) where the city of Alphaeus was also known, in Pre-Christian times, as "Clopas." I left that out since I can't source it. But it does suggest that perhaps the evangelists simply associated the two names, considering "Alphaeus" a translation of "Clopas." Anyone know enough Hebrew or Greek to translate either one of those words?
>>During that period of history was the use the words brother and sister also used for friends and acquaintances? It is similar to some members of our society who use the word bro or brother or in the religious sense, brothers and sisters.<<
Very plainly, the word "brother" was used among first-generation Christians to signify that they were all sons of the same Father. For this reason, I didn't address the fact that the author of the epistle of James calls himself the "brother of Christ:" Paul does the same. But to bring that up is to fall into a fault I often find among Protestant apologists: to focus so tightly on the apologetic meaning of the words, that the sense of what the words meant to the characters is lost. Quite apparently, the crowds are asking whether Jesus is the brother of James and the bunch because they are asserting that they knew him as a child, that is, that he did not descend from Heaven. As such, they are asserting a physical relation, not merely a closeness.
I know you meant was that done immediately BEFORE Christ, where as I address the use immediately AFTER Christ. I don't know, and if I did, I'm sure it would be as hotly debated as whether "cousins" refers to "brothers." But I hope I've made my point in aswering.
>>While I understand the desire for Roman Catholic's to prove that Jesus had no biological brothers, I have never got to excited about it. I mean that it isn't something which salvation is hanging on.<<
No, but Protestant apologists keep bringing it up. And a model of perpetual virginity is very important to the Catholic priesthood.
It certainy strikes newspaper editors as important. Can anyone explain to me why an unconfirmed claim about an ossuary was scrawled all the way across every national newpaper of record? I couldn't believe when the scratches proved to be recent. That was the first thing I'd've looked for!
There is a division between Catholics and Greeks on the issue of Jesus' siblings. Greeks assert that the gospel's Greek language is perfect, and therefore assert both that Mary had no children ("THE son of you,") but that Jesus had brothers. Hence, they suppose Joseph had sons by a previous wife. This does fit ancient legends concerning the marriage of Joseph and Mary. (Legend is Joseph was an old man who was ashamed to take practically a mere child -- 13 years old! -- for his wife. Imagine his horror when every-one would've thought he couldn't even wait until their marriage to have relations with her! They must've thought he was a horny old lech!)
While the Catholic Church does not formally denounce this, Joseph is considered by Catholics and in Catholic prayers to be also "ever-virgin."
But you may wish to consider:
A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You." Answering them, He said, "Who are My mother and My brothers?" Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother." Mark 3:32-35
If brothers are cousins what are "sisters"?
St. James is titled "Brother of the Lord" in Orthodox hymnography because alone among Jesus' juridical half-brothers he was willing to share the inheritance from Joseph with Jesus. He also accompanied the Holy Family into exile in Egypt: Orthodox icons of the flight into Egypt show the aged Joseph, the young Virgin Mary carrying the Christ Child, and a youth--St. James.
That Jesus' brothers were not children of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is testified to by Christ's entrusting of Mary to the care of St. John: it would have contravened Jewish law and custom to do so had she had other children.
What does the original Greek say?
Since Mary was legally their mother, wouldn't Jesus, by Jewish tradition, entrust her to these siblings, and not to the beloved Apostle John?
Harley, come on... you're pulling a sleight of hand.
But unlike in English, "cousin" can take on a feminine form. So your answer is that "sister" is "adelpha." But you'll notice I did address the condition problemmatic for the Catholic argument that it is unusual for "adelphae" and "adelphi*" to be addressed separately in the same sentence. Were it not for this peculiarity, there would never be any evidence at all that James et al referred to Jesus' brothers and not his cousins. Since there is this peculiarity, it was needed to create an argument to demonstrate that James was in fact a cousin, and not a brother.
(* As I am presently away from my resources, I'm not positive if that is the correct plural of "adelphos.")
Salome is St. Joseph's previous wife!??? Surely, this is not the same Salome who witnesses the resurrection? I presumed the Orthodox would believe St. Joseph to be a widower, not a divorcee!
(And I state that rhetorically, for I am sure you will dispel my false presumption, will you not?)
Wanna ping the horde?
By the way, I saw on another thread, by bizarre coincidence the assertion that Mary of Clopas was not a sister-in-law, but in fact a sister! The discussion was about Mary Magdeleine, and the assertion was made that Mary Magdeliene was sister to Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany. The author asserted that there had been Jewish prophecies shortly before Christ that the Messiah was about to be born to a woman named Mary. As a result, it was not unheard of for believers in this prophecy to name each daughter Mary. This wouldn't affect my theory at all. The bigger problem is that it's hard to picture St. Anne having other children, given the Catholic legends surrounding her.
In the Protoevanglian St. Anne and St. Joachim had other children, atleast one daughter, back in their younger days. IIRC.
Nah! I personally don't think its worth getting our theological dandruff up over except it is interesting to speculate. To me it does not distract from the humility or honor of Mary whether she had other children or not. I was just yanking some chains. :O)
I saw that about the name of Mary too. I always wondered why everyone was always named Mary, John or James in the New Testament. I though it was because of the monogrammed coffee mugs sold at the temple or because it was easier to spell the Zerubabal.
In spite of her very advanced age? O well, after I wrote it I realized that Sarah had other children after Isaac, too.
Mat 1:2 Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren. (DRV)
Mat 1:2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. (NASB)
In the first context it would make no sense that Judah begat his cousins.
The verse I quoted from Mark is interesting in that the word sister (Greek: adelphe) is included in the text and is the feminine version of "brother" or "brethren". If our Lord Jesus was referring to "cousins" (or "brethren") there is no feminine side to that. Our Lord Jesus also contrasts the two by saying:
Mar 3:35 "For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."
I can only conclude the reference here should be accurately translated "brothers".
***Well, in ancient times, there was no concept of an "in-law." Mary of Cleophas was apparently BVM's sister-in-law.***
You've obviously never read Ruth. See Ruth 1:14.
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Col 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas's cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him);
From the Greek word "anepsios".
Luk 1:61 And they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name."
Distinctions are sometimes made with family even in the New Testament.
Not when James, at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, was a sceptic/unbeliever. He probably wasn't even AT the crucifixion. He thought Jesus was nutty.
Paul was a Roman citizen writing to Greeks. Different author, different audience. I didn't say there was no GREEK word for cousin, I said that JEWS called their cousins "brothers," and that Greeks often did.
There has never been any scholarly debate as to whether "adelphos" can refer to cousins. The debate has been over whether its usage is unusual in that circumstance.
>>You've obviously never read Ruth. See Ruth 1:14.<<
You caught an error. Allow me to rephrase myself: They did not distinguish that someone was merely an in-law.
I also stood corrected that Mary of Clopas/Cleophas had to be an in-law. According to one source (not that I can confirm it), expectation was so high that the Messiah was imminently to be born to a woman named Mary, parents would name each daughter they had, "Mary." It's even been suggested that Mary of Magdala and Mary of Bethany were sisters.
The point remains that Mary of Cleophas's children, James, Judas and Joses would've been Jesus' cousins.
On another note I can't help but think of poor Joseph. Here you have a man who is eagerly anticipating his wedding day only to find out his future wife is pregnant. While contemplating whether to marry or not an angel comes forth and tells him to go ahead. The Bible says:
And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. Matt 1:24-25
It would be a real bummer to want to marry this beautiful lady and be told of God to go ahead and marry this lady but know you never can have sex with her for your entire life. As noted above Matthew puts in a conditional clause by adding until she gave birth. If he kept her a virgin all her life then I believe Matthew would have said that or would have ended at kept her a virgin.
BTW-I always think Joseph gets the short end of the stick. God appears to Joseph far more times than Mary.
I don't even mean to go so far. Paul can say "anepsios," because he is writing his own words to a Greek audience. He specifically means a cousin, and so he chooses a word specifically meaning cousin.
Matthew is reporting what was spoken by Jews. Since the Jews don't have a word for cousin, Matthew isn't going to report that the Jews called them cousins. The Jews said the Jewish word for brothers, so when Matthew writes in Greek, he uses the Greek word for brothers.
If we look at JUST that passage, we still don't know whether Jesus had cousins or brothers. Certainly "adelphos" does refer to actual brothers as well. I just set about to prove that people named James, Judas and Joses were in fact Jesus' cousins.
I have heard the argument over the word "until." The classical Greek word has been used to mean actions which did not necessarily stop after the condition was met, both before and after the writings of the gospel. I read one apologist, posted on this site, who made the strange claim that the gospel was written during a period where the word "until" was not so used; Catholics pointed out other uses of the word in the New Testament; the person who posted the original article claimed that conditions hadn't necessarily been meant afterward, and the whole thing became quite absurd.
Oh, and umm, of course, God never appeared to Joseph, except in the person of the Son, who was Mary's own flesh and blood.
Yikes!!! Excuse my theological boo-boo on poor typing.
Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.
If the word brother meant cousin what does sister mean within this context? I believe He is referring to His immediate family (notice there is no mention of father). It doesnt make sense and its inconsistent that our Lord Jesus would mean cousin in one case and brother and sister in another.
I still don't get what you're driving at.
Our Lord Jesus puts serving Him in context of His immediate family, not his cousins. I don't see how it could be more clearer.
Not the same Salome who witnessed the Resurrection, nor the daughter of Herod. Salome, like Mary (or Miriam) seems to have been a common name in first century Palestine.
It kinda makes you question why the evangelists mention her, if there's no way we could attach significance to the name. On the other hand, I heard that following Peter's proclamation that Christians could eat non-Kosher foods, there was a nasty slander spread among the Romans that they had brought Salami to the resurrection. The evangelists probably just wanted to clarify.
Yes, but that he asks us to be his brother or sister doesn't mean he *has* a biological brother or sister. And the sentence isn't structured in such a way to suggest an intended parallel. He says, Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.
If a parallel was meant, he'd probably say something more like Behold My brothers and sisters and mother! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.
or Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My mother and My brother!
All I see is a clear invitation to be mother and sister, not just mother. Why not father? Because God was his father, and he does not invite us to that role.
>>I don't know if referring to Jesus's brothers meant actually brothers, or cousins, or just brothers in the faith, but I do have a problem with the perpetual virginity of Mary. She married Joseph, and I would expect that they had a normal married life together and I can't find any scripture that states they didn't. Do you know of any?<<
No, I don't. There is, for instance, a biblical basis for asserting the document of the immaculate conception, but it is admittedly certainly esoteric (in the literal sense of the word, "esoteric.") There may be some similarly esoteric basis for the perpetual divinity, but I do not know of it.
This is one of the issues that demonstrates the problems with Sola Scriptura. The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary predates the compilation of the New Testament by centuries; it is not an invention of the "Roman Catholic" Church. It was a belief universally held by the apostolic Church long before the apostolic Church even announced which apostolic writings were to be considered scriptural. There may be nothing in the scriptures that states that Mary did not have sexual relations with Mary; there is also nothing stated she did. You may think that it is presumable that they did have relations, but, on the other hand, Joseph was traditionally held to be an old man while Mary was about thirteen. This would suggest an obvious reason for them not having relations. Another suggestion is that Mary and Joseph, in the direct presence of the physical body of Christ, did not have a spiritual need for sexual relations.
Neither the Catholic Church nor the bible ever asserted Sola Scriptura. (The Church does assert *Prima* Scriptura, however, which is that the bible is the primary source of doctrine.) So I do not feel bound to defend the perpetual virginity of Mary according to the rules of Sola Scriptura.
Your whole arguement hinges on them being cousins, not brothers. The Bible obviously does distinguish different levels of family. If they were really Cousins instead of Brothers, I think that the Bible would have spelt that out. It does elsewhere.
Tradition going back to Papias, cited by Eusebius, indicates that Matthew was originally composed in "Hebrew" (which may mean Aramaic), not in Greek.
There are oddities in parts of Luke, too -- word plays and anagrams which only appear when the Greek is translated into Hebrew. There's also a Hebraicism used several times in Luke called the "apodotic vav," which isn't typical of Greek, but might well appear in a text very carefully translated from idiomatic Hebrew into Greek.
First of all, the argument does not "hinge" on them being cousins. The claim is merely that they were not biological children of Mary. One possibility, which seems consistent with the text, is that they were cousins.
It's really beyond dispute that neither Hebrew nor Aramaic have specific terms for cousin or nephew or brother in-law or half-brother That is why Philip the Tetrarch is identified as Herod's "brother" in Scripture, though he was really Herod's half-brother, and why Abraham addresses Lot as "my brother," though the text elsewhere makes it clear that Lot was really his nephew.
I think you need to read Ruth. Ruth is CLEARLY named as Naomi's Daughter -in-law. So, appearently, you are wrong. If the Bible says that they are brothers, then you HAVE to assume they are brothers, UNTIL compelling arguement comes forth that demonstrates otherwise. So far all I have seen is supposition. That won't do.
Abraham called his wife his sister, also, which got him into all sorts of trouble.
Yes, I've heard that theory. I didn't want to confuse the issue by sounding like I was suggesting that what is now Holy Scripture was simply a poor translation, so I allowed the likelihood that it was Matthew who wrote in Greek.
My best guess, having read about the authorship from historical critics, is that Matthew's original gospel consisted of the testimony of Jesus' preaching days. Luke possibly even used this as a source. (I reject the "Q" theory as anti-Christian.) Then, Mark was added to it, leaving only a single passage from Mark not represented in Matthew. Why would Matthew be compelled to add Mark's gospel to his own? Perhaps that Mark, as Peter's secretary, represented the authority of what would later become known as the papacy.
There are some problems. Textual critics do not include the infancy narrative as part of the original Matthew. I'm not qualified to evaluate if this assertion is sound. It does leave the source of the narrative undetermined.
This is also been criticized from an apostolic viewpoint, since it suggests an editor other than Matthew. I don't see why, however, Matthew couldn't have been the editor that approved the insertion of the Marcan passages. What is problemmatic is there are a few changes from Mark to Matthew where the two versions disagree with each other. Whereas the passages original to Matthew suggest an intimate familiarity with Palestine, the edits of Mark seem like someone was trying to "correct" Mark and introduced errors which are hard to reconcile with Mark or history.
My only response to these is to cling to the promise of Jesus to Peter, that the gates of Hell would not withstand the Church, and so I satisfy myself with the knowledge that the gift of infallibility was given not only to the disciple, but to whoever edited Matthew.
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