Intro and What The Bible Says
Did Jesus have siblings? It’s one of the first things that comes to mind when reading through the Bible (and especially the Gospels) and the answer is not as straight-forward as it seems. It’s a great question and one that many Christians throughout history have wondered about. Thankfully, all four writers of the gospels make at least some mention and try to answer the question of whether or not Jesus had siblings, so let’s dive in!
What the Gospels Say About Jesus’ Siblings
In Mark, a crowd inquires of Jesus, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are his sisters here with us?” (6:3).
In Luke, when Jesus is told by a crowd that has been formed to hear him preach, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you,” Jesus famously rejects them: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (8:19-21). And John writes in his gospel that after Jesus performed his first miracles in Cana, “he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days” (2:12).
While this may seem to be a pretty clear-cut answer to the question of whether Jesus had siblings, in reality, scholars and theologians have been debating these passages for 2,000 years. The main arguments center around whether or not these brothers and sisters were actually biological siblings, step-siblings, or not even siblings at all, but rather cousins.
The first recorded debate of whether or not Jesus had siblings was between St. Jerome and another fourth-century theologian, Helvidius, who said that after the virgin birth of Jesus, Mary had other children with her husband, Joseph. St. Jerome vehemently disagreed, indicating that by the fourth century at least some of the church community believed that Mary had stayed a virgin for the rest of her life, thus meaning Jesus had no real siblings. These children of Mary mentioned in the Bible, Jerome said, were instead from Mary of Clopas, Jesus’ aunt and his mother’s sister, making them cousins, not siblings. He made the interesting claim that the Greek word adelphios could reference both cousins and biological siblings in ancient Greek.
Epiphanius, who was a bishop of Salamis and a contemporary of Jerome and Helvidius, created another interesting possibility. He made the argument that the siblings were not cousins, but Joseph’s kids from a previous marriage, which would make them the step-siblings of Jesus. Joseph is not mentioned outside of the birth of Jesus, which leads many to believe he was much older than Jesus.
Conclusion – Did Jesus Have Siblings?
These general arguments continue to be defended and disputed by a number of religious scholars today, whose positions depend mostly on their particular traditions and how they interpret early church theology. The New Testament writers didn’t leave us with a super-clear picture of whether or not Jesus had biological siblings, step-siblings, or cousins.