Did Jesus have biological brothers as some non-Catholics claim? Or is this just another attack on the Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Since the early days of the Catholic Church, the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary has been asserted and defended.
First of all, I will explain to you the Biblical meaning of the “brothers of Jesus.” In today’s society, as it was in the days of Jesus, the word “brother” had another meaning other than being a biological brother. The Natives of North America call each other “brothers”, although in most cases, they are not related. When watching television, we notice how the black people call each other “brothers,” although they are not related. The moslems in Canada often called each other “brothers” although they are not related. Prisoners call each other “bro” or “brothers” although they are not related. Members of religious groups call each other “brothers.” Even those who are involved in illegal drug activities, they call each other “brothers.” Yet none of these groups are really blood related to each other.
Why do these groups of people call each other “brothers?” It is because the word “brother” in these cases has a totally different meaning. The usage of the word “brother” in these cases has to do with association by culture, peers, race or religion. Some people like to emphasize that they belong to the same race. Equally, some like to emphasize that they belong to the same culture, a particular peer group or the same Church.
All of us, sometime in life, will experience being introduced as a “brother” or “sister” to someone. It might be because of the friendship between two persons or the manner in which one is introduced to a certain group. At the same time, one knows that truly, he is not the “brother” or “sister” of the other person.
It was the same in the Jewish culture. The Jewish people, not belonging to the gentile nations, made reference to each other as “brothers” and “sisters.” When introduced, this identified them as “one of them,” as a Jewish person. When something was written about the Jewish people, they were referred to as “brothers” as a means of saying they were Jewish.
To complicate the matter, the Hebrew language did not contain a word that meant “cousin.” Instead, the word “brother” was used for both, the words “brother” and “cousin.” When the Jewish scholars translated the early Church writings from Hebrew to Greek, they literally translated the word “brother” as “brother.” Since they were accustomed to the word that could mean either “brother” or “cousin,” they did not believe that it was necessary to define when it means “brother” or when it means “cousin.” Therefore, in instance where a reference might be made to a cousin of Jesus, the word “brother” was applied. While this person may have been a blood relative, he was not a biological brother.
Now, let us review the claim that James was the brother of Jesus. In Mark 15:40, we read, “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.” It is clear from this verse that Mary, the mother of James and Joses was not Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Bible makes reference to more than one Mary.
To conclude, I want to present some logical facts that clearly indicate that Jesus could not have had brothers. These are:
1) If Jesus had brothers or sisters, does common sense not state that the descendants from Jesus’s mother would be proud of it? And accordingly, would these descendants not be claiming their rightful place as descendants of Mary? Yet, this has never happened!
2) The Catholic Church has always proclaimed that Mary was ever-virgin. If such was not true, why has her alleged other children and possibly descendants ever publicly renounce the virginity of Mary as a lie? It is because there are no other children or descendants of Mary.
3) If Mary would have had other children, Jesus would not have been as popular as He was. Jesus was popular because He was recognized as the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecies found in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfilled the words found in the Gospel of Matthew where it states, "All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophoet: 'Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.'" [Mt. 1:22-23] If Mary would have had other children, the prophecy regarding the virginity of Mary in the Gospel of Matthew would not have been fulfilled. And Jesus would not have been recognized as being the Messiah.
4) In the Gospel of John, we read, "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, 'Woman, here is your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home." [Jn. 19:26-27]
If Jesus would have had any brothers, according to the Jewish custom, they would have been obligated to take care of Mary after Jesus died. But this was not the case. Jesus placed the care of His mother, Mary, into the hands of the Apostle John.
5) In the Gospel of Luke, we read how Jesus was conceived. "The angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.'" [Lk. 1: 35] The conception of Jesus resulted from a union between the Holy Spirit and Mary. This union, a marriage blessed by God, placed Mary in a position where she was obligated to maintain a vow of perpetual virginity after the birth of Jesus. If Mary would have had sex with Joseph after the birth of Jesus, this would have been viewed as an adulterous affair.
6) In Mark 6:3, we read, "'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?' And they were offense at him." Notice here that there is only one reference to "the son of Mary," that being Jesus. The others are not called the sons of Mary but rather the brothers of Jesus. If they would have been the brothers of Jesus, logically, they too would have been referred to as the sons of Mary.
Knowing that Jesus had no biological brothers, we can speculate regarding the status of his brothers. They could have members of Jesus' religious group. The could have been cousins. They could have been adopted by Joseph and Mary. Or, if Joseph had fathered children from a previous marriage and was a widower, then the brothers would actually be half-brothers of Jesus. While all of these speculations are possible, they do not contradict the fact that Jesus had no biological brothers who shared Mary and Joseph as parents. Those who claim otherwise, they have failed to thoroughly study the facts that are found in the Holy Bible.