Mary had Other Children (Part 1): Proven by Scripture and History


The debate that rages over whether Mary, the mother of Jesus, had other children is one that is only concerned with believing Scriptures or man-made traditions. It was at the Council of Trent in 1545 A.D. when tradition was declared equal with the Word of God. This is a dangerous view to accept as the Bible says, “let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4), which ought to be self-evident as Jesus and the apostles repeatedly rebuked the religious leaders for the traditions of men. “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6) “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men…” (Mark 7:7-8) The biblical view on traditions as taught by the apostle Paul is that we can only accept those taught within the first century churches, which are all contained in the New Testament as taught by the apostles, past tense. “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught [past tense], whether by word, or our [the apostles] epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15; also see 2 Thess. 3:6) “The concept of tradition as an additional source of religious knowledge, supplementing or even surpassing Scripture, is gnostic, not early Christian.” 1)Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, p. 456, footnote

The children of Mary are introduced as Jesus taught at his hometown when the people He grew up with question His authority to teach. “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” (Matthew 13:55-56) Here we are given four specific names of Jesus’ brothers plus “sisters” in a plural form indicating no less than two. This indicates a total of at least seven children in Jesus family. The same names are also mentioned in Mark 6:3 as a parallel verse.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Against this doctrine [of Mary being a virgin perpetually] the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary.” 2)Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 500; hereafter cited as CCC We will look at the early church father and see that the church has not “always” understood these passages in such a way as claimed by the Catholic Catechism. The discrepancy is thrown on the Greek word “adelphos” translated as “brethren or brothers,” but is claimed by Catholics to mean (1) extended relative such as cousins, (2) brethren in the faith, or (3) possibly children from Joseph’s assumed previous marriage.

The first indictment can be simply refuted by looking in any Greek/English dictionary. Robert Young defines the Greek word “adelphos” as “Of the same womb, a brother, relative” 3)Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance of the Bible James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance agrees with this primary meaning by breaking down the roots of the word “adelphos” defining it as “(a) (as a connective particle) and delphus (the womb); a brother4)Strong’s  Greek & Hebrew Dictionary TDNT states:

In the NT αδελφóς and αδελφη denote either “physical brotherhood” in the strict sense or more generally the “spiritual brotherhood” of Israelites or Christians…5)von Soden, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. Gerhard Kittel, Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley), Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1964), Vol. 1, p. 144

The common New Testament Greek lexicon BDAG discusses “of Jesus’ brother (passages like Gen 13:8; 14:24; 24:48; 29:12; Lev 10:4; 1 Ch 9:6 do not establish the mng. ‘cousin’ for α.; they only show that in rendering the Hebr. אָח α. is used loosely in isolated cases to designate masc. relatives of various degrees…. The is more room of uncertainty in the case of the αδελφοι of Jesus…”6) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press  (Chicago, IL: 1979), p. 16 Thayer’s Greek Lexicon argues, “That ‘the brethren of Jesus,’…are neither sons of Joseph y a wife married before Mary (which is the account in the Apocryphal Gospels…) nor cousins,… according to that use of language by which αδελφος like the Hebr. אָח denots any blood-relation or kinsman… but own brothers, born after Jesus, is clear principally from Mt. I. 25 [only in RG]; Lk. ii.7–where, had Mary borne no other children after Jesus, instead of υíòν πρωτοτοκον, the expression υíòν μονογενη would have been used…”7)Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Harper and Brothers (Franklin Square, NY: 1896), p. 10

Christian apologist Ron Rhodes points out,


The Roman Catholic claim that references to Jesus’ “brothers” actually refer to cousins is not convincing. It is true that the Greek term for brother (adelphos) can be used in a sense not referring to a literal brother … Yet unless the context indicates otherwise, Greek scholars agree that the term should be taken in its normal sense of a literal brother. 8)Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics, p. 272


If God intended these verses to be interpreted as “cousins” then the Greek word “sugenes” would have been used as it is when referring to Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. “And, behold, thy cousin [sugenes] Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.” (Luke 1:36; also see Luke 1:58) We also see the passages which announce the names to the brothers of Jesus are said by the town’s folk of Nazareth to be “all with us?” (Matthew 13:56) This shows they all grew up in the same locality while Mary’s cousin Elisabeth was said to live in “the hill country… [the] city of Juda.” (Luke 1:39) There is quite a distance separating these cities and therefore no reason to assume the word “brethren” is referring to distant relatives. The other Greek word that would translate most literally as cousin is “anepsios” which is used only once stating “Marcus, sister’s son [anepsios] to Barnabas” (Colossians 4:10)

The second attempt to explain away the Scriptures acknowledgement of Jesus’ brothers is that it is referring to brothers in faith. Indeed it can be used to designate a common faith of believers in Jesus Christ and is frequently throughout the New Testament. Jesus speaks of His brethren in this manner (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17; Romans 8:29; Hebrew 2:11; 2:17), and it identifies members of the same Christian community (John 21:23; Acts 9:30; Romans 16:14; 1 Corinthians 7:12). However, it is clear that Jesus could not have been using the word in this sense to the entourage of His mother Mary because they did not believe in Jesus. “For neither did his brethren believe in him.” (John 7:5) The context of this verse shows they mocked Him and also draws a contrast between the disciples of Jesus, who did believe in Him, compared to His brethren who did not believe. “His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest.” (John 7:3) Again we see a contrast of the disciples of Jesus and His brethren earlier in His ministry. “After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.” (John 2:12) His brothers did not convert to faith in Him until after His resurrection. “And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (Acts 1:13-14) This particular verse is very revealing as it names the apostles individually and the brethren of Jesus only after His mother Mary. The culture in those days would have listed the men before the women unless of course they were under Mary’s authority as being her children.

Again we have contrast of apostles and the Lord’s brother being made after Jesus ascended to heaven. Paul distinguishes His brothers from apostles or mere followers on more occasions, “as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:5) We also are told by Paul, “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” (Galatians 1:19) If James was simply a fellow believer, then we must ask why Paul draws a distinction between him and the other apostles. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian also referred to James as the brother of Jesus. “As therefore Ananus (the High Priest) was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus (the Roman Procurator) was now dead, and Albinos (the new Procurator) was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stones.” 9)Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book. XX, Chap. IX, Sect. 1 Hyppolytus (170-236) a Christian author and leading presbyter in Rome spoke of “James the Lord’s brother, bishop of Jerusalem.” 10)Hyppolytus, On the Seventy Apostles; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, p. 255 As well as The Constitution of the Holy Apostles refers to “James the bishop of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord…” 11)The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, Book VII, Chap. IV; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7, p. 477

Jude’s introduction to his epistle mentions that he is the “brother of James” (Jude 1:1), and we also have a testimony of history from the early Christian writers that this Jude is indeed the brother of Jesus as his name is listed amongst the four mentioned by name “the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda [Jude], and Simon” (Mark 6:3, also see Matthew 13:55) Clement of Alexandria in 195 A.D., commented on the first verse of Jude’s epistle, saying:


Jude, who wrote the Catholic Epistle, the brother of the sons of Joseph, and very religious, whilst knowing the near relationship of the Lord, yet did not say that he himself was His brother. But what said he? “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ,”—of Him as Lord; but “the brother of James.” For this is true; he was His brother, (the son) of Joseph. 12)Clement of Alexandria, Comments on the Epistle of Jude; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 573


A Christian named Hegesippus writing in 170 A.D. states:


There still survive some of the kindred of the Lord. These were the grandsons of Jude, who according to the flesh was called His brother. These were informed against, as belonging to the family of David, and Evocatus brought them before Domitian Caesar. For that emperor dreaded the advent of Christ, as Herod had done. 13)Hegesippus, Concerning the Relatives of our Saviour; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 763


This quote is significant for many reasons. It shows the “kindred” of Jesus were alive when these words were written. Since their relation was “according to the flesh” it could not be interpreted as “brethren” in a common faith, nor would it be permitted to believe it as Joseph’s children of a previous marriage because Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. Hence, had not these been descendant through Mary, they could not be called “kindred of the Lord.” The same author also mentions “one of the reputed brothers of the Savior, named Judas, as having survived until this same reign, after the testimony they bore for the faith of Christ in the time of Domitian, as already recorded.” 14)Hegesippus, Concerning the Martyrdom of Symeon the Son of Clopas, Bishop of Jerusalem; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 764

The simple fact that these “brethren” of Jesus are constantly in the company of Mary, His mother, shine further light on the fact that they were her children. Consider all of such passages (Matthew 12:46-48; 13:55-56; Mark 3:1-3; 6:3; Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12; Acts 1:14) Jesus Himself separates this notion of these “brethren” being those of a common faith by stating His true brothers are not the ones following His mother around but rather those who believe in Him. “While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!” (Matthew 12:46-49) A composition from approximately 375-380 called The Constitutio of the Holy Apostles, make numerous reference to Christ brothers being through Mary. Alleging to be written by the apostles themselves, it states, “For there were with us the mother of our Lord and His sisters…” 15)The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, Book III, Chap. VI; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7, p. 427 “I James, the brother of Christ according to the flesh, but His servant as the only begotten God, and one appointed bishop of Jerusalem by the Lord Himself…” 16)The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, Book VIII, Chap. XXXV; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7, p. 496

A Christian named Tertullian, whose father was a proconsular centurion in Carthage, North Africa, and before converting to Christ himself practiced jurisconsult had access to official documents of the Roman government, writing in 207 A.D., he vouches further of the fact that these were His blood relatives when commenting on this verse.


But there is historical proof that at this very time a census had been taken in Judæa by Sentius Saturninus, which might have satisfied their inquiry respecting the family and descent of Christ. Such a method of testing the point had therefore no consistency whatever in it and they who were standing without were really His mother and His brethren. It remains for us to examine His meaning when He resorts to non-literal words, saying Who is my mother or my brethren? It seems as if His language amounted to a denial of His family and His birth; but it arose actually from the absolute nature of the case, and the conditional sense in which His words were to be explained. He was justly indignant, that persons so very near to Him stood without, while strangers were within hanging on His words, especially as they wanted to call Him away from the solemn work He had in hand. He did not so much deny as disavow them. And therefore, when to the previous question, Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? He added the answer None but they who hear my words and do them, He transferred the names of blood-relationship to others, whom He judged to be more closely related to Him by reason of their faith. Now no one transfers a thing except from him who possesses that which is transferred. If, therefore, He made them His mother and His brethren who were not so, how could He deny them these relationships who really had them?  17)Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book IV, Chap. XIX; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, p. 378


Because of His brother’s unbelief we can understand why Jesus gave John the responsibility of His mother as He was dying (John 19:26-27). Ron Rhodes writes, “Further, it is clear that the reason Jesus did not want to entrust His mother Mary into the hands of His brothers is that His brothers at that time were unbelievers (see John 7:5). Instead, Jesus chose to entrust His mother into the hands of one of His dearest disciples. John is apparently the only one of the disciples with courage enough to take his stand with Mary at the cross. It is understandable that Jesus would want His mother in the care of a strong, committed believer.”  18)Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics, p. 301