Baker Academic

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Did Jesus have Brothers?

Brant Pitre discusses the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels in his latest contribution to Catholic Productions:

The “Brothers” of Jesus: A Fresh Look at the Evidence

Dr. Pitre argues that Jesus' so-called "brothers" are actually cousins of Jesus (sons of Cleopas). The term ἀδελφός can sometimes mean cousin. While this has been a talking point among Catholic scholars for centuries, Pitre offers a robust defense of this view using evidence from the Gospels of Matthew, John and Eusebius. 

This is opposite to the view I take in my The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals. I argue that the "cousins" (ἀδελφοὶ) hypothesis originated from an assumption of Mary's perpetual virginity. More importantly, as I discuss in the book, second and third century Christians were woefully unaware of Jesus' pre-public life and often made guesses to fill in the gaps of Jesus' life. I will also add that many of the names used in the Gospels were quite common. It is therefore very difficult to know who is who. 

I confess that I am on precarious ground in making this statement as it smacks of anti-Catholicism (for which Protestant theologians have often been guilty). I am willing to be challenged along these lines. Is my reading a reaction to Catholic apologetics (thus apologetic in itself)? Or is it the most natural reading?

Two more details should be addressed. I do not think that either of these is load-bearing in and of themselves. 

(1) The first is one that Richard Bauckham has underscored. Mark 6:3 reads, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him" (NASB). "Joses" is a diminutive form of Joseph. Could it be that this "Joses" was so-named because his father was named Joseph? Again, these names are all very common, Joseph could have been a family name.

(2) Mark 3:32-34 reads: "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!" (NASB). There is a wordplay exploiting familial intimacy here between biological brothers and spiritual brotherhood. Does this interplay work as well with cousins?

I recommend having a look at Dr. Pitre's short vimeo linked above before commenting. Even if I disagree, I find Pitre's argument a very thoughtful and judicious way into the topic.



  1. Admittedly, I'm terrible at naming family relationships. If I'm following Dr. Pitre, then he's arguing that Jesus' "brothers" were in reality second cousins (i.e., that Mary the mother of Jesus was the cousin of Mary the mother of James and Joseph). I gather that if ἀδελφός can refer to first cousins, then it can also refer to second cousins?

  2. Thank you for sharing this post. I came to a similar conclusion years ago when comparing the crucifixion accounts in the four gospels.

    Comparing Mark 15:40 and Matthew 27:56, a case can be made that Salome is the wife of Zebedee and thus the mother of James and John. (But this is not the only interpretation, since Mark 15:41 also states that there were other unnamed women present).

    John 19:25 can be read in one of two ways due to its word order, either three or four women are present: “his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene”. Is his mother’s sister the wife of Clopas (thus 3 women listed) or is she not given a name in the text (thus making 4 women listed)? If his mother’s sister is not the wife of Clopas, then she may be Salome (by comparison to Mark and Matthew above) thus making James and John cousins of Jesus. (Not likely since neither James nor John are referred in the NT as cousins or kin of Jesus). Alternatively, if his mother’s sister is the wife of Clopas, then James and Joseph (and by extension Judas and Simon) are his cousins. A natural inference from the texts and the opinion I currently hold.

    One last point of contact is Luke’s account (Luke 24:13-33): the resurrected Jesus appears to Cleopas. Is Luke referring to the same Clopas, the husband of Mary’s sister and thus an uncle of Jesus?

    1. If you watched Brant Pitre's video, all this was answered.
      As for Cleopas on the Road to Emmaus, yes it is the same Cleopas so Brant Pitre thinks that the disciples going to Emmaus were husband and wife Cleopas and Mary.

      I suggest you buy the MP3 on the Catholic Productions site. The talk is called The Road to Emmaus. An excellent talk.

    2. Anonymous, I did watch Dr. Pitre's video that Dr. Le Donne provided a link to above before providing any response on this blog topic. I missed where Dr. Pitre discussed Salome/the mother of Zebedee's sons and his discussion on whether GJohn mentions three or four women at the cross. (His presentation appears to take it as given that there are only three women mentioned without addressing the alternative reading that four could be referred to in the text.)

      Thank you for the tip regarding his talk on The Road to Emmaus.

  3. The typical Protestant theology once tended, more than Catholicism, to read the things of the Bible not as being about actual physical events and persons, or as things to be taken literally. But as being symbols or metaphors for mental or spiritual things.

    So for instance, the Body of Christ was not literally a bleeding piece of flesh. But was a complex metaphor for something or another (still to be determined?).

    In this case, your reading #2, would prevail.

    However, having lived in the Eastern Med myself? I'd have to note that many locals are from tiny villages. Where most people are literally related. Though indeed, most are not literally brothers, as much as cousins.

    Furthermore, they refer to cousins as brothers, often.

    So it's all most likely half physical truth, and half spiritual metaphor.

  4. I have a few observations and questions.

    (1) Why is there no mention in this investigation of the unnamed "sisters," which occur in both Mark and Matthew? Can adelphe also some times mean cousin as does adelphos? (Luke of course uses the rejected prophet saying, but does not have any mention of brothers or sisters.)

    (2) These verses in all of the synoptics appear to be a "floating" tradition put together around a popular saying of "the prophet who is rejected in his home territory."

    (a) In Mark the passage occurs between four major miracles and the mission of the twelve. It could be said to be one bookend of a "lack of faith" theme, the other being the stilling of the storm. In Matthew it occurs between a long series of parables and the death of John the Baptist, whereas Mark has the disciples' mission between the rejected prophet and John's death. Luke places the rejected prophet verses in a lengthy rejection scene following Jesus temptations.

    (b) Luke felt free not to mention siblings or parents. Mark and Matthew felt free not to mention the father's name. Matthew felt free to change Mark's Judas/Simon order to Simon/Judas, and to change the identity of the carpenter from Jesus (in Mark) to Jesus' father, and to change Joses to Joseph. Matthew did not feel free to change Mark's references to "brothers" and "sisters."

    (3) There appears to be a poetic form to these verses, perhaps an indicator of importance and an assist in memorization:

    They came to his hometown
    He taught in the synagogue
    People were astounded

    Where did this come from
    What is this wisdom
    What deeds of power are done

    Is not this Mary's son, the carpenter
    Is this not the brother of J, J, J, and S
    Are not his sisters here

    And they took offense

    Prophets are w/o hometown honor
    He could only cure a few sick
    The town's unbelief amazed him.

    In other words he's no one special, and the fact that he's a member of a normal family is proof. Of course all of this, no matter how specific, attached to a popular saying, places historicity in doubt.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  5. Hey Anthony. Thanks for the friendly disagreement! Just a couple of quick questions. Could you say a bit more about three things?

    1. If the brothers “James and Joseph” (Matt 13:55) are in fact the children of Jesus’ mother, then why does Matthew refer to “James and Joseph” as the sons of “the other Mary” (ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία) (Matt 27:56)?

    2. Why does John refer to “Mary the wife of Clopas” as Jesus’ mother’s “sister” (ἀδελφὴ) (John 19:25)?

    3. What evidence do you have that belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is driving Eusebius and Hegesippus’ identification of James the Just and Simon—the first two bishops of Jerusalem—as the sons of Clopas and the “cousins” (ἀνεψιός) of Jesus?

    When I read Eusebius Church History 3.11-12 and 4.22.1, he simply seems to be recounting the history and identity of the Jerusalem bishops. I don't know of any evidence that Eusebius or Hegesippus believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary, so I don't see how that belief is a factor here. It's certainly nowhere in the context.

    Finally, I want to stress that nothing you said is by any means “anti-Catholic”. If a Catholic interpretation is weak, then it's weak. But it seems to me that the most "natural" reading of Matt 13 is the one that can also make sense of Matt 27.

    And I must admit that, in my experience, I have had some difficulty finding Protestant scholars who give a compelling *exegetical* explanation of why James and Joseph are called children of “the other Mary” in Matt 27, why Mary has a “sister” named Mary the wife of Clopas in John 19, and why Eusebius and Hegessipus matter-of-factly identify the first two bishops of Jerusalem the sons of Clopas and the “cousins” of Jesus.

    But I'm open to suggestions.

    1. The only place I see the phrase "the other Mary" is Matthew 27:61. I assume it refers back to Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27:56), but "the other Mary" is not directly called "the mother of James and Joseph."

      Also, wouldn't it be odd to have two daughters both named "Mary" if "Mary the wife of Clopas" was the sister of Jesus' mother Mary? As "Anonymous" points out, the Peshitta reads 4 women - I guess with an additional "and" as in this English translation: "John 19:25 And there were standing near the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother’s sister, and Mary [the wife] of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalena." (Hastings, H. L., & Hall, I. H. (1915). The Syriac New Testament Translated into English from the Peshitto. (J. Murdock, Trans.) (Ninth Edition, Jn 19:25). Boston: H. L. Hastings & Sons.)

      Is it too far-fetched to consider "the other Mary" of Matthew 27:61 to be Mary the mother of Jesus, and hence "the mother of James and Joseph" (Matthew 27:56)?

    2. Eric, while it's not impossible that Mary had a biological sister named Mary, it is unlikely.

      Let me try to clarify how Mary could have a sister named Mary through an analogy. My mother Kathleen happens to have a sister Kathleen, the wife of Michael. Now my mother's sister in not her biological sister but rather one through marriage, what we would term a sister-in-law. My mother's biological bother is Michael. Likewise, Mary's "sister" could be: 1) the wife of her brother Clopas or 2) the wife of Joseph's brother Clopas.

      Also, keep in mind that the Peshitta was translated from a Greek version of the NT into Syriac least 70 years after GJohn was written. One must be vigilant to avoid accepting precarious conclusions which attempt to clarify the wording of an earlier work by appealing to a later translation

    3. Brant, like I said before you offer a very compelling case! I am open to being convinced. But the least convincing part of your argument is the weight you're placing on the word ἄλλη - "another"or "other". You seem to think it impossible that Mary the Mother of Jesus would be called ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία. This phrase is not in Matt 27:56 as you indicate. It is, however, in Matt 28:1.

      Let's not forget just how common the name Mary was. Tal Ilan has compiled a list of 247 names of women from 330BCE−200CE Of these 247 named women, 59 are called “Mary”. "Another Mary" could simply mean another woman by the same name. But the more likely solution is that it is the Mary mentioned in Matt 27:56 as you suggest. If so, allow me to point out that Mary Magdalene is the first mentioned in that passage. Why is it impossible to imagine that the Mother of Jesus would ever be referred to as ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία or listed second behind Mary Mags? Could it be that we have a low view of the importance of Mary Mags? In either case, you are putting undue weight on this word ἄλλη.

      On John 19, it is unclear to me whether there are three or four women mentioned here: ἱστήκεισαν δὲ παρὰ τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ, Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Κλωπᾶ καὶ Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή.

      I did not say that the doctrine of perpetual virginity was driving Eusebius. I said that this belief was an assumption. We know that this belief was in circulation as early as the Protoevangelium of James. Like I said before, the second and third century Christian authors were largely unaware of Jesus' pre-ministry biological connections. They only know Jesus as a public figure and after he has begun to redefine the family in metaphorical terms.

      Also worth noting: ἀδελφή becomes a metaphorical term for many early Christians as they began to refer to the body of Christ as a family. So the word has two main definitions in the NT: (1) biological connection; (2) spiritual connection. I would argue that (3) cousin is a possible third definition in the NT. But consider that there was a word for "cousin" in this context as demonstrated by Luke 1:36: Ἐλεισάβετ ἡ συγγενίς σου "Elizabeth, your cousin [kin]."

      Finally, you write in your comment below "I totally agree that brothers means brothers in Mark 3:32-34; but I'm still waiting for an explanation of the data in Matthew 13 and 27." Are you saying that Mark assumes that Jesus does have biological brothers and that Matthew then clarifies that they are really cousins?

      thanks for this stimulating conversation!


    4. While I'm open to the possibility that "Mary the mother of James and Joseph" is also Jesus's mother, I don't consider that to be the natural reading of the text. Matthew appears to have no difficulty identifying Jesus's mother in his earlier stories. Why would he not identify her as such here? What might have been his motive for seemingly disguising her identity in this instance? Why would Matthew chose to conceal her identity at the cross and tomb?

      Also, where in the gospels does it state that Jesus's mother had other children? The gospels never make this claim (see e.g., Mark 6:3 and Matt 13:55). The gospels state that he had brothers and sisters, but the gospels never state that they are her children. It very well may be true. But one has to read it into the accounts. It is not in the text.

      BTW, great discussion!

    5. Thanks for these great points Anthony! I posted my responses below (at the bottom of the page).

  6. Brant Pitre's points have already been dealt with, and refuted, by Eric D. Svendsen in his 2001 book, Who is My Mother? The Role and Status of the Mother of Jesus in the New Testament and Roman Catholicism, a volume endorsed by Craig Blomberg and other scholars. Has Dr. Pitre read this book? The chapter on αδελφος in the Greek NT and contemporary literature is worth the price of the volume alone.

    On the number of women at the cross, DA Carson (see his commentaries on Matthew and John) has demonstrated that there are four, not three, women at the cross ([1] Mary; [2] her sister; [3] Mary of Clopas and [4] Mary Magdelene; this is supported by the Peshitta that interprets John 19:25 to be speaking about *four* women
    "But there stood by the cross of Jeshu his mother, and the sister of his mother, and Mariam, she who was (the wife) of Cleopha, and Mariam Magdalitha" [Etheridge Translation of the NT Peshitta]).

    The Catholic scholar, John McHugh in his 1975 *The Mother of Jesus in the New Testament* rejected the possibility that αδελφος in NT times could support the Hieronymian interpretation (counsins/near-relatives), one of the reasons he came up with his rather novel approach to the evidence to construct a mid-way position between the Hieronymian and Epiphanian views on the brothers/sisters of Jesus (see pp.200-54 of his book).

    And Anthony is correct--any other reading but the "Heldivian" ([half]biological siblings) view destroys the meaning of Mark 3:32-34--we become actual [spiritual] brothers/sisters of Jesus, not "near-relatives/cousins"). Only the Heldivian position is void of special-pleading and other fallacies, fallacies derived, not from sound exegesis, but ultimately, the acceptance of Rome's infallibility.

    Just fwiw.

    1. Anonymous,

      Thanks for the reference! I have not read Svendsen but I look forward to it.

      In the meantime, since you said he refutes my arguments (but you only mention John 19), I'm still left with two questions:

      1. If the brothers “James and Joseph” (Matt 13:55) are in fact the children of Jesus’ mother, then how does Svendsen *exegetically* explain Matthew's identifying “James and Joseph” as the sons of “the other Mary” (ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία) (Matt 27:56)?

      (BTW, I totally agree that brothers means brothers in Mark 3:32-34; but I'm still waiting for an explanation of the data in Matthew 13 and 27.)

      2. How does Svendsen explain Eusebius and Hegesippus’ identification of James the Just and Simon—the first two bishops of Jerusalem—as the sons of Clopas and the “cousins” (ἀνεψιός) of Jesus? (See Eusebius, Church History, 3.11-12 and 4.22.1)

      Would love to hear your thoughts.

    2. I too look forward to reading Svendsen’s book and how he concludes that there are four women referred to in John 19 and not three. As my post above attempted to demonstrate, John must refer to three women otherwise “[Jesus’s] mother’s sister” in John 19:25 is none other than Salmone/mother of Zebedee’s sons once one takes into account Mark 15:40 and Matthew 27:56, leading to the conclusion that the Apostles James and John are Jesus’s cousins - a conclusion not supported by the rest of the NT.

    3. I think that Paul and Josephus should be taken into account In this discussion too.

      Anyway, I don't think that the (only) natural reading of Mk 3:32-34 is a "wordplay exploiting familial intimacy here between biological brothers and spiritual brotherhood" since it focuses on the brothers but overlooks the mother: "Who are muy mother and my brothers? [...] Behold my mother and brothers".

      So, I guess that a probable answer to the cuestión "Does this interplay work as well with cousins?" is yes, the interplay should work since it is comparing the physical bonds of kinship with the spiritual bonds of faith; and it should work no matter if he was refering to actual brothers, cousins or uncles and aunts ("who is my family? [...] Behold my family").

  7. If you begin with Matthew, then the James - Joseph connection between 13.55 and 27.56 is at least notable (if not definitively refering to the same people). If you begin with Mark, then the parallel is less exact since Mark 15.40 refers to James the younger (contrast Mark 6.3) and Joses. So you might not immediately think, on the basis of Mark, that these are the brothers of Jesus mentioned in 6.3.

    1. Hey Peter, thanks for making this point. Please see my comments below.

  8. My basic question is why does GMatthew get to be the authority, and can he be trusted? For example, he changes the identity of the "carpenter" (Mk 6:3) from Jesus to Jesus' father (13:55).

    Why isn't GMark the authority, who refers to Jesus' "family" at 3:21 in the Beelzebul controversy, to "brothers" 3x at 3:32-35 in the true kindred pericopae, and who distinguishes the mother of James the Younger at 15:40 and 16:1 from Mary the mother of Jesus, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon at 6:3.

    Why isn't GLuke the authority, who nowhere thinks it important enough to mention siblings of Jesus, except that he agrees (8:19-21) with Mark's "brothers" reference in Mark 3, but unlike Matthew ignores Mark's "sisters" reference at 3:35. And if the author of Luke wrote Acts, James, leader of the elders in Jerusalem, is not identified as Jesus' brother (15:1ff., 21:17ff), contrary to orthodoxy's Galatians 1:19, but consistent with the absence of 1:19 in the construction of Marcion's version (BeDuhn, The First NT, 2013).

    Why isn't GJohn the authority, who, for example, in a gospel where the mother of Jesus is prominent, and after the wedding at Cana writes, "After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples;" (2:12) Given the mysterious role of "the beloved disciple" in John, it does not seem out of character for Jesus on the cross, as a theological act, to place his mother into that disciple's care rather than to a surviving child.

    And if one does not accept the straight forward sibling statement found in Mark 6:3, is that not an example of smashing Occams' razor?

    And after all that, probably only one gospel, GMatthew, thinks of Jesus' siblings as "cousins."

    And regarding Eusebius and Hegesippus, are they not primarily reporting traditions and minimally reporting history, and they're doing it 150-300 years after Jesus' death?

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  9. Hey everybody, thanks for the great feedback! I hope to put together a fresh post in the near future that I think will help lay out the evidence more clearly than I can do here in combox.

    For now, I would just emphasise--in response especially to Anthony, Peter, and Gene--the problem of the identify of James and Joses and Mary their mother is also present in the Gospel of Mark. (Although Gene, I'm glad you think that Matthew is probably referring to Jesus' relatives!). Look again at the Markan evidence:

    There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and *Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses* and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him… (Mark 15:40-41)

    Mary Magdalene and *Mary the mother of Joses* saw where he was laid (Mark 15:47)

    And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and *Mary the mother of James*, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (Mark 16:1)

    If "Mary the mother of James and Joses" in Mark 15-16 is not the mother of Jesus, then how exactly are James and Joses related to Jesus? How can James and Joses can be the blood “brothers” of Jesus in Mark 6 and the sons of a different Mary in Mark 15-16? As Adela Yarbo Collins writes:

    “If Mark was aware that the second Mary was the mother of Jesus, he would most likely have referred to her explicitly as such… [T]he second Mary should not be identified with the mother of Jesus.” (A. Yarbro Collins, Mark [Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007], p. 774)

    So Anthony, I don't think that this is just a problem in Matthew. There's also a problem with identifying James and Joses as children of Jesus' mother in the Gospel of Mark.

  10. Thank you to Drs. Pitre and Le Donne for such an interesting discussion.

    Regarding Mark, although it doesn't clear the air of doubt, it appears to me that Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses (15:40), Mary the mother of Joses (15:47), and Mary the mother of James (16:1) are all the same person, and this person is not Mary the mother of Jesus, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon (6:3). Allow me to clarify:

    I'm puzzled by the complexity of the Mary references. Would not one expect a straight-forward "Mary the mother of Jesus, or the Lord's mother, or Jesus' mother" to be used if this Mary was really meant to be identified as Jesus' mom. There is similar complexity in Matthew's account.

    Luke instead uses the generic "women" several times (23:49, 55; 24:1-2) but also includes a Mary mother of James among those who reported the resurrection to the disciples (24:10). John, on the other hand, has no difficulty making clear 4x that "his (Jesus') mother" was at the crucifixion (19:25-26).

    So the matter of the name Mary and Jesus' mother at the crucifixion seems to be a uniquely synoptic problem, particularly Mark and Matthew.

    Here is a 'far out' theory: (1) During the transmission of the Markan text, likely very early on, there was concern that the tradition had not placed Jesus' mother at the cross, and 'allusions' to her presence were put into the text, and some came to see her at the crucifixion there while others didn't. (2) From the get-go Matthew, believing that Mary was virginal as per his interpretation of his proof-text (1:23), thought that Mark got it wrong about Jesus' family, and that 'siblings' were actually 'cousins,' two of whom were children of "the other Mary" (27:61). (3) In the meantime, the matter of Jesus mother at the crucifixion and siblings had little interest for Luke who apparently threw in a 'Mary mother of James' after the resurrection because he found her in at least one of the other synoptics.

    I'm still not sure how much veracity should be attached to Matthew's account. I pointed out before that he changed the identity of the "carpenter," but he also built Jesus pre-public history around his interpretation of proof-texts from the scriptures (1:1-3:12), suggesting that he knew little or nothing about that time in Jesus' life.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  11. NOTE: These are my responses to Anthony's excellent points above; I post them here so that they don't get lost in the flurry of comments above.

    Hey Anthony! Thanks again, and just a few more points of clarification:

    1. With regard to Matthew's account, I did not argue that the mother of Jesus was too important to be called "the other Mary." My point was that,*in the context of Matt 27*, "the other Mary" (used twice) clearly refers back to Mary the mother of James and Joseph. Look at the evidence again, noting how she is consistently juxtaposed with Mary Magdalene:

    Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσὴφ μήτηρ), and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matt 27:56)

    Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία) were there, sitting opposite the sepulcher. (Matt 27:61)

    Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία) went to see the sepulcher (Matt 28:1)

    My point is that there is no *exegetical* reason for identifying “the other Mary” with the mother of Jesus when in context Matthew is clearly referring to Mary the mother of James and Joseph whom he has just mentioned a few verses earlier. Even more than Mark, when Matthew wants to refer to the mother of Jesus, he simply calls her “his mother Mary” (cf. Matt 1:18; 2:11, 13, 20, 21; 13:55).

    2. With regard to John 19: if there are really four women at the Cross, then why does every major English translation--both Protestant and Catholic (e.g., NRSV, RSV, NAB, ESV, NIV, etc.) render it as three women? Are they *all* getting it wrong? I can't help but notice that the four women translation only tends to appear when the implications of Jesus' mother's "sister" identity for the brothers of Jesus is brought into the discussion.

    (BTW: if "Mary of Clopas" is different than Mary's "sister," then why doesn't John have a καὶ before her name like the two others in the list? On the level of grammar, this doesn't seem the natural reading either.)

    3. With regard to Eusebius and Hegesippus, my point was not about Jesus' "biological relations" in general but about the *identity of the first two bishops of Jerusalem* in particular. I don't know how you can say that Hegesippus was "unaware" of the relation of James and Simeon to Jesus when that is precisely what he seems to be very aware of in Eusebius, Church History, 3.11-12 and 4.22. It's not like James or Simeon would have been obscure figures. I need some good reason to dismiss this evidence, and appeal to the Protoevangelium of James doesn't seem a compelling reason when the perpetual virginity of Mary is nowhere in sight in Hegesippus' or Eusebius's account of the bishops of Jerusalem.

    4. Finally, I'm glad you brought up the fact that there was a word for "relative" or "cousin," as in "Elizabeth your cousin" (συγγενίς) (Luke 1:34). Because that is *exactly* the word Jesus uses to describe his "brothers" in Mark 6 when he states. I'll translate it as cousin (like you did with Elizabeth) just to emphasize the point:

    A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own cousins (συγγενεῦσιν), and in his own house (Mark 6:4)

    Here Jesus is clearly using to συγγενίς to describe the group that has just been identified as his "brothers" and "sisters" (Mark 6:3).

    By the way, it's very similar to the way Paul uses "brothers" and "relatives" as synonyms:

    For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers (ἀδελφῶν), my relatives (συγγενῶν) according to the flesh… (Rom 9:3)

    So if Paul can use ἀδελφός and συγγενής in juxtaposition as synonyms, then surely the ἀδελφοὶ of Jesus just be his συγγενεῖς, especially when that's what the Markan Jesus calls them and since Matt and Mark give us other reasons to draw this conclusion.

  12. Hoping that it's appropriate for me to still make observations, as I further see Mark 6:3-4:

    (1) There is no internal necessity for suggeneusin in 6:4 to be considered an interpretation of adelphos/adelphai in 6:3. The reasons are: (a) Mark is speaking in 6:3. (2) Jesus is speaking in 6:4. (3) Jesus is speaking with a popular proverb on his lips [cf. Psalm 69:8 'I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother's children.']. (4) A popular proverb would likely be speaking of "relatives" (not specifically 'cousins) in general and would have no knowledge, of course, of Jesus' personal family. (5) My lexicon indicates that "relative" is the primary translation of suggenes.

    (2) Paul's use of adelphon and suggenon in Rom 9:3 does not provide an appropriate lens for looking at Mark 6:3-4. The two words are used as equivalents for the Israelites/Jews who have rejected Paul's message and have nothing to do with his own immediate relatives/cousins. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my relatives according to the flesh" (Rom 9:3).

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  13. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    I'm not sure if we've moved along from this topic or not, but I'd like to make a few more observations!

    I've been assuming throughout the discussion that this was an exercise in exegetical methods with no independent ideological motives. Am I correct that the post-modern mind has no place for connecting virginity-purity-perfection-God's approval, which is basically an ancient religious notion, although still found throughout the world? Is it not true to our own time, that applied to Mary, whether she was virgin or gave birth to many children, she could be lifted to the level of divine mediator between God and humanity, at the church's pleasure.

    Anthony has referred to himself as a Christian, I'm assuming Protestant, since he is at a United Meth seminary. Brant I'm assuming is a Catholic Christian due to his affiliation with Catholic Productions. And I refer to myself as an independent Jesus Follower.

    What strikes me is that most of Anthony's observations are in sinc with traditional Protestant thinking, most of Brant's observations are in sinc with traditional RC thinking, and my observations are consistent with an independent, i.e., containing conclusions of both traditions. In the last resort we were trying very hard to be objective about the subject matter, but were unable to escape our own identities.

    Don't we all have to try very hard in our investigations to remain faithful to the null hypothesis, which in this case would be: there are no significant differences in the evidence for Jesus having brothers and the evidence for Jesus not having brothers.

    But is there no ability to transcend our own identity? Are we always simply telling our own story?

  14. Gene, I agree “we all have to try very hard in our investigations to remain faithful to the null hypothesis”...that ”there are no significant differences in the evidence for Jesus having brothers and the evidence for Jesus not having brothers.” However, my investigation (tentatively) concludes that the gospels do provide sufficient evidence that his brothers are actually cousins and not the children of his mother (or father). Consider the following:

    1. The gospels never make the claim that his mother (or father) had other children (see e.g., Mark 6:3 and Matt 13:55).

    2. Comparing Mark and Matthew a) his brothers were James, Joseph/Jose, Simon, and Judas (Mark 6:3, Matt 13:55); b) their mother Mary was at the cross (Mark 15:40, Matt 27:56).

    3. John (19:25) appears to clarify that this Mary was his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas (as Dr. Pitre demonstrated above, in the Greek text John mentions three women at the cross, not four).

    4. Through induction by comparing GMark, GMatthew, and GJohn, Mary the wife of Clopas is the mother of James, Joseph/Jose, Simon, and Judas.

    5. Therefore, his mother Mary is not the mother of James, Joseph/Jose, Simon, and Judas - they are the sons of his mother’s sister Mary and Clopas - and are not his brothers in the modern sense but rather are his cousins.

    That said, the level of significance that I consider sufficient to reach a conclusion may differ from someone else’s, and I think herein lies the rub: We lack an objective standard.

    I'm certain that some will object to appealing to GJohn due to its later writing and, therefore, more developed christology. Others will claim that Mark and Matthew refer to his mother at the cross (Mark 15:40, Matt 27:56) because it is implied that his mother is also the mother of James, Joseph/Jose, Simon, and Judas (Mark 6:3, Matt 13:55). Others will argue that neither GMark nor GMatthew are reliable sources. And so on.

    It is difficult to overcome the inertia of entrenched presuppositions. It is much easier to grow the way the wind blows, than to be torn down blow by blow. But that is easy for me to say: I have no skin in the game. I’m just a Christian seeking fuller understanding on a quest that becomes misguided at times.

  15. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    Thanks for sharing this train of thought, Michael, and for supporting the null hypothesis approach, in spite of the difficulties of settling on an objective standard.

    To my other main concern, would you be willing to share if you have personal feelings or beliefs or any significant affiliation with a group (family, church, etc.) that would support the position that Jesus did not have brothers. If you do not, I congratulate you on achieving some degree of self-transcendence in this matter.

    For myself right up front I am inclined not to think of Mary as virginal and would consider it unusual for Jesus not to have siblings. And, as I previously mentioned, I can see no connection between virginity, purity, and deity approval. So I have all that to overcome when trying to be objective and apply the null hypothesis.

    1. Gene, since you have observed that “we were trying very hard to be objective about the subject matter, but were unable to escape our own identities”, I’ll place my cards on the table, face up.

      I’m largely unattached. I was raised Roman Catholic but fell away after college, as have both of my parents and all my siblings over the past 25 years. My wife is a Messianic Jew, as are her parents and siblings. Her mother’s side of the family is Protestant and she has an uncle that is the pastor of a Baptist church, as well as a cousin who is the pastor of a “non-denominational” bible church (a misnomer in my opinion, since the church’s theology is Southern Baptist). We tend to spend the majority of our free time with this part of her family due to their proximity to us as well as similar interests.

      As for Christian theology, I consider myself to be right of center. I have had close Protestant friends/co-workers (not to mention my wife!) over the past twenty or so years that have led me to question many long-held beliefs. Turning to the bible first and then to learned commentary from different sides of the divide in search of answers. It has been an interesting and worthwhile quest. And though I continue to have theological differences with all three groups in varying degrees - Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Messianic Judaism - I have discovered the common ground between them far outweighs their differences.

  16. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    Thanks for sharing your personal story, Michael. These discussions become so much more "real" when that happens. I've mentioned that I grew up evangelical protestant and that I was a United Methodist Pastor for five years in the 60's and 70's. I retired a couple years ago from clinical psychology, having specialized in custody evaluations. My wife was raised Lutheran but converted to RC. Our children are divided between RC and Protestant. The early evangelical influence abides, as I still find myself talking to Jesus as if he were always present.

    In the 90's I became convinced that the Jesus Seminar had done the best job of recovering an historical Jesus to date, but their methodology, particularly the criterion of dissimilarity (or distinctiveness), suppressed his Jewish identity in favor of wise Cynic. This is how Charles Hedrick, one of the original Seminar members, describes it in his Wisdom of Jesus (2014), "Sayings and parables probably originated with Jesus if they are dissimilar to characteristic emphases in the Judean state religion and early Christianity...what is achieved is...the man at his most radical dimensions...eliminating most everything Jesus had in common with characteristic emphases of first century Judean religion." (p. 22)

    I think it's very important to focus on common ground, but also to embrace differences. Over the centuries Christians have been in self-denial about who was the parent (Judaism) and who the child (Christianity).

  17. It should be noted, unless I missed it above, a scriptural example of near relatives being called "brother" is seen in Gen 14: 12-16. Lot is specifically said to be Abram's nephew and then is subsequently called Abram's brother.