Our Lady of Guadalupe

Perpetual Virginity

Roman Catholicism teaches that Mary was ever-virgin: that her marriage to Joseph was a show of a marriage, not a real marriage. But the Bible reports that Jesus had brothers and sisters:

"'Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?' So they were offended at Him." (Mark 6:3).
"But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother." (Galatians 1:19).
"For even His brothers did not believe in Him." (John 7:5).
"Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" (1 Corinthians 9:5).
"After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days." (John 2:12).

No mention is made of these brothers and sisters when Jesus is born; surely Joseph would have had his hands full shepherding a whole flock of children through Bethlehem and into Egypt. Readers who take things in sequence have naturally ever since surmised these brothers and sisters must be children born later to Joseph and Mary; after all the angel says, "But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.'" (Matthew 1:20), not 'don't touch her, ever!' Yet if you make this natural inference, you stand harshly condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Two theories are advanced by Roman Catholics as to the identity of the Lord's 'brothers:' that they are cousins, and that they are elder siblings from a prior marriage of Joseph. They cannot be both. There is a legal strategy called 'arguing in the alternative:' when accused of having dented a borrowed pot, the borrower may argue, a.) I did not borrow the pot, b.) it was not dented when I returned it, and c.) the pot was already dented when I borrowed it. These three lines of argument cannot all be true at once. Roman Catholics likewise are prone to shuttle between the 'cousins' theory and the 'elder siblings' theory: Bible passages which are difficult for the 'cousins' theory are answered with the 'elder siblings' theory, while Bible passages which are difficult for the 'elder siblings' theory are answered by the 'cousins' theory. Let us wade in and sort through the confusion, by taking them one at a time:


The later theory, Jerome's, is that the Lord's "brothers" were actually 'cousins.' There is no instance in the Old Testament in which named individuals who are known to be cousins call one another 'brother,' though there is a case where an uncle, Abraham, calls his nephew, Lot, his 'brother.' Roman Catholics do not mean to suggest the Lord's 'brothers' were actually his 'nephews,' because how does one obtain nephews, except by first having siblings? Rather, modern Roman Catholics explain that Hebrew has no word meaning 'brother,' that 'ach' is a vague word meaning 'male kinsman of unspecified degree.'

"Because neither Hebrew nor Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ and his disciples, had a special word meaning 'cousin.' Speakers of those languages used either the word for 'brother' or a circumlocution, such as 'the son of the sister of my father.' Using a circumlocution was a clumsy way to speak, so they naturally fell to using the word 'brother.'
"The writers of the New Testament were brought up to use the Aramaic equivalent of 'brethren' to mean both cousins and sons of the same father—plus other relatives and even nonrelatives." (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, p. 283).

Is it really plausible that a language in public use would actually have no word that means 'brother,' the word usually so [mis]translated meaning in reality 'male relative or nonrelative of unspecified degree'?

Beyond its linguistic implausibility, the hardest single verse for the 'cousins' theory is John 7:5,

"For even His brothers did not believe in Him." (John 7:5).

"This verse explodes the idea that the parties known in the New Testament as our Lord's brothers were the sons of Alphaeus and cousins to Jesus. The sons of Alphaeus had long since been numbered among the apostles, while our Lord's brothers were still unbelievers." (J. W. McGarvey, the FourFold Gospel, Kindle location 6953). It is hard to see how the 'cousins' theory can survive this collision. Under the Roman Catholic 'cousins' theory, several of Jesus's disciples are brought forward as 'cousins,' i.e. 'brothers,' under the claim that these two concepts are equivalent. But if they were disciples, they believed in Him, and if they did not believe, then they were not disciples!

Taxonomy Mother's Sons Adelphos
Cousins Parallelism Abraham and Sarah
Consanguinity Unconstitutional Twelve
Spare a Dime Jonathan and David Abraham and Lot
James the Just Race-Baiting Error Checking


Linguists have tried the experiment of tagging along with a taxonomist. When studied, native languages are found to distribute large living things into categories similar to those employed by taxonomists. The categories language employs are not so 'wild' that neighboring tribes group creatures together under common names at random, so that one tribe classes the 'robin' with the 'ducks,' whereas the tribe next door classes the 'robin' with the 'parrots,' and the third lists them as 'songbirds.' Nor are some 'robins' named one thing, others another. Burrowing down to lower and lower levels of species differentiation, the natives ultimately fall behind the taxonomists, and present missing or inaccurate categories when it comes time to name this fungus the same as the other one or different.

What are the odds that a major language would have no word -- no word at all -- meaning 'brother'? This relationship is so unavoidable in life, that no society can lack for one who looks at another who is the offspring of a common parent. The inherent unlikelihood that Hebrew had no way for these two to name one another but as 'male kinsmen' should give one pause.

Mother's Sons

Who were the Lord's "brothers"? According to the Bible, they were His "mother's sons": "I have become a stranger to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children; because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me." (Psalm 69:8-9). This psalm is applied to the Messiah by John, at John 2:17.


The Greek word that is used to identify the Lord's "brothers" is 'adelphoi.' This Greek word is so far from meaning, 'male relative of unspecified degree,' that it traces its origin to the womb: "adelphos (a copul., delphus; cf. Latin co-uterinus);" "delphus, the womb." (Liddell-Scott Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon). Both in classical Greek and in the Bible it is used also of brothers who share the same father but not the same mother: "Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers." (Matthew 1:2). These brothers were born of four different mothers. As is the case with English, Greek speakers need not distinguish between half-brothers and full brothers, though not from lack of linguistic or conceptual tools competent to do so.

At this, Roman Catholics reply, while 'adelphos' is not inherently a vague word, it became so in the New Testament because, when the New Testament authors said 'adelphos,' they thought 'ach,' which is a vague word. First of all, I cannot confirm that the Hebrew word 'ach' is any more vague than the English word 'brother' or the Greek 'adelphos.' Having gone through every instance of this word in the Old Testament, I've noticed that these three words can readily be substituted for one another with no loss of meaning. As will be seen, all three of these words can be used of persons of no biological relation, under much the same circumstances. But one would never expect, reading in an obituary, 'The deceased left four brothers, James, Jose, Jude, and Simon,' that this means these four named individuals were fellow-citizens of the deceased, or members of the same fraternal lodge, or followed the same profession of fire-fighter. These extended meanings of 'brother' cannot be used to obliterate its base meaning, because they are built upon this meaning.

Secondly, even if it were the case that the Hebrew word 'ach' vaguely indicates a male kinsman without any further specificity, one could not reasonably expect a Gentile author like Luke to substitute this word for the precise 'adelphos.' Paul concludes his letter to Colossians with a section of personal greetings. First he lists one batch, ending with, "These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me." (Colossians 4:11). Then he goes on to a second batch, including, "Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you." (Colossian 4:14). This would suggest Luke is not "of the circumcision," that he is a Gentile. Luke often explains Jewish customs to his reader, who presumably is not expected to be familiar with them. Whenever Luke gives a count of the days a certain event lasted, compare his count with Mark and Matthew: Luke tends to be one day 'short,' because he employs the Gentile custom of rolling partial days into one another rather than the Jewish custom of counting each partial day as a whole day. Luke is not likely to be using the Greek word 'adelphos' in a way that would confuse or mislead his readers. And Luke says they were 'brothers,' not 'cousins:' "Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd." (Luke 8:19); "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." (Acts 1:14).



Roman Catholics say the Bible authors had no word for 'cousin', and thus, lacking any way to specify this relationship, referred to 'cousins' as 'brothers.' But the Greek word 'anepsios' means 'cousin': "Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin [anepsios] of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus." (Colossians 4:10).

Nor did the Hebrews lack a way of expressing this relationship: "Then Hanamel my uncle’s [dowd] son [ben] came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the LORD, and said to me, ‘Please buy my field that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is yours, and the redemption yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD." (Jeremiah 32:8). The Greek 'anepsios,' cousin, occurs in the Septuagint translation of Numbers 36:11: "...for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to the sons of their father’s brothers [anepsios, LXX]." (Numbers 36:11). Why demand that Hebrew employ one word, or else admit to incapacity to describe the relationship? English speakers must mouth three words, connected by hyphen, to specify the relationship, 'mother-in-law.' Does it therefore follow that English speakers have no way of saying 'mother-in-law?'


The Hebrew scriptures often employ a form of parallelism in which the same thought is expressed twice, in slightly different form. Here is a case:

"You sit and speak against your brother;
You slander your own mother’s son." (Psalm 50:20).

Parallelism can help to nail down the definition of a disputed word: “Then he said, 'They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had let them live, I would not kill you.” (Judges 8:19).


Abraham and Sarah

When Abraham and Sarah travelled about the world, he asked her to say that she was his "sister:" "Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister ['achowth']: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee." (Genesis 12:13). Roman Catholic language study has revealed that this is no more than to say that she is related to him in some unspecified fashion, which she surely was, she was his wife. That is not how Abraham explains it, though; he justifies his use of that designation to Abimelech by explaining that she was in fact his half-sister: "And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife." (Genesis 20:12).

“But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” (Genesis 20:12-13).

What is the force of Abraham's 'truly' if the 'ach' of Genesis 20:13 is, as they claim, a word of no definite meaning? Neither Abraham nor Abimelech, whatever the exact character of the language they spoke, understood it to be such.


The same Roman Catholics who claim that the Hebrew word 'ach' means, not 'brother' but 'male kinsman,' themselves base their rulings on permissible degrees of consanguinity in marriage on Moses' legislation in this area -- understanding 'ach' to mean 'brother,' not 'cousin': "Again, because the acts performed by husband and wife are associated with a certain natural shame, it is necessary that those persons to whom respect is due because of the bond of blood should be prohibited from performing such actions with each other. Indeed, this reason seems to have been suggested in the Old Testament law, in the text which states: 'Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy sister' (Lev. 18:9), and also in other texts." (That Matrimony Should not Take Place between Close Relatives, Chapter 125, Summa Contra Gentiles, Thomas Aquinas, Book Three, Part II). This is the same way that Moses' regulations on marriage were understood in New Testament days: "For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.'" (Mark 6:17-18). If Roman Catholics seriously believe that 'ach' means 'male kinsman of unspecified degree,' why do they not 'correct' their teaching on permissible degrees of consanguinity to reflect this understanding?

In a similar vein, the Hebrew Talmud discusses permissible degrees of relation with no apparent awareness that 'ach' actually means 'male relative of unspecified degree,' a very relevant consideration if it were true. For example, "And this we have learned in the following Boraitha: It reads [Lev. xx. 17]: 'If a man take his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother,' from this we know only about the daughter of his father, not of his mother, and vice versa. But where do we know that he is guilty when she was the daughter both of his father and mother? To this it reads at the end of this verse, 'The nakedness of his sister hath he uncovered.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XVII, Tract Maccoth, Chapter 1, Kindle location 67068). In fact we know no such thing if the relevant terms means only 'female relative of unspecified degree.' It may be objected, Hebrew was not the living language of daily converse when the Talmud was compiled; perhaps the Rabbis had lost the true meaning of 'ach.' Neither was it when the New Testament was written.



Under the American legal system, a law which is unconstitutionally vague cannot stand judicial scrutiny. This is what happened to the vagrancy laws which used to be a fixture of the American urban scene. Why are the cops harrassing this Bowery bum, while leaving that jet-setter alone? The laws could not be written so as to distinguish between travelling salesmen and hoboes, so they were tossed out.

While Moses was under no obligation to the U.S. Constitution, it's a fact that any workable legal code must be so written as to have a definable meaning. What can one say of a legal code which is so written that nobody knows what is allowed and what is prohibited? If the Roman Catholics are right about 'ach,' that's just the state Moses' law is in.

In some cases 'ach' is defined by the statute itself, like 'adelphos:' "If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you..." (Deuteronomy 13:6). But more to the point are those instances where 'ach' is not defined:

"And the LORD said to Moses, 'Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘None shall defile himself for the dead among his people, except for his relatives who are nearest to him: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother; also his virgin sister who is near to him, who has had no husband, for her he may defile himself. Otherwise he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself." (Leviticus 21:1-4).

According to Moses, death defiles, and the list of those for whom the priests may incur this uncleanness is a short one, because they are set apart to be holy:

"Contact with a corpse, or even contiguity to the place where it lay, entailing ceremonial defilement (Numbers 19.14), all mourners were debarred from the tabernacle for a week; and as the exclusion of a priest during that period would have been attended with great inconvenience, the whole order were enjoined to abstain from all approaches to the dead, except at the funerals of relatives, to whom affection or necessity might call them to perform the last offices. Those exceptional cases, which are specified, were strictly confined to the members of their own family, within the nearest degrees of kindred." (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible).

Or is it? According to the Roman Catholics, the priests have just been given permission to attend funerals of all their male relatives of whatever degree. If 'ach' is as vague as they claim, this law has no definable scope or limitation.


"And they said, 'Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more....Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you shall be kept in prison, that your words may be tested to see whether there is any truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies!'" (Genesis 42:13-16).

If, as Roman Catholics say, the Hebrew 'ach' is a vague word meaning no more than 'male relative of unspecified degree,' it's unclear why Joseph's brothers would have limited their 'brother' count to twelve and no more, nor is it clear how such a count could be verified or "tested." Since we're all children of Adam, we're all related; if 'ach' means no more than 'male relative of unspecified degree,' no 'ach'-count could ever be delimited nor verified.

Joseph demanded they produce their "youngest brother:"

"And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die." (Genesis 42:20).

If what Joseph is actually demanding is that they produce their 'youngest male relative of unspecified degree,' what would prevent them from producing Reuben's two sons (Genesis 42:37)?

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

At its most minimalist, in English or in Hebrew, 'brother' is a pleasantry, a polite way of addressing someone you do not know: "And Jacob said to them, 'My brethren, where are you from?' And they said, 'We are from Haran.'" (Genesis 29:4). When Jacob called these men 'brothers,' he cannot have thought it likely they were relatives, inasmuch as Abraham's people were strangers in Haran, having emigrated from their homeland of Ur. It strains credulity to imagine that when two named individuals are identified as 'brothers' one of another, this usage is in view, as for instance, "So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and He said: 'Is not Aaron the Levite your brother?'" (Exodus 4:14).

Jonathan and David

David calls Jonathan his "brother," though the two were unrelated:

"I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me; your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women." (2 Samuel 1:26).

These two had made a "covenant" before the Lord:

"So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “Let the LORD require it at the hand of David’s enemies.” Now Jonathan again caused David to vow, because he loved him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul...And as for the matter which you and I have spoken of, indeed the LORD be between you and me forever.”" (1 Samuel 20:16-23).

We have a similar custom; those who join fraternal orders enter into a compact of brotherhood. Without impugning the sincerity of those who thus vow to be as brothers to one another, no one would expect, reading in a biography that James, Jose, Jude and Simon were the subject's "brothers," that this means they belonged to the same fraternal organization.

The nation of Israel and the inhabitants of Lebanon had entered into such a pact:

"Thus says the LORD: 'For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood. But I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, which shall devour its palaces.'" (Amos 1:9-10).

Hiram of Lebanon calls Solomon his "brother" because of this treaty, though they were not kinsmen: "Then Hiram went from Tyre to see the cities which Solomon had given him, but they did not please him. So he said, 'What kind of cities are these which you have given me, my brother?'" (1 Kings 9:12-13).

Corporate Personality

The Bible often speaks of a nation as if it were one man. Jerome's speculative reconstruction equating 'cousins' with 'brothers' draws upon this language, inasmuch as relationships of the progenitor can, by this language, be transferred to subsequent generations. Is his analysis compatible with Paul's rival analysis?:

Corporate Personality

Jacob Singular Pronoun
Abraham's Seed John the Baptist

The Bible explicitly states that the Lord's brothers did not believe in Him:

"For even His brothers did not believe in Him." (John 7:5).

To be sure the brothers subsequently did come to believe in Him, after encountering Him after His resurrection. Is it not obvious that the disciples cannot be the "brothers" of John 7:5? The disciples believed when the brothers did not believe! "Moreover, we learn from John vii. 5, that the Lord's brethren did not believe on him, and harmonists place the time of this unbelief late in our Lord's ministry, when the sons of Alphaeus were not only believers, but some of them even apostles. Our Lord's brethren are mentioned nine times in the New Testament, and a study of these references will give us some light. . .These brethren of Jesus are constantly represented as attending his mother, without a hint that they were not her children." (J. W. McGarvey, The FourFold Gospel, Kindle location 2039).

Abraham and Lot

This verse is the lynch-pin of the 'cousins' theory:

"So Abram said to Lot, 'Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.'" (Genesis 13:8)

Why does Abraham say that Lot is his brother? The reason cannot be linguistic incompetence, because the narrator has just specified their biological relationship as that of uncle/nephew: "Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan." (Genesis 12:5). Since the narrator knows how to say "brother's son," why does he here say 'brother'? In fact all of Abraham's children are brothers and sisters, as anyone can verify by visiting a Bible-believing church!

All God's children call one another 'brother' and 'sister.' A 'brother' is anyone who is not a 'foreigner:' "And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’S release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the LORD will greatly bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance..." (Deuteronomy 15:3); "...you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother." (Deuteronomy 17:15).

The children of Benjamin are "brothers" to the other tribes of Israel: "But the children of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brethren [ach], the children of Israel.' (Judges 20:13). The progenitors of their tribes were in point of fact brothers; yet all Israel are brothers for another reason also, because they share the same divine paternity. The entire covenant community is here meant: "Son of man, thy brethren, even thy brethren, the men of thy kindred, and all the house of Israel wholly, are they unto whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, Get you far from the LORD: unto us is this land given in possession." (Ezekiel 11:15).

Philo Judaeus, interpreting the law of Moses, understood that all the people of God were brothers, not that the Hebrew word for 'brother' was unaccountably vague: "Therefore Moses forbids a man to lend on usury to his brother, meaning by the term brother not only him who is born of the same parents as one's self, but every one who is a fellow citizen or a fellow countryman, since it is not just to exact offspring from money, as a farmer does from his cattle." (Philo Judaeus, On the Virtues, Chapter XIV (82). Consider, for instance, Exodus 2:11: "And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren ['ach']."

Why are the children of Israel brothers? God explained why this is so, and He did not explain it by dumbing down 'ach' to mean 'kinsman,' rather,

"Have we not all one father? has not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" (Malachi 2:10).
"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: 'Israel is My son, My firstborn.'" (Exodus 4:22).

All Israel are brothers, not because 'brother' means anything other than 'son of the same parent,' but because it does mean just that. God is the common parent. But their sonship and consequent brotherhood fell short of expectations:

"Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
'I have nourished and brought up children,
And they have rebelled against Me;
The ox knows its owner
And the donkey its master’s crib;
But Israel does not know,
My people do not consider.'" (Isaiah 1:2-4).

The Lord taught the same concept of brotherhood, while also making its realization possible:

"But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven." (Matthew 23:8-9).

We in the church are part of Abraham's family, children not of the slave but of the free woman: "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise." (Galatians 4:28), and we follow his linguistic usages. I doubt anyone spying on the church's freedom to call one another 'brother' and 'sister' can succeed in dumbing it down to 'kinsman,' inasmuch as believers hail from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9).

Can the Lord's 'brothers' be explained in this way? All Jews are 'brothers:' "And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’" (Acts 7:26). Yet were those 'within' not Jews, just as those 'without'? And His brothers were 'without:' "And it was told Him by some, who said, 'Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.'" (Luke 8:20). And all believers are 'brothers:' "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." (1 Peter 2:17). Yet His "brothers" did not believe: "For even His brothers did not believe in Him." (John 7:5), not until later, when they turn up in the upper room. Since the sense in which all the children of Abraham are brothers cannot be the intended sense, it cannot be thought these named individuals are brothers in any but the common sense: children of Mary, who was the Lord's mother according to the flesh.

James the Just

James, the brother of Jesus, turns up on the pages of several extra-Biblical authors:

"Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9).

He is the "brother," not the 'cousin,' of the Lord. Contrary to what Roman Catholics have convinced many to believe, these people did know how to say 'cousin' and could have said so had they wished. Another early writer, Hegesippus, also calls James the "brother of the Lord." His writings do not survive independently, but excerpts are included in Eusebius' later church history:

"But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He writes as follows: “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, Bulwark of the people and ‘Justice,’ in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him. Now some of the seven sects, which existed among the people and which have been mentioned by me in the Memoirs, asked him, ‘What is the gate of Jesus? and he replied that he was the Savior. On account of these words some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in one’s coming to give to every man according to his works. But as many as believed did so on account of James. Therefore when many even of the rulers believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said that there was danger that the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Christ. Coming therefore in a body to James they said, ‘We entreat thee, restrain the people; for they are gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade all that have come to the feast of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in thee. For we bear thee witness, as do all the people, that thou art just, and dost not respect persons. Do thou therefore persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus. For the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence in thee. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple, that from that high position thou mayest be clearly seen, and that thy words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, are come together on account of the Passover.’ The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.’ And he answered with a loud voice,’ Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.’ And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another,’ We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’ And they cried out, saying, ‘Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, ‘ Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.’ So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, ‘Cease, what do ye? The just one prayeth for you. And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them.” (quoted by Eusebius in Church History, Book 2, Chapter 23).

Reading about his man's life gives us the insight that Jesus was not the sole 'religious one' of this remarkable family.



Jerome was aware that all Jews could call one another 'brother.' He thought it a question of "race:"

"As to race, all Jews are called brethren of one another, as in Deuteronomy, 'If thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.'" (Jerome, Against Helvidius, 16).

Is this the testimony of the Bible? In the New Testament, of course, the Gentiles stream into the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). But even in the Old Testament, "race" is not the bottom line. Does the law of Moses specify that descendants of Jacob who turn their backs on the living God remain part of the people, or are they cut off from the people? On the other side of the coin, are those of another "race" who cling to the living God turned away at the gate, or are they welcomed in and joined to the people?:

"Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, “The LORD has utterly separated me from His people”; nor let the eunuch say, “Here I am, a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 56:3-5).

Jerome is aware that the brotherhood of Israel cannot be the reason why Jesus' "brothers" are so called, because,

"I now ask to which class you consider the Lord’s brethren in the Gospel must be assigned. They are brethren by nature, you say. But Scripture does not say so; it calls them neither sons of Mary, nor of Joseph. Shall we say they are brethren by race? But it is absurd to suppose that a few Jews were called His brethren when all Jews of the time might upon this principle have borne the title." (Jerome, Against Helvidius).

In spite of realizing that the people of God have always called one another 'brother,' Jerome nevertheless differentiates this usage from the case of Abraham and Lot. Abraham and Lot were the people of God in the world of that day. Abraham was the "friend of God," (James 2:23), and Lot was was "righteous man:" "...and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)..." (2 Peter 2:7-8). These two, and those who listened to them, were the people of God in that day, and they called one another "brother," as the people of God have ever done. Yet Jerome imports into the Bible alien considerations from Roman law to explain why Abraham and Lot call one another "brother." A grown man, in Rome, was not emancipated until his father died; before his father died, his children were his father's children; in other words, cousins were the same as brothers. But this is such a unique set of laws, how can they be imported into ancient Palestine as if all the people in the world have always thought cousins were the same as brothers?

Error Checking

If an unbelieving sociologist were to walk into a Bible-believing church, he would overhear the congregation call one another "brother" and "sister." At first a few congregants trickle in. Our sociologists quizzes them to discover what they mean when they say "brother." He inquires into their ancestry. The first two he quizzes are, it turns out, brother, and son, of the same person: they are uncle and nephew. 'Aha!' our sociologist exults. 'When these people say 'brother,' they mean 'uncle' or 'nephew' (or 'cousin' or whatever).' Pleased to have solved the riddle, he sits back in the pew. But then more people come in. They, too, call one another "brother" and "sister." Upon inquiry, it is discovered these people are camped out at the RV park outside of town, and, not only are they not related to the first group, they are not even acquainted. Is it time to drop the 'cousin' theory...or it is time to insist upon it with renewed vigor?

Laban calls Jacob his "brother:"

"And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?" (Genesis 29:15).

Laban is in fact Jacob's uncle, his mother's brother:

"And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother." (Genesis 29:10).

So does Laban understand "brother" to mean 'nephew,' or 'cousin,' or 'male relative of unspecified degree?' Let's wait and see who else they call "brother:"

"Whereas you have searched all my stuff, what have you found of all your household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge between us both." (Genesis 31:37).

They call all the members of their group "brothers," just as did our country church. At this point, do we discard the 'cousins' theory as a failed hypothesis, or cling to it with renewed vigor? Notice Jacob and Laban are no longer calling one another "brother." What do they do to restore the broken bond of brotherhood? They sacrifice to the living God:

"The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwen us. And Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount. And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place." (Genesis 31:53).

If the route to restore their broken fellowship ran through the living God, did it first come about through a different route? At this Roman Catholics protest, 'Jacob and Laban were pagans.' I do not think it possible that Jacob was a pagan; God would not call Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:15) if Jacob were a pagan. Admittedly, he lies, cheats and steals. But God loved him anyway: "'Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?' says the LORD. 'Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated...'" (Malachi 1:2-3). As to why Rachel stole the idols, as any pagan could have told you, it is irreligious people who rob temples, not religious ones. The religious ones are scared to death the god who inhabits the temple will avenge this desecration; the irreligious ones know better. Perhaps they were gem-encrusted; pagans often put the best they had onto their idols. Perhaps Rachel believed that diamonds are a girl's best friend. If she believed them to be truly gods, why would she sit on them, which does not show respect?

Laban has one foot in each camp, the pagan and the Yahwist. He uses Yahwist language in talking with Jacob, even claiming to be the recipient of visions from the living God. Is he insincere in using such language? If so, perhaps he was also insincere in calling Jacob his "brother;" he certainly does not deal with him as one would deal with a brother. It is not the lexicographer's task to redefine words until all statements come out as the unvarnished truth.

Terah, Abraham's father, was an idolater: "And Joshua said to all the people, 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel: '‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.'" (Joshua 24:2). But God called out Abraham. There must have been arguments between Abraham and other family members. Did they say, 'You must be schizophrenic if you think God is talking to you'? Or were they sympathetic? The Koran discusses these issues at length, the Bible does not. At the very least, there remained enough amity between the branches of the family that sons of the Yahwist branch were willing, and welcomed, to return to Haran to find wives. In any case, if, as they say, Laban was a pagan Aramaean, then why do the Roman Catholics care what he understood language to mean? They are asserting there to be a Jewish idiom whereby 'cousins' are called 'brothers,' not a pagan one; whoever they were, the Lord's "brothers" cannot have been pagan Aramaeans.

Suppose our sociologist try a new tack, and ask the people in our country church why they call each other "brothers." They begin to sing, "I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God," etc. This is just how the Bible explains the same Bible idiom: "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" (Malachi 2:10). This is a very literal understanding of what 'brother' means: offspring of a common parent,-- not a metaphorical one. It's on a different plane than biological parentage. And it is not the earthly father who sets the standard of what fatherhood is, rather the heavenly: "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named..." (Ephesians 3:14-15).

Since this is the only explanation offered, either in scripture or in our country church, why try to go behind it? The same explanation is offered in both testaments, though it's only in the second that sonship comes out of the shadows of failed theory into the light of day. In the broadest possible sense, all created things are "offspring" by virtue of creation: "

"...for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising." (Acts 17:28-29).

Israel was specially chosen by God for adoption as sons: "...who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises..." (Romans 9:4). Jesus raised the bar, demanding to see a family relationship: "Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.'" (John 8:42). He gave to Israel, not only the calling to be sons, but the power to become so: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name..." (John 1:12), by giving the spirit that calls, 'Abba, Father:' "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'" (Galatians 4:6).

Older Brothers

The other theory advanced by Roman Catholics is that the Lord's "brothers" were Joseph's children from a prior marriage. This theory is older than the 'cousins' theory and does not wrench language so out of joint; members of a 'blended' family might well have been called 'brothers.' Is there any reason to believe this theory?

Protevangelium Nepal Birthright
At the Cross Till Firstborn
Postpartum Fathers Know Best So What?

Protevangelium of James

This theory came into the world through a sweet fable called the 'Protevangelium of James' which depicts little Mary traipsing about the Holy of Holies of the Jewish temple:

"...And Joseph arose from off the sackcloth and called Mary and said unto her O thou that wast cared for by God, why hast thou done this?— thou hast forgotten the Lord thy God. Why hast thou humbled thy soul, thou that wast nourished up in the Holy of Holies and didst receive food at the hand of an angel?" (Protevangelium XIII:2).
"And the priest said: Mary, wherefore hast thou done this, and wherefore hast thou humbled thy soul and forgotten the Lord thy God, thou that wast nurtured in the Holy of Holies and didst receive food at the hand of an angel and didst hear the hymns and didst dance before the Lord, wherefore hast thou done this?" (Protevangelium XV:3).

In real life, only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, not little children: "...no small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none; for Pompey went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also, and saw all that which was unlawful for any other men to see, but only for the high priests..." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIV, Chapter IV, 4). Death is the penalty:

"Moreover, then the erection was in the dwelling-house of the governor; but they say, that which is now contemplated is to be in the inmost part of the temple, in the very holy of holies itself, into which, once in the year, the high priest enters, on the day called the great fast, to offer incense, and on no other day, being then about in accordance with our national law also to offer up prayers for a fertile and ample supply of blessings, and for peace to all mankind. And if any one else, I will not say of the Jews, but even of the priests, and those not of the lowest order, but even those who are in the rank next to the first, should go in there, either with him or after him, or even if the very high priest himself should enter in thither on two days in the year, or three or four times on the same day, he is subjected to inevitable death for his impiety, so great are the precautions taken by our lawgiver with respect to the holy of holies, as he determined to preserve it alone inaccessible to and untouched by any human being." (Agrippa, quoted in Embassy to Gaius, Philo Judaeus, XXXIX)

Oddly enough, information from this source made it into the Koran:

One human creature, once in a year: "And in the center was the temple itself, beautiful beyond all possible description, as one may conjecture from what is now seen around on the outside; for what is innermost is invisible to every human creature except the high priest alone, and even he is enjoined only to enter that holy place once in each year." (Philo Judaeus, On Monarchy, Book II, Chapter II). Only the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, and then not without blood: "Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance..." (Hebrews 9:6-7). Failure to observe these precautions was potentially deadly: "...and the LORD said to Moses: 'Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.'" (Leviticus 16:2).

Given such an oversight, the Protevangelium does not sound like an authentic production of apostolic circles. Here is an artistic rendition of the 'older siblings' theory, which has produced worthwhile art in spite of its lack of historical evidence:

Christ in the House of His Parents, John Everett Millais
Christ in the House of His Parents, John Everett Millais

Paul in his letters tells us that the cross was a stumbling block for Jews, as one can well imagine. The purity code of Leviticus teaches that blood defiles, and death defiles, yet the Gospels present us with the living God, dead, blood streaming down His riven side. The beginning of life presents similar difficulties, because babies are born weltering in blood and fluid. Birth is an event from which purification is required. How can God incarnate have been born? The author of the Protevangelium leaps over these difficulties by positing a 'Beam Me Up, Scotty' birth event, with no toilsome journey down the birth canal. A flash of light, and the child is just there! Though I'm sure Roman Catholics would be troubled by the docetists' denial of the cross, they have effectively adopted their views about the Lord's birth, because they believe Mary never actually gave birth, but remained physically intact throughout:

Despite its lack of verisimilitude, the Protevangelium was widely believed to be authentic in the early Christian centuries, and its influence can turn up in unexpected places. Many Christians celebrate the Lord's birth on December 25th. Why? Is it because the Protevangelium makes John the Baptist's father, contrary to history, the High Priest, and counting from the Day of Atonement plus six months yields December 25th? If this is where this popular date comes from, then it has no merit, because the canonical scriptures do not suggest that Zacharias was the high priest, nor that he entered the Holy of Holies, nor that it was the Day of Atonement. We know from Josephus the names of the high priests of that era, and he is not on that list:


Read in the newspaper echoes of the apocryphal fable of the Protevangelium. The virgin goddess is alive and well...and living in Nepal!:

"The goddess is called a kumari, Nepalese for virgin, and is revered by both Hindus and Buddhists, who believe she has blessed the king and 22 million people of this Himalayan nation with peace and prosperity. But once a kumari menstruates, she becomes a mortal and is shown the door...
"Shakya, the former goddess, is now 20 and has been struggling for eight years to adapt to normal life. 'As the living goddess I was carried everywhere and did not need to walk or go out to the market. I played and everyone listened to me,' she said. 'Now my whole world has changed.'" (AP, 3/9/01, 'In today's economy, goddess job hard to fill')

The story goes on to detail this young lady's struggles to cope with mere mortal life. She had to be taught how to carry on a conversation, not a skill required of a goddess. She is now in college majoring in physics.

This odd story reminds one of a fairy tale of long ago, far away, about a little girl named Mary. She, too, was carried everywhere she went; her feet did not touch the ground: "And the child grew strong day by day; and when she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to try whether she could stand, and she walked seven steps and came into her bosom; and she snatched her up, saying: As the Lord my God liveth, thou shall not walk on this earth until I bring thee into the temple of the Lord." (Protevangelium of James, 6).

She was brought up in a temple, indeed, in the Holy of Holies of the temple at Jerusalem: "And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations." (Protevangelium of James, 7).

But alas, the virgin goddess gig, great while it lasts, commonly ends at puberty, in Nepal or Jerusalem:

"And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord?" (Protevangelium of James, 8).

The resemblance between 'James' tale about Mary and pagan folkways should stand in our way as a yellow light of caution. Are these stories about Mary paganism rising up from its defeat at the hands of the gospel? If not, why do they sound so similar?


While Jesus, born of a virgin, had no biological relation to Joseph, nevertheless having been born during Joseph and Mary's marriage, He was Joseph's legal heir. Matthew introduces his gospel with a genealogy setting forth the right of Joseph's son to rule as son of David. If this theory were correct, this genealogy actually grants James the right to rule Israel, not Jesus. Though the kingdom need not always pass to the elder son,-- Solomon was not David's eldest,-- the elder son has the strongest legal claim. Under this theory, James is the elder, Jesus the youngest of the children.

If James is the eldest, why does it fall upon Jesus, on the cross, to provide for His mother's future by handing her over to John? Given the text's silence about Joseph after a certain point, it has long been supposed he must have died prior to the crucifixion. The 'brothers' still keep company with Mary and are found travelling with her; why was it not James' responsibility to provide for his step-mother, if he was Joseph's eldest son?

At the Cross

The 'elder brothers' theory was popular with many in the early church, owing to the Protevangelium. So why did Jerome feel he had to abandon it to defend Mary's perpetual virginity in the face of critics? Let's catalog who we find present at the cross whereon the Savior died, then at the tomb. First, we know the names of the Lord's brothers, though not of His sisters:

"'Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?' So they were offended at Him." (Mark 6:3).

Jesus' brothers were named "James, Joses, Judas, and Simon." Now let's inventory the women who were present at the cross:

"And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons." (Matthew 27:55-56).
"There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem." (Mark 15:40-41).

So why isn't Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the cross? When all the world has turned against her son, when His disciples have fled, when the mob cried out for His blood, her mother's heart must have been breaking. Surely she did not desert her son in His hour of need! She didn't, she was there:

"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." (John 19:25).

So why don't Matthew and Mark mention her? Do they not think their readers would be interested in knowing she was there? Though John clearly mentions that there were three Mary's at the cross, Matthew focuses on two; when he reports the events of Sunday morning, he says, "Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb." (Matthew 28:1). When he speaks "the other Mary," he seems to have in mind two Mary's whose actions his readers would be specially eager to learn. Now Mary Magdalene is the subject of a publishing industry boom in the present day. It seems likely that "the other Mary" is the Lord's mother. She is the mother also of James: "It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles." (Luke 24:10). It is not surprising that she should be named as the mother, not of her more illustrious son Jesus the King, but of James. The gospel authors often name surviving witnesses available for quizzing by skeptical readers, for instance, "Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross." (Mark 15:21). Were "Alexander and Rufus" world conquerors, that Simon their father should be named by their names, or were they simply persons known to the church who were available to testify as to the events of that day? As every Christian knows, Mary's first-born son lives, but James, bishop of Jerusalem, was readier to hand for purposes of interrogation.

There were one hundred and twenty persons present in the upper room (Acts 1:15). Since the population base of Jesus' devoted followers does not number tens of thousands but one hundred and twenty, it seems unlikely that huge numbers could both be named "Mary" and also have children named "James and Joses." Here is where Jerome had to ditch the 'elder brother theory.' Here is what this theory proposes: that Joseph was previously married to a woman later deceased, who bore him four sons named "James, Joses, Judas, and Simon." He subsequently marries a woman named "Mary." She has a sister named "Mary." James and Joses's mother is named "Mary" too. This is not the same "James and Joses" who are brothers of the Lord, because their mother,— was she named "Mary," too?— is deceased. None of these names is uncommon. But recall William of Ockham urged us to suppose no unnecessary entities. Isn't it a lot simpler to suppose that one and the same Mary, Joseph's wife, is mother of James and Joses, and for that very reason these two are brothers of the Lord?

We meet Mary's sister Mary in John 19:25:

"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." (John 19:25).

This can be read in two ways, as specifying three women, or four women:

  1. Jesus' mother Mary.
  2. Mary's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas.
  3. Mary Magdalene.
  1. Jesus' mother Mary.
  2. Mary's sister, not named.
  3. Mary the wife of Clopas.
  4. Mary Magdalene.

Counting one woman as both Mary's sister and as also named "Mary," leaves a 'spare' Mary to be the mother of James and Joses. She rides to the rescue of the perpetual virginity theory. These "brothers" bearing suspiciously similar names can then be reconfigured as 'cousins'...although one cannot then imagine why they are called "brothers" not 'cousins.'


"Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son." (Matthew 1:24-25).

If a teacher tells a child, 'Sit there till the bell rings,' does he continue sitting there after the bell rings?


"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7).

By itself, counting an offspring as "firstborn" does not exclude only children. The law of Moses dedicates the firstborn offspring to the Lord, making no provision to wait and see whether the mother ever bears again. But why do the gospel authors bother to mention that Jesus is Mary's "firstborn," unless they are thinking of other siblings?


Roman Catholic doctrines teaches, not only that Mary was a virgin before the Lord's birth, as indeed the Bible teaches, but that her virginity could have been verified by medical exam even after the child had travelled down the birth canal. They point as proof to Jesus' entry into closed rooms subsequent to His resurrection.

Gnostic and docetic speculation produced birth narratives wherein Jesus was not born after the manner in which other children are born, but simply appears in a flash of light, having passed through Mary like water through a pipe. Was John addressing these speculations when he said,

"This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood." (1 John 5:6).

Jesus did not come into the world at the time of His baptism nor at His crucifixion. The concerns of the docetists would have been these: coming in contact with blood or any sort of bodily discharge, defiles. This is why, after the birth of a child, an offering must be made in the temple: "Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD'), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, 'A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'" (Luke 2:22-24). These believers could not imagine the holy God covered in blood and bodily fluid. Yet He certainly did come into contact with blood, if not then, then later, when a sick woman touched Him: "And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, 'If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.'" (Matthew 9:20-21), and then on the cross, "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out." (John 19:34). He took on our weaknesses and our infirmities, including our propensity to bleed. People who look to the shed blood of Jesus Christ for salvation cannot be so prissy as to deny Him an ordinary human birth.

Fathers Know Best

  • “And indeed it was a virgin, about to marry once for all after her delivery, who gave birth to Christ, in order that each title of sanctity might be fulfilled in Christ’s parentage, by means of a mother who was both virgin, and wife of one husband.”
  • (Tertullian, On Monogamy, Chapter 8).

  • "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? Surely only on the condition of their deserts, and not by any disavowal of His near relatives; teaching them by His own actual example, that “whosoever preferred father or mother or brethren to the Word of God, was not a disciple worthy of Him.” Besides, His admission of His mother and His brethren was the more express, from the fact of His unwillingness to acknowledge them. That He adopted others only confirmed those in their relationship to Him whom He refused because of their offense, and for whom He substituted the others, not as being truer relatives, but worthier ones. Finally, it was no great matter if He did prefer to kindred (that) faith which it did not possess."
  • (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 4, Chapter 19).

  • "But whenever a dispute arises about the nativity, all who reject it as creating a presumption in favor of the reality of Christ’s flesh, willfully deny that God Himself was born, on the ground that He asked, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” Let, therefore, Apelles hear what was our answer to Marcion in that little work, in which we challenged his own (favorite) gospel to the proof, even that the material circumstances of that remark (of the Lord’s) should be considered. First of all, nobody would have told Him that His mother and brethren were standing outside, if he were not certain both that He had a mother and brethren, and that they were the very persons whom he was then announcing, — who had either been known to him before, or were then and there discovered by him; although heretics have removed this passage from the gospel, because those who were admiring His doctrine said that His supposed father, Joseph the carpenter, and His mother Mary, and His brethren, and His sisters, were very well known to them....It is clearly more credible that, being certain that He had both a mother and brothers, they tested His divinity rather than His nativity, whether, when within, He knew what was without; being tried by the untrue announcement of the presence of persons who were not present. But the artifice of a temptation might have been thwarted thus: it might have happened that He knew that those whom they were announcing to be “standing without,” were in fact absent by the stress either of sickness, or of business, or a journey which He was at the time aware of. No one tempts (another) in a way in which he knows that he may have himself to bear the shame of the temptation. There being, then, no suitable occasion for a temptation, the announcement that His mother and His brethren had actually turned up recovers its naturalness."
  • (Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, Chapter 7).

  • "But it is marriage which opens the womb in all cases. The virgin’s womb, therefore, was especially opened, because it was especially closed. Indeed she ought rather to be called not a virgin than a virgin, becoming a mother at a leap, as it were, before she was a wife. And what must be said more on this point? Since it was in this sense that the apostle declared that the Son of God was born not of a virgin, but “of a woman,” he in that statement recognized the condition of the “opened womb” which ensues in marriage."
  • (Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, Chapter 23).
Hippolytus of Rome

Why quote that awful heretic, Tertullian? Sometimes Roman Catholics like the guy. I've yet to hear a Roman Catholic thank the Pentecostals for explaining the Trinity to them. Tertullian was obliged to explain the Trinity because Callistus had begun his ascendency at Rome. They should thank this man, and stop excoriating him as 'anti-pope.' Hippolytus was the last orthodox bishop of Rome in succession from the apostles. The chain picks up, not from the orthodox Hippolytus, but from the 'Oneness' heretic Callistus.

So What?

If it pleases people to imagine that Mary was ever virgin, what difference does it make whether it's really so? The Bible commends celibacy; those who describe Joseph and Mary as celibates are not insulting them. Rather, it seems that those most zealous to defend this doctrine -- which is taught authoritatively by the Roman Catholic Church -- don't think much of marriage. What else to make of Jerome's invective, "You have set on fire the temple of the Lord’s body, you have defiled the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit from which you are determined to make a team of four brethren and a heap of sisters come forth." (Jerome, Against Helvidius 18). In what way are those who take it that the brothers and sisters the Bible records did in fact issue forth from Mary's womb 'defiling' her? One need only read the language employed by the fourth century advocates of this concept to realize there is a problem here: "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge." (Hebrews 13:4).

Roman Catholicism

Last Supper

Immaculate Conception

The lady clad in white who appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes said, "I am the Immaculate Conception." (Our Lady of Lourdes). Rome's current teaching on this point was first devised by John Duns Scotus in the thirteenth century and was proclaimed as dogma in the nineteenth century. Though Augustine and Thomas Aquinas did not believe in this doctrine, no one now can be saved without believing it. This teaching claims that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was without sin, either actual sin of her own or original sin passed on from Adam, having been conceived free of the taint of  this otherwise universal human inheritance:

"We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful. Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart." (Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, December 8, 1854).

What saith the scriptures?

The Bible

The Bible says that all have sinned; "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. . ." (Romans 3:23):

All Have Sinned

Immaculate Conception

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