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
"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!
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 differentation, 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.
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.”
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.”’”
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
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.'"
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).
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?: