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Did Jesus Have Siblings? Who Were His Brothers and Sisters?

Jesus had at least 4 named brothers, and presumably two or more unnamed sisters. Learn about the lives of and scriptural references to Jesus's brothers and sisters.

Updated Jan 31, 2024
Did Jesus Have Siblings? Who Were His Brothers and Sisters?

Who constituted the household of Joseph and Mary? Was Jesus the only child in the family tree or did Jesus have siblings? If Jesus was the first-born of Mary, did she and Joseph have more children after Jesus? The gospel writers often mention His brothers and sisters. But can we know for sure if Jesus had siblings and if so, how many and who were they?

This question has been in dispute from very early times, and many elaborate essays have been written upon it. Its impartial discussion has been hindered by dogmatic considerations connected with the perpetual virginity of the Lord's mother, with denominational issues, and with the canonicity of non-Apostolic epistles. Another viewpoint, notably upheld in Catholic tradition, argues that the references are better understood as cousins or close relatives rather than siblings. The interpretation of these passages varies among Christian denominations, with each group offering its unique perspective on the family of Jesus. As a result, the question of Jesus' siblings remains a topic of theological discussion and biblical analysis.

What we do know according to Scripture is that Jesus did have siblings. In the Gospel accounts in the books of Mark and Matthew, Jesus had at least 4 named brothers - James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon and presumably two or more unnamed sisters. Let's take a look at Scriptures where Jesus's brothers and sisters are mentioned so we can see how we come to these conclusions of how many siblings Jesus had and who they were.

Yes, the Bible Says Jesus Had Brothers and Sisters

Let us first sum up what we know from the New Testament of the brothers and sisters of the Lord. They are mentioned in Matthew 12:46-50, 13:55-56; Mark 3:31, 6:3; Luke 8:19; John 2:12, 7:3; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; and Paul speaks of a James the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19).

Of the brothers, there seem to have been four who are named in Matthew 13:55: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (see Mark 6:3). Matthew and Mark mention the sisters, but neither the number nor the names are given. From the language of the Nazarenes (Matthew 13:56, "His sisters, are they not all with us?"), there must have been at least two, probably more, and apparently married, and resident at Nazareth.

These brothers and sisters are not mentioned at all until after the Lord began His ministry and are first mentioned as going with His mother and Himself to Capernaum (John 2:12). It is in dispute whether any were believers in His Messianic claims, at least until the very end of His ministry (John 7:3-10). Most say that they were made believers through His resurrection, as they appear in company with the Apostles (Acts 1:14).

In all the references to the Lord's brethren several things are noticeable: first, that they are always called brothers and sisters, not cousins or kinsmen; second, that their relationship is always defined with reference to Him, not to Joseph or to Mary; they are always called His brothers and sisters, not sons and daughters of Mary; third, that they always appear in connection with Mary (except in John 7:3) as if her children, members of her household, and under her direction.

Is James the Biological Brother of Jesus?

James, known as the brother of Jesus, is mentioned in the New Testament in various passages, including Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. Among Jesus' siblings, James stands out prominently, and his significance extends beyond his familial ties.

Traditionally, James is credited with being the author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament. The letter emphasizes practical Christian living, calling believers to demonstrate their faith through good works. James' emphasis on the inseparable connection between faith and works has made his epistle a significant part of Christian theology. His life, leadership, and the enduring impact of his writings contribute to the recognition of James as a key figure in the early Christian movement.

The Named Siblings, Brothers of Jesus

James

While he is most well-known for his authorship, James played a notable role in the early Christian community in Jerusalem. He is often referred to as James the Just, emphasizing his commitment to righteous living. The Book of Acts records James as a leader in the Jerusalem Church, particularly during the apostolic council described in Acts 15. The Apostle Paul, in his letters, mentions James as one of the "pillars" of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). His leadership and influence are evident as he presided over the gathering and contributed to the decision that Gentile converts to Christianity did not need to observe certain Jewish customs. 

Jude

Most scholars believe Jude to be the author of the Epistle of Jude. Jude describes himself as a "servant of Jesus and the brother of James" (Jude 1:1). Jude's Epistle is a brief letter, consisting of only 25 verses, and is primarily focused on exhorting believers to contend for the faith and remain steadfast against heresy and ungodly influences. It draws on references to Old Testament narratives, apocryphal literature, and the teachings of the apostles. The letter emphasizes the importance of faithfulness, moral conduct, and doctrinal purity within the Christian community.

Joseph

The role and activities of Joseph are not explicitly detailed in Scripture. Consequently, Joseph's life and contributions remain largely obscure, with the New Testament offering no further insights into his specific role among Jesus' siblings or his involvement in the events surrounding Jesus' ministry. 

Simon

Similar to some other siblings of Jesus, Simon's presence in the Gospel accounts gives little personal information but serves as a reminder of the familial context in which Jesus lived, and it underscores the humanity of Jesus, who had a family with whom he shared his life and ministry.

What Happened to Jesus' Siblings?

A chronicler of the early Christian church, Hegesippus, recorded this account of James' death:

The Jewish leaders take James to the summit of the temple, where the crowd can see and hear him, and cry out in a loud voice, “We are all bound to obey you, as you are just. The people are confused and following the dead man named Jesus. Tell us about this crucified Jesus.”

James calls out just as loudly, “Why do you ask me about Jesus? He sits in heaven, at the right hand of God, and will return on the clouds of heaven.” Many of the people are convinced then and there that Jesus is the Resurrected Lord and start praising Him on the spot.

The leaders are beside themselves. They shout to the people, “Oh dear! The just man is confused himself!” and throw James down from that height. But he is not killed, so the leaders start stoning him.

The Jewish historian Josephus, writing in the first century, documented the martyrdom of James in Jerusalem. According to Josephus, James was stoned to death around 62-69 AD. Aside from these texts and few similar, there is very little information on the later lives and ultimate fates of Jesus' siblings, with all information varying in reliability.

Bible Verses about Jesus' Brother and Sisters

Matthew 12:46-50: "While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him."

Matthew 13:55-56: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?"

Mark 3:31: "And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him."

Mark 6:3: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?' And they took offense at him."

Luke 8:19: "Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd."

John 2:12: "After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days."

John 7:3: "So his brothers said to him, 'Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing.'"

Acts 1:14: "All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers."

1 Corinthians 9:5: "Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?"

Galatians 1:19: "But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother."

Adapted from The Life of Our Lord upon the Earth by Samuel James Andrews.

Photo credit; iStock /Getty Images Plus/Denis-Art

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