Brothers and sisters of Jesus

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As Brothers of Jesus in a direct or figuratively siblings are Jesus of Nazareth called. They are mentioned several times in the New Testament of the Bible . To be named James , Joses (or Joseph), Judas and Simon.

Biblical evidence

The brothers and sisters are mentioned in the following places in the Bible:

  • Matthew :
    • In Mt 12.46 to 50  EU : A stranger says to Jesus that his mother and brothers are waiting outside and want to speak to him. Jesus replied that his mother and brothers were the ones who did his Father's will. It must be pointed out that the stranger first introduces the waiting people as the (bodily) family of Jesus and that Jesus then gives the characterization "mother" and "brothers" a different meaning. In the stranger's eyes, the actual mother and brothers of Jesus may be waiting for him. This situation is described in a very similar way in Luke's Gospel in Luke 8:19  EU .
    • In Mt 13,55,56  EU : Jesus appears in Nazareth, where his family is known. Listeners are indignant and talk to one another: “Isn't he the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Maria? And his brothers James , Joseph , Simon and Judas ? "
  • Markus :
    • In Mk 3,31 EU : Mother Mary and the brothers are spoken of  in one breath.
    • In Mk 6.3  EU , the brothers of Jesus are named in the same breath as his mother Mary: James , Joses , Judas and Simon . Sisters are also mentioned here. This also applies to the parallel passage at Mt 13.55f  EU
    • However, the first name "Joses", which is unusual in this form, occurs twice in Markus: Mk 15.40  LUT and 15.47 LUT . At the crucifixion and burial, the Luther translation (1984) speaks of “Mary of Magdala and Mary, the mother of James the Little and of Joses” and of “Mary of Magdala and Mary, the mother of Joses”.
  • John :
    • The Gospel of John reports for this group of people at the time of the crucifixion: “His mother and his mother's sister, Mary, wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala were standing by the cross of Jesus” ( Jn 19.25  EU ). This is followed by the passage in which Jesus entrusts his mother to the apostle John. Some believe that, according to Jewish custom, this would be unthinkable if Mary had had more children.
  • Furthermore, in the Gospel of John are the positions 2.12 EU ; EU relevant:
    • After the wedding in Cana, to which Mary, Jesus and the disciples were invited, the first passage speaks of Jesus moving to Capernaum with his brothers and disciples. The second passage tells of a conflict between Jesus and his brothers.
  • Acts 1.14 EU :
    • The apostles, the women, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers are mentioned in the same breath. However, this is immediately followed by the verse that speaks of Peter calling “among the brothers - about a hundred and twenty had come together” for the election of a successor for Judas Iscariot, addressing them as “brothers”.
  • 1st Corinthians 9.5 EU :
    • "The remaining apostles", "the Lord's brothers" and "Cephas" are mentioned in one breath.
  • Galatians 1.19 EU :
    • Paul reports that during his first visit to Jerusalem he saw only Peter and none of the other apostles, "only James, the Lord's brother".
  • The biblical evidence also includes the passages Mt 1.25  EU and Lk 2.7  EU , in which “Mary's firstborn son” is mentioned. Some consider this to be nonsensical if there had not been any later-born sons of Mary, especially since it is expressly pointed out in Mt 1.25  EU that Joseph had no sexual intercourse until the birth of Jesus.
  • According to some interpreters, part of the biblical finding is that at least one brother of Jesus is not a biological brother of Jesus. Because in various places Alphaeus is named as the father of James ( Mt 10.3  EU ), and his mother Mary Cleopha ( Mt 27.56  EU ; cf. Gal 1.19  EU ). It is more probable, however, that the named Jacobi are not identical with the "Lord Brother" James, but rather the naming of the parents was explicitly inserted to distinguish them from him.

During his public work, Jesus had a rather distant relationship with his “brothers and sisters”, whether in the family or related sense. In contrast to his relatives according to Mk 3,35  EU , Jesus only names those his brothers and sisters who do the will of God . The brothers refuse to believe Jesus; they even think he is mad .

Only after Jesus' resurrection are there also his brothers among the disciples ( 1 Cor 9,5  EU ). James the Righteous , the most important of the leaders of the Jerusalem early church , is already regarded as the brother of Jesus in early Christian tradition, even if the relationship has not been clearly established. (but see a passage by Flavius ​​Josephus below in the text).

Linguistic analyzes

For the correct interpretation of the biblical findings, linguistic considerations about the word αδελφο adelphoi used by the New Testament are of great importance. The Aramaic spoken by Jesus and his disciples and the Hebrew written or read have slightly different meanings compared to the Greek of the New Testament. The Greek use of αδελφός or αδελφοί outside of the New Testament must also be taken into account in linguistic considerations.

In Greek literature, αδελφός is used for biological siblings and close relatives, as well as translated in the sense of “professional fellow”, “brother in faith”, “friend” or “fellow human being”.

The Hebrew word, which the Septuagint translates as αδελφός, is אח ˈach - a term for a biological brother, which is also used for other relatives and later also for fellow nationals. It has often been claimed that neither Hebrew nor Aramaic have a word for “cousin”. In Hebrew, however, a cousin can be referred to as ben dod / dohd , "son of the uncle" or "of the uncle".

In several places in the Old Testament, the Septuagint translates ˈach literally with αδελφός, where ˈach denotes not a brother but a nephew or cousin, although the Greek has its own words for cousin or nephew. In 1 Chr 24,21f EU there are two brothers: Eleazar and Kish. Eleazar has no sons, and his daughters marry their "brothers", the sons of Kish.

In the New Testament it is clearly distinguishable in some places from the context that αδελφός for male blood relatives ( Mk 6,1ff  EU , Joh 7,5  EU ), for "fellow citizens" ( Rom 9,3  EU ) and for " fellow believers" ( 1 Cor 15.58  EU , 1 Joh 3.16  EU ) is used. From Mk 6.17  EU we know that even in the NT, αδελφός does not always mean the biological brother, because Philip is only Herod's half-brother. In the same way, Joh 19.25  EU says that next to Jesus' mother there was also her sister Mary. Two biological sisters or brothers can in rare cases have the same name - several examples from church history prove this.

Old church tradition

The early church tradition speaks of the brothers of Jesus, but also teaches the virginity of Mary.

The Epistle of James and Jude are attributed to the brothers of Jesus as early as the early church tradition James and Jude.

In the 2nd century Hegesippus wrote of relatives of the Lord, "the grandchildren of Judas, who was called his brother after the flesh", who were quoted before Emperor Domitian .

In the apocryphal Gospel of James from the 2nd century, Joseph was a widower with children before his engagement to Mary .

In the 4th century, Jerome described the interpretation that Mary had other children as "new" and as an insult to God.

Ambrose of Milan argues with Isa 7.14  EU and Ez 44.1f  EU that Mary was a virgin even after the birth of Jesus, which would exclude further children.

John Chrysostom explains that James and the others were called the brothers of Jesus in the same way that Joseph was called Mary’s husband.

Augustine emphasizes that Mary was "a virgin in conception, a virgin in childbirth, and a virgin until death."

The Council of Ephesus in the 5th century describes Mary in its resolutions as αειπαρθενος, d. H. "Always Maiden".

Denominational positions

Whether it was a biological sibling or a close relative of Jesus of Nazareth is a matter of dispute within the Christian denominations and is interpreted differently depending on the denomination .

The Orthodox and Catholic Churches maintain to this day that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life . So for them the brothers and sisters of Jesus are either children of Joseph from his first marriage or children of relatives of Mary. The Catholic Church has had specific dogmas regarding the perpetual virginity of Mary since the 19th century .

While the Reformers still largely followed the traditional position, today many Protestant theologians see the brothers and sisters of Jesus as children of Joseph and Mary. However, the topic has no important meaning in Protestant theology, as no other doctrinal statements depend on it.


  • Josef Blinzler : The brothers and sisters of Jesus . Stuttgarter Bibelstudien 21, Stuttgart 1967.
  • Lorenz Oberlinner : Historical tradition and christological statement. On the question of the “brothers of Jesus” in the synopsis . Research on the Bible, Volume 19, Katholisches Bibelwerk 1975, ISBN 3-460-21041-9 .
  • Wolfgang Bienert Jesus' relatives. In: Wilhelm Schneemelcher (Ed.): New Testament Apocrypha I. Tübingen 1987.
  • Ludwig Neidhart: The "Brothers of Jesus". Did Maria have several children or did she always live a virgin? In: Theologisches 37 (11/12 2007), 393–404, also online .
  • Theodor Zahn : brothers and cousins ​​of Jesus . Leipzig 1900.

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