A local trivia night asked this as one of the questions: “How many brothers did Jesus have?”
My understanding is that everyone debated, argued, Googled (at the end of the round), trying to find an answer to the question. There were disagreements, blood was spilled, and people made their ancestors proud in this fight for truth. Maybe I exaggerated a bit at the end there, but there was a lot of buzz and discussion, so let’s dig in.
I guess the first question should be: “Did Jesus have family?” Yes.
Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, within Mary before Joseph knew her (Matthew 1:25). Some make an argument that Mary retained her virginity and that the siblings that are mentioned are nothing more than cousins or close family. That’s a hard case to make based on the language. The word used in Greek is “brother” rather than “cousin”. Plus, other than when Jesus makes a familial connection to his followers, the word is taken literally as a reference to family, especially based on the context of passages that talk about Jesus’ “mother and brothers”. We hear about brothers in each of the Gospels. We also hear about sisters, but the sisters are never named or numbered. We also hear in Acts and Galatians about his brothers. There are other passages, but these are just some of the examples.
There is a theory that any siblings mentioned in Scripture are from a previous marriage for Joseph. The problem is that Scripture never suggests this at any point. Also, if these were children from a previous marriage, they’re ominously absent from the trip to Bethlehem, Egypt, and back to Nazareth. Of course, Scripture doesn’t always spell out every detail. John tells us that what is written is written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God (John 20:31).
How MANY brothers did Jesus have? 4.
Again, we only know what God reveals to us in Scripture, but this is what we hear in Matthew 13.
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 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? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
We hear the same names in the same circumstance in Mark 6:3. So, we have a passage where Jesus is in his hometown to teach and everyone’s asking, “Isn’t this the guy who worked on our house? Isn’t Mary his mom? Don’t we know his brothers? And aren’t his sisters standing right there? Who does he think he is?” Could these two passages leave out a brother or something? Possibly…but unlikely. Regardless, everything we have in Scripture suggests that Jesus had four half-brothers and some half-sisters.
Have questions? Want to dig deeper? Feel free to message me.