Brothers of Our Lord

Brothers Of Our Lord.

In Mt 13:55, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas are mentioned as the brothers of Jesus, and in the ensuing verse sisters are also ascribed to him. The Protestant spirit of opposition to the Popish notion about the perpetual virginity of Mary has led many commentators to contend that this must be taken in the literal sense, and that these persons are to be regarded as children whom she bore to her husband Joseph after the birth of Christ. On the whole, we incline to this opinion, seeing that such a supposition is more in agreement with the spirit and letter of the context than any other, and as the force of the allusion to the brothers and sisters of Jesus would be much weakened if more distant relatives are to be understood. Nevertheless, there are some grounds for the other opinion, that these were not natural brothers and sisters, but near relations, probably cousins of Christ. In Mt 27:56, a James and Joses are described as sons of Mary (certainly not the Virgin); and again a James and Judas are described as sons of Alphaeus (Lu 6:15-16), which Alphaeus is probably the same as Cleophas, husband of Mary, sister of the Virgin (Joh 19:25). If, therefore, it were clear that this James, Joses, and Judas are the same that are elsewhere described as the Lord's brothers, this point would be beyond dispute; but as it is, much doubt must always hang over it. See Jour. Sac. Literature, July, 1855; Stud. u. Krit. 1842, i, 71 sq., 124.

I. It should be observed that in arguing at all against their being the real brethren of Jesus, far too much stress has been laid on the assumed indefiniteness of meaning attached to the word "brother" in Scripture. In all the adduced cases (see above), it will be perceived that, when the word is used in any but its proper sense, the context prevents the possibility of confusion; and, indeed, in the only two exceptional instances (not metaphorical), viz. those in which Lot and Jacob are respectively called " brothers" of Abraham and Laban, the word is only extended so far as to mean "nephew;" and it must be remembered that even these exceptions are quoted from a single book, seventeen centuries earlier than the Gospels. If, then, the word " brethren," as repeatedly applied to James, etc., really mean "cousins" or "kinsmen," it will be the only instance of such an application in which no data are given to correct the laxity of meaning. Again, no really parallel case can be quoted from the N.T., except in merely rhetorical and tropical passages; whereas, when "nephews" are meant, they are always specified as such, as in Col 4:10; Ac 23:16 (Kitto, The Apostles, etc. p. 165 sq.). There is therefore no adequate warrant in the language alone to take "brethren" as meaning "relatives," and therefore the a priori presumption is in favor of a literal acceptation of the term. We have dwelt the more strongly on this point, because it seems to have been far too easily assumed that no importance is to be attached to the mere fact of their being invariably called Christ's brethren, whereas this consideration alone goes far to prove that they really were so.

II. There are, however, three traditions respecting them. They are first mentioned (Mt 13:56) in a manner which would certainly lead an unbiassed mind to conclude that they were our Lord's uterine brothers. *' Is not this the carpenter's son ? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren James, and Joses, and.Judas, and Simon ? and his sisters, are they not all with us ?" But since we find that there was a " Mary, the mother of James and Joses" (Mt 28:20), and that a "James and Judas (?)" were sons of Alphaeus (Lu 6:15-16), the most general tradition is,

(I.) That they were all our Lord's first cousins, the sons of Alphaeeus (or Clopas-not Cleopas, see Alford, Gk. Test. Mt 10:3) and Mary, the sister of the Virgin. This tradition is fully accepted by Jerome (Cat. Script. Ecc. 2), Augustine, and the Latin Church generally, and is now the one most commonly received. Yet there seem to be forcible arguments against it; for

(1.) The reasoning depends on three assumptions, viz.

a. that "his mother's sister" (Joh 19:25) must be in apposition with "Mary, the wife of Cleophas," which, in case sisters-german are meant, would be improbable, if only on the ground that it supposes two sisters to have had the same name, a supposition substantiated by no parallel cases [Wieseler (comp. Mr 15:40) thinks that Salome, the wife of Zebedee, is intended by "his mother's sister"].

b. That "Mary, the mother of James," was the wife of Alphaeus, i.e. that the James intended is " James [the son] of Alphseus" (Ιάκωβος οΑ῾᾿λφαίου).

c. That Cleophas, or, more correctly, Clopas, whose wife Mary was, is identical with Alphaeus; which, however possible, cannot be positively proved. SEE ALPHEUS.

(2.) If his cousins only were meant, it would be signally untrue that "neither did his brethren believe on him" (Joh 7:5 sq.), for in all probability three out of the four (viz. James the Less, Simon [i.e. Zelotes], and Jude, the brother [?] of James) were actual apostles.

(3.) It is quite unaccountable that these "brethren of the Lord," if they were only his cousins, should be always mentioned in conjunction with the Virgin Mary, and never with their own mother Mary, who was both alive and in constant attendance on our Lord.

(4.) They are generally spoken of as distinctfrom the apostles; see Ac 1:14; 1Co 9:15; and Jude (Jude 1:17) seems almost to imply that he himself was not an apostle.

(II.) A second tradition, accepted by Hilary, Epiphanius, and the Greek fathers generally, makes them the sons of Joseph by a former marriage with a certain Escha or Salome, of the tribe of Judah; indeed, Epiphanius (Hceres. 29, § 4) even mentions the supposed order of birth of the four sons and two daughters. But Jerome (Com. in Matthew 12:49) slights this as a mere conjecture, borrowed from the "deliramenta Apocryphorum," and Origen says that it was taken from the Gospel of St. Peter. The only ground for its possibility is the apparent difference of age between Joseph and the Virgin.

(III.) They are assumed by many to have been the offspring of a Levirate marriage between Joseph and the wife of his deceased brother Clopas. This, although a mere hypothesis, is the only one that actually meets all the conditions of the problem. For the discussion of the details of this adjustment, SEE JAMES; SEE MARY. The accompanying table exhibits the whole subject in one view, with the passages bearing upon it, and the adjustment proposed of this difficult question (see Meth. Quar. Review, 1851, p. 671-672).

III. The arguments against their being the sons of the Virgin after the birth of our Lord are founded on

(1.) the almost constant tradition of her perpetual virginity (ἀειπαρθενία). St. Basil (Serm. de S. Nativ.) even records a story that " Zechary was slain by the Jews between the porch and the altar" for affirming her to be a virgin after as well as before the birth of her most holy Son (Jeremiah Taylor, Duct. Dubit. ii, 3, 4). Still, the tradition was not universal: it was denied, for instance, by large numbers called Antidicomarianitae and Helvidiani. To quote Eze 44:2, as any argument on the question is plainly idle.

(2.) On the fact that upon the cross Christ commended his mother to the care of the apostle John; but this is easily explicable on the ground of his brethren's apparent disbelief in him at that time, though they seem to have been converted very soon afterward; or better, perhaps, on the ground of their youth at the time.

(3.) On the identity of their names with those of the sons of Alphaeus. Whatever force there may be in this argument is retained by the above Levirate scheme.

On the other hand, the arguments for their being our Lord's uterine brothers are numerous, and, taken collectively, to an unprejudiced mind almost irresistible, although singly they are open to objections: e.g.

(1.) The words "first-born son" (πρωτότοκος υίός), Lu 2:7.

(2.) Mt 1:25, "knew her not till she had brought forth" (οὐκ ἐγίγνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως ο῏υ ἔτεκεν), etc., to which Alford justly remarks only one meaning could have been attached but for preconceived theories about the Virginity.

(3.) The general tone of the Gospels on the subject, since they are constantly spoken of with the Virgin Mary, and with no shadow of a hint that they were not her own children (Mt 12:46; Mr 3:31, etc.). It can, we think, be hardly denied that any one of these arguments is singly stronger than those produced on the other side. SEE JESUS.

"BROTHER" (Frater) was the common appellation given by Christians to each other in the early Church. SEE BRETHREN. In the Roman Church it came to be especially applied to monks. When those monks who were priests assumed the name of Fathers (Patres), the name brothers was reserved to the members who were not ordained. Since the 13th century this title has also been given to the begging monks, in distinction from the other orders of monks. In the Protestant churches it is common for ministers to ad. dress each other by the-name brother.

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