In St Paul’s letter to the Galatians we find Paul mentions that Jesus had a brother by the name of James. Does this mean that Jesus’ mother did not remain a virgin after His birth, did Jesus have blood-related siblings? Let’s answer that question.
In Aramaic or Hebrew, there is no separate word for cousin. Therefore, the word brother was used for cousins as well as other close members of the family. As an example we find that in Gen 14:14
called Abraham’s brother although we know him to be his nephew. In the jewish custom we find that the word
brother has a broader use such as people joined in a cause to refer to them as
kinsmen (ex: 42 bretheren of King Achaziah (2 Kings 10:13-14)). Or to describe a friend as in 1 Kings 9:13,
20:32 and 2 Sam 1:26. In Amos 1:9 the
word is used to describe an ally.
Therefore, when we come up to verses which speak of the bretheren (or brothers) of Jesus we can correctly assume that His brothers are in effect close friends, fellow believers or even fellow citizens of His native town
. Verses such as Matt 12:46 “As he was yet
speaking to the multitudes, behold his mother and his bretheren stood without,
seeking to speak to him.” can easily be explained as Jesus’ mother and his
childhood friends (or fellow Nazareens, or cousins). Nazareth
I believe the difficulty comes when we find the verses that seem to specify brothers by name such as verses Mark 6:3 and Matt 13:55. Both these verses seem to be relating the same incident. Matt 13:55 “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude?” This verse seems to suggest that Mary had other children by the name James, and Jude. But if you look closely the author did not call these men Mary’s sons, this writer separated them from Mary and in doing so introduced the idea that these men were not Jesus’ biological brothers. We find elsewhere in Matthew that Mary was the mother of James and Joseph but these men’s father was Zebedee. You will see what I mean when you read Matt 27:56 which states: “Among whom was Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” With this we find that at least James and Joseph (or Jose, its English equivalent) are the sons of Zebedee (Cleophas) and another Mary. Therefore, we find that James and Joseph are not the biological brothers of Jesus. The only reason to be called the bretheren of Jesus would be because they were childhood friends. We can extrapolate that conclusion by studying John 19:25 which states: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene”. We find that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a ‘sister’ named Mary and more than likely these two were not siblings but were very close.
About Simon nothing certain can be stated. Out of the four men grouped together and named in Matt 13:55, we find three of them are definitely not the biological sons of Mary, Mother of Jesus. Since these men were grouped together and two out of the four are not His brothers, we can safely and accurately say that the other two are not Jesus’ brother since to be as such Simon and Jude would have been introduced in a manner reflective of that fact. At the very least Simon and Jude would have been described in a different way from the other two. All agree that if Joseph and James are not brothers of the Savior, the others are not.
To conclude, Mary was a virgin before the conception of Christ, during her pregnancy and after our Lord’s birth up to her last day on earth.