Who were the Brothers of Christ?

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Who Were the Brothers of Christ?


Adelphos

Several scriptures mention the brothers & sisters (adelphos) of Christ.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother [adelphos] of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters [adelphai] here with us?
- Mark 6:3 (also Matthew 13:55)
So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." For not even his brothers [adelphoi] believed in him.
- John 7:3-5
All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers [adelphois].
- Acts 1:14
Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers [adelphoi] of the Lord and Cephas?
- 1 Corinthians 9:5
But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother [adelphon].
- Galatians 1:19

Modern Protestant Belief

As several scripture mention the brothers and sisters of Christ, a plain reading of Scripture suggests Christ indeed had brothers and sisters, and thus Mary had other children after Jesus.

Some try to say that "brothers" here really means cousins or kin, but there's a problem with that.

An exact greek word for cousins exists (anepsios). This word is used 1 time in the New Testament - but it was not used here. (Colossians)

Likewise, a word for kinsman/relative exists (suggenes). This word is used 12 times in the New Testament, but is not used here. (Luke, Acts, Romans, and once in Mark and John)

In the New Testament, adelphos is used 343 times and is used to refer to spiritual brothers and blood brothers every time. [1]

Therefore, a plain reading of these texts indicates they are Jesus' brothers, born of Mary.[2]

Problems with Modern Protestant Belief

The word your Bible translation renders as "brothers" in these passages (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, John 7:3-5, John 2:12, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 1:19) is the Greek word "adelphos". This word is more general in meaning than simply brothers, and can simply refer to familial relations like cousins.

To determine what the New Testament authors meant by the Greek word 'adelphos', you are solely comparing it with the Greek New Testament. That is insufficient - we have other texts to refer to.

A few hundred years before Christ, a Greek translation of the Old Testament was made, called the Septuagint.

This translation became widespread and popular, and is indeed the translation the New Testament authors and Christ himself used.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and was the main language of the area at that time - it's thus natural for them to use the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint).

We know they did, for many of their quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament come directly from the Septuagint - and the same verse in the Masoretic Text is rendered differently. Here are some examples:

In Matthew 21:16, Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2 saying "Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have ordained praise". In the Septuagint translation, Psalm 8:2 also says "ordained praise". However the Hebrew Scriptures (Masoretic Text) says "ordained strength".

1 Peter 4:18 quotes the Septuagint Proverbs 11:31 as "If the truly righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?". The Hebrew says, "If the righteous is repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!"

Hebrews 11:21 quotes the Septuagint Genesis 47:31 with Jacob bowing in worship over the head of his staff, while the Hebrew has Jacob bowing over the head of his bed.

Hebrews 10:5-7 quotes the Septuagint Psalm 40:6-8 as "a body have you prepared for me", while the Hebrew reads as "you have given me an open ear".

Acts 13:41 quotes the Septuagint Habakkuk 1:5 starting with "Look, you scoffers", while the Hebrew starts with "Look among the nations".

Acts 7:42-43 quotes the Septuagint Amos 5:25-27 as "You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan", while the Hebrew reads as "You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god".

Acts 8:32-33 quotes the Septuagint Isaiah 53:7-8 as "In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.", while the Hebrew reads as "By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living".

James 4:6 quotes the Septuagint Proverbs 3:34 as "opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble", while the Hebrew reads similarly but with different underlying word-concepts as "scorns the scornful but he gives grace to the lowly".

In the book "Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey" (pages 25-32), by Protestant authors G. Archer and G. C. Chirichigno, we see that of the 386 times that the New Testament explicitly quotes from the Old Testament, 340 of those are from the Septuagint translation.

Your interpretation of the word 'adelphos' was solely based off the New Testament usage of the word. Since we now know that Christ and the New Testament authors used the Septuagint's Greek translation of the Old Testament, we can now also look within that text to see how 'adelphos' was used within it.

In the Septuagint, Genesis 14:14 and Genesis 29:15 use 'adelphos' to mean relative, 2 Samuel 1:26 and 1 Kings 9:13 use 'adelphos' to mean close friends, and Amos 1:9 uses 'adelphos' to mean allies. Clearly then the word adelphos mean something more broad to the New Testament authors, and doesn't necessarily mean blood brothers.

Historical Christian Belief

This argument was first proposed by Helvidius around 383 AD. Jerome immediately shut it down, and Jerome's interpretation remained the standard interpretation of Christianity from that time up until the Reformation, and then even after the Reformation when Martin Luther and John Calvin agreed with Jerome's interpretation. It hasn't been until modern Protestantism's revision of Sola Scriptura to "Solo" Scriptura that the argument has returned.

Jerome (~383 AD) in his Against Helvidius:

How then, says Helvidius, do you make out that they were called the Lord's brethren who were not his brethren?
I will show how that is. In Holy Scripture there are four kinds of brethren--by nature, race, kindred, love. Instances of brethren by nature are Esau and Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, Andrew and Peter, James and John. As to race, all Jews are called brethren of one another, as in Deuteronomy, [Deuteronomy 15:12] "If thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee." And in the same book, [Deuteronomy 17:15] "Thou shalt in anywise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, which is not thy brother." And again, [Deuteronomy 22:1] "Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely bring them again unto thy brother. And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it home to thine house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again." And the Apostle Paul says, [Romans 9:3,4] "I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren's sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites." Moreover they are called brethren by kindred who are of one family, that is patria, which corresponds to the Latin paternitas, because from a single root a numerous progeny proceeds. In Genesis [Genesis 8:8,11] we read, "And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we are brethren." And again, "So Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east: and they separated each from his brother." Certainly Lot was not Abraham's brother, but the son of Abraham's brother Aram. For Terah begat Abraham and Nahor and Aram: and Aram begat Lot. Again we read, [Genesis 7:4] "And Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son." But if you still doubt whether a nephew can be called a son, let me give you an instance. [Genesis 14:14] "And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen." And after describing the night attack and the slaughter, he adds, "And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot." Let this suffice by way of proof of my assertion. But for fear you may make some cavilling objection, and wriggle out of your difficulty like a snake, I must bind you fast with the bonds of proof to stop your hissing and complaining, for I know you would like to say you have been overcome not so much by Scripture truth as by intricate arguments. Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebecca, when in fear of his brother's treachery he had gone to Mesopotamia, drew nigh and rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, and watered the flocks of Laban, his mother's brother. [Genesis 29:11] "And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother, and that he was Rebekah's son." Here is an example of the rule already referred to, by which a nephew is called a brother. And again, [Genesis 29:15] "Laban said unto Jacob. Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? Tell me what shall thy wages be." And so, when, at the end of twenty years, without the knowledge of his father-in-law and accompanied by his wives and sons he was returning to his country, on Laban overtaking him in the mountain of Gilead and failing to find the idols which Rachel hid among the baggage, Jacob answered and said to Laban, [Genesis 31:36,37] "What is my trespass? What is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me? Whereas thou hast felt all about my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? Set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us two." Tell me who are those brothers of Jacob and Laban who were present there? Esau, Jacob's brother, was certainly not there, and Laban, the son of Bethuel, had no brothers although he had a sister Rebecca.
Innumerable instances of the same kind are to be found in the sacred books. But, to be brief, I will return to the last of the four classes of brethren, those, namely, who are brethren by affection, and these again fall into two divisions, those of the spiritual and those of the general relationship. I say spiritual because all of us Christians are called brethren, as in the verse, [Psalm 133:1] "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." And in another psalm the Saviour says, [Psalm 22:22] "I will declare thy name unto my brethren." And elsewhere, [John 20:17] "Go unto my brethren and say to them." I say also general, because we are all children of one Father, there is a like bond of brotherhood between us all. [Isaiah 66:5] "Tell these who hate you," says the prophet, "ye are our brethren." And the Apostle writing to the Corinthians: [1 Corinthians 5:11] "If any man that is named brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such a one no, not to eat." I now ask to which class you consider the Lord's brethren in the Gospel must be assigned. They are brethren by nature, you say. But Scripture does not say so; it calls them neither sons of Mary, nor of Joseph. Shall we say they are brethren by race? But it is absurd to suppose that a few Jews were called His brethren when all Jews of the time might upon this principle have borne the title. Were they brethren by virtue of close intimacy and the union of heart and mind? If that were so, who were more truly His brethren than the apostles who received His private instruction and were called by Him His mother and His brethren? Again, if all men, as such, were His brethren, it would have been foolish to deliver a special message, "Behold, thy brethren seek thee," for all men alike were entitled to the name. The only alternative is to adopt the previous explanation and understand them to be called brethren in virtue of the bond of kindred, not of love and sympathy, nor by prerogative of race, nor yet by nature. Just as Lot was called Abraham's brother, and Jacob Laban's, just as the daughters of Zelophehad received a lot among their brethren, just as Abraham himself had to wife Sarah his sister, for he says, [Genesis 20:11] "She is indeed my sister, on the father's side, not on the mother's," that is to say, she was the daughter of his brother, not of his sister. Otherwise, what are we to say of Abraham, a just man, taking to wife the daughter of his own father? Scripture, in relating the history of the men of early times, does not outrage our ears by speaking of the enormity in express terms, but prefers to leave it to be inferred by the reader: and God afterwards gives to the prohibition the sanction of the law, and threatens, [Leviticus 18:9] "He who takes his sister, born of his father, or of his mother, and beholds her nakedness, hath commited abomination, he shall be utterly destroyed. He hath uncovered his sister's nakedness, he shall bear his sin."
[...]
It is clear that our Lord's brethren bore the name in the same way that Joseph was called his father: [Luke 1:18] "I and thy father sought thee sorrowing." It was His mother who said this, not the Jews. The Evangelist himself relates that His father and His mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning Him, and there are similar passages which we have already quoted in which Joseph and Mary are called his parents. Seeing that you have been foolish enough to persuade yourself that the Greek manuscripts are corrupt, you will perhaps plead the diversity of readings. I therefore come to the Gospel of John, and there it is plainly written, [John 1:45] "Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." You will certainly find this in your manuscript. Now tell me, how is Jesus the son of Joseph when it is clear that He was begotten of the Holy Ghost? Was Joseph His true father? Dull as you are, you will not venture to say that. Was he His reputed father? If so, let the same rule be applied to them when they are called brethren, that you apply to Joseph when he is called father.

Martin Luther (in his Sermons on John, Chapters 1-4) says:

I am inclined to agree with those who declare that 'brothers' really mean 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.

John Calvin (in his commentary on John 7:3) says:

Under the word 'brethren' [adelphos] the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity.

Messianic Psalm

Modern Protestant Belief

Problems with Modern Protestant Belief

Historical Christian Belief

Matthew 1:25

Modern Protestant Belief

Problems with Modern Protestant Belief

Historical Christian Belief

Ezekiel Prophecy

Modern Protestant Belief

Problems with Modern Protestant Belief

Historical Christian Belief

Behold, your mother

Modern Protestant Belief

Problems with Modern Protestant Belief

Historical Christian Belief

Lost at the temple

Modern Protestant Belief

Problems with Modern Protestant Belief

Historical Christian Belief

Son(s) of Mary

Modern Protestant Belief

Problems with Modern Protestant Belief

Historical Christian Belief

Jameses

Modern Protestant Belief

Problems with Modern Protestant Belief

Historical Christian Belief

Historical FOR Historical Against

Jerome's treatise

Aquinas treatise