Did Jesus have a brother named James?


Why do Catholics believe Mary remained ever-virgin? Didn’t Jesus have a brother named James? I heard he was older than Jesus, but I do know that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit born of the virgin Mary; I know that much because my Bible tells me that.


There are more than one persons named James in the Bible. There are two among the 12 Apostles! If you look for every reference of James in the Gospels, you’ll see that the one whose mother is named Mary is not the same person as the mother of Jesus. Matt. 27:55-56 shows us three women watching Jesus die on the cross from a distance: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” We know that Mary the mother of Jesus was at the foot of the cross, not with these other ladies standing at a distance.It’s possible that the James who is called in Scripture “the brother of the Lord” was really a cousin. Jesus grew up with an extended family of relatives. More likely, though, James was a half-brother, the son of Joseph by an earlier marriage. Ancient tradition holds that Joseph was a widower when he married Mary.

Early Christians made this clear in the “Protoevangelium of James” (see my other post about this). They said that James was Jesus’ stepbrother. According to this document, Joseph was an elderly widower at the time he became betrothed to Mary. He already had a family and thus was willing to become the guardian of a virgin consecrated to God. The Catholic Church teaches that Joseph remained chaste during his marriage to Mary.

Although the Protoevangelium of James was not accepted into the Canon of Scripture (the Bible), it is considered an apocryphal Gospel. This is where we get the names of Mary’s parents from, Joachim and Anna. It is neither accepted nor rejected by the Church, but is recognized as a document that most early Christians took seriously.

© 2010 by Terry A. Modica

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Anonymous said: “I recently spoke to a scriptural scholar about the Protoevangelium of James and he did say that it was not true, that it is an apocrypha, as you mentioned above. Apparently the church does not accept apocryphal writings as true. He also told me that Joseph was not married before Mary, and he was not older, he said he was a very young man when he was given to her – therefore he never had any children. This guy really knows what he’s talking about as he is very well versed in all the languages of the bible and has studied extensively for more than 30 yrs.”

Terry replied: “He’s guessing, too. Various scholars disagree with each other — it’s all theory based on very limited information. You can google it and see the range of scholarly opinions.

Apocryphal writings range from zero truth to a lot of truth with some possible misinformation thrown in. No one can know for sure how accurate or inaccurate the Protoevangelium of James is. All we can do (research scholars included) is look for heretical writing (contradicting doctrine and scripture). It is not heretical to think that Joseph might have been quite a bit older than Mary and widowed from a previous marriage. The official position on the Church about Joseph’s age and possible widowhood is that we simply do not know.”

James said: “With the contemporary exception of the George Foreman family, it is infrequent that siblings are given the same first name. Mary the mother of James and Joseph is also identified as the Sister of Mary the mother of Jesus. In our contemporary nomenclature of relatives, could that mean “sister-in-law?” That would make her a sister of Joseph or would make her husband, Clophus, Cleophus, or Alpheus a brother of Joseph. Those three names could be variant names of the same person. (Variant names happen often in Scripture.) Another possibility is that Cleophus and Clophus are variant names of her current husband. Alpheus who is identified as the father of James, that Apostle called Brother of the Lord, could have been a previous husband of that Mary He died and she remarried. None of these scenarios would challenge the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin.

St. Jerome identifies four ways in which the term, “brother” is used in Scripture: nature, race, kindred, and love. This use would be one of kindred. Joseph the foster father of Jesus could under the kindred premise be either young or old, virgin or previously married.”

Anonymous said: “Jesus did have an older brother. His name was John, later to be noted as John the Baptist.”

Terry replied: “John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus. His mother was Elizabeth and his father was Zechariah. Read Luke 1:5-23.”

Anonymous replied: “To the facilitate Jesus having a virgin birth, John the older brother was recast as the cousin, but if you examine DaVinci’s painting Madonna off the rocks you’ll notice that is John giving Jesus the blessings and as to the people who commissioned painting why did they not want John’s mother in the painting because they know that Mary was John’s mother.”

Terry replied: “Interesting idea, but we believe in the Bible. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Scholars know that the Bible was written relatively soon after Jesus’ earthly life, by people who were witnesses or who knew those who were. DaVinci and the people of his day who commissioned his work are not the source to go to for the Truth.”

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