St. Jude and the “Brothers” of Jesus

In the New Testament, certain men are described as the “brothers” of Jesus, including “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mark 6:3; and see Matthew 13:55). The Catholic position is that these men are simply male relatives: in the same way that Abraham calls Lot his “brother” (Genesis 13:8), even though he’s actually his nephew (Gen. 12:5).

But the typical Protestant position is that these other men were literally Jesus’ brothers, meaning that the Virgin Mary didn’t remain a Virgin (despite prophesies like Ezekiel 44:2). I’ve handled this before more thoroughly, showing that two of Jesus’ “brothers,” James and Joses, are the sons of another woman, Mary of Clopas (Mark 15:40; John 19:25), and thus, are obviously not His literal brothers.

But I noticed something recently. At the start of the Apostle Jude’s epistle, he introduces himself as, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1:1).  Jude means the James who is sometimes called “James the Lesser.”  We know he’s not referring to James the Greater, because we know more about his family tree: he’s the son of Zebedee, and his brother is the Apostle John  (see Mark 10:35, Luke 5:10, Mark 3:17).  [Even if he meant “brother” in a looser sense, it wouldn’t make sense to call himself the “brother of James,” rather than the “brother of James and John.”  The Apostle John outlived his older brother (Acts 12:2), so it would make more sense to call himself the “brother of John.”]  And this James is prominent enough that the Apostle Jude identifies himself by calling himself this guy’s brother.  So really, the only person he could be referring to is the other Apostle James, known as James the Lesser.

But this creates some problems for the Protestant interpretation, because James the Lesser is the Apostle called “the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19)  But if Jude is literally James’ brother, and James is literally Jesus’ brother, then Jude is also literally Jesus’ brother.  How could Jude have failed to mention that fact?  Why in the world introduce himself as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,” instead of “Jude, a servant and brother of Jesus Christ”?  That is, if he’s going to identify his brother who’s an Apostle, why not his Brother who Is God?

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible acknowledges it’s James the Lesser, but tries to explain away this awkward omission with a couple of theories:

(1) that the right to do this did not rest on his mere “relationship” to the Lord Jesus, but on the fact that he had called certain persons to be his apostles, and had authorized them to do it; and,

(2) that a reference to this relationship, as a ground of authority, might have created jealousies among the apostles themselves. We may learn from the fact that Jude merely calls himself “the servant of the Lord Jesus,” that is, a Christian,

(a) that this is a distinction more to be desired than, would be a mere natural relationship to the Saviour, and consequently.

(b) that it is a higher honor than any distinction arising from birth or family. Compare Matthew 12:46-50.

This is some weak exegesis.  Jude has no problem pointing out that he’s the Apostle James’ “brother,” even in the exact same breath that he’s allegedly too meek to mention his family connections.  Plus, this would require believing that the other Apostles had such huge, sensitive egos that they couldn’t handle the idea that Jude and James were Jesus’ own brothers.  Better hope they never read Galatians 1:19.  And of course, it also requires believing that the Holy Spirit, in God-breathed Scripture, caters to these massive and vulnerable egos by omitting an important detail about Jude’s connection to Christ.

Incredibly, it gets worse.  Acts 1:13 tells us that those present at the replacement of Judas were “Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” You should notice two things:

  • James and Judas don’t have the same father;
  • Neither of them are sons of St. Joseph.

Obviously, Mary wasn’t previously married (Luke 1:26-27), and St. Joseph is very much alive when Jesus is twelve (Luke 2:41-42).  Since Jesus is only about thirty when He starts His public ministry (Luke 3:23), that doesn’t leave a lot of time for Mary to (1) remarry, (2) have another son, (3) have her second husband die, (4) marry a third time, (5) have another son, and (6) have both of these sons grow up to be Apostles.  Yet for these to literally be Jesus’ half-brothers, that’s what Protestants are claiming.  She would have had to have gone through two extra marriages in only a few years to have two adult sons by husbands besides St. Joseph (and this is excluding all of her other alleged children).  And this assumes that St. Joseph right away. Yet Scripture records exactly none of these events.

And that’s not all.  Matthew 10:2-4 lists the Apostles, and notes which ones are related.  For example, he tells us that Simon Peter and Andrew are brothers, and also that James (the Greater) and John are brothers, and that their Zebedee is the father of the latter two sons. Yet while mentioning James the Lesser is the “son of Alphaeus,” St. Matthew fails to mention that he’s the brother of another Apostle, or that he’s the brother of Jesus.  And likewise for Jude, who Matthew calls Thaddaeus — we’re not informed of the fact that he and James are brothers, or that they’re brothers with Jesus.  Likewise with the other Gospels: the only thing we’re told is that these men have different fathers.

Finally, remember again that James the Lesser and Joses are listed as the sons of another woman as well, known as Mary of Clopas (Mark 15:40; John 19:25), who is not listed as Jude’s mother.  That’s important for two reasons.

Detail from Rogier van der Weyden’s
Descent from the Cross (1435)
showing Mary of Clopas, the Apostle John, and Salome
(the Virgin Mary has collapsed in John’s arms)
  • First, it shows that James the Lesser and Jesus weren’t literally Brothers.  James the Lesser isn’t Mary’s son from a subsequent marriage, or Joseph’s son from a previous marriage.  
  • Second, it shows that James the Lesser and Jude weren’t literally brothers, either.  James the Lesser is the son of Alphaeus and Mary of Clopas.  Jude is the son of someone named James, and apparently not Mary of Clopas (or we’d see his name listed in Mark 15:40).
This is all good reason to believe that Jude is the “brother” of James in the same way that James is the “brother” of Jesus, or Lot is the “brother” of Abraham, in that they’re male relatives. But it’s clearly not a reference to brothers in the sense of multiple sons by the same parents.


If “brothers” is understood to be a generic term for male relatives, all of this works.  Jesus, James, Joses, and Jude are “brothers” in this broad sense.  Likewise, the Virgin Mary and the other Mary are “sisters” in this sense (John 19:25).  That is, the Catholic interpretation makes a lot of sense.

It also comports with ancient Church Tradition that held that Mary was ever-Virgin, and that She fulfilled the prophesy of the Temple Gate (Ezekiel 44:2) — that in giving birth to Christ, she was consecrated to Him in a radical way, and became a new Ark of the Covenant.  Under this view, the Apostle James was probably cousins with Jesus on one side of the family, and with the Apostle Jude on the other.

In contrast, you can’t take the New Testament references to Jesus’ “brothers” literally, without running into enormous exegetical problems.  The various “brothers” of Jesus have multiple fathers and multiple mothers, and are never listed as the Virgin Mary’s children.


  1. I don’t know about Judas, but I read somewhere that James could be the son of Joseph from a previous marriage. I even read that some Eastern artwork has James as a youth going into Egypt with the Holy Family. Ever heard any of this Joe?

  2. Father Merrin,

    I have. But I don’t see how to rectify that theory with the full Scriptural evidence. In Mark 6:3, the four “brothers” of Jesus include James and Joses. In Mark 15:40, St. Mark refers to one of the women watching the Crucifixion from afar as “Mary, the mother of James the Less and Joses.” So James the Lesser’s mother is still alive. And James’ father is Alphaeus (Acts 1:13).

    Some Orthodox and Protestants resolve this by claiming that “James the Less” and “James, the brother of Jesus” are two separate people. That strikes me as incredibly unlikely, given the parallel between Mark 6:3 and Mark 15:40. We’d have to say that both men were named James and had brothers named Joses, despite the rarity of the latter name (it appears nowhere else in Scripture). And if there were two close followers of Christ named James, each of who had a brother named Joses, why would Mark choose this way of distinguishing them? It wouldn’t distinguish them at all.

    As an aside, James’ mother is described in John’s parallel account as “Mary of Clopas” (John 19:25). The “of Clopas” leaves ambiguity as to whether she was Clopas’ daughter or wife. Papias says she’s Clopas’ wife, and that Clopas and Alphaeus are the same person. Hegesippus disagrees, claiming that this Mary is Clopas’ daughter, in which case Alphaeus is Clopas’ son-in-law. Hegesippus also tells us outright that Clopas is “the Lord’s uncle,” and that he’s also the father of Symeon, who became the second bishop of Jerusalem.  If that’s true, it would also explain the third of the four “brothers” mentioned in Mark 6:3.

    Father Andrew,

    Happy name day!  Sounds like somebody should write a post on the great St. Andrew!



  3. @Joe: OK, now everyone knows that you think it’s not possible for two people to have the same name. Anyways, look at Psalm 69 (a messianic prophecy). Now look at: “a stranger to my mother’s children” (Psalm 69:8). Do you actually think it wasn’t talking about the Lord?

  4. “James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” You should notice two things:
    James and Judas don’t have the same father;
    Neither of them are sons of St. Joseph.”
    And neither are “Brothers of the Lord.”

    The list of the Twelve list two James, neither who is James the Brotehr of the Lord, as he was not one of the Twelve. Hence the two James, the Greater and the Lesser, and the Brother of the Lord.

    Two works deal with these matters in some detail:
    James, brother of Jesus Pierre-Antoine Bernheim

    Jude and the relatives of Jesus in the early church By Richard Bauckham

    The view of St. James and St. Jude being step-brothers of the Lord (sons of a widower St. Joseph) is the only one which has the support of Tradition. The “cousin” explanation originates with St. Jerome (with some convoluted reasoning), in an effort to produce a totally virginal Holy Family more in line with St. Jerome’s views on marriage. Hegesippus describes St. Simeon as the Lord’s cousin, differently from the rest of the Desposynoi “the Lord’s Brothers.”

    Btw, the four names of the Brothers are, including Joses, are among the most popular in Palestine at the time, and elsewhere. The names of the sisters, however, were popular in Palestine, but nowhere else.

  5. Thanks for this post. It has always puzzled me, why Jesus on the Cross, in John 19:25-27, would place Mary in John’s care (ecce Mater tua) if Jesus had brothers. Any thoughts, Joe? Spiritual sonship?

  6. Michael,

    I don’t mind people disagreeing in the comments around here, obviously — there are often great conversations that go on. But as I’ve asked many times, try to contribute something productive. Look at how you approached this:

    OK, now everyone knows that you think it’s not possible for two people to have the same name.

    That’s obviously not what I said, nor what I meant, and you know it. If nothing else, you should have been tipped off by the fact that I distinguished between James the Greater and James the Lesser in the post. In no world could what I said have been reasonably been construed as “it’s not possible for two people to have the same name.” In intentionally mischaracterizing my argument, you’re just being dishonest. It doesn’t fool anybody, it undermines your actual arguments, and it’s no service to the Gospel. Compare your comment with Isa’s: he raises a similar counter-argument, but in a charitable and thoughtful way.

    I’ve been extremely patient with you, given the number of times you’ve done this. But my patience isn’t endless, so at least make an effort to contribute something honest and constructive to the conversation. Basically, I’m asking you to approach me as if we’re both Christians seeking to serve Christ and understand the Gospel, rather than as if we’re rival politicians trying to destroy one another’s reputations.

    On to your question regarding Psalm 69. I’d say a few things. First, the Psalms are distinct from traditional prophesy (like Isaiah or Ezekiel, e.g.). The present concerns of the Psalmists are blended with foreshadowing of Christ. Psalm 69 is no exception. On one level, this Psalm is about someone who was falsely accused of theft (Psalm 69:4). Plenty of things in Psalm 69 foreshadow Christ, but that doesn’t mean every element is true of Him. For example, Psalm 69:5 says, “You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you.” And Christ is sinless, of course. So the first option is simply that v. 8 isn’t strictly Christological.

    Second, even if Psalm 69:8 applies to Christ, the “mother” may not be Mary – it may mean Israel. The full sentence (v.8-9), taken as a whole, says, “I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for Your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” That is, the image is of mother Israel, and her sons, the Jewish people, in their home, the house of the Lord, the Temple of Jerusalem.

    Third, even if Psalm 69:8 applies to Christ, and even if the mother is Mary, the other children need not be biological children. Revelation 12:17 specifically says that the Mother of Christ’s children are “those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”

    So the three options are that v. 8 refers to (1) something exclusive to the Psalmist, (2) Israel, and (3) Christians. Of the three, I think (2) is the strongest, but any are possible.



  7. @Isa: If the first-born has the right to the throne, then Yeshua (Jesus) isn’t King if Joseph had sons from his ‘widow’. But, as a student of Dake (so to speak), I agree with Lesser, Greater, and Brother of the Lord, concerning the James’ probabilities.
    @Joe: I know it’s your blog and everything, but my first comment that upset you is almost exactly how you ‘refute’ protestantism. And no, my comment wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say because your article put an end to it all as you seem to say. Look at my comment to Isa. There were many James’, Jude’s, etc. in the NT. So your blog was close-minded. Anyways, yea, the Psalms (Psalm 69 included) can have dual or sometimes more than two meanings. But, in context, Psalm 69:8 is referring to the Lord (not that it isn’t also referring to David).

  8. Isa,

    I haven’t read Jude and the relatives of Jesus in the early church, but I read most of Richard Bauckham’s more succinct presentation of the same argument from Themelios over dinner (it’s available here). My thoughts:

    (1) It’s very well-written, and he does a good job laying out the three camps: Hieronymian (that the “brothers” were cousins, — my view); Helvidian (that the “brothers” were St. Joseph’s sons from a late first wife — your view) and Epiphanian (that the “brothers” were the children of St. Joseph with the Virgin Mary — apparently, Michael’s view). A Catholic can hold to either the Hieronymian or Helvidian view.  So there’s no theological reason your view has to be wrong.  Having said that, I still think that the Helvidian view is wrong.

    (2) Bauckham makes a somewhat different argument than you do.  He argues that of the “brothers” of Jesus, one of them (Simon) is actually His cousin, while the others are His literal brothers.  See his proposed family tree here.  He admits that Clopas is the uncle of Jesus, and then says:

    In fact, the second-century writer Hegesippus, who calls James and Jude ‘brothers of the Lord’, calls Simeon the son of Clopas the ‘cousin of the Lord’, evidently distinguishing the two relationships.

    But the woman described as “Mary of Clopas” in John 19:25 is described as “Mary the mother of James and Joses” in Matthew 27:56, and “Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses” in Mark 15:40. In other words, James and Joses are sons of Jesus’ aunt Mary. Which is to say, His cousins.

    (3) As to your own argument, it is certainly possible for there to be multiple families with sons named James and Joses, but there are three reasons I think we can say with a good deal of certainty that’s not the case here.  First, from what I’ve read, “Joses” is a far less common than you suggest: while “Joseph” was a very common name, “Joses” was an unusual permutation (the difference between Megan and Meaghan, perhaps). That exact name isn’t found elsewhere in Scripture (and for what it’s worth, Wikipedia agrees with me). Second, we’ve already seen that Jesus has cousins named James and Joses (the sons of Mary of Clopas).  So that’s a bit unusual, too.

    But still, I can imagine a situation in which Jesus has brothers named James and Joses and cousins named James and Joses, both sets of whom are sons of women named Mary, and both sets of whom could be called “brothers” of the Lord.  However, in such a situation, we’d see the Gospel writers distinguishing between which set of James and Joses they mean — by exclusively referring to her as Mary of Clopas, or to them as sons of Alphaeus, or something.

    Instead, Matthew 27:56 says, “Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” That passage makes sense from the  Hieronymian view: there’s only one “Mary the mother of James and Joses,” so we know who he means.  But from the Helvidian view, you’d have to ask, which one?


  9. (cont.)

    (4) On a more basic level, this is a question about whether there are two Jameses (the Greater and the Lesser), or three (the Greater, the Lesser, the Brother of the Lord).  In Galatians 1:18-19, St. Paul says the only Apostle besides Peter that he saw in Jerusalem was “James, the Lord’s brother.”  This suggests that “James, the Lord’s brother” was either James, the son of Zebedee (“James the Greater”), or James, the son of Alphaeus (“James the Lesser”).  After all, these are the two Apostles named James (Matthew 10:2-3).

    (5) St. Jerome also points out that titles like “James the Greater” and “James the Lesser” make sense in distinguishing two people, but not three. That sort of intuitively makes sense, I guess.

    (6) As for the claim that the Helvidian view is the more traditional one, that’s only true in the East.  And even there, the Helvidian view is suspect, since it’s first clearly found in three spurious Syrian writings: the Infancy Gospel of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter.  Bauckham notes that these may reflect an ancient Syrian Christian Tradition.  Perhaps, but they’re hardly a reliable foundation.  Jerome points this out as part of his reason for rejecting it.

    (7) It’s flatly untrue that the Hieronymian view originates with Jerome.  Papias (c. 70-155) explicitly says “James and Judas and Joseph were sons of an aunt of the Lord’s.”  He seems far more reliable than three forged “Gospels.”



    P.S. Sorry for such a long response — you gave me a lot to work with!

  10. Sr. Lisa Marie,

    Great question. I forgot to mention this in my reply to Isa (which was already too long), but it’s a good point. If Jesus had brothers, or even step-brothers, Jewish tradition would say that Mary would be cared for by them.

    It would have been an enormous insult to entrust Mary to the Apostle John if St. James the Just were her biological son.

    As it was, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to establish Mary’s spiritual Motherhood over all Christians. St. John presents himself as the Beloved Disciple, and a model for us to follow. Revelation 12:17 also shows followers of Jesus Christ as sons and daughters of His Mother.


    If you feel like I’m being dishonest in my presentation of Protestantism, don’t respond in kind. Instead, just correct me on it, please! If I’m doing it, it’s only by mistake. The last thing that I want to do is mischaracterize the Protestant argument, because what’s the point in spending my time refuting a position that nobody holds?



  11. If the first-born has the right to the throne,


    But he has the throne of David his father. Did Solomon just get the throne as the firstborn? No — Bathsheba did some mighty finagling to get him something that on that theory is his or isn’t.

  12. Good insight into the letter of Jude, thanks for pointing it out.

    I don’t think your point from Galatians works though, because James, “the brother of the Lord” need not have been one of The Twelve in order to be the other apostle besides Peter. After all, Paul identifies himself as an apostle right at the beginning of the letter.

    It seems to me that “a stranger to my mother’s sons” should be read literally/poetically as “even those closest to me don’t/won’t recognize me”. Someone who is such a finicky literalist as to insist on a perfect fit down to the minutest detail doesn’t have enough of a poet’s soul to recognize the Psalm as a prophecy in the first place. Until the Reformation invented fever-swamp literalism, no Christian read the Scriptures that way anyhow. I remember being struck one time by this passage in Psalm 50: “But to the wicked God says … If you see a thief, you are a friend of his and you keep company with adulterers.” That is exactly the reproach leveled at Jesus, and it was true! Naturally, no one thinks that God reproaches His own Son as One Who is wicked. But we should be somewhat clear about how something is a prophecy, and how it is not.

  13. John 7:5 says that at the “brothers” of Jesus did not believe in Him. “For neither did his brethren believe in him.” If these were Mary’s son’s, how could that be? They would have grown up in Mary’s household and she certainly believed in Him. She had the gold and other gifts from the three wise men. It is inconcieveable that Mary’s own son’s would not believe in their older brother. Now, if they were only cousins…

  14. Joe, off topic, but have you ever tackled the issue of Matthew primacy or Mark primacy or a Q text?

    I would love to see what you and the brains on here can come up with. 🙂

  15. Daniel I’d love to see a post on that that too. One of my professors had a theory that despite the fact that modern scholars consider Mark to predate Matthew, he [my professor] postulated that could have been a consequence of underlying anti-Catholicism among Biblical scholars of the late 19th century, especially those from Germany, because Matthew gives such weight to the Church (Matt 16, etc) and was traditionally (ie, by the same tradition that assembled the Scriptures, that is, the Church Fathers and earliest earliest councils) placed first in the NT because it was once thought to be written before Mark’s Gospel…. but it was just a hunch he had.

    But yes, some Q, Mark, and Matthew talk would be great!

  16. My working hyposthesis is that Tradition affirms that St. Matthew first wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, and later it was translated into Greek. This logia was Q. St. Mark, collecting the teachings of St. Peter used this Hebrew/Aramaic Q, which may have already been translated into Greek, as the outline of his Gospel. St. Matthew then revised his text of logia into a full narrative in Greek.

  17. “It is inconcieveable that Mary’s own son’s would not believe in their older brother. Now, if they were only cousins…”
    or if they were only step-brothers, and older ones at that. There is tradition that the brothers, except for St. James, did not want to share the inheritance of St. Joseph with Jesus when their father reposed.

    Btw, the step brother “tradition” (as opposed to the Helvidian (sons of Mary) and Hieronymean (cousins) theories) is what is called “Epiphanian.” The Papias quote is attributed to Papias, but the identification is dubious and late, and problematic as the only ancient correlation comes from self-confessed forgers. Lord willing, I’ll post something on that. (got to get to the bill paying work).

  18. Isa,

    1) We agree regarding Matthewan priority. I think that to the extent there’s a “Q,” it’s probably the original Aramaic version of St. Matthew’s Gospel that the Fathers mentioned. That theory strikes me as the best way of accounting for both the Patristic and stylistic evidence.

    2) Regarding Eusebius, where does he admit to being a forger? He’s a generally quite reliable source.

    3) Even if it was originally Eusebius, and not Papias, who said that these were Jesus’ cousins and not brothers, it’s still not true that Jerome was the first to make this argument, as you claim. Eusebius was dead before Jerome was even born. So either way, your claim that Jerome made this theory up out of some warped view of virginity is plainly debunked.



  19. This post contains excellent argumentation. I am definitely convinced that the authors of the Gospels thought Mary was perpetually a virgin, or at least wanted others to believe this.

    Besides, is it more incredible to believe that Mary never had sex after Jesus was born, or that Mary never had sex before Jesus was born?

    The second is far more incredible, and seems far more ridiculous to me than the first claim (which many women probably have fulfilled).

  20. Eusebius wasn’t a forger, but neither does he provide the “Papias” (Eusebius didn’t think much of Papias, btw). I was refering to St. Anastasius of Sinai (much of whose work is interpolated, and who admited to forging documents in his polemics), who some have cited as the source of the Papias fragment (confusing it seems the Ante-Nicea Father series’ notes). The fragment of “Papias” that make the brothers cousins is not Papias of Hieropolis, but Papias a Latin (I’ve only seen it in Latin:no one has ever offered the “Greek”) lexiconographer of the twelth century, IOW based on, rather than providing the basis for, St. Jerome.

    Eusebius does not confuse the Lord’s brother Simeon for His cousin St. Simeon, who succeeded His brother St. James. Eusebius quotes Hegesippus “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James…After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.” The rest of Tradition up to St. Jerome is also clear on the difference. Only with St. Jerome does the “cousin theory” appear. It has no basis in tradition.

  21. Oops! Left out a quote (of St. Clement) from Eusebius: “Then James, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the excellence of his virtue, is recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem. This James was called the brother of the Lord because he was known as a son of Joseph, and Joseph was supposed to be the father of Christ.”

  22. Anyone interested in a longer account based on the Bible could refer to this webite and article: Who was “James, the Brother of the Lord” (Gal 1:19) at

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