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).
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.