Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland

The Brothers of Jesus

Meet Mary and Joseph's family

Matthew 1:18-25 reports how Joseph received the news that Mary, his fiancee', was the mother of Christ.
The angel said, "Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. The baby inside her is from the Holy Spirit. She is going to have a son. You must give him the name Jesus. That is because he will save his people from their sins." ...

Joseph woke up. He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife. But he did not make love to her until after she gave birth to a son.
(Scripture quotations are from the New International Readers' Version)
From this, we learn that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph began having normal marital relations.  And so they had several more children.  The Bible names four sons (in addition to Jesus).
The Greek spelling is "Iakobos".
We would say, "Joseph, Jr."  Sometimes also spelled "Joses".

This was a very common and honorable name for Jewish boys, named after Judah, the patriarch of the tribe. Sometimes his name is translated as "Jude", so as not to confuse readers with Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.
The Bible also mentions that Mary and Joseph had daughters, but it does not tell us how many or their names.
Jesus finished telling these stories. Then he moved on from there. He came to his hometown of Nazareth. There he began teaching the people in their synagogue. They were amazed.

"Where did this man get this wisdom? Where did he get this power to do miracles?" they asked. "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary? Aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us?..." 
(Matthew 13:53-56;  also see Mark 6:1-6)

What did James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas think about their older brother, Jesus?
Even Jesus' own brothers did not believe in him. (John 7:5)
And sometimes they thought Jesus was crazy.
Jesus entered a house. Again a crowd gathered. It was so large that Jesus and his disciples were not even able to eat. His family heard about this. So they went to take charge of him. They said, "He is out of his mind." (Mark 3:20-21)
That is a reasonable reaction.  How would you feel if your brother said things like:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
But after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, we see that His brothers changed their opinion about Him.
The apostles... all came together regularly to pray. The women joined them too. So did Jesus' mother Mary and his brothers.  (Acts 1:12,14)
What caused their change in attitude about their brother Jesus?  Paul gives us a hint in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.
What I received I passed on to you. And it is the most important of all. Here is what it is:
  • Christ died for our sins, just as Scripture said he would.
  • He was buried.
  • He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as Scripture said he would be.
  • He appeared to Peter.
  • Then he appeared to the Twelve.
  • After that, he appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time...
  • He appeared to James.
  • Then he appeared to all the apostles.

Who were that "James" and "all the apostles"?   They were his brothers, the sons of Joseph and Mary.  You will see soon why Paul specifically names James, but not the other three brothers.

Note that Jesus had already appeared to "the Twelve," which included two men also named "James" -- (1) James the son of Zebedee, and (2) James the son of Alphaeus. 

James the son of Zebedee (and brother of John), was part of Jesus' "inner circle" of the Twelve Disciples -- Peter, James, and John.  But James the son Zebedee was the first of the Twelve to be executed for his faith. 
King Herod arrested some people who belonged to the church. He planned to make them suffer greatly. He had James killed with a sword. James was John's brother.  (Acts 12:1,2)
Luke names James the son of Alphaeus in the list of the disciples in Acts 1:13.  But after that James the son of Alphaeus fades from view.  The Bible doesn't mention him again.  But it does often mention James the brother of Jesus, because he became the leader, the bishop, of the Jerusalem church.

After Paul became a Christian, he went to Jerusalem to meet the two chief Christian leaders -- Peter and James, "the Lord's brother."
...I went up to Jerusalem. I went there to get to know Peter. I stayed with him for 15 days.  I didn't see any of the other apostles. I only saw James, the Lord's brother. (Galatians 1:18-19)
Several stories in the New Testament describe James' leadership role in the Jerusalem church:
Acts 12:17
Acts 15 (see verse 13)
Acts 21:18
Galatians 2:11-12

James had a top leadership role in the Jerusalem church.  So we may safely guess that the author of the New Testament letter of James was written by Jesus' younger brother.
I, James, am writing this letter. I serve God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am sending this letter to you, the 12 tribes that are scattered among the nations. (James 1:1)

Did Jesus' and James' other three brothers become church leaders?

Yes. Paul mentions "the Lord's brothers" in a list with "the other apostles."
Don't we have the right to take a believing wife with us when we travel? The other apostles do. The Lord's brothers do. Peter does. (1 Corinthians 9:5)
Judas (son of Joseph and Mary) is probably the author of the New Testament letter of "Jude" (the original Greek text says the author is "Judas")
I, Jude [Judas], am writing this letter. I serve Jesus Christ. I am a brother of James. (Jude 1)
Notice how both James and Judas, do not mention that they are Jesus' brothers.  Rather, they humbly describe themselves as His servants.

How did Jesus' brothers die?

The Jewish historian Josephus reports that priestly authorities executed James around the year AD 66.  We have no record of how or when the other three brothers died.