Q: What is this about the “brothers” of Jesus in the Bible? Did Mary have other children besides Jesus?
A: No.The Church teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin. Yet, as you mention, the Bible does indeed mention the “brothers” of Jesus. Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon…”
The “brothers” of Jesus are clearly mentioned, and named, in the Bible. So, Mary must have had other children and the Catholic Church is wrong when it dogmatically teaches that she was a perpetual virgin, right? Well, not so fast.
First of all, let’s look at Matthew 27:55-56. Here we see named some of the women who were at the Crucifixion. “There were also many women there, looking on from afar…among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses…” It seems that the James and Joses identified in Mark 6:3 as the “brothers” of Jesus, indeed had a mother named Mary, but it was not the same Mary who was the mother of Jesus.
Furthermore, let’s look at Galatians 1:19. Paul is talking about when he went to Jerusalem to consult with the chief of the Apostles, Peter, and while there, “I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.”
So, we have James, the “brother” of Jesus as mentioned in Mark 6:3, and James, the “Lord’s brother,” as mentioned in Gal 1:19. And this time James, the Lord’s brother, is identified as an apostle. So, if I’m a Bible-only believer — in other words, if the Bible is my sole rule of faith when it comes to all things related to the Christian Faith — then I have to admit that the James in Mark 6:3 and the James in Gal 1:19 are the same James; after all, how many brothers named “James” would Jesus have?
But there’s a problem for those who would say this James is the son of Mary, the mother of Jesus. You see, this James is clearly identified as an apostle. Yet, of the two apostles named James that we find in the list of the twelve apostles (e.g., Matthew 10:1-4), one of them had a father named Zebedee and the other had a father named Alphaeus — neither one of them had a father named Joseph! Which means, neither one of them was Jesus’ sibling. Neither one of them had the same mother as Jesus. So, the James mentioned in Mark 6:3 and Gal 1:19 as a “brother” of Jesus, is a brother in a broader sense of the word, he was not a brother in the sense of having the same parents.
Now, Catholic tradition (small “t” tradition), often identifies the James in Galatians 1:19 as someone who was not one of the twelve apostles. However, someone who goes by the Bible alone and who does not put any stock in “tradition” cannot use the argument from tradition, because they only accept the Bible as the authority in matters Christian. So, using the Bible alone, one cannot argue that the James in Gal 1:19 is a “third” James who had at some point been named an apostle because the Bible nowhere mentions such a thing.
So, when we look at the “brothers” of Jesus in the broader context of Scripture, rather than just focusing on Mark 6:3, we see that the argument against the perpetual virginity of Mary has no foundation in the Bible.
John Martignoni is a nationally-known Catholic apologist and Bible scholar. He is the Founder and President of the Bible Christian Society, where you can find lots of free apologetics materials — CD’s, mp3 downloads, e-newsletters, and more, and host of EWTN’s “Open Line” airing on Mondays at 3 p.m. EST. He is also Director of the Office of the New Evangelization in the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama.