This question specifically deals with the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Matthew 13:55-56 reads:

Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things? (NIV)

I have read that proponents of the doctrine claim that the word translated as "brothers" in Matthew 13:55 does not necessarily imply biological relationship (http://www.catholic.com/blog/matt-fradd/jesus-had-brothers). My question then, is whether the word translated as "sisters" has the same ambiguity?

  • See also: Can αδελφοί refer to cousins?.
    – Susan
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 18:25
  • @terminex9: Are you asking about ἀδελφή in the context of the Greek NT alone (and perhaps also the LXX), or in all the contemporary Greek literature of that era (i.e., including secular literature)?
    – user862
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 18:39

3 Answers 3


To answer your question, yes, the same ambiguity is attributed to the word translated as "sisters".

There are three ancient views regarding Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters". They are summarized in an appendix to Laurent Cleenewercke's translation of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchal Text (The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible: New Testament, 2011):

The so-called Epiphanian view (named after St. Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus) is the traditional position of Eastern Orthodoxy and the preferred exegesis of the Greek Fathers. It holds that the brothers and sisters of the Lord are most probably children of Joseph by a previous marriage as well as other close relatives such as cousins, etc.

The Helvidian view (named after Helvidius who was Jerome’s opponent in the controversy) is that of most Evangelicals and Protestants today: it holds that the “brothers and sisters” mentioned in the New Testament are children which Joseph had with Mary subsequent to the birth of Jesus.

Finally, what I shall call the Jeromian [or Hieronymian] view is named after St. Jerome who did not accept the idea that the “brothers and sisters” could have been children of Joseph (whose virginity he also sought to uphold). Instead, he proposed an interpretation of the Scriptural data which concluded that the “brothers and sisters” were in fact close cousins. This is the preferred (if not official) position of Roman Catholic theology.


Let's see the context.

Matthew 13:54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

The context is very much localized to Jesus' family and hometown. It is very specific about his father, his genetic mother, the names of 4 gene-related brothers and all his gene-related sisters.

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

In other towns, his non-gene-related brothers and sisters had more faith and he performed more miracles.

Also, Jesus had many non-gene-related sisters outside of his hometown. It was unlikely that all of them were present at Matthew 13:56.


This passage only indicates that Jesus had many sisters not just 2 or 3. I don't think they would say "all his sisters are with us" referring to just 2 or 3. So those are a lot of brothers and sisters. Where are they in Egypt or when Jesus was lost in Jerusalem when he was 12? Everything tend to indicate that Jesus was only son regardless of some vague passages. Logic tells us that Jesus was only son of Mary.

There is no ambiguity. The context of the Greek word "Adelphos" is a generalized term for "brothers". It s used in John 20:18. Jesus tell Mary Magdalene to go tell his "brothers" what she has seen and heard. His brothers here is the same as brothers in Mathew 13:55. There was no word to specify children of the same father and mother. The context of Adelphos is just a relationship not necessary that these were natural blood brothers of Jesus or children of Mary.

Same for Adelphi which means "sisters". Adelphi can be used to refer to female partners in the faith like in Romans 16: 1-2. Phoebe was not Paul's blood sister! I hope this answers the question!

  • If you have not already done so, please take our Tour to see what we look for in a well-researched answer: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 16:09
  • There is some notes that might be of interest bible-researcher.com/adelphos.html Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 16:30
  • Thank you. It would be helpful if you would summarise these notes within the body of your answer and then give the link. Can you do this by clickingon the Edit button?
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 17:02

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