Christ mythicists claim that Paul refers to James as a brother of the Lord only in the same sense that all Christians are (spiritual) brothers.

Here are the relevant passages (NRSV):

Galatians 1:19 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother.

1 Corinthians 9:5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

There are no applicable translation notes in the NET.

Here is an example of Christ mythicist Richard Carrier making the aforementioned argument:

I argued that all Christians were brothers of the Lord because: (a) they were all adopted sons of God, (b) Jesus was an adopted son of God, and (c) that by definition made them all the adopted brothers of Jesus; and (d) Christians called each other brother, therefore they would have called each other brothers of Jesus, too. I also showed (e) that they believed Jesus had explicitly called them his brothers and (f) they explicitly said Jesus was only the firstborn among many brethren. Another important point I made is that Jesus became Lord at his adoption, so Christians would be brothers of the Lord specifically, a uniquely Christian concept (and one that could only have been uttered after the origins of Christianity; e.g., even if James was the biological brother of Jesus, he would never have been called the brother of the Lord until Christians invented that phrase for him).

On the other hand, Reddit user Christosgnosis says:

The Greek grammar is specifically fraternal - not language that would denote a spiritual brother as Paul says that differently using other Greek grammar when he means spiritual brother - just reciting the scholarship on this.

So what's the deal? Is it linguistically conclusive whether Paul referenced James as having a literal familial relation to Jesus versus being merely a spiritual brother?

I know this may seem like a strange question, and it may be tempting to cite external historical evidence, but please keep your answers confined to linguistic evidence regarding how Paul used (or would have used) the relevant terms. Christ mythicists are aware of the Gospels and Josephus, for example, but they reject their veracity for various reasons.

  • I don't understand the sense of confining the discussion to Paul's Epistles. If your question is whether calling someone a "brother" (ἀδελφός) could signify something other than a blood sibling, why would you reject considering what appears in other Greek writings, especially the writings of the other Apostles, early Greek Church Fathers, or even the Septuagint?
    – user33515
    Apr 25, 2017 at 17:45
  • @user33515 I suppose my last paragraph could be reworded. What I mean is, I don't want a broader discussion of the historicity of physical brothers of Jesus (such a discussion would probably cite Josephus, the Gospels, and other early sources). I have no problem with answers citing other sources as part of a linguistic argument. Apr 25, 2017 at 17:50
  • You might just delete the last paragraph then. You state clearly in the penultimate paragraph that you are seeking answers with a linguistic basis.
    – user33515
    Apr 25, 2017 at 18:17
  • @user33515 I've reworded the final paragraph, as well as (as I mention in my comment on your answer) the penultimate paragraph. Apr 25, 2017 at 18:44
  • @Mr.Bultitude First you have to define what "literal brother" is. In Gospels you read that sometimes two women bearing the same name are called "sisters" (John 19:29), so they cannot be daughters of the same parents. Thus, also cousins or very close relatives could be called "sisters" and "brothers". In this sense, Paul's appellation could be as literal as possible, without giving us any ground to question the tradition of Mary remaining virgin throughout her entire life. Nov 28, 2021 at 7:32

4 Answers 4


In Galatians 1:19, the purpose of the addition of the phrase "the Lord's brother", is surely to distinguish the "James" Paul is referring to, from others whose name was also James.

Acts 1:13 records that James the son of Alphaeus was present in the upper room with Peter and the other Apostles. There is no reason to suppose that he wasn't at Jerusalem, since he is mentioned four times by NT authors, always with Peter and the other Apostles (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:12-16 and Acts 1:13). In the Wikipedia article about this James, it is pointed out that there are ambiguous Jameses mentioned in both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Clearly, the reason for this ambiguity is that the name "James" is very common, and one would have to record something unique about each of them to distinguish one from another.

Well, "the Lord's brother" in the spiritual sense, simply wouldn't cut the mustard in this regard. Such a label would have been of no use to anyone in identifying who Paul was referring to. There is little room for doubt that Paul understood this James to be the fraternal brother of Jesus, which those to whom he was speaking would also have understood.

In 1 Corinthians 9:5, if Paul had have meant "the brothers of the Lord" in a spiritual sense, then he would have written something like "as do Cephas, the other apostles, and the other brothers of the Lord", since they were all brothers in the spiritual sense. But he didn't, he wrote "as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas".

Again, there is little room for doubt that Paul is distinguishing, here, fraternal brothers of the Lord.

In regard to the claim by Reddit user Christosgnosis that "Paul says that differently using other Greek grammar when he means spiritual brother - just reciting the scholarship on this.":

  1. The lack of a citation for the "scholarship" makes the claim untrustworthy.

  2. Searching Paul's epistles reveals that he uses the same word for "brother" at all times, ἀδελφός (Strong's G80 - adelphos). He uses the word φιλαδελφία (Strong's G5360 - philadelphia) on two occasions in reference to "brotherly love"

  3. Searching Paul's epistles for the particular form, τον αδελφον (Accusative/Masculine/Singular), that he uses in Galatians 1:19, yields nothing that would indicate the special purpose of identifying fraternal kinship. For example Paul uses this form in regard to Titus in 2 Corinthians 2:13:

    I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother τον αδελφον: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.

    As far as I know, no one is making the claim that Paul and Titus were fraternal brothers. No, Paul is using the same form of the Greek, here, as he used in Galatians 1:19, not to refer to Titus as his fraternal brother, but as his "spiritual brother" in the Lord. The context of his usage of "brother" in Galatians 1:19, as explained previously in this answer, is what distinguishes his use, there, as a fraternal" relationship.

  • Is there any truth to the claim that "Paul says that differently using other Greek grammar when he means spiritual brother"? Apr 26, 2017 at 0:57
  • I don't thinks so. But I will check. The context is essential when interpreting text, in our own native language let alone a foreign language.
    – enegue
    Apr 26, 2017 at 1:13
  • @Mr.Bultitude I have searched Paul's Epistles and he uses the same word for "brother" at all times, ἀδελφός (Strong's G80 - adelphos). He uses the word φιλαδελφία (Strong's G5360 - philadelphia) on two occasions in reference to "brotherly love"
    – enegue
    Apr 26, 2017 at 4:29
  • @Mr.Bultitude Searching for the particular form, τον αδελφον (Accusative/Masculine/Singular), yields nothing that would indicate that it was being used to specify a fraternal relationship. The Reddit user Christosgnosis has not cited the Greek grammar that would indicate "spiritual brotherhood", so it would be hard to trust it as being correct.
    – enegue
    Apr 26, 2017 at 5:07
  • Could you incorporate that into your answer? Apr 26, 2017 at 12:56

It is not linguistically conclusive that Paul was referring to James as a full brother of Christ.

First, the word ἀδελφός (adelphos) can refer to a close relative as well as a brother. Examples of this can be found in the Septuagint:

Genesis 14:14 LXX

ἀκούσας δὲ Ἀβρὰμ ὅτι ᾐχμαλωτεύθη Λὼτ ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ, ἠρίθμησεν τοὺς ἰδίους οἰκογενεῖς αὐτοῦ, τριακοσίους δέκα καὶ ὀκτώ, καὶ κατεδίωξεν ὀπίσω αὐτῶν ἕως Δάν.

And Abram having heard that Lot his nephew had been taken captive, numbered his own home-born servants three hundred and eighteen, and pursued after them to Dan.

Genesis 29:12 LXX

καὶ ἀνήγγειλεν τῇ Ραχηλ ὅτι ἀδελφὸς τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῆς ἐστιν καὶ ὅτι υἱὸς Ρεβεκκας ἐστίν, καὶ δραμοῦσα ἀπήγγειλεν τῷ πατρὶ αὐτῆς κατὰ τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα.

And he told Rachel that he was the near relative of her father, and the son of Rebecca; and she ran and reported to her father according to these words.

Secondly, in the so-called "Epiphanian view", "brothers" and "sisters" of Jesus that are mentioned in the New Testament are understood to be children of Joseph's from a prior marriage (he was understood in this view to be a widower).1 This view explains why the word ἀδελφός - "brother", in the sense of "step-brother" - is used and not "cousin" (ἀνεψιός) or "kinsman" (συγγενής).

Either of these serve as counterarguments to maintaining that Paul's reference to James as the "brother" of Jesus linguistically excludes any possibility other than his being a full brother, of the same father and same mother.

1 See, e.g., the Protoevangelium of James, a 2nd century apocryphal writing.

  • I've made an edit to state more clearly that I was looking for evidence of "literal familial relation" versus "spiritual brother," not (as your answer gives) "full brother, of the same father and same mother" versus anything else. Apr 25, 2017 at 18:43

There is a misconception about declaring Judas as the brother of Jesus:

1 - In his own Epistle Judas declares himself brother of James and servant of Jesus;

2- In the same Ecclesiastical History, Hegesippus says that Simeon/Simon was Jesus' cousin. Book III Chapter XI

Researching Hegesippus' fragments now, you will notice that the text is not quite like that:

There still survived of the kindred of the Lord the grandsons of Judas, who according to the flesh was called his brother.

In a free translation it says: There are the relatives of Jesus who survived, the grandsons of Judas, according to the flesh he was called his brother.

So that changes the meaning a lot.

How many people named James are there?

  1. James the Minor, son of Mary, wife of Cleophas/Alpheus, is one of the twelve apostles: Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15-16; John 14:22, Acts 1:13, this being the same James, brother of Joseph, son of Mary: Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10. Being by Galatians 1:19, the same James, prominent in the early church, cousin/relative of the Lord, who is distinguished from the apostles and in prominence. Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18; 1 Cor 15:7 Galatians 1:19, 2:9, 2:12 and Jude 1:1.

  2. A James, father of the apostle Judas, "Judas of James" in Luke 6:16 is translated "Judas, SON of James", John 14:22, Acts 1:13 and in a manuscript of the old Syriac translation:

The construction "Masculine Singular Accusative Noun + Masculine Genitive Singular Noun" of Luke 6:16 "Judas of James" occurs in the following passages in the Greek Septuagint: .

(Haman, son of Hammedatha and descendant of Agag) Est. 3:1; (Lysimachus, son of Ptolemy, resident of Jerusalem) Est. 10:3; (Numenium, son of Antiochus, and Antipater, son of Jason) 1 mac. 12:16; (Apollonius, son of Tarseas) 2 mac. 3:5; (Apollonius, son of Menestheus) 2 mac. 4:4; (James, son of Alphaeus) Luke 6:15; (Judas Iscariot, son of Simon) John. 6:71.

The construction "Feminine Singular Accusative Noun + Feminine Singular Genitive Noun"

(Mesopotamia of Syria) Gen. 28:6-7; (Ramoth of Gilead) 1 Kings. 22:15; (Ramoth of Gilead) 2 Kings. 9:1-4; (Ramoth of Gilead) 1 Chron. 6:65; (Ramoth of Gilead) 2 Chron. 18:5,11,14,28; (Ramoth of Gilead) 2 Chron. 22:5; (Mesopotamia of Syria) Psalm. 59:2

The construction is very severe in not changing in the Septuagint. What reason would he have for translating "Judas of James" in Luke 6:16 against the pattern? At the moment none! Therefore it is being translated: "Judas, SON of James"

  1. Mary of Cleopas is mentioned as the "mother of James and Joseph" (Matthew 27:55-56), the "mother of James" (Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:10) and also the " mother of James the Lesser and of Joseph" (Mark 15:40-47), therefore, she is the mother of the Apostle James the Lesser and also the "wife of Cleophas" (John 19:25), Mary of Cleophas is also the "sister/cousin/relative" of the mother of Jesus" (John 19:25), she is also the wife of Alphaeus, since Alphaeus and Cleopas are Greek forms derived from a single name, in Aramaic Claphai and in Hebrew Halphai, hence , the term “caliphate”, observe the possibility of the term/name in context.

F) The apostles became elders/elders over time: The apostles in the Church in Jerusalem: Acts Chapter 8; the transition: Acts Chapter 11, 12 and 15.

G) Eusebius of Cezareia did not make a mistake when interpreting the report of the examination made by Hegesippus, quoted in Ecclesiastical History - Book III Cap X, because in fact, Simeon, brother of the Apostle James the Minor, sons of Alfeu\Cléophas, are cousins of Savior.

Proposed translations:

Ecclesiastical History, Book III - Of Our Savior's Relatives. Chapter XX "However, there still survived from the kindred of the Lord, the grandsons of Judah, from fleshly descent, being called him, brother."

Ecclesiastical History - Book III Cap X: "However, let us go forward to the next persons in succession, after the Testimony of James, who lives and is missing, being that presently Jerusalem was captured and the apostles and disciples of the Lord who retain the Word, are in every direction. Before this, from all parts, for they came together and at the same time towards, to the benefit of the descendants according to the flesh of the Lord in quantity and of these, they shone around among them, however , at that time, to the living council, also of people assembled, all respecting who is being due to the successor position of James to determine worthy to be made. And indeed, from one opinion of all, Simeon, who being the son of Clopas, and that the good message/gospel is being recalled from the writing (Scripture) in this place, temporary dwelling on the throne, for being examined as a cousin, as I really notice having come to be from the Savior, seen therefore that Hegesippus examined Clopas, Joseph's brother, to be existing."

The assembly following the decision of the apostles, the Lord's brother/cousin/relative; James, having been called righteous by all, from the time of the Lord until ours, since many called James, but he was holy from his mother's womb, wine and strong drink not ate, so little animal with blood ate. Ecclesiastical History.

However, he still in his seventh hypothesis and these things about him is saying: After the resurrection from the dead, the Lord delivered (spoke) the gnosis (knowledge) to James, the so-called "the Just", John and to Peter, these to the remaining apostles delivered them, already the remaining apostles to the seventy are being inward and Barnabas was being. Ecclesiastical History, Book II Cap I, Verse 4:


There is, in my view, no doubt, none whatsoever, that one Jacob, a sibling of Jesus, was an influential leader, the “bishop” if you like, for the group of people who, after the death of Jesus believed that he was the promised Messiah. These people were predominantly jews but among them were also some individuals of heathen origin, the socalled godfearers, who were attracted to judaism and the religious customs of the jews. The question at hand has therefore not to do with Paul meeting Jacob the brother of Jesus in Jerusalem. Paul would surely have met him. The real question is this: Why is Jacob more or less kept in the shadows, both in The Acts of the apostles and other traditions of the ancient church? Was Jacob like Simon Peter a man of the Torah? The Torah was of course their tradition and had been for generations. Acts 15 seems to indicate the proposistion of two sets of rules - one for the jewish christians and another for the heathen christians.

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