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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 '17 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. – Mr. Bultitude Apr 25 '17 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 '17 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. – Mr. Bultitude Apr 25 '17 at 18:44
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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.

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  • Is there any truth to the claim that "Paul says that differently using other Greek grammar when he means spiritual brother"? – Mr. Bultitude Apr 26 '17 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 '17 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 '17 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 '17 at 5:07
  • Could you incorporate that into your answer? – Mr. Bultitude Apr 26 '17 at 12:56
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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.

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  • 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. – Mr. Bultitude Apr 25 '17 at 18:43

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