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Acts 1:14

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Are these sons of Mary and Joseph?

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We are not told. Jesus' brothers (and sisters!) are mentioned several times:

  • Matt 13:55 - "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?
  • Mark 6:3 - Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?"
  • John 2:12 - After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples
  • John 7:5 - For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.
  • Acts 1:14 - They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
  • Gal 1:19 - But I did not see any of the other apostles, except James the brother of the Lord.
  • 1 Cor 9:5 - have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

We do not know, because we are not told, who was the mother of these men. Did Mary have further children after Jesus, or did Joseph have children from a previous marriage? Both are quite possible, even probable. However, nothing is recorded in the Bible.

There are some early writings, outside the Bible, by some that suggest both the above here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers_of_Jesus

But that evidence is flimsy but all we have.

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  • Good answer. +1
    – alb
    Jun 21 at 0:05
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These are the sons of Mary and they are true brothers to Jesus.

It would not just be ambiguous to say :

These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. [Acts 1:14 KJV]

it would actually be misleading to say it, if these were not his true brethren, also born of his mother, Mary.

The grouping together of Mary and the brothers of Jesus implies a family circle. If the brothers were not the sons of Mary, then the text gives a false impression. The text would have to say something like '... and Mary the mother of Jesus and with the other sons of Joseph ...' or some such.

The wording is quite simple, quite straightforward, and there is no reason to doubt the obvious sense of the text.

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    Good answer. +1
    – alb
    Jun 21 at 0:09
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It's extremely plain from Matthew 13:55-56 that Jesus had both brothers and sisters (World English Bible):

Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary, and his brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all of his sisters with us?

Almost identical words are used in Mark 6:3. The people being quoted are Jews from Jesus's home town of Nazareth, who knew him when he was growing up and are describing the family he comes from and his origins as the son of a manual laborer (τέκτονος). If anyone was going to know whether Jesus had siblings, these people would. The words "brothers" (ἀδελφοὶ) and "sisters" (ἀδελφαὶ) cannot possibly be metaphorical here, as in "all men are brothers," just on a plain reading of what these two verses say. It certainly can't be a religious metaphor like "brothers and sisters in Christ," because the people speaking are Jews. The fact that these words are used in such metaphorical senses elsewhere in the NT doesn't mean that they are metaphorical here, where the writer doesn't provide the slightest hint that it's anything other than a statement of biological fact.

There is no way to wriggle out of this by saying that Aramaic lacked a separate word for "cousin." The NT is written in Greek, not Aramaic. It's unlikely that the educated people who wrote the gospels would have been so unskilled in Greek as to slip into using an overly literal translation of an Aramaic word. Koine Greek had appropriate words such as ἀνεψιὸς, which are used when appropriate in the NT (Colossians 4:10). Luke is traditionally said to have been a gentile and the author of Acts. He uses ἀδελφοῖς in a passage that is clearly about Jesus's family (Acts 1:14):

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had come in, they went up into the upper room where they were staying, that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer and supplication, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

If the Greek-speaking gentile Luke had meant "cousins," he would have had no reason not to use the appropriate form of ἀνεψιὸς. As noted in the answer by Nigel J, the grouping of the words in Acts 1:14 clearly means that it's an actual sibling relationship being described.

The fact that "brother" can be used in a wider or metaphorical sense is irrelevant here, because it's clear that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are describing Jesus's family relationships in these passages.

We also have direct confirmation from the Jewish historian Josephus: "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James." The existence of a brother James is one of the very few facts about Jesus that are documented both in the gospels and in non-Christian sources.

And finally, if Matthew had meant to claim that Mary remained ever-virgin in a literal, biological sense, the way the word is used in modern English, then he certainly would have clarified this in 13:55-56. He would have had to be stupid not to realize that the words he wrote, as written, would be taken by his readers to mean that Mary had other children, fathered by Joseph. The following passages are similar:

Luke 2:7

She gave birth to her firstborn son.

Matt 1:18

After his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

Matt 1:24

Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took his wife to himself; and didn’t know her sexually until she had given birth to her firstborn son.

Again, their authors would have had to realize the clear implication that a reader would draw: that Mary had additional, later sons, whose biological father was Joseph.

Because any other reading of the texts is incredibly strained, we might wonder why anyone would insist so strongly on ignoring their plain meaning. In the first few centuries of Christianity, there was a vigorous debate over marriage and chastity, along with the development of a concept of original sin (Augustine, ca. 400 AD), which was linked conceptually to sex. On this view, if Mary had further children by Joseph, it would be a defilement of her womb. Furthermore, Augustine claimed that original sin was transmitted from one generation to the next through the concupiscence associated with sex, although debate about this went on well into the second millenium. The doctrine of the immaculate conception was not an official Catholic teaching until 1854, but for its supporters, it was desirable to have a mechanism by which the chain of transmission of original sin could be completely broken, by having Mary not just be born free of sin, but also be perpetually a virgin. (This also creates a conflict with the text of the gospels, since Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and there would have been no need for this if Jesus had never had original sin transmitted to him.)

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    I was about to up-vote as an excellent argument and an answer at least as equal to, and probably superior to, mine, but I balked at condoning the last sentence in brackets. The begetting within the virgin Mary is called 'holy' by both Matthew and Luke. This last sentence attempts to cast doubt on that and I disagree, thoroughly and absolutely.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 6 at 13:08
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Are those Jesus' half brothers mentioned in Acts 1:14?

Acts 1:14

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Are these sons of Mary and Joseph? The answer is *"Yes".*

In verse 13 the writer lists the names of His eleven faithful apostle that are together with the mother of Jesus and His brothers (The word brothers in this context may also include Jesus sisters)

Acts 1:13-14 (NASB)

13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upstairs room where they were staying, that is, Peter, John, [a]James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, [b]James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the [c]son of [d]James. 14 All these were continually devoting themselves with one [e]mind to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

Jesus Brothers:

These siblings were all born after the miraculous birth of Jesus. Most Bible scholars accept the evidence that Jesus had at least four brothers and two sisters and that all were offspring of Joseph and Mary by natural means.​

Matthew 13:55-56 (NASB)

55 Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is His mother not called Mary, and His brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man acquire all these things?”

John 2:12 (NASB)

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.

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No, they aren't. Aramaic had no word for "cousin", and "brother" was used both for actual blood brothers and also for relatives. For instance in Genesis we have Lot, Abraham's nephew, whom he calls his "brother" in Gen 13,8.

You can also see in Gal 1,19, where Paul says that the apostol James was "the Lord's brother", when it is clearly stated in the Gospel that neither of the two James (respectively sons of Zebedee and Alphaeus) are brothers of Jesus.

Even more telling is John 19,26, where Jesus leaves Mary at the care of John. In Mosaic Law care of the widow fell to the eldest brother. So clearly there was no brother.

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    This is not a viable reading of the historical record. The existence of a brother James is one of the very few facts about Jesus that are documented both in the gospels and in non-Christian sources. Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews refers to "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James."
    – user39728
    Jan 9 at 17:25
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    Aramaic had no word for "cousin", and "brother" was used both for actual blood brothers and also for relatives. For instance in Genesis we have Lot, Abraham's nephew, whom he calls his "brother" in Gen 13,8. Genesis was written in Hebrew, but both the NT and Josephus were written in Greek, so this point doesn't make sense.
    – user39728
    Jan 9 at 17:40
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    As far as I can tell (definitely not an expert), the original language of the Gospels is not an established fact, and mainstream opinions have varied over time. In any case, as a second-language speaker myself, I know it is very common to transfer structures and uses from one language to the other. In particular when one word in a language goes to two words in another language, speakers are regularly confused, as I experience with my own trilingual children. Jan 9 at 18:15
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    In light of Matthew 12:48-50 and Matthew 13:55-58 it is easy to understand why Jesus left the care of his mother (a believer) to John (a believing brother) rather than his unbelieving brothers. Jan 10 at 14:32
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    This is the old apologetic catholic answer ("what a catholic should asnwer to protestant objections against perpetual Mary's virginity"), but is has never been taught as catholic doctrine. In this form, it's today considered unacceptable by most scholars (even catholic ones), notably Fitzmyer and Meier, see eg books.google.com.ar/…
    – leonbloy
    Jan 10 at 14:49
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It is the most likely understanding that Mary bore Jesus and several brothers and sisters.

Brethren - adelphos

a (al-fah) - figuratively first, sometimes indicating union, and most often used to designate privation (from), as in a-theism or a-millenial

delphos (delphus) - the womb

Therefore it is most naturally read as "from the womb".

Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers (from the wombers) James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? - Matthew 13:55

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    But adelphos is also used in the Greek translations to describe the relation between Abraham and Lot, who were uncle and nephew. Jan 9 at 11:37
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    @MartinArgerami We are clearly told in Genesis 12:5 that Lot is his brother's son which allows us to read Genesis 14:14 figuratively. Context has to be king. Look at Matthew 12:48-50. No one is suggesting that Mary was only Jesus' figurative mother. I believe it is tradition "giving permission" for brothers to be figurative rather than the text. Jan 10 at 14:25
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Regardless of whether the brothers had been born of Mary or of a previous wife of Joseph, they did not have the same father as Jesus had; so they would have been either half-brothers or step-brothers; but the biggest clues all point to the latter.

We know that God was Jesus' true Father:

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 1:18)

In acknowledgment that Joseph was not Jesus' natural father, Luke twice specifies "Joseph" in place of "father" when referring to Jesus' earthly parents:

"And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him." (Luke 2:33)

"And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it." (Luke 2:43)

But as regards their particular relationship to both Jesus and to Mary, a few more Biblical clues deserve consideration.

First, note the circumstances of this brief anecdote in Matthew:

"Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee." (Matthew 12:47)

Why would they have stood outside the assembly, putting pressure on Jesus to cease his current activities in order to go and meet them? If his brethren were not older than Jesus, how could they have expected him to concede to their demands?

Secondly, note what happened at the cross.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:25-27)

Why does Jesus assign his mother with a "son", and why are none of Mary's other sons there with her at the cross, if indeed she had borne others? Where is Joseph?

Joseph, who had likely been considerably older than Mary, had already passed away. The prophecy of the sword passing through Mary's heart had been made to her, and her alone, despite Joseph's presence at the time the prophecy was given.

And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:33-35)

Had Joseph yet been alive, surely he would have accompanied Mary to the cross, and this "sword" would have pierced his heart also. But he is gone. And none of his other children, step-children to Mary, would be there to comfort her at this time.

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They were Jesus' step-brothers. They were sons of Joseph by a previous wife of Joseph whom the Bible never mentions but who would have been deceased before he could marry Mary. The text contains a huge cultural-related clue to this: "Leave here and go into Judaea...." For the brothers to think that they could command Jesus to do something is a clear indication that they were older than Jesus. And if they were older, because Jesus was obviously Mary's firstborn, they could not possibly have been her children.

Another big clue to them being step-brothers rather than sons of Mary is given at the cross.

"When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!" (John 19:26)

Jesus saw his mother being bereft of her son and needing support. John was assigned the role of "son" for her, and took care of her afterward according to Jesus' word. This would have been unnecessary had Mary had other sons of her own to attend to her.

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  • "For the brothers to think that they could command Jesus to do something is a clear indication that they were older than Jesus." Or maybe they were being rude and mocking him. What evidence do you have that it would be completely unthinkable to say this to your older brother?
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 20 at 22:21
  • @curiousdannii I live in Asia. I know the culture. Asians have a strong status system established on various criteria, but age is among the most important of them. Twins that are born five minutes apart still have an "older" and a "younger" status for the rest of their lives, despite being biologically the same age. Remember Jacob and Esau? Same story. The Biblical culture closely matches that of Asia today. Other examples where the cultures match include: paying a bride price (dowry), removing shoes to enter the church, etc. You simply couldn't command an elder. It's not permissible.
    – Polyhat
    Jun 20 at 23:40
  • "They were sons of Joseph by a previous wife of Joseph whom the Bible never mentions" @Polyhat, do you have a source for this statement?
    – agarza
    Jun 21 at 2:23
  • @agarza I have extrabiblical confirmation that Joseph had had children by a previous marriage, but here I am limited to using purely the Scriptures to explain themselves. I think the Biblical evidence is sufficient to ascertain the truth on this point.
    – Polyhat
    Jun 21 at 2:47

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