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Before Jesus died on the cross, we have in John 19:26:

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,”

But Mary had other sons besides Jesus, right? Why didn't Jesus just leave his mother to her other sons by default?

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    What a good point! Though it goes without saying that a lot of folks participating on this site would disagree that Mary had sons other than Jesus. But as you are asking "If", the question being based on the assumption that Mary had other sons, I hope answerers will stick to the question and not deviate by arguing against the assumption.
    – Anne
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 14:34
  • The question is based on an unyet proven premise, i.e., that the apostle John is the beloved disciple. Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 4:49

10 Answers 10

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Nobody claims that the apostle John was a son of Mary, though (in Protestant circles) James is identified as one of four half-brothers of Jesus. In his home town, his teaching amazed the locals who said,

“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?” (Mark 6:3)

Of course, this James was not the apostle James. Four men called James are mentioned in the New Testament. The writer of the epistle of James could not have been the apostle James due to that apostle having died in A.D. 44, before the epistle was written. It is believed that, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, his half-brother James became a Christian. And that is the reason why Jesus did not charge James with care of Mary as he was dying on the cross.

Jesus was the eldest son, with James being next. Naturally, James should have taken care of Mary as it seems that Jospeh had died before then. This is gleaned from Mark 3:20-21 & 31-32:

“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of [Jesus], for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ …Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Sanding outside, they sent someone in to call him.”

But if James (and his other half-brothers) were not followers of Jesus, thinking him to be ‘out of his mind’, there was no way Jesus as eldest son would want non-believers in him as the Messiah to care for Mary. He knew John was true in his belief and love. Both he and Mary were there at the cross. That is why he charged John with care of his mother. He knew his resurrection would follow, but until that happened his dear mother’s heart would be broken, as had been prophesied by old Simeon who held the 40-day-old baby Jesus in his arms. For Mary, it would be as if a sword pierced her, and surely that happened as she saw Jesus crucified. Knowing her grief, and the faithful love of John, he entrusted Mary to the one best equipped to help her through this trauma. It would not be until later that James would become a follower of Jesus.

This reminds us of Jesus’ response years earlier to his brothers trying to take him away, thinking he was out of his mind. When told that “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you”, he responded, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:20-21). This implies that Jesus did not regard them as being spiritually sound, but the apostle John certainly was. And John was his brother due to having heard God’s word and put it into practice. Therefore, to John he entrusted the care of his mother, and not to his half-brother, James.

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    . . . and James the Lord's brother features in a situation involving Peter and Barnabas and the entire Church, which matter was resolved by the intervention (not of James, who appears to have had undue influence, but) of Paul who had to withstand Peter to his face, regarding matters of the Law and the Gospel. (Up-voted +1.)
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 22:13
  • @RBarryYoung If you accept that they were full brothers, then do you presume that ALL of them were fathered by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was? If so, that sounds more Catholic than the Catholics who teach the concept of "immaculate conception"--you would be putting the "s" to that, making it plural. I don't know anyone who actually believes Jesus' brothers were anything more than half-brothers. The only question that remains is whether or not they were step-brothers.
    – Polyhat
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 8:14
  • @RBarryYoung It's very common to call Jesus's siblings his half-brothers and half-sisters, see on Christianity.SE for example.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 8:27
  • My apologies, in my dotage I misunderstood the nuance. Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 12:50
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Mary had other family members who would look after her - even ignoring if she had other children, she was part of a close knit and influential community (Luke 1.36) -- the point was to try to help fill the hole created by Jesus' death.

This is foreshadowed in Matt 15.3-9, where Jesus criticize those Pharisees who neglect their parents in order to serve God:

So he answered and said to them, “Why do you also break the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘The one who speaks evil of father or mother must certainly die.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or his mother, “Whatever benefit you would have received from me is a gift to God,” need not honor his father,’ and you make void the word of God for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah correctly prophesied about you saying, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far, far away from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

So while Jesus needed to die young, he understood that Mary would now lose a son, and he refused to say "whatever benefit you would have received from me is a gift to God", rather he provided a substitute for himself in Mary's life.

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  • You have a good instinct on the heart of Christ.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 4:22
  • I appreciate Jesus's need to care for his mother, but I am not clear how this response answers the question of why John rather than one of Mary's natural sons.
    – Ochado
    Commented Jan 11 at 2:37
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If Mary had had other sons besides Jesus, it would have made little sense to assign John to be her son. But let's look at the Biblical evidence.

Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? (Matthew 13:55)

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. (Mark 6:3)

Note that these texts carefully avoid any connection of the brothers and sisters of Jesus to Mary, Jesus' mother. There is no text in the Bible that would indicate or confirm that Mary had any other children. The Bible, in similar fashion, carefully sets Joseph apart from a direct fatherhood connection with Jesus.

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)

And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. (Matthew 2:13)

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)

None of those passages says Joseph was Jesus' father--because, of course, Jesus was not fathered by man. But why does the writer take time to say "Joseph and his mother" instead of simply saying "Jesus' parents"? The Bible is careful with identities where these are important. And it is important that a Bible student take notice, and interpret correctly.

In similar fashion, the Bible does not state that Jesus' brothers were the sons of Mary. Having just named Mary, it could have said "mother of James and Joses....etc." But that is not what it says. There is a reason for this.

By the time Jesus began his public ministry, Joseph had passed away--which is why we do not see or hear of Joseph at the wedding in Cana, as being among those waiting to see Jesus outside the crowd, at the cross, or upon any occasion during Jesus' ministry.

The other children of Joseph, for whom Mary was a step-mother, while still relatives of Mary, were not her blood relatives. She, being a woman, would have faced difficulties within the culture of her day if, following Jesus' death, she had tried to remove herself from her in-laws to seek a more peaceful residence. Jesus, knowing this, gave command that she consider John as her son, and that John take Mary as his mother. John, being close to Jesus, immediately understood the command, and took her to his home, caring for her as his own mother. This brought relief to Mary's mind, for Jesus' word gave legitimacy to her move.

Had Mary had other sons of her own, they would certainly have cared for her, and John's help would have seemed unnecessary. But there is simply no text to indicate that she did.

Jesus' brothers were those born to Joseph before his first wife had passed away. They were older than Jesus, which is why they felt especially upset when Jesus did not listen to them and follow their directions. When Jesus said "My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it" (Luke 8:21), he implied that those outside the crowd waiting to speak with him (they had something they wanted to tell him to do) were his family only as much as they followed his messages from God. Jesus was turning the tables--giving them instruction when they had come to give him instruction.

Within the culture of that day, it would have been unthinkable to seek to instruct a superior. This is why Jesus himself, as a twelve-year-old boy in the temple, merely asked questions of the teachers (see Luke 2:46-47). He could not directly instruct them, but through his questions he showed that he had a more thorough understanding than they had--and they learned from his innocent questionings.

Therefore, when we see that Jesus' brothers attempted to tell him what to do, we know that they were older than he was. And that is just what we see in John 7:3.

His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. (John 7:3)

Though Jesus loved and respected his brothers, he had a mission which they did not understand; and he followed his Father's will over theirs.

Clearly, as Jesus' brothers were older, and as Jesus was the firstborn of Mary (see Matthew 1:25), the brothers could not have been Mary's sons.

This is why Jesus, in perfect filial love and understanding of his mother's needs, assigned John to Mary.

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    You devoted half your answer to doing the very thing I hoped answerers would not do, then claimed Mary was merely step-mother to the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in scripture. Yet there is not a particle of scripture that even hints at that being the case. Mat. 1:25 says that Joseph "knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son" Jesus. That implies Joseph DID have sex with her after Jesus' birth but implies nothing about older brothers. Your argument is conjecture, given by those who believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary (i.e. she had no sex and no other children)
    – Anne
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 13:29
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    @Anne There is nothing in scripture to indicate Mary was a perpetual virgin. In fact, the opposite is rather clear. It seems you would agree on that point. I said nothing about Mary remaining a virgin, because such a belief is unbiblical.
    – Polyhat
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 13:39
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    @Anne Doesn't "firstborn" imply other "born" sons as well? Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 14:09
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    @user3067860 Do you think that the laws of firstborns would not apply if their mothers did not happen to have any more children? For example: "Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine" (Exodus 13:2).
    – Polyhat
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 14:31
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    @user3067860 The word "firstborn" has special significance in the Bible that transcends birth order. "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" (Col. 1:15)--that text does not mean He was born first from every creature, nor does it mean He was born before every creature. When Mary names her firstborn, she has just barely given birth to him. She has only one son--yet that son is called her firstborn. "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).
    – Polyhat
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 16:10
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So when Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household. - Jn 19:26-27

Jesus entrusted Mary to the disciple’s care and the disciple to Mary’s care. With these words, Jesus established a new household/home, not on the basis of blood but on the word of God.

“My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” – Lk 8:20

After Jesus’ ascension, Mary was notably among the disciples who gathered in the upper room. Together they were “continually devoting themselves with one mind to prayer.” Peter stood up among them, the first of the “brothers and sisters in Christ" (Col 1:2).

When they had entered the city, they went up to the upstairs room where they were staying, that is, Peter, John, James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 All these were continually devoting themselves with one mind to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. 15 At this time Peter stood up among the brothers and sisters (a group of about 120 people was there together) – Acts 1:13-15

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If Mary had other sons besides Jesus, why did Jesus assign Apostle John to take care of his mother?

That Jesus had natural (half) brothers is also indicated by the fact that on one occasion he was told that “your mother and your brothers are standing out there and they wish to speak to you.” We further read that “not even his brothers had much confidence in him.”​—Matt. 12:47; John 7:5,

Moreover, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we read that among those present in the upper room in Jerusalem were, in addition to the eleven apostles, others, including “Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” It is therefore most likely that they were also present in the upper room when God’s holy spirit was poured out upon the one hundred and twenty disciples. (Acts 1:13-15; )

Reason for entrusting his mother to Apostle John

Jesus is entrusting the care of his mother, who is evidently now a widow, to the apostle whom he especially loves. Jesus is aware that his half brothers, Mary’s other sons, have not as yet put faith in him. So he is making provision for his mother’s physical care as well as for her spiritual needs.

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Scripture readers assume Mary had children beyond Jesus for more than one reason. For example, Merriam-Webster shows the word “cousin” didn’t exist until the 14th century. Instead, “brother” or “sister” were probably written in Scripture. Also, when Gabriel visited Mary she was very young, but Joseph was much older when they met, and a man at his age may well have become a father before then.

Jesus, as the only son/child of Mary, had the Apostle John take His place to watch over her during and after His death. John was the only apostle at the foot of the cross with His mother. He alone had walked there and remained there. The threesomes or twosomes had often been Peter, James, and John or Peter and John, respectively. This built a type of loyalty and trust.

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Since little is known about Mary after Jesus ascension, the answer remains only speculation.

Why would Jesus assigned Apostle John to take care of His mother? Maybe Jesus know John would live into his old age, long enough to take care of His mother.

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Various explanation may be offered as the reason Jesus specified that the John the Apostle should care for his mother.

  • Jesus' own brothers did not believe. (see @Anne's answer)
  • These 'brothers' were the result of Joseph's first marriage, had no blood-ties with Jesus (since Joseph was not his father), and had no loyalty Mary.
  • The author of John's gospel goes out of his way in several places to uplift the status of the Beloved Apostle. John 19:26 is a special tradition of the Johannine community, not a historical event.

Since the OP presumes the event's historicity, the most likely explanation is a combination of the first two explanations: Jesus' physical brothers had no blood ties with him, and probably were not believers.

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The OP question is a good side-argument for assuming the Orthodox/Catholic traditional doctrine that Mary had no other offsprings than the Lord Jesus Christ: indeed, had Mary other offsprings, it would be illogical for the Lord to commend her to John, unless there were some unknown reasons (the other sons were drunkards, paupers begging for money, criminals, lepers etc.).

Maybe it is even intended to be a rhetorical question for proving the traditional view and repudiating the heterodox and blasphemous view about Mary having other offsprings.

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If Jesus was the son of Mary alone, why would "his brothers" be called "his brothers." It was well-known and documented of the virgin birth. So Joseph had nothing to do with the birth of Christ. If Mary was not the mother of "His brothers" why would they be addressed as such?

Jesus never even called Mary His mother in scripture. He said "woman" multiple times. Jesus' birth was of God and God alone. Mary was the vessel in which God used to bring that life into our physical world of flesh. It is quite possible Mary and Joseph had other children together after their "firstborn" child.

I know many believe that Mary remained a virgin till her death. I find that to be an illogical stance. A marriage is not complete and lawful until it has been consummated.

Matthew 1:24-25

24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Jesus had half brothers I believe who did not believe he was the Messiah. They were not following which is why I believe Jesus declared John as her son and Mary as his mother. He was making sure she was physically and spiritually being cared for and ministered to.

That is my opinion based on the original text as well as many translations of that original text. I can't see any other logical explanation to the question posed.

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