Matthew 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? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”

Mark 6:3

Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,a Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”

There are at least two references to Jesus's sisters in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and although his brothers are referenced by name, and we know quite a bit about James, his sisters are not named at all. Is there any surviving information about who they were? Is there any other texts or traditions about them?


2 Answers 2


As you rightly say, the sisters are not named in the Bible which means we have to look to other sources for this information. I think it's fair to say that overall we don't know for certain, but different churches have developed different teachings and traditions on this subject.

The Roman Catholic Church teach that the word "sisters" is used purely figuratively. They believe that Mary remained a virgin until her death, so Jesus had no full brothers or sisters (but possibly some half-siblings - children of Joseph with another partner).

The Eastern Orthodox Apostolic Tradition teaches that Jesus had a single (half-) sister called Salome and that it was she, not Mary, that was the mother of James and John. They also teach that Joseph had two sons, Jude and another James. They believe that Joseph's first wife died and he was 60-80 years old when he married Mary, having had these three children with his first wife.

Other denominations tend to take the usage of "sisters" at face value and believe that Jesus had more than one sister. The Bible refers to "all his sisters"; in English that would imply at least three (otherwise it would say "both his sisters" or "his sister") but the Greek word that's translated to "all" can mean two or more. Richard Bauckham, a Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews, tells us that...

Later Christian literature gives the names Mary and Salome to sisters of Jesus. These names were extremely common Jewish women's names within Palestine, but Salome seems not to have been used in the Jewish diaspora. There is therefore some probability that the tradition of these two names goes back to Palestinian Jewish Christian tradition, and so it may be a reliable tradition.

However that "may be" is about as reliable as we can get.

Bauckham's essay The Relatives of Jesus makes for good further reading on this subject; it is well referenced and covers a wide range of viewpoints, including the Catholic and Orthodox ones I've mentioned above.

  • 1
    Very well done.
    – Caleb
    Apr 11, 2013 at 11:25

It is important to know a bit of the Jews history and Hebrew language in order to interpretate these sentences.

The word 'brother' in Hebrew does not mean 'the brother' in common understanding. It could also refer to cousins and other relatives. The similar understanding of "brother" and "sister" is in antient Greek and Aramaic.

If Jesus was not the only child the whole Bible must be questioned. There are a lot of statements that the Mary was a virgin (see Luke 1,26-38).

Finally, if Jesus had brothers and sisters would he ask John before his death on the cross to take care of his mother and would He ask his mother to take care of John?

  • 2
    This answer is not generally representative of Christianity. It is presents Catholic dogma on the issue, but the question does not ask for the Catholic stance in particular. Since it doesn't specify a viewpoint at all, the only way to approach it without turning this into a battle ground between views is to give an overview that will inform people of how different Christian traditions approach the issue. Waggers has given a good example of this. This is consistent with our stance on not providing truth but only representing Christian traditions.
    – Caleb
    Apr 11, 2013 at 11:32
  • Mentioned prof. Bauckham also claims that "the term 'brother' by no means necessarily refers to a full blood-brother". So does Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition.
    – luksmir
    Apr 11, 2013 at 13:17
  • 1
    Regardless of who the "sisters" were, they were presumably people involved in the lives of Jesus and his family. The question is only about them; the perpetual virginity (or not) of Mary is a related but different question.
    – Bit Chaser
    Apr 30, 2017 at 17:46

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