Matthew 13:53–57 reads:

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 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? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. (NIV)

I have read that proponents of the doctrine claim that the word translated as "brothers" in Matthew 13:55 does not necessarily imply biological relationship (http://www.catholic.com/blog/matt-fradd/jesus-had-brothers). Looking at the verses though, I find it difficult to imagine why the word translated as "brothers" would be anything but biological. Why would people who are in Jesus' hometown (verse 53) and who also used the word "sisters" (verse 56) use "brothers" in a way that is not biological?

  • If you ask this a Biblical Hermeneutics.se you may find an answer that is less about a given denomination's belief and more on the scholarship behind some of it. May 2, 2016 at 19:55
  • 1
    It is also important to note the the mother of James and Joseph is named, and that mother is not the mother of Jesus.
    – Marc
    May 2, 2016 at 20:23
  • @KorvinStarmast Or he may find just the opposite that this is a theological view hoisted on the verse. Asking on [bh.se] is certainly a possibility if the OP wants to learn about the original language, context, and possible means if interpretation. As asked however this question about how proponents of a certain view see the verse is a very good fit for this site.
    – Caleb
    May 2, 2016 at 20:57
  • @Caleb Good point, and why not ask at both? May 2, 2016 at 21:00
  • It is worthwhile to note that Martin Luther accepted the doctrine (perhaps uneasily) and that John Calvin stated that the case for the non-virginity of Mary cannot be made from the scripture given the ambiguity of the original language.
    – Ian
    May 3, 2016 at 22:06

2 Answers 2


The link you quote (which I will also link to here) explains the view of Catholics on this passage in some detail. The article explains how they interpret the passage, and gives examples of other places where 'brother' does not imply coming from the same womb. If it was a normal usage of the time, then there is no reason why people of Jesus' hometown would not have used it of course, and 'sisters' presumably has similar usage.

Not all Christians agree with the interpretation, and if you are not a Catholic you are free to hold a differing view.


First, there is the argument from the ancient languages of Aramaic and Greek and how the words were used:

First it is important to note that the Bible does not say that these "brothers and sisters" of Jesus were children of Mary.

Second, the word for brother (or sister), adelphos (adelpha) in Greek, denotes a brother or sister, or near kinsman. Aramaic and other semitic languages could not distinguish between a blood brother or sister and a cousin, for example. Hence, John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus (the son of Elizabeth, cousin of Mary) would be called "a brother (adelphos) of Jesus." In the plural, the word means a community based on identity of origin or life. Additionally, the word adelphos is used for (1) male children of the same parents (Mt 1:2); (2) male descendants of the same parents (Acts 7:23); (3) male children of the same mother (Gal 1:19); (4) people of the same nationality (Acts 3:17); (5) any man, a neighbor (Lk 10:29); (6) persons united by a common interest (Mt 5:47); (7) persons united by a common calling (Rev 22:9); (8) mankind (Mt 25:40); (9) the disciples (Mt 23:8); and (10) believers (Mt 23:8). (From Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson, Publisher.)

The point being, just because the word "brother" means something specific in English does not mean that when a translation uses that word it necessarily matches the same idea.

Another reason cited by Catholics in justifying that Mary was a perpetual Virgin is John 19:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

This passage tells us:

  1. "The disciple" (John) was not Mary's son, because Mary did not live in John's home before but did after

  2. Mary either had no sons, or at the very least had no living sons, because otherwise it would be unusual for Mary to live with John instead of these sons.

Another data point: An article on Catholic Answers also addresses this question. It states, for example, that James the brother of Jesus was an Apostle, but that of the two apostles named James, one had Alphaeus as his father, the other was the son of Zebedee. One can conclude from this that "brother" at least for James meant something other than sharing biological parents.

  • Strangely, no one appears to have a comment on the remark that Jesus is the Carpenter' son !!! Is it possible that only Mary knew that Jesus was the foster son of Joseph the carpenter ? May 5, 2016 at 16:14
  • That wasn't really the question. If you'd like to know how a certain group would regard such a claim, please post a new question. May 6, 2016 at 0:21

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .