Monday, June 8, 2015

The Brothers Of Jesus (Part 1)

AP: The following passages represent what the New Testament says about Jesus' siblings. I have included the passages and offered a brief annotation following each one.
1. John 2:12: "After this he went down to Capernaum, he, his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they stayed there a few days."
After the wedding in Cana, Jesus, along with his mother and brothers, moved to Capernaum.
2. Mark 3:31-35 (and parallel verses): "And standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, 'Behold, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.' Answering them, he said, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?’ Looking about at those who were sitting around him, he said, 'Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.'"
Jesus’ mother and brothers want to talk to him, but Jesus does go outside to speak with them. Instead, he says that his true family is made up of those who do the will of God.
3. Mark 6:3: "'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?' And they took offense at Him."
After one of Jesus' sermons in the synagogue of the city, the people of Nazareth are amazed by his teaching and offer this exclamation in response.
4. John 7:3-9: "Therefore his brothers said to him, 'Leave here and go into Judea, so that your disciples also may see your works which you are doing. ‘For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.' For not even his brothers were believing in him. So Jesus said to them, 'My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. Go up to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast because my time has not yet fully come.' Having said these things to them, he stayed in Galilee."
At the time of the feast of tabernacles, Jesus' brothers urge him to go into Judea.
5. Acts 1:14: "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers."
After the resurrection, the apostles are gathered in a room somewhere in Jerusalem along with some women, Jesus’ mother, and his brothers.
6. Gal. 1:19: "But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother."
Paul says that he was in Jerusalem three years after his conversion visiting Peter and he did not meet any other apostle except James, the brother of the Lord.
7. 1 Cor. 9:5: "Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, as do the rest of the apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?"
Paul, through the use of the plural (οἱ ἀδελφοί), indicates that more than one of Jesus' brothers became a follower and that at least two were married and in the habit of bringing their wives along for their missionary travels.
There is some additional data outside the New Testament as well—in secular writings and those of the church fathers.

First, let's look outside the New Testament and the church. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews (XX 9.1.200), states that the high priest Annas (Ananus; different than Caiaphas' father-in-law) convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin in A.D. 62. Josephus writes, "So he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James." Among the apocryphal gospels, the Gospel of the Hebrews (which is cited by Jerome in his work Against Pelagius III 2) states: "His mother and brothers said to Jesus, 'John is performing a baptism for the remission of sins. Let us go and be baptized.'" An average reader would draw several conclusions from all of the texts mentioned thus far. Mary and Joseph had, in addition to Jesus, four sons and, at the least two daughters; these siblings were not included in the number of apostles because they did not believe in Jesus, and, at some point, they tried to cut his career short. A normal reader would get naturally from these texts several conclusions: Mary and Joseph, with Jesus, had four sons and at least two daughters; these brothers were not included in the number of apostles, but, rather, did not believe in Jesus and, at some point, had sought to truncate his career.

Second, let's look at the early church. A Christian theologian named Hegesippus, writing around the A.D. 160, also refers Jesus' brothers. His work has been lost, but the historian Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History III 22) has preserved some fragments for us. In one of these, it is said that a certain Simeon succeeded James, the brother of the Lord, as bishop of Jerusalem. Hegesippus gives us an even more specific reference later: "After the martyrdom of James the Just, accused of the same charges as Jesus, Simeon, the son of his paternal uncle Clopas, was appointed second bishop of Jerusalem because he was the cousin of the Lord" (Ecclesiastical History IV 22). Hegesippus uses two different words in Greek, clearly distinguishing between "cousin" (ἀνεψιός) and "brother" (ἀδελφός). Around A.D. 220 Tertullian clearly states that Jesus' brothers were just that--brothers in the full sense of the word. Against the heretic Marcion, who used Mark 3:33 ("Who is my mother, who are my brothers?") to prove that Jesus was not a real man, Tertullian writes, "First and foremost, we say that it would be impossible for them to tell Jesus that his mother and brothers were outside, if, in fact, he did not have any . . . . Actually, his mother and brothers were outside . . ." (Against Marcion IV 19).

Another of Tertullian's texts assumes that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus: "We have two protectors of Christian sanctity: monogamy and continence. . . . Certainly as a virgin, Mary gave birth to Christ, reserving marriage for after his birth" (On monogamy 8), adding, "Mary has all the titles: She is mother, virgin, and wife of one man" (On monogamy 8). He basically says the same thing in his work On the veiling of Virgins (see ch. 6).

Tertullian was an ascetic, and it is highly unlikely that he would be lenient in matters of sex and marriage. Therefore, to speak in such a way about Mary (i.e., that Mary was not always a virgin) and his brothers is not evidence of him contradicting a well-established tradition (i.e., the perpetual virginity of Mary) already present in the church. At no point in time does it give the impression that they were thinking about substituting this way of thinking for a more "naturalistic" theory. On the contrary, it gives the impression that he is expressing a common opinion with respect to the Christian group with which he associates.

In the fourth century another author named Helvidius argues that Mary, after as a virgin she gave birth to Jesus, lived with her husband like any other wife lives with her own. Origen (d. A.D. 253), on the contrary, holds to the perpetual virginity of Mary in his theological works, and he criticized Tertullian for not having enough support to prove his position. But, at the same time, Origen himself admits that his personal defense of the total virginity of Mary is nothing more than plausible theory, not something that had already been fully accepted in the church (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew XII 55).

Origen also echoes a theory that had been circulating for some time (and which, incidentally, had already been advocated in two apocryphal Gospels, that of Peter and one called the Protoevangelium of James). The theory is that the brothers of Jesus were Joseph's children from a previous marriage. He became a widower soon after, remarried to Mary, and brought these children into the marriage with him. They were, therefore, the "step-brothers" of Jesus. Such a view was a minority position, until Jerome jumps into the conversation. In the end, though, the argument does not float. The siblings mentioned by the New Testament are indeed Jesus' blood siblings, born of Mary after her firstborn child.

Perhaps the most important reason to support the view that the “brothers” of Jesus refers to physical and normal siblings (i.e., ruling out the perpetual virginity position) is that the early church fathers understood it this way. We have already mentioned Tertullian, Hegesippus, and Origen. The early church did not think about, was not interested, and did not defend the perpetual virginity of Mary. What mattered to them was showing that Jesus had a miraculous, divine, extraordinary birth, just like other great historical figures of old. Jesus could not be less than Plato, for example. But, in the beginning, there is no special attention or any worship of the mother of Jesus, Mary. The early Christians did not raise a question about the perpetual virginity of the mother of Jesus. They were interested in the Redeemer, not his mother. It is not until later, around the middle of second century, that Christians begin to mature their veneration of the extraordinary woman who was the mother of the Savior. And it only at that point where we see speculations and theories arise to support Mary’s perpetual virginity.

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