Who are the brothers and sisters of Jesus listed in Matthew 12

Who are the brothers and sisters mentioned in Matthew 13:55-56? This is the passage:

“Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished, Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?”

It sure looks like Jesus has brothers and sisters until we read Matthew 27:56:

Our Cathedral in Reno Nevada

“There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”

Matthew 10:2-4 states the apostles were:

Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;

Simon the Canaanite and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him;”

James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;

James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;

Philip and Bartholomew, (Bar Shalom) Thomas and Matthew the tax collector.

Between the two lists, all of the brothers of Jesus are accounted for.

It seems very strange that if Mary the mother of James and Joseph is Mary the mother of Jesus, that Jesus would not be in that first list. It also seems very strange that the same small town would have two women with the same name, who know each other, and who would name their children, at least four of them, with the same names. Therefore, it is extremely not likely that Mary the mother of James and Joseph is the mother of Jesus and that Mary the mother of Jesus would have children with the same names as this other Mary.

It is most likely that these women know each other because Jesus son of Mary knows these children. He later calls them to apostleship. This also ruins the theory that Jesus had no friends as a child. Matthew 13:55 lists at least four.

One theory is that Jesus and these other children were cousins. That is the official teaching of the Catholic church. If they are cousins, why are they called Adelphos, brothers. Is there a Koine Greek or a Aramaic term for cousin. Colossians 4:10 states, “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you greetings, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas. (Bar Nabas or son of the Prophet.)

If we look up this term in the Koine Greek, the term for cousin is ὁ ἀνεψιὸς.  ὁ νεψιὸς simply means child. The cousin is a related person whether or not he is a child. There is a text of the New Testament translated into Aramaic, the Peshitta. We need look no further than this text to find out whether or not there is an Aramaic word for cousin.

When we find that term we learn why it is not used in Matthew 13:55 to mean cousin. The term literally translates as Ben David in Hebrew, Bar David in Aramaic. David is Hebrew for Beloved. Our cousin is the son or daughter of our father’s beloved brother, or brother-in-law. Properly speaking, there is no word for “cousin,” but let us not confuse the issue. The Aramaic phrase, “Son of Beloved,” or “Son of Uncle” is a way of saying “Cousin.” Son of Uncle is not one word, but two.

David is also King David, the king from whom Messiah is to come. Bar David and Ben David are Messianic terms.  For Matthew to say Jesus had cousins could mean that Jesus had Messiahs.

There is another important problem. Zechariah 2:3 states, “The Personal Name showed me four Carpenters.” Jewish tradition came to identify these four carpenters with Elijah/John the Baptist, Messiah Ben Joseph, Messiah Bar David, and the Charitable King Melki- zedek. In reference to this second carpenter, Messiah Ben Joseph, Zechariah 12:10 states:

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look on him whom they have thrust through,they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and they will grieve for him as one grieves over a firstborn.”

Jewish tradition came to view this Messiah Ben Joseph as a Messiah who would fight either Gog (Hebrew for roof) and Magog (From the roof) or Rome. Messiah Bar Joseph would lose that war, but would be resurrected by Messiah Bar David. From Zechariah 12:10 the Jewish people came to expect a Messiah, a carpenter, whose father was Joseph, who was an only child, a firstborn, who suffers and dies in a great battle in Jerusalem. If Jesus had brothers and sisters, he was not Messiah.

We as Christians do look upon Jesus as only begotten son and as first born, just as Zechariah promised would come. This fulfills the passage and we need to look no further.

When the crowd asks, “are not his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this,” they are saying, because we think he has brothers and sisters, Jesus cannot be Messiah. If he is not Messiah, who is he?

If Matthew says that the sons of Mary in the passage are Bar David, and Messiah Ben David resurrects Messiah Ben Joseph, is the fulfillment of the prophecy the apostles stealing Jesus body? As Christians, we do not go there. Matthew does not want to go there, so he uses another term. These children of Mary are not Bar David, but brothers and sisters in Christ.

If there is going to be ambiguity in the text as it relates to using “Brother” or “Ben David,”  it is better to state these other people are brothers. Brothers, in the New Testament does seem to be ambiguous. Who are my brothers and my sisters? It is not necessarily those related by blood. It is all those who do the will of God. That is what it says in Matthew 12:48-50.

That means the people listed as brothers and sisters could be cousins, or not related at all. They could simply be Jesus’ playmates from when he was a child and who grew up to become his disciples. Tradition says they were cousins. That is the safest option. When we put all the passages together, the one thing we can safely rule out is that they were simply brothers and sisters.


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