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Did Jesus have natural brothers and sisters?

From its earliest history, the Catholic Church has taught that Jesus had no natural brothers and sisters. This is consistent with another teaching of the Church that Mary was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus, until her death. This is believed because of her special vocation, a special call from God.

To help understand this, we know that there are people today who, like Mary, have chosen to respond to God's grace by remaining virgins. But unlike them, Mary's virginity is unique in that she became a virgin mother by the power of the Holy Spirit and continued to remain a virgin mother after Jesus's birth even while married to Joseph. This was so because of God's special grace and also to ensure that Jesus's unique identity as the only begotten Son of the Father may be perserved and witnessed. Consequently, it is believed that Jesus could not and did not have natural brothers and sisters.
There are passages in the Gospel, however, that seem to contradict this. For instance, Matthew 12:46 states: "He was still addressing the crowds when his mother and his brothers appeared outside to speak with him." It is sometimes asked, "How do we understand this and other scriptural references to Jesus's brothers and sisters?" First of all, the Church understands that the Hebrew word for brother and the Aramaic word for brother can often mean a cousin, a half brother or a near relative. Even today we are familiar with the words brother and sister in a wider sense as well as in a strict sense. For example, we sometimes call someone "Hey, brother or sister" though that person is not a real blood relative.
We can also realize this wider understanding when we read Mark 6:3: "Ïsn't Mary known to be His mother, and James, Joses, Simon and Judas His brothers?" By comparing this verse with other particular verses, e.g., Mark 15:40, Matthew 27:56 and John 19:25, we can see that some of the same names are identified as the sons of Clopas and a Mary other than Mary the mother of Jesus. Again, this helps to point out that the use of the words brothers and sisters in the Scriptures cannot always be taken strictly.
Also, while the Church does not teach that Mary had other children by physical birth, it does teach that Mary has many spiritual children. When we reflect on the last words of Jesus on the cross, we realize that Jesus Himself identified Mary's children. In John 19:25 we read: "Near the cross of Jesus there stood His mother, His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Seeing His mother there with the disciple whom He loved, Jesus said to his mother, 'Woman, there is your son.' In turn He said to the disciple, 'There is your mother.' From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his care." In light of this passage, it is the understanding and teaching of the Church that Jesus gave Mary to all of us in the person of the beloved disciple.

Thus it is our belief that Mary has only one child by nature, and many children through grace in Christ.

To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission