Q: The international press recently reported that Catholics, Orthodox, and many Protestants believe that Mary was a virgin throughout her life. It is claimed that those called "Jesus' brothers" in the Bible were in fact His cousins (Zenit, May 15, 2003). Is this also your understanding?
A: It is not. The Biblical record clearly reveals that Mary, although a virgin when “she was found with child of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:27-35), had additional children after the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew 1:24-25 tells us that Joseph “did not know” Mary [a Biblical expression for sexual intimacy, including intercourse, compare Luke 1:34] “TILL she had brought forth her FIRSTBORN Son.” The word “till” or “until” signifies that Joseph DID know Mary sexually after Christ’s birth. The same Greek word for “till” or “until” is used in Matthew 2:15 and Matthew 5:26, showing a change in circumstances after a certain event.
Further, Mary gave birth to her “firstborn” son (compare, too, Luke 2:6-7). The Greek word for “firstborn” is “prototokon.” It means “FIRST-born,” indicating that others would be born subsequently. It does distinctively NOT mean, “only-born.” The Greek word for “only-born” is “monogenes.” It is used in Luke 7:12, referring to a dead man who was “the only son of his mother.” Christ, however, was NOT the only Son of His mother.
The Jews knew that Christ had brothers and sisters, and that He was not Mary’s only child. Notice Matthew 13:54-56:
“When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogues, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses [Joseph], Simon and Judas [Jude]? And His sisters, are they not all with us?'”
The Jews’ testimony was that Christ had four brothers and at least two, and perhaps even more than two, sisters. After all, they had asked, “And His sisters, are they not ALL with us?”
In spite of this clear Biblical record, some argue that Christ did not have brothers, but that He merely had cousins. However, the Greek word for “brother,” used in Matthew 13:55, is “adelphos.” (Compare, too, Matthew 1:2; 4:21). The Greek word for “cousin” is “exadelphos,” literally meaning, “from brothers.” This word is NOT used in reference to Christ’s brothers.
During His life, Christ’s brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:3-5). After His death and resurrection, however, we find at least some of His brothers among Christ’s disciples (Acts 1:13-14; compare, too, 1 Corinthians 9:5). Christ appeared after His resurrection to His brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7), the oldest of Christ’s brothers. James later became an influential apostle in the New Testament church (Galatians 1:18-19; 2:9, 11-12; Acts 12:16-17; 15:13-21; 21:18). He was also the author of the “Epistle of James” in the New Testament.
After James’ violent death (he was apparently stoned, around 62 A.D.), he was replaced in his role in the Church by Christ’s brother Simon. According to tradition, Simon died around 100 A.D.
Nothing has been preserved regarding any role of Christ’s brother Jose or Joseph in the Church. However, Christ’s youngest brother, Judas or Jude, wrote the “Epistle of Jude.” He identifies himself in his letter, in verse 1, as the “brother of James,” the oldest of Christ’s brothers.
The Bible clearly reveals that Jesus had four brothers and at least two, perhaps even more, sisters. The teaching that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life is clearly not Biblical.