Was Jesus Christ an only child? Or did he have brothers and sisters?

Indeed, the Bible is clear that Mary was a virgin at the time when Jesus was conceived within her womb by the Holy Spirit. Joseph then married her, but determined to keep her a virgin until after Jesus' birth. Significantly, the Bible never states (or even hints) that Mary the mother of Jesus ultimately failed to consummate her marriage to her beloved husband Joseph.

To the contrary, sometime after Jesus' birth, Mary and Joseph apparently began a normal marital relationship. The Bible states the names of some of Mary's other children (born after Jesus), including Joses (Joseph), James, Judas, and Simon (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:47). (Click on these links and learn more about them.) There were sisters as well, but as is common in Scripture, the women's names were not recorded (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3).

Some of Jesus' brothers became traveling missionaries, sharing the Gospel revealed in Jesus Christ.

Although the Bible provides few details about the brothers and sisters of Jesus, it would be interesting to know more about them. However, God in His wisdom, apparently decided that it was best not to distract us with these and many other details, and instead focus on more important things.

Most Christians are aware that the Roman Catholic Church claims that Mary the mother of Jesus remained a virgin for her entire life. The Church states that she was a perpetual virgin, despite her marriage to Joseph (Catechism 499-501). This is a crucial doctrine of the Roman Catholic faith. The Church officially states:

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. …And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin” (Catechism 499).

How does the Roman Catholic Church deal with biblical records to the contrary?

The Roman Catholic Church officially states:

Against this doctrine [of Mary's perpetual virginity] the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The [Roman Catholic] Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact, James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus”, are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary”. They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression (Catechism 500). Jesus is Mary's only son… (Catechism 501).

The Roman Catholic Church claims that the brothers were cousins, not brothers, and that Mary's sister was their mother. Mary's sister was also called Mary. She was the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25). The Church points out that in the Old Testament Abram's nephew Lot (Genesis 11:26-28) is referred to as his brother in Genesis 14:14: "…Abram heard that his brother was taken captive…" (KJV). In Genesis 29:15 (KJV) Jacob's uncle Laban is called his brother. The supposed implication is that in biblical times the words “brother” (meaning male sibling), “nephew,” and “uncle” (and perhaps even “cousin”?) were somehow synonymous.

The Hebrew word used in these Old Testament verses is 'ach. It is clearly understood in context that the word “brother” is used in the widest sense—as a metaphor—and means kindred. Both the New American Standard Version and the New International Version translate 'ach in these verses as “relative.”

To bolster its argument, the Roman Catholic Church refers to Acts 1:12-15 which mentions the presence of 120 people at a meeting, which is said to have included the disciples, women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. The Church suggests that if you Subtract Mary and the disciples from the number, that leaves an impossible number of brothers, and that therefore this provides a New Testament example of “brothers” meaning something other than “male siblings.”

Author: Paul S. Taylor, Christian Answers. Copyright © 2002, Films for Christ, All Rights Reserved—except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.