Matthew 1:24-25. “Then Joseph, being roused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife, but knew her not UNTIL she had brought forth her firstborn Son, and he called His name Jesus.”
What power some words have! Just look at this little word UNTIL. It overturns the whole fabric of the Roman Catholic doctrine about Mary being the “eternal virgin.” After the birth of Jesus, we are informed that Joseph had a normal married life with his wife Mary, and later on in the Gospel we find that in fact she had at least seven more children, four of whom are named. The Catholic church, bent on giving Mary honours, title, and position beyond all reason, and utterly devoid of Scriptural backing, have deprived her of her humanity, her faith in the Lord’s word, her extended motherhood, and her difficulties in believing in her Son’s teaching.
But this article is not designed to be a diatribe against the Roman establishment. Rather is it a brief investigation into the extended family of the Lord Jesus. The word “firstborn” is found in Romans 8:29. “Whom God foreknew, these He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He (Jesus) might be firstborn among many brethren.” This being true of the extended spiritual family of all true believers, it was also true of Jesus, who was, in the human setting, Mary’s “firstborn Son”, and therefore He was also “firstborn among His own brethren” in the flesh. Here again, one sees the power of words. “Firstborn” pre-supposes the birth of other children later, and this was the case with Mary.
Matthew tells us about Jesus’ family. (13:55-56) Someone said, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brothers, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” The use of the word “all” here, shows us that there were at least THREE sisters, otherwise the word “both” would have been employed, had there been just two. Nowhere are we told their names.
Mary’s father’s name was Eli, according to Luke’s genealogy. Elsewhere, in non-biblical writings, we learn that her parents were Anna and Eli Joachim. And Anna was the younger sister of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Anna and Elizabeth were of the House of Levi, whereas Eli Joachim was of the House of David. Gathering together the various strands of information available to us from a number of sources, we find that Joseph of Arimathea was the younger brother of Eli Joachim, and was but a year older than Mary. Mary was only 14 when she married Joseph, and was 15 when Jesus was born. Joseph the carpenter was considerably older, and died shortly before Jesus’ ministry started. Mary had an elder sister by the name of Salome, who was married to Zebedee, the father of the disciples James and John. Therefore these men were our Lord’s cousins.
Joseph the carpenter had a sister by the name of Mary, whose husband was Cleopas, a Levite, otherwise calledAlphaeus, and they had four sons, James, (who was later called “James the Less”, and was the father of John Mark);Joses Barnabas, who travelled with Paul; Matthew Levi, the apostle; and Simeon, who became the 2nd Bishop of Jerusalem. All four were our Lord’s half-cousins. From all this information one can draw up a useful family tree for further study.
Now what about the attitude of Jesus’ immediate family to His ministerial work? Things looked promising at the start, because of what happened at Cana in Galilee. The miracle of turning water to wine had, of course, a marked effect on Mary. We are not told whether his brothers were present, but it may be inferred that they were by what is recorded later in John’s 2nd chapter. “After this, (that is, the wedding) He went down to Capernaum, He, and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples.” (verse 12). We are told that His disciples believed on Him because of the miracle, but no mention is made of His brothers. (Note the distinction made between His brothers and His disciples, which is maintained throughout the Gospel narratives.)
Miracles are one thing, but Jesus’ teaching was quite another, and it caused polarisation wherever He went. Before long the family were taking offence, and that quite seriously. In Mark 3:21 we find a great crowd of people gathered about Jesus in Capernaum. “And when His kins-folk (i.e. His family members) heard about it, they went to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is beside Himself’ (i.e. out of His senses).” But they were unable to get near, and had to stay outside the throng.
A short while later, (Matt.12:46,) we learn that “While He was talking to the crowds, His mother and brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Your mother and brothers stand outside wanting to speak to you.’ And He answered and said, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And He stretched His hand out towards His disciples, and said, ‘Behold my mother and my brothers.'” This was enough to cause indignation and bad feeling in the family. They never expected to be treated in that fashion. After all, they were “family”!
The Feast of Tabernacles was at hand, and Jesus’ brothers said to Him, (John 7:3) “Go into Judæa, so that your disciples can witness the works that you do. . . . If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ (For not even His brothers believed in Him.)” The situation went from bad to worse. Mary was troubled and found herself at odds with her Son, even though she knew of His miraculous birth. His behaviour didn’t add up with what she EXPECTED of Him. And that has been the trouble for many in the centuries since. Jesus’ brothers were seriously offended at His teaching, and could have wished that He’d stuck to His miracles, without the hard words. Then He would have created a huge popularity cult, or so they thought. But that was the last thing the Master wanted.
Finally the end came. The arrest, the trial, the mockery, and the crucifixion. But when the resurrection morning arrived, what did Jesus say to the astounded women who met Him? “Be not afraid, but go, tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.” And they did! And they believed! And they became a strong witness to the truth their Brother had been preaching all along. James became known as “James the Just”, the author of the Epistle bearing his name, and 1st Bishop of Jerusalem. He suffered martyrdom in AD 62. The other brothers are not mentioned by name, but a casual reference in 1 Cor.9:5 helps us. Paul said, “Do we not have power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as the other apostles, and the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas?” And in Acts 1:14, we read that “These (disciples) all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
They say that “Blood is thicker than water”, by which one is meant to understand the “expected” relationship-responses between family members. But our Lord would have none of it. All who believed in Him were His “mother and brothers”, whoever they were, whereas His blood relatives were passed over until after the resurrection because of their unbelief. Therein lies a lesson.