Catholicism teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary after the birth of Jesus Christ. Protestants insist the Bible teaches that Mary did not remain a virgin, but had several children, whose names are given.
“Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS” (Matt. 1:24-25).
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? 56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? (Matt. 13:55-56).
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him” (Mark 6:3).
The clear statement of Scripture is that Mary and Joseph had at least six children after Jesus was born: James (Gk. Jakobos), Joses, Simon, Judas, Sister one, and Sister two. The composite image is that Jesus enjoyed a large family, with Joseph, Mary, four brothers, and at least two sisters for a total of no less than eight people in the household.
Little is said about the half brothers and sisters of Jesus except they desired to see Him on one occasion; they rebuked Him, on another occasion, and did not believe in Him as the Messiah until after His resurrection. The family desired to see Jesus. “And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee” (Luke 8:20). The family rebuked Jesus. The brothers did not believe in Jesus as Messiah until after His resurrection.
Did it bother Jesus that His own brothers did not believe in Him as quickly as they should have? Did it bother Jesus that family members sided with His critics? Indeed it did. Family members sided with the critics of Jesus. “And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?” (Matt. 13:56). “For neither did his brethren believe in him” (John 7:5). Jesus was hurt that His family sided against Him. “And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house” (Matt. 13:57).
Why were His brothers so reluctant to believe in Him?
Perhaps His brothers were restrained by familiarity. Others who knew Jesus from childhood found it hard to fathom His new status as the Son of God, the Messiah. “And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? 56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? 57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. 58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matt. 13:54-58).
Perhaps His brothers were restrained by envy. Large crowds had begun to follow Jesus wherever He went. This made it difficult for even His own family to speak to Him at times. “While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. 47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee” (Matt. 12:46). Jealousy can be a terrible and debilitating emotion.
Perhaps His brothers were restrained by an inadequate understanding of the Messiah. Many people in Israel believed the Messiah would come to restore the earthly kingdom of David, and exalt Israel among the nations on earth. On one occasion, zealous Jews came to take Jesus by force, to make Him a king. The Lord did not allow that to happen. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (John 6:15).
Nationalism is a wonderful concept, but it must be within the will of God. The brothers of Jesus wanted Him to act in a certain way. They wanted Jesus to perform miracles during the Feast of Tabernacles. Like the Devil, they tempted Jesus. “Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. 3 His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. 4 For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world” (John 7:2-4). When people do not live up to preconceived ideas and expectations, it is easier to reject them.
The good news is that eventually, following His resurrection, the brothers of Jesus believed in Him as the Messiah. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14).
One of the Lord’s brother, Jacob, or James when Anglicized, became the author of the epistle that bears his name. James died a martyr in either AD 62 or AD 69. James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. He is also known as James the Just, and also known as James, brother of the Lord (to distinguish him from James, son of Zebedee). According to church tradition, prior to his martyrdom, James was a bishop of Jerusalem.
Some interest has been expressed in the name James, since in the Greek text of Scripture it is Jacob. The simple answer is that James is the English translation of the Latin form of the Hebrew name Ya’aqob.
Hebrew Ya’aqob (ye’aph [yeh-awf’])
Greek Iakobos (Jacobus, ee-ak’-o-bos)
English James (Anglicized form of Jacob)
By way of personal application, be careful about not believing in Christ. Do not let familiarities, an inadequate view of the gospel, or preconceived notions keep you from Jesus.
There was another brother of Jesus who also receives honorable mention, because he became a disciple of Christ, and an author of a small epistle that bears his name. Judas is the author of the book of Jude. Listen to his wise counsel. “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, 21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 20).