Mary’s Other Children—Christ’s Brethren

Luther W. Martin

Due to the great amount of mythology which has been circulated concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus, we have determined to study what the New Testament has to say about her other offspring, and the language originally used in connection therewith.

At the outset let it be clearly established that we sincerely believe in the virgin birth of Christ, because the Bible so teaches. We do not, however, believe that she perpetually remained a virgin subsequent to the birth of Christ, Roman Catholicism to the contrary notwithstanding, inasmuch as such a doctrine violates much New Testament Scripture.

Roman Catholic Mariolatry

In a footnote concerning Matthew 13:55, the Douay Rheims Version of the Bible states concerning the expression His brethren:

These were the children of Mary the wife of Cleephas, sister to our Blessed Lady, (St. Matt. 27:56; St. John 19:25) and therefore, according to the usual style of the Scripture, they were called brethren, that is, near relations to our Saviour.

Another Roman Catholic Version (Spencer’s) asserts:

In Hebrew phraseology cousins were called brothers and sisters. As the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is an article of faith which follows from Luke 1:34, and is supposed in John 19:26-27, it would be heresy to say that the persons mentioned in the text were the natural brothers and sisters of Our Lord. It is commonly supposed that they were the children of Mary, the wife of Alphaeus (or Clopas), and cousin, or possibly sister, or sister-in-law of the Blessed Virgin.

From the above copied footnotes, we think we have given the accurate Catholic position on the subject. We shall proceed to show its fallacy.

New Testament Inspiration on the Subject

In the next few paragraphs, we shall present an English translation of the original Greek, with the actual Greek word for cousin, sister, brother or brethren inserted in parenthesis beside the English word used. We ask that you particularly notice the different Greek words used for brother, kinsman, cousin, etc.

He was still speaking to the crowds when who should be waiting outside but his mother and his brothers (adelphoi), desiring to speak to him. ‘Please,’ someone said to him, ‘your mother and your brothers (adelphoi) are waiting outside, wishing to speak to you.’ But he protested and said to the messenger: ‘Who is my mother? And who are my brothers (adelphoi)?’ Then with a wave of his hand toward his disciples (mathetas), he said ‘Look! Here are my mother and my brothers (adelphoi). Yes, anyone that does the will of my Father in heaven is brother (adelphos) or sister (adelphe) or mother to me ( Matt. 12:46-50, Kleist-Lilly Version).

Please notice the similarity between the words for brother and sister.

Is not this the carpenter’s son, whose mother is called Mary, and his brethren (adelphoi) James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And do not his sisters (adelphai), all of them, live near us?” (Matt. 13:55-56, Knox’s Version). Again, note the similarity of the Greek words for brother and sister.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother (adelphos) of James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon? And are not also his sisters (adelphai) here with us? And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, and among his own kindred (suggenesin) (Mark 6:3-4, Confraternity Translation).

Notice the difference in the words for kindred and brother! Not the same root word at all. There will be more of this as we progress in our investigation.

Once his mother and his brothers (adelphoi) came to visit him, but owing to the crowd could not get an interview with him. So this message was brought to him: ‘Your mother and your brothers (adelphoi) are waiting outside, wishing to see you.’ He protested: ‘My mother and my brothers (adelphoi),’ he said to them, ‘are those who hear God’s word and live up to it.’ (Luke 8:19-21, Kleist-Lilly Version).

And behold thy cousin (suggenes) Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age…” (Luke 1:36, Douay-Rheims Version). Here we have a word for cousin, but it is by no means the same as the one for brother or sister. It is related to the translation of kindred, shown above. Certainly Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin, but not her sister. You see, there is a Greek word for cousin, as well as for brother.

After this He went down to Capernaum, Himself, His mother, His brethren (adelphoi) and His disciples (mathetai); and they stayed there not many days.” (John 2:12, Spencer’s Version.) In this verse, please note the difference between his brethren (literally “from the same womb,” says Thayer) and disciples.

But when the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near, his brothers (adelphoi) said to him: ‘Quit this part and the country and go to Judea. Your disciples (mathetai), too, should see what you are doing…Even his brothers (adelphoi), by the way, did not believe in him (John 7:3-5 {sic}, Kleist-Lilly Version).

Again, the difference between brethren and disciples is manifest.

All these (the eleven Apostles, mentioned by name) with one mind continued steadfastly in prayer with some women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (adelphois)” (Acts 1:14, Kleist-Lilly Version). Thus, the brothers of Jesus who accompanied his mother, Mary, were listed separately from the Apostles.

But I saw none of the other apostles, except James, the Lord’s brother (adelphon)” (Gal. 1:19).

Have we not the right to travel about with a woman who is a sister, as the other apostles do, as the Lord’s brethren (adelphoi) do, and Cephas?” (1 Cor. 9:5, Knox’s Version). He adds a footnote: “’Woman’ may also be translated ‘wife’; and that may be the sense intended. We know that St. Peter was married, and his wife, if she was still alive, may have travelled with him on his missionary journeys…”

The several Greek texts in my library give two words adelphen and gunaika, meaning as the King James renders it, “a sister, a wife”. In any event, the Catholic translator Knox, admits that possible meaning. However, the actual reason for using the reference of 1 Cor. 9:5, was to show that the brothers of the Lord were again listed separately from the apostles.

…Whenever you give a lunch or supper, do not invite your friends (philous) or brothers (adelphous) or relatives (suggeneis) or well-to-do neighbors (geitonas).” (Luke 14:12, Kleist-Lilly Version). In this verse are listed four different Greek words with their respective English meanings. Please take note of the difference between brothers and relatives (many times rendered kinsfolk or kinsmen).

You will be betrayed even by parents (goneon) and brothers (adelphon), by relatives (suggenon) and friends (philon); and they will have some of you put to death” (Luke 21:16, Kleist-Lilly Version). Once again notice the two different words used to designate relatives and brothers.

When Jesus was walking by the sea, he saw two brothers (adelphous), Simon and Andrew. After going further, Jesus saw ‘other two brothers’ (adelphous), James and John, the sons of Zebedee” (See Matt. 4:18, 21).

In every case, to my knowledge, of blood-brother relationship being expressed, the word adelphos in one of its forms is always used. Where a general kinship is expressed, the word suggenes in one of its forms is used. Check some of these following examples:

When Elizabeth announced that her infant son would be called John, her neighbors and kinsfolks (suggeneis) stated: “There is none of thy kindred (suggeneis) that is called by this name (John)” (Luke 1:58, 61).

When Jesus was twelve years old, he became separated from Mary and Joseph while on a journey to Jerusalem, “And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks (suggenesin) and acquaintance” (Luke 2:44).

When Cornelius made preparations to hear the gospel preached, he called together his kinsmen (suggeneis) and intimate friends (philous) (Acts 10:24).

In verses 7, 11 and 21 of Romans 16, Paul sends greetings to several of his kinsmen (suggeneis), naming Andronicus, Junias, Herodion, Lucius, Jason and Sosipater.

Paul wrote in Romans 9:3, “For I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ, for my brethren (adelphon), who are my kinsmen (suggenon) according to the flesh.”

Summary And Conclusion

The Word adelphos is translated brother, 346 times according to Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Adelphotes is translated brethren one time, and brotherhood one time.

The word suggeneia, is given as kindred three times; suggenies is given ten times for kin, kinsfolk, kinsfolks, or kinsman, and twice it is rendered cousin.

Roman Catholicism claims that the Hebrew language had no equivalent word to distinguish between brethren and cousins. With that claim we take no issue. But we wish to point out that the New Testament was not written in Hebrew. Greek was the language of the New Testament writers, and the language in which it was originally written.

The constantly increasing importance which Catholicism accords to Mary can best be recognized by the statements, decrees and definitions that have been made by the Church Councils down through the ages.

In 553 A. D. at the Council of Constantinople, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth was defined. It is this teaching which goes beyond the teaching of the Scripture and asserts that Mary remained virginal after the birth of Christ. In commenting upon this subject, B. L. Conway, a Catholic priest admits: “We will never know to a certainty the exact relationship of the four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Jude.”

In 431 A. D. the Council of Ephesus defined the dogma that Mary is the mother of God. However, another Catholic writer, F. J. Sheed, on page 93 of his book entitled, Theology and Sanity, says: “… for He alone (the Son LWM) assumed a human nature and in that nature suffered and died for us.” Therefore, if Christ the Son alone, took upon himself the human nature, then Mary is not the mother of God!

In 1545 A. D. the Council of Trent first met. Among its definitions was one to the effect that Mary lived a sinless life, as had her Son, Jesus Christ. This idea first took hold as a tradition and was finally confirmed by this 16th Century Council. The Bible, however says: “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

In 1854 A. D. the doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception” which claims that from the very moment of her conception in the womb of Anne, she was exempt from the stain of what Catholics call “original sin”. In any event, it was a further attempt to deify the mother of Jesus. It is also interesting to note that B. L. Conway also admits: “The Scriptures nowhere expressly teach this doctrine…”

In 1950 A. D. the dogma and article of faith, the “Assumption of Mary” was defined by Pius XII, as being “divinely revealed”. This dogma teaches that the body and soul of Mary went into heaven after her death, and were “shortly afterwards” reunited. In any event, they claim her body was preserved from corruption. Of course, it is unfortunate, that they do not even know where her death took place. Again, we quote the priest, B. L. Conway on this subject: “It cannot be proved from the Bible, or from contemporary historical witnesses…” If the witnesses of that time do not establish it, and the Bible does not prove it, then upon what “divine evidence” did Pope Pius XII base his new dogma?

In 1921 A. D. Pope Benedict XV granted permission for any dioceses requesting to do so, the right to celebrate a Mass under the title “Mediatrix of all Graces” in honour of Mary. More recently, some theologians have indicated that the next step in the deification of Mary will be to proclaim her “Co-Redemptrix” with Christ in the salvation of souls.

Some of the philosophers of the world have also pointed out, that most of the heathen religions incorporate a male deity and a female deity into their beliefs. These same philosophers have predicted that Roman Catholicism is merely progressing to the same point in its evolution or metamorphosis.

As these different dogmas and doctrines are developed, they require certain glossing over of Scriptural teachings and quotations. This has been the case with the various New Testament references to the blood-brothers of Christ.

Catholicism will never get the Greek words adelphos and suggeneis to mean the same thing. Adelphos meant brother when the New Testament writers used it and it still does. Suggeneis meant kinsman or cousin or relatives when it was included in the New Testament, and it still does. Catholicism cannot change it!

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Author: Editor

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