Mention "Holy Family" and we immediately think of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. But in fact Jesus was raised in a boisterous household with four other boys and two or more girls.
We know this from Matthew 13:55-56, which says members of Jesus' hometown synagogue were astonished by his teaching and asked: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?" Mark 6:3 has the same report though it calls Joseph by the variant form Joses.
The Gospels do not provide the names or number of the sisters. But later Christians claimed there were two, and called them Salome and Mary.
Richard J. Bauckham, a New Testament professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, examined this expanded Holy Family in a 1990 book and an article in Bible Review. He says early Christians had three understandings of the brothers and sisters:
-- Tertullian and Helvidius said they were children of Mary and Joseph and thus half siblings and blood relatives of Jesus. Protestants and some modern Catholics agree. This group says the Nativity story in Luke (2:7), by calling Jesus the "first-born son" of Mary, indicates she bore further sons.
-- Second-century traditions, championed by a later bishop in Cyprus named Epiphanius, said Joseph was a widower and that these were stepbrothers and stepsisters from his first marriage. This is the favored view in Eastern Orthodox churches, which teach Mary's "perpetual virginity," meaning she and Joseph never had marital relations.
-- Roman Catholicism also teaches Mary's perpetual virginity. Its traditional view was developed by the great biblical translator, St. Jerome. He said James and company were not siblings but first cousins, on grounds that the Greek terms for "brother" and "sister" allow for such broader meaning.
We know nothing about two of the brothers, Joses (Joseph) and Simon (Simeon), except that they apparently became missionaries. Paul records in 1 Corinthians 9:5 that the "brothers of the Lord" and the apostle Peter were traveling evangelists who took their wives along on their journeys.
The brothers James and Jude (Judas) are much better known due to links with the New Testament epistles under those names. There's considerable dispute about whether the James who wrote the epistle was the brother of Jesus, and the letter itself gives no clue. With Jude, however, a wider consensus holds that this brief letter came from that brother of Jesus or was written in his name.
James is especially famed as the first head of the church in Jerusalem, a prime post in early Christianity. Bauckham notes that James is the only Christian named by a non-Christian source from the first century. The Jewish historian Josephus recounted that in A.D. 62, James was executed by stoning as an apostate by order of the high priest Ananus II.
A second-century writer, Hegesippus, collected local traditions about Jesus' family that were lost except for quotations by the later church historian Eusebius. Hegesippus said James was succeeded as the bishop of Jerusalem by Simeon (or Simon), the son of Clopas whose wife Mary witnessed the Crucifixion (see John 19:25). There's a later church tradition that Clopas was Jesus' uncle, in which case Jesus' nephew succeeded his brother (or cousin).
Another tradition said a gardener named Conan living in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) was martyred during Christian persecution under the emperor Decius in 250-251.
Those who are slow to believe can take some encouragement from Jesus' siblings. They witnessed their brother's great deeds, yet the Gospels make a point of reporting that they never followed him during his ministry (see, for instance, Mark 3:31-35).
But that changed dramatically. After Jesus had risen from the grave and ascended to heaven, says Acts 1:14, the Christian church began its existence with this tiny membership: 11 of Jesus' 12 apostles, several unnamed women, Jesus' mother Mary, and "his brothers."
On the Net: Bible Review: www.bib-arch.org.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.