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“Was Jesus an Only Child?” Part II

This is Part II of a two part series. Read Part I here.

Let me conclude the observations I began in these pages last month. As I explained then, Jack Kilmon, a Protestant, wrote a critique of a tract written by Karl Keating and published by Catholic Answers. The tract’s title is The “Brethren of the Lord.”

The critique first appeared on a computer bulletin board operated by Catholic laymen. I happen to answer questions on the board, and I took the liberty of responding to Kilmon at length. His critique and my comments are being serialized in these articles.

Picking up where I left off, I must say that again, and not for the first time, Kilmon has begged a question. The question here is not whether Matthew 12:46 talks about a family, but whether it is talking about a “nuclear” family: of Mary and sons born to Mary. Adelphoi proves nothing here. Kilmon assumes without proof what he is trying to prove. This invalidates his conclusion.

Now for Mark 6:3….Mark was a Greek-speaking Cypriot Jew who wrote his Gospel (the first) in Greek. Mark, in his clear and concise, albeit colloquial Greek says…ouch outos estin o tekton o uios Marias adelphos de Iakobou Iose kai Iouda kai Simonos…”Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of Yacob [James], Joses [Joseph], and Judah [Jude], and Simon?” This text knocks the Roman Catholic position of Mary’s perpetual virginity directly into an interpretation of pure nonsense in search of misguided doctrine!

The scene is Jesus’ own district, a synagogue, probably in Nazareth itself, where Jesus and Mary undoubtedly had many relatives. The speakers in Mark 6:3 are the fellow-villagers of these relatives. There is no need in this text to restrict the meaning of adelphoi/adelphai to uterine brothers and sisters. Mark 6:3 is in perfect accord with Catholic doctrine.

Another statement by this writer concerns Mark 6:3 and the phrase “the son of Mary” instead of “a son of Mary,” and that’s supposed to prove Jesus was the only son? How absurd! To begin with (and I feel foolish addressing such distorted logic) the Greek (h)o has many textual usages as a Greek article, one….Jesus was well known when Mark was written, you know!

In his praise of Mark’s “clear and concise, albeit colloquial Greek” in Mark 6:3, Kilmon neglects to inform us of the considerable confusion surrounding the transmission of this text. There are four distinct manuscript traditions here, giving ten different readings of the text. Kilmon inadvertently increases the confusion by omitting the word tes before Marias in his transliteration, a word confirmed by all four manuscript traditions.

Kilmon calls our attention to one of the usages of the Greek article–he refers to “its common utility for a well-known personage.” Unfortunately, he gets the rule wrong. The rule reads: “Names of persons and places are individual and therefore omit the article unless previously mentioned or specially marked as well known” (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar, 1136).

This usage is restricted to proper names. That is why the article tes must be read before the proper name Marias. But the name Jesus does not occur in the villagers’ indignant comment in Mark 6:2-3. Kilmon’s show of Greek grammar is therefore in error and is nothing more than a red herring.

Following the greater number of manuscripts and translating literally so as to show the articles where they appear in Greek, we read: “the son of the Mary and (a) relative [adelphos, no article] of James and Joses and Judas and Simon [no articles for these names].” The articles with “son” and “Mary” give a slight emphasis to these two nouns and suggest that the connection between them is special.

The case is different with the rest of the nouns here, which do not have the article. Jesus is said to be adelphos of the others. In another grammar rule (1140), Smyth says: “Names of relationship omit the article; but the article is needed when a definite individual is spoken of.” There is no precision, no definition, to adelphos here.

If Jesus were the uterine brother of the other four (the brother to the exclusion of any other), then Mark would write ho adelphos. But no manuscripts give that reading. Adelphos without the article is non-specific and non-exclusive: Jesus is a relative, one of many, of the other four.

Notice also the repetition (called polysyndeton) of the word “and” (kai) between the names of the other four. This suggests that Mark is presenting them, not as a cohesive group, but as four disparate individuals.

Is Keating also saying he has never been referred to as the son of Mr. or Mrs. Keating, whether or not he has siblings? How silly! He either knows nothing about biblical languages (a fact well demonstrated) or is deliberately being misleading … again academically dishonest!

Earlier on in his essay, Kilmon objected to the use of Old Testament Hebrew to interpret New Testament Greek. We have seen why this objection has no merit. But here Kilmon appeals to the present-day usage of the English article, thinking it somehow relevant to a discussion of the Greek article. I think that this is not at all plausible. English did not exist in New Testament times. There can be no connection between the two, nor can one illustrate the other.

Is it supposed to be coincidence that the next oldest son Yacob (James) is named after Joseph’s father? And the next, after Joseph? All in accordance with Jewish naming practices after allowing for the special circumstances of Y’shua’s [Jesus’] naming?

Actually we do not know the name of St. Joseph’s father. The Gospels give us two genealogies for Jesus Christ. Matthew writes (1:16): “Jacob begot Joseph, Mary’s husband.” Luke writes (3:23): “Jesus, son (as it was thought) of Joseph, son of Heli.” The two genealogies do not agree in some of the ancestral names given because neither genealogy aims to give a name for every generation. “Begot” and “son of” can span several generations. We do not know how many generations separated St. Joseph from Heli and from Jacob. Kilmon’s bald reference to “Jewish naming practices” is irrelevant and misleading.

As to his question about coincidence, the fact that Jesus had relatives named James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon is not remarkable. These were commonly used names.

In the small band of Jesus’ apostles, there were two Jameses, two Simons, and two Judases. In the four Gospels and Acts, there are two more Simons, at least six Josephs, and three more Judases. Therefore, I think coincidence does very well in explaining the names of Jesus’ relatives.

In Acts 1:14 and John 7:5, Jesus’ brothers (adelphoi) are distinguished from the other apostles, some of whom were cousins. There is overwhelming evidence that Y’shua, Yaqub, Yosef, Yehuda [Jude] and Simon were all children of Miriam and Yosef ben Yaqub ha Notzri and that father Yosef died before Y’shua’s ministry began, leaving those mentioned in Scripture as the surviving Nazarene family.

In fact, good interpretive evidence for the Resurrection lies in the very fact that Y’shua’s brothers didn’t believe who he was (would your brothers?) until the Resurrection (which would convince anyone).

Suddenly, the oldest surviving sibling is the head of the Jerusalem church along with his and Jesus’ real cousins, Yaqub (James), also named after their mutual grandfather, and Johanon (John) bar Zebedee, who are the sons of Mary’s sister Salome and her husband, Zebedee.

I have already dismissed the idea that adelphoi means precisely “cousins.” No one holds this view. Adelphoi can mean more widely “kinsmen, relatives,” as I have shown. “Overwhelming evidence”: I am considerably underwhelmed.

There is no evidence whatever that James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon were Mary’s children. Adelphoi will not carry the burden of this departure from traditional Christian doctrine.

Now let me say a few words about each of these four men. James “the Little” or “the Younger” is often called “brother [adelphos] of the Lord” (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3, Gal. 1:19, and elsewhere by implication).

Twice he is named in series with Joses (Joseph), Judas, and Simon. Their “sisters” (adelphai) are also mentioned, but not named (Matt. 13:56, Mark 6:3). James is mentioned with Joses at the time of our Lord’s death. They are there called the sons of Mary, the wife of Clopas, a Mary different from our Blessed Mother (Matt. 27:56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25).

This “other” Mary (Matt. 27:61, 28:1) is called our Lady’s “sister” (adelphe) in John 19:25. It is unlikely that two girls of the same parents were given the same name “Mary.” So our Lady and the other Mary were related in a wider sense of adelphai. James, the son of the other Mary, a relative of Jesus, but not his uterine brother, became the first bishop of Jerusalem.

Joses (Joseph) is several times mentioned with his brother James and is mentioned alone as the son of the other Mary at the burial of Jesus (Mark 15:47).

Judas, not the Iscariot, nicknamed Thaddeus and Lebbeus, was an apostle of Christ and the author of the Epistle of Jude, in which he says that he is the “brother of James” (Jude 1:1). Tertullian, Origen, and other early Christian writers witness to an ancient tradition that this Judas is the one mentioned in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 as one of the adelphoi of Christ.

It is possible that he is the Judas Barsabbas (son of Sabbas) of Acts 15:22-33 and the brother of Joseph Barsabbas, a nominee with Matthias in the apostolic election of Acts 1:23-26. If this Sabbas was the father of the Joseph and Judas of Mark 6:3, he was possibly also the father of James and Simon of the same verse. James and Judas were apostles, then, and Joseph just missed becoming an apostle by the fall of the dice (Acts 1:26).

Simon was also one of these adelphoi of Jesus, and he was an apostle. Except for his nicknames, Zealot and Cananean, nothing is known of him for sure. Next, I want to cite a passage from Keating, then give Kilmon’s reaction to it. I beg the reader’s careful attention to these two passages:

“At the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she asked, ‘How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man?’ (Luke1:34). From the earliest interpretations of the Bible we see that this was taken to mean that she had made a vow of life-long virginity, even in marriage. If she had taken no such vow, the question would make no sense at all.

“There is no reason to assume Mary was wholly ignorant of the rudiments of biology. She presumably knew the normal way in which children are conceived. If she anticipated having children and did not intend to maintain a vow of virginity, she would hardly have to ask ‘how’ she was to have a child, since having a child the ‘normal’ way would be expected by a newlywed.

“No, her question makes sense only if there was an apparent (but not a real) conflict between keeping a vow of virginity and acceding to the angel’s request. A careful look at the New Testament shows Mary kept her vow and never had any children other than Jesus.”

How can this writer [Keating] interpret Luke 1:34 as a vow of life-long virginity? All Mary is stating is that she was, according to Jewish custom and requirement, virgin until her marriage.

Luke (1:26-35) says that Mary was a virgin and already engaged to Joseph when the angel Gabriel came to her. After greeting her, he calmed her fear, saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…Jesus.” Mary answers, “How shall this be, since I do not know man?”

These last words are a Hebraism meaning sexual intercourse. If Mary expected that her forthcoming marriage to Joseph was to be as other marriages are, she would not ask this question.

She was a Jewish village girl, not a Victorian maiden. She knew how babies are made, and she had determined that this was not for her: She would follow a different and higher Drummer.

Her question makes no sense in Kilmon’s scenario. It makes sense only if she was resolved to remain a virgin even in marriage and therefore wondered how Gabriel’s pronouncement could square with her resolve. Kilmon’s interpretation of Mary’s question, if pressed, can only mean that Mary felt that the angel in foretelling her child was accusing her of having already lost her virginity.

This is grotesque and contrary to Scripture, which states that she was a virgin, that she was full of grace, and that she had found favor with God (Luke 1:27, 28, 30). When assured that her motherhood would not involve her husband Joseph, but would be altogether from the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High, she acceded to God’s plan as “handmaiden of the Lord.”

A vow is defined as a promise made to God to follow a course more excellent than the ordinary. The conditions of a vow of virginity are met here in Mary’s case, as unbroken Church teaching affirms.

Augustine makes two remarks on this subject: “Surely she would not say ‘how shall this be?’ unless she had already vowed herself to God as a virgin”; and “If she intended to have intercourse, she would not have asked this question” (Holy Virginity 4, 4). Good old Augustine.

This writer [Keating] then insults the reader’s intelligence by suggesting that the reference about the 12-year-old Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2:41-51) is evidence that Jesus was the only son because he was the only son there!

I can’t believe that this writer is so unfamiliar with the Jewish customs and practices of the time. Y’shua was reaching Bar Mitzvah, he was the only son who was turning thirteen and required to attend the Temple that year. Yacob (James) would have been about ten years old and the other boys even younger. They wouldn’t have taken the trip to Jerusalem that year.

C’mon, surely this writer knew this. This is not only creativity in trying to force misrepresented “evidence” for Mary’s perpetual virginity, it’s academically dishonest!

Kilmon misses the point of Keating’s consideration. Keating writes: “In the story of [Jesus’] being found in the Temple (Luke 2:41-51), there is no hint of other children in the family.”

That is the point and it is true: In this Gospel text there is no hint of other children. This fact about Luke 2:41-51 is corroborative of Keating’s thesis. It is not by itself decisive, but it is corroborative.

To belabor the obvious, Jesus was twelve. Jewish boys attained religious and legal maturity and assumed their religious and some of their legal responsibilities at the age of thirteen years and one day (Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 4, columns 243f.).

Jesus was not yet Bar Mitzvah. He was not “required to attend the Temple that year.” But who says younger children did not form part of the Passover caravans to Jerusalem? And if young Jesus could go, why not these imaginary little brothers and sisters of his? Kilmon’s guesswork cannot overcome Keating’s observation about Luke 2:41-51: “There is [here] no hint of other children in the family.”

It is time, I think, to express the opinion I have formed after several readings both of Keating and of Kilmon and after considerable research.

Keating does not parade a knowledge of biblical languages, but nothing he writes would offend the experts. He does not assume that his readers are unfamiliar with biblical languages, idioms, and customs; still less does he try to capitalize on such unfamiliarity.

His presentation is fair, objective, and logical. He is an honest man. He establishes the harmony of Catholic doctrine with Holy Scripture, as he set out to do. Now Fundamentalists disagree with much of Catholic doctrine, as Kilmon has noticed:

The rest of the Catholic Answers tract regarding the “brethren of the Lord” tries to disprove Jesus’ brothers by attacking Fundamentalists, some of whom believe the obvious textual intent of the original context. Great logic! In order to disprove a premise, attack those who hold it.

I do not find that Keating attacks anyone. Rather, he states our differences with Fundamentalists in a courteous manner and fairly presents our doctrine and some of the reasons for it. I am pleased with Keating’s work on this and other topics, and I make use of it with confidence in my own work.

These “answers” supposedly disproving something the Gospels spell out in clear, unambiguous language represent the most slanted, hermeneutically creative, illogical presentation I have ever read.

If it merely lacked scholarship (which it does), I could place it in the ever-growing pile of bad doctrine based on bad logic, but it’s more than that. It is dishonest.

The scriptural account of Jesus’ real, actual, blood brothers, born also of Mary, is clear and precise and not subject to fanciful linguistic manipulation. The language in this regard is much more precise than that which the Roman Catholic Church uses to establish the papacy.

Well, when I converted to the Catholic faith, I was quite happy with the proofs for the papacy, and I still am. But to address the other matters in this citation: There is no dishonesty in Keating’s essay.

The reader must decide whether the language of the Gospels is precisely as Kilmon describes it and whether his readings rest upon adequate research and adequate familiarity with the biblical languages. It is a truism that only a competent scholar can fully appraise the scholarship of others, but any intelligent amateur can tell if a writer is basically right or is far off base.


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