Joseph’s Children in the Light of Sacred Tradition and Scripture
This section will examine the claims of Orthodoxy that James, Joseph (Josiah), Simon, and Judas were not sons conceived by Mary, but rather the elder sons of Joseph from his first marriage.
Bishop Nikolai asserts that these other sons of Joseph came from an earlier marriage, in which he also had several daughters:
“Not only was he made worthy of the Kingdom of God but also his sons and daughters were. What father would want anything more than that his son would be an apostle of Christ? And Joseph had two sons who were apostles.”
But, not all the “holy fathers” concur with the idea that they were children of Joseph.
Orthodox Church historian Eusebius Popovic tells us in his General Church History:
“In place of His brothers and sisters at the time of His death, Jesus commanded His disciple John to perform the duties of a spiritual son in relation to his mother Mary. From this event, the oldest church tradition interpreted it one way, while the oldest apocryphal gospel interpreted it another way. Rather than understanding these other siblings to be the children of Mary, some thought they were children of Joseph from an earlier marriage, while others considered them to be the children of Cleopas and Mary the ‘sister’ of the Mother of the Lord.”
It is obvious that there has not been unanimous agreement on the Orthodox view that Joseph had children from a prior first marriage (even today, not everyone agrees with this supposition). Consequently, we can conclude that the information Bishop Nikolai has communicated is not verified facts, but rather a matter of debate even among sincere members of the Ecumenical Church.
Although no consensus exists among the holy fathers on the identity of whose children are the brothers and sisters of Jesus, it is obvious that they will definitely not admit the possibility that these brothers and sisters are the children of Mary born in marriage to Joseph. If they admitted this case, then the entire teachings of the traditional churches of the East and the West regarding the “Mother of God” would be devastated. After all, it is not at all clear how the Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians arrive at the conclusion that these children cannot claim both Joseph and Mary as parents, but instead they attribute them as “second class relatives”. Specifically, their arguments rely on the words in the Greek New Testament text used to describe Jesus’ brothers and sisters as close relatives (brothers and sisters in the example of uncles, cousins, etc.). Former Catholic James G. McCarthy responds to the Roman Catholic belief (which is identical to that of Orthodoxy) in his book The Gospel According to Rome, which was translated into the Croatian language:
“While it is true that the Greek words ‘adelphos’ (brother) and ‘’adelpha’ (sister) can be interpreted in a broader sense at times, the primary meaning of these words refers to those that have common parents. Unless the context otherwise demands [that one should] apply a secondary meaning, one [should] apply the primary meaning of the words. If the Holy Spirit had intended for Christians to venerate Mary as the ‘perpetual Virgin’, then surely there never would have been any mention of His relatives without explanation of why they were called His brothers and sisters. Then, the Holy Spirit could have explicitly said they were not brothers and sisters and, in fact, could have used two other Greek words. When Paul calls Mark the nephew of Barnabas (Colossians 4.10), he uses the Greek word ‘anepsios’. Luke uses the word ‘sungenis’ in a general reference to the fact that Mary and Elizabeth were relatives (Luke 1, 36).”
Looking ahead of what was just quoted, it would be interesting to observe the age of the brothers of Jesus from the perspectives of the Bible and sacred tradition. Namely, as we shall see, the data coming from this study once again confirm the claim of Holy Scripture that it was Mary who gave birth to these children through her marriage to Joseph.
“In the house of Joseph, the All-Holy Virgin continued to live as she did in the Temple of Solomon, occupying her time in the reading of Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in Godly-thoughts, in fasting and in handiwork. She rarely went anywhere outside the house nor was she interested in worldly things and events. She spoke very little to anyone, if at all, and never without special need. More frequently she communicated with both of Joseph’s daughters.”
“James is called the Lord’s brother because he was the son of the righteous Joseph, the betrothed of the Most-holy Theotokos. When the righteous Joseph was near death, he divided his estate among his sons, and wanted to leave a portion to the Lord Jesus, the son of the Most-holy Virgin, but all the other brothers opposed this, not regarding Jesus as their brother. James greatly loved Jesus and declared that he would include Jesus in his share. That is why he is called the Lord’s brother. From the beginning, James was devoted to the Lord Jesus. According to tradition, he traveled to Egypt with the Most-holy Virgin and Joseph, when Herod sought to slay the newborn King… The Lord numbered him among His Seventy Apostles… He was Bishop of Jerusalem for thirty years and zealously governed the Church of God… James was sixty-six years old when he suffered for Christ.”
These texts and traditions lead us to one main conclusion: all of the brothers (and sisters) of the Lord Jesus Christ were older than Him. The first text says that when the 15-year-old Mary came to the house of Joseph, the old man, he already had adult daughters. The other texts (the Prologue for October 23 as well as December 26) state that James, the brother of the Lord, was already an adult man (a full-grown man) at the time of Jesus’ birth.
The sacred tradition of the Orthodox Church adheres to the belief that Joseph was eighty years old when he took custody of Mary. If we assume that Joseph had married his first wife between the age of 20 and 30 years old (although it was custom in Jewish society for men and women to marry at a much younger age), and then she gave birth to her children over the next thirty years, then it would be quite realistic to expect that his youngest child during the birth of the Savior would be about 20 years old and the eldest about 50 years old (which would mean that all the children from his first marriage would have been older than the mother of Jesus). If this were the case, which is precisely what sacred tradition would lead us to believe, then these logical conclusions would strongly contradict what is written in Scripture.
When he wrote his first Epistle to the Corinthians in about 55 A.D., the Apostle Paul mentions the Lord’s brothers (i.e., all other sons of Joseph were called “brothers of the Lord”, not only James) as itinerant preachers of the gospel:
“Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?”
The reason for citing these verses is that they directly mention the brothers of the Lord who were married and traveled together with their wives on missionary trips (v.5). At the time Paul wrote this letter, according to the tradition of the Eastern Church, the Lord’s brothers would have between 80 and 110 years old. Yet, Paul highlights them as active preachers who travel with their wives. Now Luke 2:36-37 tells us that the prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, was 84 years old at the time of Christ and considered very old. It is highly unlikely that the brothers of the Lord could have been much older than Anna, nor thereby could they have been very active in the apostolic ministry. On the other hand, this writing of the Apostle Paul makes sense if James and the other sons of Joseph were also offspring of Mary who were born after Jesus came into the world! Even Bishop Nikolai, probably inadvertently, gives us the correct age when James suffered martyrdom, by which date we can also determine when he was born.
If we know the fact that the Lord Christ was born probably around 4 or 5 B.C. , then that means His public ministry began around 27 A.D. when He was 30 years old. The Lord publicly preached about three and a half years, and His earthly ministry concluded at His death in 31 A.D. According to Bishop Nikolai and historical records, in that same year, He founded the first Christian church in Jerusalem where the first overseer (i.e. bishop, which means “overseer” among the main elders of the church) was the Lord’s brother James. The fact cited by Bishop Nikolai shows that James was only 63 years old at the time of his martyrdom. According to the historians Joseph Flavius (first century A.D.) and Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (fourth century A.D.) , the oversee of the church of Jerusalem was killed in 62 A.D., which is consistent with the thesis that James served in the church for thirty years. But if these dates are accurate (and certainly that they are), then simple math would lead us to the conclusion that James, the brother of the Lord, was born in 1 B.C., approximately three years after the birth of Lord Jesus Christ. This calculation is completely in line with the Bible which claims that Jesus was Mary’s
firstborn son, and after His birth, Mary gave birth to several other sons and daughters. Consistent with this data, the brothers of the Lord at the time of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians would have been between 35 and 55 years of age. This age bracket seems much more consistent with Paul’s description of them as being active in missionary travels accompanied by their wives.
But, there is still more evidence that confirms the historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth had younger brothers and sisters who were the children both of Mary and Joseph. One such testimony comes from one of the ancient messianic psalms penned by God’s anointed servant, David, King of Israel. As is known, King David as God’s prophet predicted many events in the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ and described them in the Old Testament. For example, David predicted the way that Christ would suffer during His death as well as His resurrection from the dead.
These verses from the Psalms of David, which are listed in the previous footnotes, will serve as proof of my next claim. Psalm 69:8 refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, i.e. a prophecy about Him from ancient times. King David wrote this verse to predict the fact that the Lord Christ will not be accepted as the promised Messiah of Israel even in His own home, i.e. among His close blood relatives in the household. John wrote this:
“His brothers therefore said to Him, ‘Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.’ For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”
However, the events which took place in the home of Jesus of Nazareth, which included unbelief and mockery from His closest relatives, David foretold by the prophetic Spirit centuries earlier. Speaking on behalf of the Jewish Messiah, who was the father and Messiah (as in anointed – the Anointed True Messiah Christ) the son of Jesse said:
“I have become a stranger to my brothers, And an alien to my mother’s children…”
This verse from the Psalm mentioned above stresses that the Messiah would be rejected even by the sons of His own mother, i.e. by His very own brothers! The proof of this verse from Psalm 69 refers just to Jesus Christ and not to David himself (as the Orthodox would likely protest). The following verse, which is interconnected to the previous verse, demonstrates the link to the Messiah:
“Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.”
Anyone who reads the Holy Scriptures knows this verse, as it is, indeed, “split” into two parts and quoted in the New Testament. This verse exclusively relates to the ministry of Jesus the Son of God. By applying this verse to the Savior Jesus, the apostles describe for us the Lord of life:
“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’ Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’”
“For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’”
Even after all the previously presented Biblical and historical facts, it might be possible that Orthodox theologians would still need more evidence that Jesus’ mother Mary had other sons and daughters. Psalm 69:8 clearly describes the rejection of the Messiah by His very own brothers born of the same mother as Jesus. Note also that the verse is written in the third person. “He” cannot refer to David, as David is the author of the Psalm. He would have written “I”, not “he”. But for those who still seek more evidence, here is further proof.
Nowhere do the Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles mention such a fate for David. Furthermore, based on the speeches of Peter and Paul in the book of Acts, it is obvious that the Psalms refer to Jesus as prophet and king (Ps. 16:10; Acts. 2:26-31, 13:35-37). Even in spite of referring to them in the first person, the David Psalm describes the incorruptibility of the Messiah’s body and His resurrection from the dead. Given that King David had physically died a long time ago, they consider the prophecies to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. The same also applies to the Messiah’s garments, and men throwing dice for them (Ps. 22:18), as well as other prophecies. All these statements are fulfilled one hundred percent only in the life of Christ the Lord. Therefore, Psalm 69:8, together with verse 9, which is also directly linked to Jesus, refer exclusively to Him and His brethren in the body (half-brothers born of His mother). Jesus’ own half-brother subjected Him to unbelief and mockery (consistent with John 7:5).