the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Brethren of the Lord (2)
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
BRETHREN OF THE LORD.—The only three theories about ‘the brethren of the Lord’ which are worthy of serious consideration are those which are called by Lightfoot (1) the Hieronymian (from its advocacy by Jerome [Hieronymus]), (2) the Epiphanian (from its advocacy by Epiphanius), and (3) the Helvidian (from its advocacy by Jerome’s opponent, Helvidius).
According to the Hieronymian view, the ‘brethren’ of Jesus were His first cousins, being sons of the Virgin’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas. According to the Epiphanian view, they were sons of Joseph by a former wife. According to the Helvidian view, they were sons of Joseph and Mary born after Jesus. All these views claim to be Scriptural, and the Epiphanian claims in addition to be in accordance with the most ancient tradition.
i. Points that are certain.—In discussing a question of such intricacy as the present, it is well to begin by distinguishing what is reasonably certain from what is uncertain. A careful comparison of the relevant Scripture passages renders it certain—
(1) That the brethren of the Lord, whatever their true relationship to Him was, lived under the same roof with Jesus and His mother, and were regarded as members of the Virgin’s family. The common household is implied in John 7:3, and more distinctly still in John 2:12, where we read that ‘he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and there they abode not many days.’ That the brethren were members of the same family as Jesus, and stood in some definite filial relation to Joseph and Mary, is distinctly stated in Matthew 13:55 ||, ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joseph,* [Note: In Mt. the correct reading seems to be Ἱωσήφ (so WH and RV, with BC., etc.). In Mark 6:3Ἱωσῆτος (BDL, etc.) is certainly right.] and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all† [Note: Epiphanius says that there were only two sisters, Mary and Salome, but the τᾶσαι shows that there were three at least. The present passage seems to indicate that they were married, and resided at Nazareth.] with us?’ (cf. also Matthew 12:47 ‘Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking to speak to thee’). In harmony with this the Gospels represent the brethren of Jesus as habitually going about in company with the Virgin (Matthew 12:46 ||).
(2) That the brethren of Jesus were jealous of Him, and up to the time of the Resurrection disbelieved His claims. Thus the Gospels represent Jesus as lamenting the unbelief and want of sympathy of His near relatives: ‘A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house’ (Mark 6:4); and again, ‘My time is not yet come, but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you, but me it hateth’ (John 7:6 f.). There are, moreover, the still more definite statements, ‘For even his brethren did not believe on him’ (John 7:5); and, ‘his friends (οἱ παρʼ αὐτοῦ) went out to lay hold on him, for they said, He is beside himself (Mark 3:21).
Some attempts have been made to attenuate the force of these passages. Cornelius a Lapide, for instance, commenting on John 7:5, says: ‘Licet enim viderent eum tot signa et miracula facere, illaque vera esse non dubitarent, tamen dubitabant an ipse esset Messias et Dei Filius: licet enim hoc verum esse optarent, et ex parte ob tot ejus miracula crederent—tamen alia ex parte videntes ejus paupertatem et neglectum, dubitabant. Ut ergo certi hac de re fiant, hortantur Christum ire secum in Jerusalem, etc.’ But St. John asserts disbelief (οὐδὲ ἑτίστειον), not doubt, and implies jealousy and hostility. Other critics have maintained that some only of the brethren disbelieved. But St. John’s language at the very least asserts that the majority (that is, three out of the four brethren) disbelieved, and almost certainly implies the disbelief of all.
From this there follows the necessary inference—
(3) That none of the brethren were numbered among the Twelve Apostles. This conclusion is confirmed by the manner in which they are distinguished from the Twelve in Acts 1:14, ‘[The eleven] all with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.’ With this may be compared 1 Corinthians 9:5 (‘Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?’), which, though less decisive than Acts 1:14, because Cephas is first classed among the Twelve and then separately, points in the same direction. It is no sufficient reply to this to say that in Galatians 1:19 James is called an Apostle (‘But other of the apostles saw I none, save [εἰ μή] James the Lord’s brother’). Granting that this is the case, though it has been denied (e.g. by Grotius, Winer, Bleek; cf. (Revised Version margin)), it may be fairly maintained that St. James is called an Apostle in that wider sense in which the term is applied to St. Paul himself, to St. Barnabas (Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14, 1 Corinthians 9:6), to Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), and perhaps also to Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 2:6; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:1). That James the Lord’s brother was one of the Twelve is implied already in the Gospel according to the Hebrews (circa (about) a.d. 100),* [Note: This Gospel represents him as present at the Last Supper, and therefore clearly as one of the Twelve.] but the evidence of this dubious source cannot outweigh the strong negative presumption afforded by the canonical writings.† [Note: It is perhaps worth adding that St. James in his Epistle does not claim to be of the Twelve, and that his brother St. Jude seems even to exclude himself from the number of the Apostles (Judges 1:17).]
ii. The Hieronymian View.—With these three points established, we proceed to consider the Hieronymian view that the brethren of Jesus were really His first cousins. Jerome’s theory, as stated by himself in his acrimonious but able treatise adversus Helvidium, involves the following positions:—
(a) That James the Lord’s brother was an Apostle, being identical with James the Less, the son of Alphaeus.
(b) That the mother of James and of the other ‘brethren’ was ‘Mary of Clopas’ (John 19:25).
(c) That this Mary was the Virgin’s sister.
As developed by subsequent writers, the Hieronymian theory affirms in addition—
(d) That Simon the Zealot and Judas ‘not Iscariot’ were also brethren of the Lord.
(e) That Clopas is identical with Alphaeus, and that consequently ‘Mary of Clopas’ is not to be regarded as the daughter of Clopas, but as his wife.‡ [Note: Jerome himself says: ‘Mariam Cleophae Joannes Evangelista cognominat, sive a patre, sive a gentilitate familiae, aut quaquumque alia caussa ei nomen imponens’ (xiii.).]
As these two additional points are maintained by all modern followers of Jerome, we shall regard them as integral parts of the Hieronymian theory. Jerome’s theory has already been virtually disproved by the proof (i. 2, 3) that the Lord’s brethren were not Apostles, but its great ingenuity and wide acceptance§ [Note: Jerome’s treatise converted Augustine, who originally held the Epiphanian view, and the united influence of these two great doctors caused the Ilieronymian view to prevail exclusively in the West. It is this view which is implied in the Liturgy, which, both in its Roman and in its Anglican form, regards James the Less, Simon Zelotes, and Judas not Iscariot as brethren of Jesus.] render full discussion of it necessary.
A. Arguments for the Hieronymian view.—
(1) James the Lord’s brother must have been of the Twelve, because he is called an Apostle, Galatians 1:19. (For a reply to this see i. 2, 3).
(2) James the Lord’s brother must have been of the Twelve, because he exercised great authority among, and even over Apostles. Thus at the Council of Jerusalem he presided and pronounced the decision, although St. Peter himself was present (Acts 15:13). St. Paul names him before St. Peter as one of the chief pillars of the Church (Galatians 2:9). The Galatian heretics appealed to his authority as superior to that of St. Paul (Galatians 2:12), and his importance is further shewn by such passages as Acts 12:17; Acts 21:18.
Reply.—St. James’ prominent position is admitted, but it can be accounted for without supposing him to have been of the Twelve. For—
(a) His close relationship to Jesus (whatever the relationship was) would have sufficed of itself to gain him great consideration among the first Christians. He probably owed in part at least to this his election to the see of Jerusalem. Relationship to Jesus was clearly the main motive in the appointment of his successor, Symeon the son of Clopas,|| [Note: | This Clopas was Joseph’s brother, and is perhaps identical with the Clopas of John 19:25. If so, and if (as is supposed by many) ‘Mary of Clopas was the wife of Clopas, and the sister of the Virgin, two brothers (Joseph and Clopas) must have married two sisters (the Virgin Mary and Mary of Clopas). For reasons to be presently given, we regard this combination as improbable.] who was a cousin of Jesus (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 11). Hegesippus speaks of the relations of Jesus as ‘ruling the churches’ as such. Even as late as the reign of Domitian they were sufficiently important to incur the jealousy of the tyrant (l.c. iii. 20).
(b) James the Lord’s brother possessed personal qualities which fully account for his elevation. Even the Jews, according to Hegesippus, reverenced him for his piety, his unceasing prayers, his life-long Nazirite vow, and above all for his justice (l.c. ii. 23). Josephus mentions the indignation which his execution excited among the Jews (Ant. xx. ix. 1), and in a passage not now extant ascribes the sufferings endured by the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem to Divine vengeance for his murder (Origen, circa (about) Celsum, i. 47).
(3) James the Lord’s brother must have been of the Twelve, because there were only two prominent Jameses in the Church, as the expression ‘James the Less’ (Mark 15:40) indicates. He was therefore either James the Great, son of Zebedee, or James the Less, son of Alphaeus. But he was not the former, who was martyred as early as a.d. 44 (Acts 12:2). Therefore he was the latter, the son of Alphaeus.
Reply.—Jerome and his followers have been misled by the Latin translation Jacobus minor, ‘James the Less.’ The Greek is, Ἰάκωβος ὁ μικρός, ‘James the Little,’ the allusion being to his short stature.
(4) The names of James, Simon, and Jude occur together, and in the same division, in all the Apostolic lists. This suggests—(a) that they were brothers, and (b) that they are identical with our Lord’s brethren of the same name (see Matthew 10:2 ff., Mark 3:16 ff., Luke 6:14 ff., Acts 1:13).
Reply.—It has already been conclusively proved that our Lord’s brethren were not Apostles (see i. 2, 3); but, waiving this point, we answer: (1) The occurrence of the three names together in the list of Apostles is no proof of fraternal relationship. (2) There is definite proof that the three were not brothers. For had they been so, it would naturally have been mentioned in some at least of the Gospels, as it is in the cases of the brothers Peter and Andrew, James and John. Moreover, the father of James is Alphaeus, but the father of Jude is a certain James, of whom nothing definite is known. It is true that some propose to translate Ἰούδας Ἱακώβου (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13) ‘Jude the brother of James,’ but so unusual, and probably unexampled, a meaning would require at least to be indicated by the context. We conclude, therefore, that James was certainly not the brother of Jude, and there is no evidence that he was the brother of Simon. If he was the brother of any Apostle, it was of Matthew (Levi), whose father was also called Alphaeus (Mark 2:14). But even this, in the absence of any evidence of the identity of the two Alphaeuses, must be pronounced doubtful.
Equally evident is it that these three Apostles were not brethren of Jesus. The coincidence of three such common names as James, Simon, and Jude in the list of brethren and in the list of Apostles proves nothing. So common are the names that they are duplicated in the Apostolic list itself. If it could be shown that James, Simon, and Jude, Apostles, were also brothers, the coincidence would be worth considering; but since they were not, the coincidence is without significance. The very way in which these three Apostles are designated shows that they were not brethren of Jesus. It was necessary to distinguish them from three other Apostles of the same name, and yet they are not once called, for distinction, ‘the Lord’s brethren.’ James is called ‘of Alphaeus,’ perhaps also ‘the Little’; Simon is called the Cananaean,’ and ‘the Zealot’; Jude receives no less than four distinguishing titles, ‘not Iscariot,’ ‘of James,’ ‘Thaddaeus,’ and ‘Lebbaeus’ (Matthew 10:3, Western Text). How strange, if he really was the Lord’s brother, that he is not once so described!
(5) The last argument consists of three distinct steps. (a) James, the son of Alphaeus, the Apostle, is identical with ‘James the Little’ of Mark 15:40 = Matthew 27:56. But this James the Little had a brother Joses, clearly a well-known character, and therefore (since no other Joses is mentioned in the Gospels) the same as Joses the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3; and Matthew 13:53, where the authorities are divided between the forms Joses and Joseph). (b) The mother of this James is called by the Synoptists Mary, and she is further described in John 19:25 as ‘Mary of Clopas’ (Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Κλωπᾶ). This might mean ‘Mary daughter of Clopas,’ but since Clopas and Alphaeus are the same word, both being transliterations of the Aramaic (חַלְפי) חַלְפַי, the correct translation is ‘Mary wife of Clopas.’ () This Mary, wife of Clopas, is said by St. John to have been the Virgin’s sister. Accordingly James and Joses (and consequently also Simon and Jude), the Lord’s ‘brethren,’ were really His cousins on His mother’s side.
Reply.—This argument is ingenious rather than strong. For (a) the identification of James the Little (Mark 15:40) with the son of Alphaeus, though generally accepted and not improbable, is only a guess. Indeed it may be argued that since St. Mark in his Gospel gives no hint that the son of Alphaeus was called ‘the Little,’ he must mean by ‘James the Little’ another person. But conceding the identity (which, however, whether true or not, is too precarious to bear the weight of an important argument), we still cannot concede the identity of Joses, the brother of this James, with Joses the brother of Jesus. The identity of James of Alphaeus with James the Little may be conceded, because, though it is weakly attested, nothing of weight can be urged against it. But if this Joses, the brother of James, was also the brother of Jesus, then three of our Lord’s brethren were Apostles, a conclusion which is negatived by an overwhelming weight of evidence (see i. 2, 3). In such a case the mere coincidence of a name (and Joses or Joseph is, as Lightfoot shews, a particularly common name) is of no weight at all. (b) Jerome’s assumption that ‘Mary the mother of James and Joses’ (Mt., Mk.) is identical with ‘Mary of Clopas’ is probably, though not certainly, correct. But there is no ground for supposing, as Jerome’s supporters do, that this Mary was the wife of Clopas. There being no indication in the context to the contrary, the natural translation of Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Κλωπᾶ is ‘Mary the daughter of Clopas.’* [Note: So Jerome himself understood it. The Vulg. Maria Cleophae preserves the ambiguity of the Greek.] It is maintained, indeed, that since she was the mother of James the Little (who was an Apostle), her husband must have been Alphaeus, i.e. Clopas. But it is doubtful if James the Little really was an Apostle, and it is still more doubtful if Alphaeus is the same person as Clopas. Κλωπᾶς, or, as it should probably be accented, Κλώπας, is a purely Greek name, being contracted from Κλεόπατρος (cf. Ἁντίπας, from Ἁντίπατρος). Ἁλφαῖος (Ἁλφαῖος, WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] ), on the other hand, is the Aramaic חַלְפי (Halpai), the initial guttural being, as is frequently the case, omitted. The names are therefore linguistically distinct. It is true that if there were strong independent reasons for identifying Alphaeus and Clopas, the linguistic difficulties might possibly be surmounted, but there are no such reasons, or at least none are alleged.
Against the identification of Κλὡτας and Alphaeus it may be urged: (1) That inasmuch as initial sh‘va is almost invariably represented by a full vowel in Greek (שִׁלמה = Σαλομών; צְבָאוֹח = σαβαώθ; etc.), there is a presumption against a word like Clopas, which begins with two consonants, representing a Semitic name. (2) Although ח is occasionally transliterated κ in the middle or at the end of a word, this never, or hardly ever, happens at the beginning. (3) (חַלְפִי) חַלְפַי is transliterated quite regularly Χαλφἱ; in 1 Maccabees 11:70. (4) The ω of Κλὡτας cannot be derived from חַלְפַי. The nearest Semitic equivalent of Κλώτας would be some such form as קלוֹפָא. (5) The Semitic versions uniformly regard Ἀλφαὶος as a Semitic word, but Κλὡτας as Greek, transliterating the κ by ק.
(c) There is more plausibility about Jerome’s contention that Mary of Clopas is described in John 19:25 as the Virgin’s sister. The words are ἱστήκεισαν δὲ παρὰ τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἡ μητἠρ αὑτοῦ καὶ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ, Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Κλωπᾶ, καὶ Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή. It must be candidly admitted that the prima facie impression which this passage makes upon the mind is that only three women are mentioned, and that the Virgin’s sister is Mary of Clopas. There are, however, important considerations on the other side. (1) When persons or things are enumerated in pairs (cf. the list of Apostles, Matthew 10:2-4), the copula is not inserted between the pairs. If, therefore, St. John in this passage designs to speak of two pairs of women, καὶ is correctly omitted before Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Κλωπᾶ. (2) The Synoptic parallels show that Salome, the mother of James and John, was present at the Crucifixion, and since it is unlikely that St. John would omit to mention the presence of his own mother, ἡ ἀδελφὴ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ is probably not Mary of Clopas, but Salome. The suppression of her name is quite in the style of the Evangelist, who is very reticent in personal matters, and never even names himself. (3) If Mary of Clopas was sister to the Virgin, then two sisters had the same name, a circumstance most improbable, unless they were only step-sisters. The point is undoubtedly a difficult one, and different opinions will continue to be held about it, but fortunately its decision does not affect the main point of our inquiry, because, whether Mary of Clopas was the Virgin’s sister or not, there is no reason for supposing that she was the mother of the brethren of Jesus.
B. Objections to the Hieronymian view.—
The Hieronymian view is to be rejected, partly because the arguments in its favour, though ingenious, are inconclusive and often far-fetched; partly because no trace of it is to be found before the time of Jerome, who apparently invented it;* [Note: Papias of Hierapolis (a.d. 120) used to be quoted on Jerome’s side, but Lightfoot has shown that the Papias in question lived in the 11th century, Hegesippus (a.d. 160) and Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 200) have been wrongly claimed on the same side. In reality they support the Epiphanian view.] partly because it ‘is obviously an attempt of an ardent champion of celibacy to maintain the perpetual virginity not only of Mary, but of Joseph;† [Note: Jerome indeed admits this: ‘Tu dicis (he is addressing Helvidius) Mariam virginem non permansisse: ego mihi plus vendico, etiam ipsum Joseph virginem fuisse per Mariam, ut ex virginali conjugio virgo filius nasceretur’ (adv. Helv. xix.).] partly because it involves an unnatural use of the term ‘brethren’;‡ [Note: It is true, as Jerome warmly urges (adv. Helvidium, xiv., xv.), that the OT usage of ‘brother’ is somewhat wide. In 1 Chronicles 23:21-22 first cousins are called brethren (אַחיהָם = ἁδελφοὶ αὑτῶν, LXX): in Leviticus 10:4, first cousins once removed (אֲחַיכַם : = τοὐς ἁδελφοὺς ὑμῶν, LXX). So also in Genesis 14:14; Genesis 14:16 Abraham’s nephew is called his brother (אָהיו ); and in Genesis 29:15 Jacob is called Laban’s brother. It cannot therefore he pronounced that our Lord’s cousins might occasionally be alluded to as His brethren, especially if it be true, as is generally alleged, that there is no word in Aramaic for cousin. At the same time it should be remembered that all Jerome’s examples of an extended use of ‘brother’ are taken from the OT; that the usage of ἁδελφός is much less elastic than that of אָה; that no instances of ἁδελφός = ἀνεψιός are cited from profane writers; and that even the OT does not sanction the use of אָה to describe any other relationship than that of brother. The term ἀνεψιός is not avoided in the NT (see Colossians 4:10), and Hegesippus (a.d. 160), in discussing the subject of our Lord’s human relationships, keeps the two terms distinct, calling Symeon, the second bishop of Jerusalem, and our Lord’s , ἀνεψιός; but James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, always ἁδελφός. Clearly, therefore, Hegesippus did not regard ἀδελφός τοῦ Κυρἰου as equivalent to ἁνεψιός, and he is our oldest and best authority.] but chiefly because it is inconsistent with the three certainties, which, as we have shown, a true theory must necessarily presuppose, namely, the common household, the unbelief of the brethren, and their non-inclusion among the Twelve. Jerome’s theory is inconsistent not only with the last two of these certainties, but even with the first, for though his supporters allege that the two sisters were both widows and kept house together, this does not explain the fact that the brethren of Jesus are regarded in Scripture as belonging to the Virgin’s family, and are continually represented as being in her company, and never in the company of their alleged mother, Mary of Clopas.* [Note: In every passage of Scripture where the brethren are mentioned, except John 7:3, it is expressly said that they were in the Virgin’s company.]
iii. The Helvidian and Epiphanian Views.—The rejection of the Hieronymian view leaves the choice open between the Helvidian and the Epiphanian views, both of which have the immense advantage over the Hieronymian of not being inconsistent with the three certainties laid down in i. 1, 2, 3.
A. Arguments for the Helvidian view.† [Note: The whole of these arguments were advanced by Helvidius himself, and the substance of most of the replies is to be found in Jerome.] —
(1) The Helvidian view, which maintains that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph and Mary, gives a fuller and more natural meaning to the term ἀδελφοί than the Epiphanian, which denies that they were blood-relations of Jesus at all.
Reply.—The advantage of the Helvidian view in this respect is but slight. Joseph was not a blood-relation of Jesus, and yet lie is called, not only by friends and acquaintances (Matthew 13:55 = Mark 6:3, cf. also John 1:46; John 6:42), but also by the Virgin herself (Luke 2:48), and by an Evangelist who lays great stress upon the supernatural birth (Luke 2:41), the father of Jesus. Since, therefore, even in the Holy Family Joseph was called the father of Jesus, it is certain that if he had had sons, they would have been called the brethren of Jesus.
(2) In Luke 2:7 Jesus is called Mary’s first-born son (πρωτότοκον). This implies that she had other children.
Reply.—πρωτότοκος among the Jews was a technical term, meaning ‘that which openeth the womb’ (Exodus 34:19 ff.), and does not imply the birth of other offspring. Indeed, the redemption-price of a first-born son, required by the Mosaic law, was due at the end of a month (Numbers 8:15 ff.), before it could be known whether there was any likelihood of further offspring. Dr. Mayor objects that in a purely historical passage, like Luke 2:7, this technical meaning is not to be thought of; but the subsequent statement ‘they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’ (Luke 2:22-23), renders it certain that it was precisely this which was in the Evangelist’s mind when he called Jesus πρωτότοκον (so already Jerome, l.c. x.).
(3) Matthew 1:18, ‘before they came together’ (πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν), implies that the connubial relations of Joseph and Mary were of the ordinary kind.
Reply.—συνελθεῖν need not mean more than living together in the same house.
(4) Matthew 1:25, ‘and knew her not till she had brought forth a son’ (καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν),‡ [Note: The πρωτότοκον of the TR here is certainly an interpolation from Luke 2:7.] implies that he knew her afterwards, especially as the Evangelist mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus, without any warning that they were not Mary’s children.
Reply.—This is an argument of real weight, and is not adequately answered by Jerome, Cornelius a Lapide, Pearson, etc., who allege such passages as Matthew 28:20, ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,’ and 2 Samuel 6:23, ‘Michal the daughter of Saul had no child until the day of her death,’ as a proof that ‘until’ does not fix a limit or suggest a subsequent change. It is quite true that in such passages as those quoted, where the circumstances of the ease preclude the idea of change, ‘until’ does not imply change. But ‘until’ does imply change when it introduces a state of things in which change is naturally to be expected. Thus, as Dr. Mayor justly remarks, if 2 Samuel 6:23 be made to read ‘Michal the daughter of Saul had no child, until she left David and became the wife of Phaltiel,’ then ‘until’ does imply that she had a child afterwards, because child-bearing is a natural and usual sequel of marriage. So in the present ease it may be fairly argued that inasmuch as connubial intercourse is the natural accompaniment of marriage, the Evangelist in asserting that it did not take place until a certain date, affirms that it took place afterwards. Still the argument, as applied to this particular ease, is not convincing. The Evangelist is not (even by implication) comparing together the connubial relations of Joseph and Mary before and after the birth of Jesus (as, in the case supposed by Dr. Mayor, Michal’s connubial relations with David and Phaltiel are compared), but simply affirming in the strongest possible way that Joseph had no share in the procreation of Jesus. Bengel’s laconic comment is therefore, upon the whole, justified—‘donee] Non sequitur, ergo post.’ The subsequent mention of the brethren of Jesus (Matthew 13:55) does not affect the question, because it was well known, when the Evangelist wrote, who the brethren were, and there was no need to guard against misconception.
(5) The fact that the brethren not only lived in the same house with the Virgin, but continually accompanied her wherever she went, is an indication that they were her children as well as Joseph’s.
Reply.—The tie which unites a step-mother and her step-sons is often extremely close, and considering that Joseph was almost certainly dead before our Lord’s ministry began, and that Jesus was fully occupied with public affairs, it cannot be regarded as surprising that her step-sons (if such they were) constituted themselves her guardians and protectors.
B. Arguments for the Epiphanian view.—
We shall now state the arguments for the theory of Epiphanius, and subject them to criticism from the Helvidian point of view.
(1) The Perpetual Virginity of Mary is implied in the narrative of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, and after saluting her as ‘highly-favoured’ announced the manner of Christ’s birth as follows: ‘Behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.’ The reply of Mary was, ‘How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?’ (Πὦς ἔσται τοῦτο, ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω;). It is plain from this reply (1) that she understood the angel to mean that the child would be born in the natural way; and (2) that there was some obstacle which prevented her from having a child in the natural way (‘I know not a man,’ ‘ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω’). These words cannot mean, ‘I do not yet know a man.’ That would have been no obstacle to the fulfilment of the promise. The angel’s words related to the future (Luke 1:31), and inasmuch as Mary was already betrothed (Luke 1:27), and might shortly expect to be taken into her husband’s house, there was every prospect, so far as Mary’s status went, that the angel’s words would shortly be fulfilled. The only meaning, therefore, which in such a context Mary’s words can bear, is that she had devoted herself (with her betrothed’s consent) to a life of virginity, and that she expected to preserve, even in marriage, her virginal integrity (so nearly all the older expositors, including Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Theophylact, Bernard, Bede, Anselm, Aquinas, Cornelius a Lapide, Maldonatus, Grotius; and in more recent times Bisping, Schegg, Schanz).* [Note: This important passage is not alluded to by Mayor and Lightfoot, and is very inadequately dealt with by most recent commentators. B. Weiss (Com. in loc.) says that it is ‘a bewildered question how she, the unstained maiden, can possibly come into this position.’ Considering that she was already betrothed, no such bewilderment was possible. If the angel had said that she would have a son before marriage, such bewilderment would have been natural enough, for the concubitus of betrothed persons, though not exactly forbidden, was not approved. But the angel had not hinted at this. Dr. Plummer reproduces Weiss. Godet simply says: ‘Her question is the legitimate expression of the astonishment of a pure conscience.’ Schmiedel (Encyc. Bibl. iii. 2956) regards the words as an interpolation. Only Schanz (Com. in loc.) gives anything like an adequate discussion of the passage. Of the older expositors Cornelius a Lapide and Maldonatus are full, but uncritical.]
Reply.—Such a vow or resolution is improbable in Mary’s case, because the Jews regarded virginity as less honourable than marriage, and childlessness as a calamity. Moreover, it is improbable that, if she had formed such a resolution, Joseph would have consented to be betrothed to her.
These objections are undeniably weighty, but they do not fully meet the strong exegetical argument for the traditional view. Moreover, it must be remembered (1) that the case in question is a unique and peculiar one, and that it is doubtful how far the canons of ordinary probability ought to be applied to it; (2) that esteem for virginity among contemporary Jews is vouched for (though only to a limited extent) by the writings of Philo, and the existence of the sect of the Essenes; (3) that a high esteem for virginity characterized the Christian movement from the first (Acts 21:9, 1 Corinthians 7), and formed part of the teaching of Christ (Matthew 19:12); and consequently it is not incredible that Joseph and Mary, by whom Jesus was brought up, shared the sentiment, and communicated it to Him.
(2) Virginity is regarded, not only by Christians, but by nearly all men, as, ideally at any rate, superior to marriage. It is therefore probable that the most privileged and holiest of women remained ever a virgin, as has been believed by most Christians from the first.† [Note: The early Christians, however, while believing the Perpetual Virginity as a fact, did not regard it as an article of faith. As late as c. a.d. 370, St. Basil could write: ‘The words, He knew her not till she brought forth her first-born son, do indeed afford a certain ground for thinking that Mary, after acting in all sanctity as the instrument of the Lord’s birth, which was brought about by the Holy Ghost, did not refuse to her husband the customary privileges of marriage. But as for ourselves, even though this view does no violence to rational piety (εἰ καὶ μηδὲν τῶ τῆς εὑσεβείας ταραλυμαίνεται λόγω), for her virginity was necessary until she had fulfilled her function in connexion with the economy, whereas what happened afterwards concerns us little as not being connected with the mystery, yet since lovers of Christ cannot bear to hear that the Mother of God ever ceased to be a virgin, we regard the testimonies (to her perpetual virginity) which we have produced as sufficient’ (Hom. in. Sanct. Christ. Gen. ii.).]
Reply.—This argument has weight, but is not conclusive. For (1) though ideally virginity is superior to marriage, being the condition of the holy angels and of the saints in heaven (Matthew 22:30), yet practically marriage is in most cases to be preferred to celibacy, as a more useful means of serving God. And since the estate of marriage is altogether holy, and is a religious mystery or sacrament, symbolizing the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:32), it is consistent with the highest reverence towards our Lord’s mother to believe that after the birth of Jesus she bore children to her husband.* [Note: Quite unjust, therefore, is the customary Hieronymian abuse of Helvidius as ‘spurcus haeresiarcha,’ and the characterization of his theory as ‘blasphemia.’ Those who use such language virtually deny the sanctity of marriage. Helvidius’ theory is perfectly reverent. Whether it is true or not is another question.]
(3) Reverence for Mary as ‘Mother of God’ would have prevented Joseph from cohabiting with her as her husband.
Reply.—If we could be sure that Joseph and Mary regarded the infant Jesus as God, this argument would have great weight; but it is just this point which is doubtful. The angel described the infant as the Messiah, and the Son of God, but neither of these terms involved necessarily to Jewish ears the idea of Divinity. The term Son of God is used in the OT even of the Davidic king.
(4) The brethren of Jesus behave to Him as if they were elder brothers. Thus they are jealous of His popularity (Mark 6:4), criticize and advise Him in no friendly spirit (John 7:1 ff.), attempt to control His actions, and even to place Him under restraint (Mark 3:20 f., cf. Mark 3:31 ||). But if they were older than Jesus, they were not Mary’s children.
Reply.—It cannot be denied that their actions seem like those of elder brethren, but it is possible that they were only slightly younger than Jesus, and if so their conduct is perhaps intelligible.
(5) Jesus upon the Cross commended His mother not to His ‘brethren,’ but to St. John (John 19:26-27). He would have been very unlikely to do this, if His ‘brethren’ had really been the Virgin’s sons.
Reply.—(a) The cause of this arrangement may have been the great poverty of the brethren of Jesus, and the comparative affluence of St. John, who, after all, was a near relation of Jesus (a first cousin). This is, of course, possible; but there is nothing to indicate that the brethren of Jesus were specially poor. They were living with St. Mary, and their united earnings would, under ordinary circumstances, have sufficed to maintain a single household in comfort. (b) Some allege as a cause the unbelief of the brethren. But this is unlikely, because Jesus must have known that within a few days their unbelief would pass into faith.
(6) The most ancient ecclesiastical tradition, especially that of Palestine, favours the Epiphanian view. The testimony of Hegesippus, a native of Palestine, and a man of learning, who wrote about a.d. 160, is definitely against the Hieronymian, and (as is almost certain) in favour of the Epiphanian view. His works are lost, but in the fragments which remain, he consistently speaks of the first Bishop of Jerusalem (James) as the Lord’s brother; but of the second (Symeon) as His cousin (ἀνεψιός, which he more exactly defines as ὁ ἐκ θείου τοῦ Κυρίου, the θεῖος being Κλώπας, the brother of Joseph).† [Note: It is possible, but not capable of proof, that this Clopas, the brother of Joseph, and the father of Symeon (not Symeon the Lord’s brother), is identical with the Κλώπας of John 19:25, or the Κλεότα; of Luke 24:18. Κλωτα̈ς (Κλώτας) and Κλεότα; are etymologically the same word, both being contractions of Κλεόπατρος.] Clearly, therefore, Hegesippus did not regard the brethren of Jesus as His cousins. That he did not regard them as sons of Mary, is shown by his description of Jude, the Lord’s brother, as τοῦ κατὰ σάρκα λεγομένου αὐτοῦ ἀδελφοῦ, and by the fact that Eusebius and Epiphanius, who draw their information mainly from him, regard the brethren as children of Joseph by a former wife.‡ [Note: The statements of Hegesippus about our Lord’s brethren are noted by Eusebius, HE ii. 23, iii. 20, iii. 32, iv. 22.] This view is taken by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Gregory of Nyssa; in fact, so far as we know, by all the Fathers before Jerome, with the exception of Tertullian, who probably, though his statements are not explicit, held the view of Helvidius. Since Jerome the Western Church has adopted the Hieronymian theory, but the Eastern Church still maintains that of Epiphanius. The traditional evidence, therefore, is almost entirely on the side of the Epiphanian view.
Reply.—It is possible that the Apocryphal Gospels, especially the Gospel of Peter and the Protevangelium of James, and not any authentic tradition, are the source of the Epiphanian theory. This is Jerome’s view, who taunts Epiphanians with following ‘deliramenta apocryphorum.’ This, however, is not likely. The statements of the best informed Fathers seem based on Hegesippus, who made an independent investigation, under specially favourable conditions. The Apocryphal Gospels probably adopted, rather than originated, the current view.
C. The main objection to the Epiphanian view.—There is one objection to the Epiphanian view so important that it deserves special notice. It is well known that a high—an even extravagant—estimate of virginity prevailed extensively in the early Church; and therefore there is some reason to suspect that, just as, at the close of the 4th cent., zeal for the virginity of Joseph produced the Hieronymian theory, so, three centuries earlier, zeal for the virginity of Mary produced the Epiphanian. That this may have been so, no cantious critic will deny; but it does not, upon the evidence, appear to be probable. For (1) if Mary bore to Joseph, as the Helvidian theory assumes, seven children, of whom one was Bishop of Jerusalem, and three others prominent members of the Church, the non-virginity of Mary after the birth of Jesus must have been so notorious a fact in the Apostolic Church, that the (practically) unanimous tradition of her perpetual virginity could never have arisen. (2) The tradition of the Perpetual Virginity was already prevalent early in the 2nd cent., that is, long before ascetic views were dominant or even aggressive in the Church. It prevailed, moreover, in Palestine, where, there is reason to believe, ascetic views had less influence than elsewhere. For these reasons we are inclined to think that the Epiphanian tradition has a real historical basis.
iv. Probable Conclusions.—The scantiness and ambiguity of the only really trustworthy evidence, the Scriptural, obliges us to be content with merely probable conclusions. The only conclusion that seems to be certain is that Jerome’s theory is false. The claims of the two other theories are nearly evenly balanced; nevertheless, it appears to us, after weighing the opposing arguments to the best of our power, that there is a slight but perceptible preponderance of Scriptural, and a much more decided preponderance of historical, evidence in favour of the Epiphanian theory.
Literature.—Jerome, adversus Helvidium; Epiphanius, adversus Antidicomarianitas (adversus Haereses, iii. 2) (both important); Pearson, On the Creed; Mill, Accounts of our Lord’s Brethren vindicated; Schegg, Jakobus, der Bruder des Herrn; Schanz, Comment, über Mt., Mc., Lc.; Meyrick, art. ‘James’ in Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ; Sieffert, art. ‘Jakobus,’ and Zockler, art. ‘Maria’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Lightfoot, Galatians, pp. 252–291; Mayor, Epistle of St. James (v. ff.) and art. ‘Brethren of the Lord’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; art. ‘Clopas’ in Encyc. Bibl.; Farrar, Early Days of Christianity, ch. xix.; Patrick, James the Lord’s Brother, 1906, p. 4 ff.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Brethren of the Lord (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​b/brethren-of-the-lord-2.html. 1906-1918.