*Did Jesus’ family believe in him? Did Jesus have siblings? What did they do with the gold from the magi?*
Mark 6:3: “‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at Him.”
Wait, what about the gold?
Last article, we talked about the magi. One of the gifts they brought to the child Jesus was gold, and some have asked: So, what happened to the gold? First, the evidence seems clear that Joseph and Mary were relatively poor and Jesus grew up a humble carpenter’s son. (See my earlier articles by clicking here and here.) Secondly, some have suggested that this gold allowed Mary and Joseph to flee to safety in Egypt (as the Gospel of Matthew reports) to escape from Herod’s slaughter of the children. This is an interesting idea and, I think, a reasonable speculation — though a speculation just the same.
Lastly, there is much more we don’t know about Jesus’ life before his ministry than what we do know. We simply don’t know how much gold was given or what hardships Jesus’ family faced before he started his ministry.
It appears that by the time Jesus started his ministry in his thirties, Joseph, his father, had passed away. Where Jesus’ siblings and his mother Mary appear several times in the Gospels during Jesus’ ministry (Mary was even present at his crucifixion), there is never any involvement by Joseph.
The only verse that may challenge this conclusion is in John 6:42: “They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?'” The present tense verb of “know” has led some to speculate that Joseph was still alive, but few find it convincing enough to override the obvious lack of Joseph throughout Jesus’ ministry, especially since there are several sections in the Gospels and Acts where Mary and his siblings appear.
Then again, though we have four independent records about Jesus’ life, they primarily focus on his ministry; only Matthew and Luke record anything about his early life, and what the Gospels record of his ministry are a relative handful of episodes from it. Is it possible Joseph was home, working hard in his trade at this time? Is it possible that none of the events the Gospel writers chose to record about Jesus’ ministry involved his father?
However, most scholars tend to think Joseph had passed away by the time of Jesus ministry. How old was Jesus when Joseph died? We don’t know. But Joseph lived long enough for Jesus to have several siblings.
Jesus, being the firstborn son, would have had a considerable amount of responsibility, especially if Joseph passed away. It’s safe to assume this is why Mary comes to him about solving the problem of the shortage of wine at the wedding in John 2 (not because she expected him to perform a miracle). We also know from the Gospels that Jesus’ had four half-brothers (“half” because Jesus was only related to Mary through blood ties, but not Joseph) and at least two sisters (Mark 6:3). Just like the Gospels don’t tell us how old Jesus was when Joseph died, we don’t know the age differences between Jesus and his brothers and sisters.
Jesus’ Brothers: What Changed?
Nothing in the New Testament indicates that Mary was a virgin for all of her life. (Sorry, my Catholic friends.) The Greek word used doesn’t indicate Jesus’ brothers were cousins, as some argue, and there’s absolutely no evidence for the view that Joseph had children from a previous marriage as others have suggested. Most of all, Matthew 1:24-25 clearly states that Joseph and Mary had normal sexual relations after Jesus’ birth:
NASB translation: “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”
ESV translation: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
Furthermore, this idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity implies that sex within marriage is sinful, which doesn’t jive with Christian theology or ethics. Mary is a wonderful example of a godly woman, but she had – like all of us – sin. Yet sexual sin isn’t a sin for which she was guilty – not because she remained a virgin, but because she had sex with her husband within the covenant of a holy marriage as God intended.
Jesus had four half-brothers: James, Joseph (Joses), Judas (Jude), and Simon. John 7:1-5 states they didn’t “believe in” Jesus during his ministry, and here they even sarcastically mock Jesus, encouraging him to go to Jerusalem so people can see the “works” he’s doing. Also, Matthew 13:57 and Mark 3:31-35 indicate there was tension between Jesus and his family during his ministry.
Matthew 13:57: “And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’”
Mark 3:31-35: “Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.’ Answering them, He said, ‘Who are My mother and My brothers?’ Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.’”
This would be an extremely embarrassing detail to include in a record of a first century rabbi’s ministry. Because of this, even non-Christian and skeptical New Testament scholars accept this as an authentic detail from Jesus’ life. If the New Testament writers were just making up stories about Jesus to make him look good, this would do much more harm than good.
Amazingly, despite evidence of Jesus’ brothers not following him or believing in him during his ministry, we actually find two letters by Jesus’ brothers in the New Testament: James and Jude. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, we even find Mary and Jesus’ brothers together with the disciples and joining them in prayer (Acts 1:13-14).
We know nearly nothing about Jude but considerably more about James from the New Testament, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, and early church writers. James is mentioned many times in the New Testament as a follower of Jesus Christ after Jesus’ death and resurrection, including Galatians 1:18-19 (where Paul refers to him as an apostle of Jesus and “the Lord’s brother”) and throughout the Book of Acts. James became the 1st bishop of the first New Testament church in Jerusalem, led the church for about 20 years, continued to follow the Law of Moses as a devout Christian Jew, and was killed because of his faith in Jesus Christ in AD 62.
So, what changed? What made James go from someone who thought his brother Jesus should be mocked to one of his apostles, even leading the first church in Jerusalem and dying because of his belief in his half-brother? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, where Paul records the earliest church creed found in the New Testament (Read about it here):
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:
“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles…”
Yes, James had seen the risen Jesus. And once someone encounters the risen Christ, he is changed forever.