Did Jesus Have Siblings?

QUESTION: Did Jesus have siblings?

ANSWER: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all record that Jesus had siblings. Obviously because of the virgin birth, they would be half siblings, fathered by Joseph and not a special act of the Holy Spirit. But all the gospels speak of Jesus having siblings:

Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived at the house where he was teaching. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. There was a crowd around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” NLT

Mark 3:31-32 (see also Matt 12:46-47; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12)

I shouldn’t give too simple an answer here, however, because there has been much controversy over this very question.  Some have wondered if these siblings mentioned are “half” or “step”.  The Catholic church has maintained for some time that Mary had no other children besides Jesus – that in fact she was a “perpetual virgin” and therefore, never had sexual intercourse ever, not before or after Jesus’ birth.

If Jesus was the Son of God, without sin, the church came to ask, how could he have been born of a sinful woman?  So the church gradually (over many years) starting to think that Mary never sinned – that in fact she was born without a sin nature as a special act of grace.  This is called the “immaculate conception” – contrary to popular Protestant misunderstanding, it refers to Mary’s conception, not Jesus’.

Then what do Catholics make of the clear passages cited above that tell us Jesus had siblings?  They usually call these his step-siblings by Joseph’s marriage prior to Mary.  However, there is no biblical evidence of such a marriage or that these were step-siblings.  Also arguing in the opposite direction is the fact that each time they are mentioned they are always hanging around with Mary and she seems to be in agreement with them to rein in Jesus early in his ministry (Mark 3:21).  This lends to the more natural assumption that they were HER children and not Joseph’s by a prior marriage.

The problems if we accept Mary’s perpetual virginity are manifold:

  • One, it doesn’t reflect the biblical text which never mentions Joseph’s alleged first marriage but does explicitly mention Jesus brothers and sisters.
  • Two, the idea has served historically to denigrate human sexuality. IE, why does Mary’s specialness (or sinless nature, if true) require that she never had sex? Is married sex sinful?
  • Three, it’s a needless theological contrivance since the logical problem of how a sinful woman could give birth to a sinless Son was already solved in the Virgin Birth – that was the TRUE immaculate conception! We have loads of biblical support for that miracle, but no historical support whatsoever for the Immaculate Conception so called.

So that’s a longer answer revealing the long controversy that lies behind your question which you may or may not be aware of. However, at the end of the day your question does have a simple answer – the Biblical data says repeatedly, yes!