Baby Jesus with his parents Joseph and Mary

The New Testament doesn't say much about the early life of Jesus. Twelve-year-old Jesus grows into a thirty year old man and meets his childhood friend John the Baptist by the river Jordan where the Holy Spirit, which always proceeds the Christ, can enter into him.

There are a number of passages in the Gospels that refer to Jesus’ siblings. Roman Catholics have traditionally argued that these were either older step-siblings or cousins and it is true that such relatives were were often raised together in a single household but many Protestants to read these passages literally, and see them as evidence that Joseph and Mary had children after the birth of Jesus. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, November 19, 2017]

According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus had at least four brothers who survived into the time when he was an adult. In Mark's Gospel, when Jesus goes to Nazareth to speak in the Synagogue the people in the crowd say to him, "Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?". They also say, "Are not his sisters here with us?" So there are at least two sisters and possibly more. [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Sacred Texts website ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible Biblical History: Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s Parents

Jesus's parents, Mary and Joseph were Jews from Nazareth. Matthew and Luke refer to Jesus as a descendant of David, who was also born in Bethlehem. Jesus’s father Joseph was a carpenter. According the “Arabic Gospel of the Infancy” Joseph was not known for being a particularly skilled carpenter.

Jesus’s mother Mary was teenager believed to be around 14 when Jesus was born. It was not unusual for Jewish girls like Mary to get married at an early age. There are few mentions of Mary in the Bible. They include: 1) when Mary is told by an angel that she will conceive the son of God even though she was a virgin (Luke 1:26-38); 2) The manger scene when she gives birth to Jesus (Luke 2:15-19). 3) when she and Jesus’s brother appear to Jesus while he is speaking to a crowd (Matthew 12:46-50); 4) when she urges Jesus to perform his first miracle (turning water into wine) (John 2:1-7); and 5) her appearance at the crucifixion (John 19:25-27).

Many Protestants believe that after Jesus was born Mary no longer remained a virgin and had children with Joseph the normal way. They were all born after Jesus, making the virgin birth more plausible. Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe that Mary was virgin her entire life.

Joseph — Jesus’s Stepfather?

Because of Mary’s Immaculate Conception Joseph was technically Jesus’ stepfather rather than his father. Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: According to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph, like most men, one expects, was disturbed to learn that his fiancée Mary was pregnant with the child of another. But even if God gave Jesus his genetics, it was Joseph who was left with the day-to-day responsibilities of caring for Jesus. According to a second century non-canonical Christian text known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus turns out to be pretty monstrous. When he kills one of his playmates it’s left to Joseph to provide the ethical correction and criticism. In a scene painfully reminiscent of modern parenting, Jesus tells Joseph that the odd kid started it. In a moment that would land you in court today, Joseph grabs Jesus by the ear and pulls hard. I’m not endorsing corporal punishment, but you have to admire Joseph’s courage. Not only can Jesus tell on him to his “real Dad,” both Jesus and God the Father can strike him dead. Later Christian writers would emphasize that it was Mary who taught Jesus who he really was and essentially raised him, but to earlier generations of Christians writers Joseph helped make Jesus the Savior he would later become. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, June 18, 2017]

Not only was Joseph tasked with the hard tasks of parenting, to the writers of the New Testament he was of critical importance: it was through Joseph that Jesus could claim to be a descendant of King David. The genealogy that begins the Gospel of Matthew and connects Abraham to David and Jesus runs through Joseph, not Mary. It might seem as if the Bible is having it both ways, but Joseph’s role as legal and practical parent cannot be swept away. The Holy Family is a blended one.

The lone story of Jesus’ childhood found in the Bible involves a group trip that the family took to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve. After the festival Mary and Joseph started to travel back to Nazareth and went a full day before they realized that Jesus was not with relatives in the convoy. (I admit, by modern standards, this is some pretty negligent free-range parenting.) They rushed back to the city and spent three days looking for Jesus before they found him in the Temple. When Mary said to Jesus “your father (i.e., Joseph) and I have been worried” Jesus somewhat insolently replied, “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” Even tween Jesus, having run off to his (somewhat absentee) Dad’s house without telling anyone, used the “you’re not my real Dad” excuse.

Was Jesus’s Father a Roman Soldier

Saint James the Less, Jesus's brother?

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast, The pagan writer Celsus, a well-known critic of Christianity and virgin birth doubter, wrote that Jesus’ biological father was a Roman soldier named Pantera. He wasn’t alone in his opinion; writing in the Talmud, rabbinic authors describe Jesus as “Yeshu ben Pantera” — meaning Jesus son of Panther, which was a relatively common name for Roman soldiers. The implication here is that Mary was a collaborator who got knocked up by a hated occupier and decided to concoct a story in which Jesus was the product of a sexless encounter with God. [Source:Candida Moss, Daily Beast, December 18, 2016]

In 1859, excavations on a railroad in Bingerbrück, Germany, unearthed the tombstone of a Roman soldier called Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera. Pantera was a standard bearer in the Cohors I Sagittariorum, a unit that served in Judea before it move to Germany. Some romantic historians tried to hypothesize that this was the real father of Jesus. The gravestone is now on display in the Römerhalle museum in Germany, but it offers nothing other than circumstantial evidence.

The rumor that Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier didn’t emerge for more than a century after his birth. Conspiracy theorists may love it, but here’s no historical evidence to suggest that Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier. Given the strict moral guidelines governing women’s conduct, any pregnancy outside of wedlock would have been scandalous enough to destroy her. If you want to naturalize Jesus’ birth, there’s no need to bring the Romans into it. And there’s no reason to accuse Mary of lying. After all, we don’t have any statements from the woman herself.

Jesus’s Brothers and Sisters

The religious scholar John Meier believes that Jesus had four brothers — James, Joseph, Simon and Jude — and at least two sisters—Salome and Mary — based on details from the Gospels of Mark and Matthew and the writings of Paul. The Apostle James is sometimes referred as the "Lord's brother." It is not exactly clear whether this title was meant literally or figuratively. The same is true with the other “brothers” and “sisters.”

Jude and Joseph are not explicitly stated in the canon. Jesus’s sisters are referred to in Mark 6.3 and Matthew 13.56, but their names — Assia and Lydia — are given only in the apocryphal gospels. The earliest tradition from the A.D. 2nd century states the brothers and sisters of Jesus were children of Joseph from a previous marriage. According to the great 4th-century biblical scholar St. Jerome the siblings were cousins of Jesus by Joseph’s brother Clopas and his wife Mary. Implied in this is that Mary remained a virgin all of her life.

Reference in the Gospels seem to indicate that most of Jesus’s family, with the exception of Mary and James, were not pleased with Jesus’s choice of professions. . The Gospel of John states: “His brothers did not believe him.” In Mark relatives though that Jesus was “out of his mind.”

Catholic Finding Out About Jesus’s Brothers and Sisters

Reza Aslan wrote in the Washington Post: “Despite the Catholic doctrine of His mother Mary’s perpetual virginity, we can be certain that the historical Jesus came from a large family with at least four brothers who are named in the Gospels — James, Joseph, Simon and Judas — and an unknown number of sisters. That Jesus had brothers and sisters is attested to repeatedly by the Gospels and the letters of Paul. Even the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus refers to Jesus’s brother James, who would become the most important leader of the early Christian church after Jesus’s death. “Some Catholic theologians have argued that the Greek word the Gospels use to describe Jesus’s brothers — “adelphos” — could also mean “cousins” or “step-brothers,” and that these could be Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. While that may be true, nowhere in the New Testament is “adelphos” used to mean anything other than “brother.” So there is no rational argument for viewing Jesus as an only child.” [Source: Reza Aslan, Washington Post, September 26, 2013]

Inmaculada Concepcion
James Martin wrote in the Washington Post: “Catholics, myself included, believe that Mary’s pregnancy came about miraculously — what we call the “virgin birth.” (Frankly, this has always been easy for me to accept: If God can create the universe from nothing, then a virgin birth seems relatively simple by comparison.) Catholics also believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, though many Protestants do not. [Source: James Martin, Washington Post, December 16, 2011, Martin is a Jesuit priest, editor at large of America and author of "Seven Last Words." |+|]

“So when Catholics stumble upon Gospel passages that speak of Jesus’s brothers and sisters, they are often confused. In the Gospel of Luke, someone tells Jesus: “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” In Mark’s Gospel, people from Nazareth exclaim: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? .?.?. Are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?” Even Saint Paul called James “the Lord’s brother.” |+|

“Such passages are sometimes explained away by saying that these are Jesus’s friends, relatives, half-brothers or, most often, cousins. But there is a perfectly good word for “cousins” in Greek, which Mark and Luke could have used instead of “adelphoi,” meaning “brothers.” Many Catholic scholars maintain that Jesus indeed had brothers and sisters — perhaps through an earlier marriage of Joseph. So a virgin birth, but (step-) brothers and sisters.” |+|

Jesus’s Brother James

In the Gospels, a man known as “James the brother of Jesus” played a key figure in leading the church in Jerusalem. Jesus's brother James was regularly mentioned by Paul and sometimes mentioned by other early Christian writers.

Although initially skeptical of Jesus’s divinity James became a leader in the early Christian movement in the mid 1st century after the departure of the Apostle Peter to Rome. Thought to be the author of the “Epistle of James,” James went against Paul by arguing that the Torah should be upheld. The historian Josephus recorded that James was stoned to death in A.D. 62 at the instigation of the Jewish high priest Ananus.

According to the BBC: "James seems to have had a very important role in running the church from very early on in Jerusalem but it's a role that's become forgotten in later Christian tradition. Later Christian traditions have redefined these brothers and sisters, either as cousins or as Joseph's children by an earlier marriage, in order to preserve the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity. |::|

The non-canonical text the First Apocalypse of James is “an ancient Christian narrative in which Jesus reveals to his brother James information about the heavenly realm and about future events.” [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, December 10, 2017]

Jesus’s Brother James's Tomb

James Ossuary

In the early 2000s a 20-inch-long ossuary (a box for holding bones) was found in Israel and described as a possible ossuary of Jesus’s brother James. Heralded as the earliest known reference to Jesus outside the Bible, it was dated at A.D. 63 and was etched with an inscription in Aramaic, reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

The ossuary was heralded as the first direct evidence of the existence of Jesus. Scholars who made the discovery said that Jesus, Joseph and James were all common names but it was unlikely they would all appear together in the same inscription, plus it was unusual to have a reference to an individual’s brother, meaning that the brother must have been someone important.

The ossuary was valued at $2 million by its owner. More than 100,000 people came to see it when it was displayed at a Canada museum and all the American television stations, newspapers and magazine reported the discover with great fanfare. There are also some evidence that this ossuary was found in same Talpiot tomb with others: the patina, or mineral crust found on the ossuaries, matched.

Fraud and the Tomb of Jesus’s Brother James

The ossuary claimed to belong to Jesus’s brother James was later declared a forgery by the Israel Antiquities Authority. After a careful examination of the box, a group of scholars revealed that the inscriptions were forgeries (they were made in at least two different handwritings and the wording was strange) and there were chemical and geophysical inconsistencies with the patina. The ossuary likely did date back to the time of Jesus and was tampered with after it was found by looters in an undisclosed location.

In December 2004, four antiquities dealers, collectors and dealers were indicted on charges of fraud and forgery in connection with the forged treasures such as the James’ ossuary, the ivory pomegranate from Solomon’s temple and the Yoash stone (Jehoash Tablet), a stone tablet with inscription on running the First Temple of Jerusalem . According to the indictment the men charged took genuine artifacts and added inscriptions and painted the items with a special coating designed duplicate the patina found on very old objects and falsely increase their importance and value.

The fraud was so well executed it fooled many experts and earned the forgers millions of dollars. Many of the object the group forged are believed to be in the collections of private collectors and still regarded as genuine. Among those charged were Israeli collector Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch, an inscriptions expert ay Haifa University.

Book: “Unholy Business, A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land”by Nina Burleigh (Smithsonian/ Collins, 2008); Book: “The Brother of Jesus” by H. Shanks and B. Witherington III

Matthew and Luke Describe Two Jesus Children?

20120507-Marriage Andrea_della_Robbia-Malmo.jpg
Marriage of Mary and Joseph
by Andrea della Robbia-Malmo
Kristina Kaine wrote in the Huffington Post: “It is no accident that the genealogies in St Matthew and St Luke’s Gospel are different. One traces the ancestry of a highly developed human being living on this earth. The other traces the spiritual legacy of a pure human spirit incarnating for the first time on the earth. Wisdom in one, innocence in the other. The question we can ask is this. Could Christ, a mighty Cosmic Being beyond our understanding, who had never experienced life in a physical body on this earth, just be born through a mother as we all are? That would be like saying the sun could enter this earth and shine from within it. [Source: Kristina Kaine, Huffington Post, April 4, 2016 -]

“By looking closely at the two genealogies, it is not difficult to see that two different Jesus children were born to two different Marys with two different fathers called Joseph. The Matthew Jesus descends from the Solomon line of the House of David. The Luke Jesus descends from the Nathan line of the House of David. If we look into our own genealogy we know that we are quite different from our cousins whose parents were siblings of our great grandparents - then multiply that for all the generations mentioned in the Matthew and Luke Gospels. -

“The Matthew Jesus child was the product of 42 preceding generations from Abraham to Joseph. Kings visited him when he was born, whereas shepherds visited the Luke child. The Luke Jesus’ genealogy reaches back to Adam when human beings first left their spiritual domain and took on flesh - as told in the story in the Garden of Eden. These details are very important yet often skipped over. -

“I have written about this in detail in my book Who is Jesus : What is Christ, Vol 1. Why mainstream theologians do not explore this information is a mystery. Others have written about it and some artists have painted the two Jesus children. In this painting Raphael has painted them with John the Baptist and the Luke Jesus’ mother. Not only that but also these children were born at different times. The Matthew Jesus was older, born at the time when Herod ordered all male children to be killed. -

“One notable fact is that Herod ordered all male children aged two and under to be killed, which led to the Matthew Jesus being taken to Egypt, there is no mention of the child described by Luke going to Egypt. Even John the Baptist, who Luke tells us is 6 months older than the Luke Jesus, seems to have escaped Herod’s horrendous order, supporting the fact that these children were born at different times and in different places.”-

“To make sense of this story we also need to keep in mind that Jesus and Christ are different beings. Matthew states it clearly when we read the original Greek. Immediately after the genealogy he writes: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” In the original Greek it says, tou de iesou christou he gennesis outos ne which more accurately translates as ‘of the yet anointed Jesus the origin thus was’. Christ comes from christos, a Greek word meaning ‘anointed.’ Matthew is saying Jesus is yet [to be] anointed, Christen-ed, which points to the future baptism. -

“Before that can happen, these two Jesus children will become one. We read about this event in Luke when his parents lost track of him. They found him three days later and he was a changed person. ‘After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.’ — Luke 2: 46 -

“If we put ourselves in Joseph and Mary’s shoes as they entered the temple and found their unearthly, innocent son - autistic in today’s terms - in deep dialogue with the teachers in the temple, we can experience their amazement. These teachers had devoted their whole lives to understanding the sacred texts and here was a twelve year old boy matching their understanding! What was incredible to the parents was perhaps understandable to the teachers who knew what was about to take place when they found the two Jesus boys together in the temple.” -

Book: “Who is Jesus: What is Christ Vol 1" by Kristina Kaine

Why It is Unlikely That Jesus Was Married

Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” popularized the idea that maybe Jesus was married Mary Magdalene and had children. Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: This is just one of a number of myths about Mary that simply refuses to die. If Jesus was married, that’s a fact that would have some serious theological implications. For the conspiracy theorist among us, the possibility that he was married and had children means that there might be a line of special, semi-divine human beings wandering around. For the Catholic Church, the ramifications are even more pronounced. If Jesus was married and had children should not Catholic priests also be allowed to marry and have children? It would set an important precedent for Pope Francis’ recent statements about older married men being able to become priests. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, April 14, 2018]

Let’s be very clear, though, none of the texts in the New Testament (which, more importantly, also happen to be the earliest texts written about him) refer to Jesus being married to anyone, much less Mary Magdalene. There are some second and third century texts like the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 114, in which Jesus also declares he will make Mary male) and the Gospel of Philip (in which Jesus is said to have loved Mary more than his other followers) that suggest a close potentially romantic relationship between the two. What they really show, however, is that second and third century Christians were interested in the figure of Mary and used her as a cipher either for women’s authority in the church in general or, perhaps, as a means of challenging other more powerful Christian competitors. It wasn’t just Mary who received this kind of treatment: There are other early Christian stories in which individual disciples are singled out for special revelations.

But none of these later texts provide evidence for the historical Jesus himself. It may make for an excellent conspiracy theory, but there’s no data that anyone covered up or tried to hide a secret union between Mary and Jesus. And while you could imagine (with Dan Brown) that the boys club that was the medieval Catholic Church might want to eradicate any hint of this kind of scandal, the fisherman disciples that spread the good news in the first decades after Jesus’ death had no such incentive. Why would they have cared about suppressing the fact of Jesus’ supposed marriage when some of them were married themselves? In criminal terms: there’s neither a body, nor a motive.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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