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The New Testament Commentary Vol Iii John by B.W. Johnson

The Brethren of the Lord.

12. After this he went down to Capernaum. Capernaum was situated on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the road thence was |down| from the hill country where Cana was located. His mother and brethren according to the flesh went with him, and this city became his favorite abode during his earthly ministry. The |disciples| who accompanied him were the same who were present at Cana. His mother and his brethren. Who were the brethren of our Lord who are attending his mother? Before attempting to answer this question it is well to explain that as no mention is made of the presence of Joseph after Jesus was twelve years old he is supposed by all commentators to have died before the Lord began his ministry. This seems to be confirmed by his charge to John from the cross to provide for his mother and furnish her a home. As to the brethren there have been various views. The term is used in the Bible with some latitude, as it is with us. It sometimes means kindred, cousins, those of the same race, and also the disciples of the Lord. Still it is not used with greater latitude than among us, as we apply it in till these significations, and hence the apparent meaning to an English reader of the term |his brothers| is to be taken unless there are reasons for its rejection. The expression |his brethren| occurs nine times in the Gospels and once in Acts. Of these the first three (Matt.12:46; Mark 3:32; Luke 8:19) tell of his mother and brethren coming to speak with him; the two next (Matt.13:55; Mark 6:3), mention his brothers in connection with his mother and sisters; the sixth is this passage; in three more his brethren are represented as urging him to show himself to the world, and it is stated that they did not believe on him (John 7:3). In Acts 1:14 it is said that the Apostles |continued in prayer and supplication with the women, and with his brethren.| In addition, Paul (1 Cor.9:5) speaks of |the rest of the apostles and the brethren of the Lord,| and in Gal.1:19 he speaks of |James, the Lord's brother.| These passages would seem to establish beyond doubt that Jesus was the first-born son of Mary, and that she had four other sons, whose names are given, besides daughters.

To this it is objected (1) that early tradition, accepted by the Catholic and Greek churches, holds that Mary remained a virgin, and she is worshiped as the Virgin Mary. To this it may be answered that the tradition was not universally accepted in the early Church, and has none of the marks of authentic history. (2) It is urged that Jesus would not have committed Mary to the care of John if she had other sons. To this it may be replied that at that time his brethren were unbelievers (John 7:5), though after his resurrection their unbelief passed away. (3) It is further urged that they were all the Lord's cousins, the sons of a sister of Mary, also named Mary, and of Alphæus or Cleophas. This argument relies on the fact that their names were |James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon| (Matt.13:55); while there was also a |Mary the mother of James and Joses,| (Matt.27:56) and a |James and Judas were the sons of Alphæus| (Luke 6:15). To this we answer that, (a) While Mary had a sister (John 19:25), there is no evidence that she was named Mary; nor is there any parallel case of two Jewish sisters having the same name; nor is there any evidence that she was the wife of Cleophas; (b) It could not be true that his cousins are meant because |his brethren| were not apostles, nor believers, and he had cousins who believed and were among the apostles, if this theory be correct; (c) Nor does it prove anything that the names James and Joses occur as those of the children of another Mary, as the names were very common. There are five Jameses in the New Testament, several Judes, and Josephus, who lived at this time, names twenty-one Simons, seventeen Joseses, and sixteen Judes.

On the other hand the expression, first-born son, in Luke 2:7, implies that Mary had other and younger children, and Matt.1:25, implies that what was true before the birth of Christ was not after. Common sense will indicate that if Mary continued a virgin, Matthew would have chosen different language. To these passages we may add the general tone of the Gospels in all the passages cited above. The |brothers| of Jesus are constantly represented as attending his mother, without a hint that they were not her children. These cogent facts cannot be set aside by a tradition or by conjectures. Alford well sums up the argument in a few words which we quote:

1. There were four persons known as the brethren |of him,| or |of the Lord,| not of the number of the Twelve.

2. That these persons are found in all places, but one or two, in immediate connection with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

3. That not a word is anywhere dropped to prevent us from inferring that the brothers and sisters were his relations in the same literal sense that we know his mother to have been.

4. All explanations which make them aught else than the children of his mother are mere conjectures.

5. The silence of the Scripture narrative leaves Christians free to believe that they were real (younger) brethren and sisters of our Lord.

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