What is a Brother?
BROTHER or BRETH'REN
a term which properly denotes the nearest consanguinity -- that is, male children of the same parents, as in Gen 4:2 and Gen 42:13, but sometimes persons of more remote kindred or of the same nation, Gen 13:8; Esth 10:3; Acts 7:25, 2 Kgs 18:37 and Acts 13:26, or even those who are closely united in affection. 2 Sam 1:26. In the N. T. the term is more frequently applied to the spiritual relationship which the true followers of Christ sustain to him and to each other. Matt 12:50; Rom 14:10; 2 Thess 2:13. "The Brethren of the Lord." -- The N. T. repeatedly speaks of brethren (and also of sisters) of Jesus, and names four of them -- James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. There are three theories about the degree of this relationship. 1. The simplest explanation is that they were the full brothers of Jesus, or younger children of Joseph and Mary. This is the natural deduction from the context. Matt 1:25; Matt 13:55. But the feeling of reverence for the virgin mother, the value placed upon celibacy in the early Church, the instinctive shrinking from regarding Mary as an ordinary woman, bearing children in sorrow, and that, too, after the Holy Ghost had overshadowed her and she had given birth to the Messiah, -- have suggested to the Roman and Greek Churches and to many Protestants two other theories. 2. That they were the children of Joseph by a former marriage. So taught Epiphanius and the ancient Greek Church. 3. That they were the children of Mary, the wife of Alpheus, the supposed sister of the Virgin Mary, and hence that they were Christ's cousins, and among the apostles. So St. Jerome and the Roman Church. Lange has modified this view by supposing that Alpheus was the brother of Joseph, and that because he died early they were adopted by Joseph into his family, which is extremely improbable. The strongest objection to 1 is that Jesus commended his mother to John. John 19:26. 2 is not open to any grave objection. 3 is beset with difficulties: (1.) It does violence to the natural and usual meaning of the word "brother," while the N. T. has a special term for "cousins." Col 4:10; Luke 1:36. (2.) It assumes that two sisters had the same name, Mary. (3.) It fails to explain how these brethren could also be apostles, while we are told that they did not believe in Jesus before the resurrection and treated him rather disrespectfully. John 7:5. (4.) It is probable that Salome, and not Mary, was the sister of our Lord's mother. John 19:25. The natural view furnishes an argument in favor of the historical character of the Gospels.