Adapted from Complete Bible Answer Book by Hank Hanegraaff. 

The teaching that Jesus did not have any biological brothers or sisters is often championed in an attempt to support belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary. The most popular defense of this position holds that when the New Testament authors speak of Jesus’ brothers, the Greek word translated “brother” ought to be interpreted as “cousin” or “distant relative.” Proper interpretation, however, precludes this pretext.

First, the Bible explicitly tells us that Jesus Christ had brothers and sisters. Indeed, Matthew’s gospel records the rhetorical questions of those acquainted with Jesus’ immediate family: “‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?’” (Matthew 13:54–56). Numerous other passages can be cited as proof positive that Jesus had siblings (Matthew 12:46–47; Mark 3:31–32; 6:3; Luke 8:19–20; John 2:12; 7:3–5; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19).

Furthermore, there is no biblical precedent for rendering the Greek word adelphos (brother) or its feminine form adelphae (sister) as cousin. If the New Testament writers had wanted to designate Jesus’ siblings as cousins, they would have used the word anepsios. In point of fact, this is precisely what Paul does in referring to Mark as the “cousin [anepsios] of Barnabas” (Colossians 4:10). The Bible explicitly tells us that Jesus Christ had brothers and sisters.

Finally, Matthew tells us that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary “until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25). Thus, we are justified in inferring that Mary did have sexual relations with Joseph after the birth of Jesus. The notion that having sexual intercourse with her husband after the birth of Jesus would have defiled Mary in some sense is completely inconsistent with a biblical worldview.

For further study, see Eric D. Svendsen, Who Is My Mother? (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2001).

“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Matthew 12:46–50