Q: Who were the “brethren of the Lord” (Matthew 12:46-47), and if He had brothers, why do we call the Theotokos “Ever-Virgin”?
A: The “brethren” of Jesus are mentioned several times in the New Testament. Four are mentioned by name. To explain who they were is not difficult, because the Scripture itself names four of them and identifies their parentage. Matthew (13:55) and Mark (6:3) list, as brethren of Jesus, James, Joses, Simon and Jude.
We know for certain that James and Joses were not sons of Mary or Joseph, for the Scripture identifies them, as children of a different Mary, who was the wife of Alphaeus-Cleopas (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40). James is also referred to as the “son of Alphaeus”, in the listing of the Apostles (Matthew 10:3 ; Mark 3:18 ; Luke 6:15 ; Acts 1:13). The relationship between these “brethren” (including “sisters”) must be seen in the context of Hebrew-Aramaic tradition, according to which even cousins were called brothers and sisters. This is the case also in Greek and Slavic languages and cultures to this day, so we do not have to speculate about it. This is a fact we know very well from our own families and lives. We have a perfect example of this in the Old Testament Scripture. The word used to describe the relationship between Lot and Abraham at Genesis 14:16 is “adelphi” in the original Greek, which can only be translated as “brother” in English. Nevertheless, we know that Lot was Abraham’s nephew. The Greek word “adelphos” and “adelphi” are only attempts to translate an unknown Aramaic word – and no one has any idea what the actual word was which is rendered in Greek and English as “brothers” or “brethren”.
There could have been no “first blood” brothers of Christ, otherwise He would not have given the care of His mother to St. John the Theologian (John 19:26) at the foot of the Cross. Indeed, Christ would have done His ‘brothers’ great disrespect and harm if He had done this ! The Old Testament prophecies explain the virginal marriage and ever-virginity of Christ’s mother, and we also have the testimony of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church that Mary is “Ever-Virgin”.
Further evidence from the Holy Scriptures that in the Hebrew tradition “brothers” and “sisters” are not necessarily siblings. Our Orthodox Tradition teaches us that the Holy Virgin Mary was the only child of Saints Joakhim and Anna, but at John 19:25 we read, “Standing near the Cross of Jesus was His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary of Klopas, and Mary magdala.” If our Church history is correct, how could Mary have had a sister? The first clue to our answer is that both women are named Mary. ! No family has two daughters and gives them both the same name! Therefore it is evident that the relationship between the two women has to be something different than our modern English concept of “sister”. The second clue to our answer is that the Bible clearly identifies this Mary of Klopas (Cleopas in KJV), as the mother of Jesus’ “brothers”. The name Klopas or Cleopas is the same as Alphaeus in the Aramaic language which Jesus spoke. Therefore the so-called brothers of Jesus mentioned at Mark 6:3 are elsewhere clearly identified as the sons of Alphaeus and his wife Mary of Klopas – the “sister” of the Virgin Mary.
Thus the Scriptures show that the “brothers” of Christ are not His brothers, but some relation. There is no scriptural evidence to support the notion that the Virgin Mary bore any other children apart from Jesus Christ our God.
Seeing Him born as an infant in Bethlehem. Let all creation glorify Him!