Senior English


Mr. Morris


April 16, 1994




            Jesus of Nazareth - Son of Man, Son of God, Christ, the Redeemer, the Messiah....... We all know the story, but with the help of numerous sources, including, of course, the Bible, I will attempt to help clarify this story. The portion of this wondrous tale with which I am concerned is Jesus' family. Jesus was not alone on this earth, and as Christians believe, he is not alone in heaven. Families are a part of everyone's life, so why should there have been a difference in Jesus' case? I would like use existing texts to highlight little known facts about Jesus' family and to infer possible answers to questions one may have about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.



The Earthly Family


            I hesitate to call this family Jesus' true or real family as a result of varying opinions. The Gospels, in both Matthew and Luke, name Mary as Jesus' mother and Joseph as his guardian. Joseph could not really be the father since Mary was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit; "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;"  Jesus was born, most likely an autumn baby,  in the year 4 B.C.(agreed upon by most scholars)  Jesus was the first born, but not the last. A Catholic friend, though not a religious expert, confirmed that he was led to believe that Mary remained a virgin, though we can find contradiction to that belief in the same chapter of Matthew; "When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son ;"We will assume that when Joseph took Mary, he actually married her. We will also assume that when he knew her, he consecrated the marriage, thus destroying Mary's chance to remain a virgin. This act along with subsequent endeavors led to the next fact about Jesus' family on earth.    

            Jesus was a member, by his thirties, of a fairly large family. He had no less than four brothers and an undetermined amount of sisters, though more than one, as proclaimed by spectators in his home town:  "Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses[Joseph] and Judas and Simon and are not his sisters here with us?"  

            Of these four mentioned brothers, we know very little. James, the brother of Jesus, may have written the Epistle of James and was martyred around 80 A.D. Most scholars consider this James to be a cousin of Jesus, though he is always called the brother of Jesus ,and Jesus did have a brother named James. We know too that Jesus did not consider these members of his family to be any more important to him than any other believing person in the world:


Jesus' true family

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."  


One can only wonder as to how his family felt at this response. Surely many people in the crowd were surprised and possibly appalled by this behavior. By the word of God, given to Moses, we learn; " Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." Since Jesus was religious, he must not have looked upon this act as a sin, at least in his special case.  

            People may fear that a married Jesus would be an impure Jesus. Jesus, however, regards marriage as a good practice in his denouncement of divorce:

But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.' So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.


Jesus was obviously not against marriage, so one may wonder why he would deprive himself of such a Holy institution. We have no definite proof one way or another as to Jesus' marital status. He could have left his wife, and possibly children, to preach, or he may have lost his wife to death. There seems to be no indication of a wife or children in the Gospels, though any such hints would have likely been censored by now, had they existed.    

            What we do know is that Jesus' ministry began when he was at least thirty, and little is known of him before that time. We may assume that Jesus spent the time learning scripture, yet most Christians would argue that Jesus simply knew scripture already. What Jesus did from around age twelve to age thirty is not known, still marriage seems unlikely.  Some people believe he may have spent time at a Jewish monastic order near the Dead Sea, but a family tragedy may have kept Jesus even closer to home. We must assume that had Joseph died before Jesus was very old, he would have become the head of the household. Jesus would have had to have had a job, possibly as a carpenter, suggested earlier by his fellow townspeople in Mark 6: 3. We can do little but assume as to what Jesus did for all these years, yet I doubt he travelled to England as one Medieval legend claimed.   

            Jesus could not have been "a penniless teacher, who wandered about the dusty, sun-bit country of Judea, living upon casual gifts of food," for very long. One may conclude that Jesus did not live like that for any long number of years, and a likely major change or calling in his life caused him to decide upon this way of life. What this calling was is not discussed in the Bible, nor is there any indication given as to why Jesus left his home, wherever it may have been, and began his ministry. 

            As may be expected from a large family such as Jesus', numerous in-laws must have existed, whether before or after his death. A practical assumption would be that Jesus had at least one niece or nephew before he was released from the grasp of the world. Maybe one of Jesus' brothers were going to show him a new family member when they visited him.


Distant Relatives


            Another relative mentioned in the Bible is David. Although Jesus, by Christian accounts, is the Son of God, Matthew and Luke found a relation to David to be necessary. The genealogies in these two books vary considerably, leading from David to Joseph. Since Joseph is not considered to be the real father of Jesus, his dead relatives serve little purpose, other than their being mentioned in the Bible. David was used by some writers about Jesus to try to allow the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Whether Joseph was even related to David is quite trivial.   

            John the Baptist is said to have been a cousin to Jesus. Though Mary and Elizabeth, John's mother, conceived at around the same time, Elizabeth was quite old. Elizabeth was a "kinswoman" to Mary, so we could think of her as an older sister or cousin, but more likely an aunt. This scenario would make Jesus and John second cousins. Some sources have suggested that Jesus and John were friends as children. We are not told how long after his birth John's parents died, though we must acknowledge their advanced years and figure he was a fairly lonely young adult. John may have joined the monastic order near the Dead Sea where Jesus was said to have possibly been. The Dead Sea Scrolls hint of the life a man fitting the description of John the Baptist.   

            No more earthly relatives? Although Jesus came from a large family, little information can be found on it. We have been deprived of this aspect of Jesus' life, either on purpose or by accident. Although the teaching of Jesus greatly surpass any tidbits about his family, human curiosity makes us wonder, and wonder we will.


The Extended Family


            Though seemingly a bit dopey or slow at times, the desciples of Jesus did spend a few years with him. We do have more information on Jesus' desciples than on his family. Jesus does not appear to have any favorites of the twelve, but he did pick only twelve desciples out of his many followers. The apostles were regular men. Some probably knew Jesus before he began to preach; others were called to follow Jesus. Jesus did not seem have a criteria in picking the apostles. The men were responsible for aiding in the spread of the religion. Jesus gave them power to heal and for a time to speak in foreign tongues. The memory of Jesus and the spread of Christianity was in their hands. I should note that although these "family" members were generally faithful, they were by no means perfect. Jesus often had to explain his teachings to these men, and there are many instances of lack of faith. The betrayal by (Judas) Iscariot is a good example. He decided that Jesus was no longer the Son of Man, maybe since Jesus did not take Jerusalem by force. Iscariot became angry or confused and went to the Jewish authorities to help plan the demise of Jesus.  

            James and John wanted Jesus to grant them special favors in Heaven for their service, but Jesus lets them know that he cannot grant such things, even to those close to him:


And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."  And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?"  And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."  But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking;  but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

Once again Jesus lets us know that his family really consists of all believers, with no favorites.


The Heavenly Family


            Debate and controversy has risen over the years to determine who Jesus really is:

The Second Article

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontious Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;   He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

 The Apostle's Creed here takes a stab at explaining who the members of Jesus' family are. Once again we find Mary to be his mother. The rest might have confused Jesus himself. We are to believe that Jesus is God the Father's only son, yet Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, who is one-third of the Triune God in which Jesus himself is a part of. This would effectively make God the Father only the Godfather, leaving tons of speculation as to where Jesus fits in as his own father of sorts. Jesus must be thinking of this situation when he proclaims; "With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God."

            Whether or not the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed makes a lot of sense to humans, it certainly does say that Jesus was divinely conceived, which is very important to Christians. The only problem is for us to identify who makes up Jesus' holy family and where they fit in.

            God the Father is eternal. He is the God of Abraham. The Jews wanted to claim God as their own, but Jesus came and proclaimed that the God of Abraham, Moses, and David was also the God of all mankind. God is often called the Creator because He created the heavens and earth.

            Jesus is the Son of God. Most Christians, if not all, believe Jesus to be part of one God with God the Father. The Apostles' Creed, however, seems to indicate that they are separate and that Jesus will sit at the right hand of God. This makes us think that Jesus is in fact a bit below God the Father, where a son should be in contrast to his father.

            The Holy Ghost is indeed a sneaky fellow. He apparently did not exist until Jesus was about to come to earth, or more appropriately, until the Trinitarians decided that he existed at all. The Holy Spirit certainly does appear in the Bible, even the Old Testament, though it always seems to be more the Spirit of God the Father than an entirely different person or aspect of God. Since, however, most everyone believes in a separate Holy Ghost, we must attempt to locate his position in the holy family unit. If Jesus sits at the right hand, perhaps the Holy Ghost sits at the left. Nowhere have I found a suitable place for the Holy Ghost, save in our hearts, though he would appear be in the hearts of very few.




            All this controversy and speculation must not take away from who Jesus was and is. He taught of peace and love, with just enough fear of God. Opinions may vary as to who Jesus was, but his teachings should not be forgotten in the search for truth. The true family of Jesus is all who believe, so many of us are part of Jesus' immediate, and hopefully, eternal family.     

















Unknown,  "The New Testament: Matthew,"  Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version,  4th ed.,  (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing  House, 1952),  Matthew  1: 18.


Holy Bible,  Matthew 1: 24-25.


Holy Bible,  Mark 6: 3 ; another variation  in Matthew 13: 55.


Holy Bible,  Luke 8: 19-21 ; also appearing similarly in Matthew 12: 46-50 and Mark 3: 31-35.


Martin Luther,  "The Ten Commandments,"  Luther's Small Catechism,  3rd ed.,  (St. Louis, Missouri:  Concordia Publishing House, 1971),  p. 64.


Holy Bible,  Mark 10: 6-9


 H.G. Wells,  "The rise of Christianity,"  The Outline of History: Volume One, 6th ed., 2 vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961),  p. 420.


Holy Bible,  Luke 1: 36.


Holy Bible.  Mark 10: 35-40.


Luther's Small Catechism.  p. 100.


Holy Bible.  Mark 10: 27.





Burrows, Millar.  "Jesus' Ancestry, Birth, and Early Life."  Jesus in the First Three Gospels.  Nashville, Tennesee:  Parthenon Press,  1977.



Helms, Randel.  Gospel Fictions.  Buffalo, New York:  Prometheus Books,  1988.



Holl, Adolf.  "An Amazing Life Story."  Jesus in Bad Company.  Trans. Simon King.  3rd ed.  New York:  Avon Books,  1974.



Holy Bible.  4th ed.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan,  1952.



Luther, Martin.  Luther's Small Catechism.  3rd ed.  St. Louis, Missouri:  Concordia,  1971.



Wells, H.G.  "The Rise of Christianity."  The Ouline of History.  6th ed.  vol. 1.  2 vols.  Garden City, New York:  Doubleday,  1961.