Who were the brothers of Jesus in chapter 1 of the book of Acts?


In the book of Acts 1:13,14,15 we see clearly that the word “brothers” does not mean brothers in a family, but disciples, cousins or other ordinary people or relatives. Because, if we read the whole chapter we see the 11 apostles, Mary, the women and his brothers were 120. So, there were about 108 women and men besides those listed. If that is to say that Mary would have had other children with Joseph, or Joseph had children from another marriage, then the maximum could be 18 children, but this number is impossible or unlikely to believe. Does it mean there were 90 women? I don’t think so. And I think nobody would believe it. In addition, it is said that there were women … and brothers of Jesus. It is not said that they were sisters here. Interpreting this chapter, I tend to think the word “brothers” used here means close disciples or close persons, but not brothers in the meaning we have nowadays!

It is true that Jews used this salutation “brothers”, that even nowadays is used widely in the East. But in this text the word brethren is used on both Jesus’ brothers of flesh and Peter’s brothers in faith. Every word takes its meaning from the context in which it is used. Here is an example of using the word “leaven” in the same text, but with different meanings. When he rebuked the Corinthian Christians because they tolerated him who lived in incest with his stepmother, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people. (1 Corinthians 5:6-9)(NASB)

In this sense, the word “leaven” is used in three ways:

  1. ordinary leaven that leavens the whole lump of dough
  2. leaven that should not be in that lump of unleavened bread made at Passover
  3. leaven of malice and wickedness (it is also called old leaven) – figuratively points to sin and to the sinner who did that wicked deed for which he had to be excluded from the Church

Now let’s look at the text in Acts 1:12-16:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. (Acts 1:12-16)(NASB)

In verse 14 the context shows that Jesus’ brothers in flesh are mentioned, because immediately after this the mother of the Savior is mentioned:

These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers (Acts 1:14)

Let us note that at the beginning of the verse it says that “these all”, i.e. all those who were inside and only at the end of the verse it refers to Jesus’ brothers, as some who were part of the crowd that formed “these all”, they were brothers, but they were brothers in faith. “His” brothers are mentioned apart from the whole crowd and then Peter addressed to the “brethren” because they were all brothers in faith.

The Evangelist Matthew gives us a more detailed story about these brothers of flesh of the Lord Jesus and writes:

He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at Him But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” (Matthew 13:54-57)(NASB)

This text states that:

  • People were amazed at His wisdom and miracles that He was doing, but at the same time they saw in Him an ordinary man, who was the son of a carpenter and had a mother, brothers and sisters
  • There are mentioned the name of Jesus’ brothers of flesh, namely: Jacob, Joseph, Simon and Jude
  • Jesus also had sisters of flesh, whose number and names are not mentioned here

To justify the teaching that Mary remained ever virgin, some people forced the interpretation of the biblical text saying that here it is spoken about Jesus’ cousins and not brothers, or that they were the children from another marriage of Joseph, but the Scripture does not mention anything about it. Let us follow the example of the Apostle Paul who wrote:

For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 2:17)(NASB)

And he also said:

But we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:2-5)(NASB)

Let us not peddle the Word of God, but by showing the truth to make ourselves worthy to be received by every man’s conscience, in the sight of God.

Translated by Felicia Rotaru