Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 2, 1964
NUMBER 47, PAGE 2,12b

Kinsmen Of The Lord --- (No 3)

Jerry C. Ray

The Epiphanian theory states that Jesus' brothers were half-brothers, being the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. This seems to have been the popular belief in the post-Apostolic church, according to extant writings.

The substance of this theory is found in the apocryphal Book of James, or Protevangelium, which dates back to the middle of the second century. It tells how Joachim and Anna were given their only child in their old age. Apparently, from the story, this was considered a virgin birth also. The child was named Mary and was to be the mother of Jesus. When Mary was three she was taken to the Temple and left in the care of the priests. At the age of twelve the priests took thought of a husband for her. They called together the widowers of the people, telling them to bring their rods with them. Among them was Joseph, the carpenter. The High Priest took the rods; Joseph's was last. To the other rods nothing happened; but from Joseph's a dove flew and settled on Joseph's head. Thus it was revealed that Joseph was to be Mary's husband.

The story continues that Joseph was at first unwilling: "I have sons and I am an old man, but she is a girl: lest I become a laughing-stock to the children of Israel." (Protevangelium 9:1) But he did take Mary to wife, and in due time Jesus was born. The story is legendary, but it shows that the theory was in circulation by the middle of the second century.

Criticism Of The Epiphanian Theory

There is no direct evidence for this theory whatsoever. If it is to be supported it will be through indirect pieces of evidences. Below are the arguments made in its favor:

(1) It is asked: Would Jesus have committed his mother to the care of John, if she had other sons besides Himself? (John 19:26-27) The answer given is that, as far as the Bible indicates Jesus' family was quite out of sympathy with Him; His brethren, toward the end of his ministry, still did not believe on Him, (John 7:5) Since John was a first cousin of Jesus (probably) and was the disciple whom He loved, the answer is yes, Jesus would have committed His mother to John when she had other sons.

(2) It is argued that the behavior of Jesus' brothers is that of elder brothers to a younger brother. They questioned His sanity, and wished to take Him home (Mk. 3:21, 31-35); they were actively hostile to Him. (John 7:1-5) Hence, as the reasoning goes, His "brothers" were children of a former marriage of Joseph, and much older than Jesus.

But it could just as well be argued that their conduct was due in fact to the embarrassment of the family at Jesus' actions irrespective of His age.

(3) It is argued that Joseph must have been older than Mary because he vanishes from the gospel story and must have died before Jesus began His public ministry. In further elaboration on this point it is pointed out that (a) Mary is mentioned at the marriage feast of Cana, but not Joseph (John 2), (b) Jesus is sometimes called the son of Mary, implying that Joseph is dead and Mary is a widow, and (c) Jesus' stay in Nazareth until He was thirty is most easily explained by the assumption that Joseph had died and that Jesus became responsible for the support of the household.

In reply to these arguments it should be noted that it cannot be proved that Joseph was older than Mary. If the assumption that his absence from the gospel record indicates his demise, it still does not necessitate his being older than Mary necessarily. Furthermore, if it be allowed that Joseph was older than Mary and that he died before Jesus' public ministry, it is still unproven that he could not and did not have other children by Mary.

It is true that Jesus was called the son of Mary, but contrariwise Matt. 13:55 mentions Joseph. If Mk, 6:3 serves as proof that Joseph was dead, would not Matt. 13:55 prove that he was alive?

Jesus' long stay in Nazareth, if it proved anything, would more naturally indicate that He was the eldest, not the youngest, and hence, responsible for the support of the family.

The exaltation of Mary, the incipient "perpetual virginity of Mary" error, encouraged by the false idea of the sanctity of celibacy as opposed to marriage, all made this theory, the Epiphanian, popular in the post-Apostolic church. This theory has no direct evidence whatsoever for it and no one would have ever thought of it had it not been for the magnification of asceticism and asceticism's desire to retain the concept of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The Helvidian Theory

The Helvidian theory quite simply states that the brothers and sisters were, to use the technical term, His uterine brothers and sisters. They all had the same mother — Mary. In noticing the other theories, the objections to this concept have been dealt with. It only remains now to note the arguments in favor of the Helvidian theory.

(I) This is the natural meaning one would receive from reading the New Testament. Without theological speculation and presupposition one, in reading the narrative, would never think of Jesus' brothers and sisters as anything else.

(2) The argument is made by some that the expression "firstborn" in reference to Christ (Matt. 1:25; Lk. 2:7) , implies other children born to Mary. This argument at best is inconclusive, and in my opinion is erroneous. The term "firstborn" indicates the termination of the childless state without any indication as to whether other children are later born. If a mother never has but one child that child is still the firstborn. Firstborn no more indicates later-born than son suggests daughter.

Jesus is called the "firstborn" (same word). (Heb. 1:6) Does this imply that Jesus is not the only begotten of the Father; that there are other sons of God?

The term firstborn to the Jews does not convey the idea of other children, but the special consecration required of God in the Law.

That Jesus' brothers and sisters were uterine kin seems to be the simplest and most logical evaluation of the evidence. The silence of the Scriptures with any proof to the contrary strengthens the point. But Matt. 1:25 and Lk. 2:7 do not prove this. The conclusion is correct, but the evidence in this case is incorrect.

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