One of the largest sources of division between Catholics and Protestants involves Mary.

This is due to belief surrounding:

1.) Her perpetual virginity.

2.) Her intercessory ability.

If Joseph had marital relations with Mary after Jesus’ birth, Mary would not have remained a virgin.  Moreover, Jesus would likely have had biological brothers.  This is the belief held by most Protestants.  It is supported based on an understanding that the passage of Matthew 1:25 might suggest that after having given birth to Jesus, Joseph “knew” her.

In regards to the second belief, if one believes that after a person dies, they fall asleep until the resurrection, and that this applies to everyone regardless of how holy they lived their life, then Mary would not be in heaven where she may be able to intercede on behalf of the petitionary.  Similarly, if she was not taken to heaven, as one may believe Enoch, Elijah and Moses were, since there are Scripture passages to support such a view (Luke 9:30), then she could not intercede for us.  This is the belief held by most Protestants.

Catholics believe that Jesus did not have biological brothers and that mention of his brothers in Scripture is due to the understanding that the Semitic (Hebrew / Aramaic) word for brother and cousin are used interchangeably, or that Jesus had stepbrothers in that Joseph was a widower who had children from his previous marriage.  In the case of the former understanding, any cousins Jesus had would have been known as his brothers and sisters.  In the latter view, Joseph betrothed Mary with the understanding that she desired to remain a virgin consecrated to God.

Such a marriage would have been countercultural in the sense that Judaism teaches that the soul of one person is only half a soul –when a man and woman marry, they form one complete soul.

As a consecrated virgin, Mary united herself fully to God.  God honored her choice through the hypostatic union, where her seed united with the Holy Spirit, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This union fulfills the prophecy of Genesis 3:16, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Accordingly, Mary is seen by Catholics as the New Eve, just as Jesus is seen as the New Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49).

In regards to the passage in Matthew 1:25, mentioned earlier, Catholics believe it stresses that Joseph didn’t know Mary prior to her having conceived Jesus, not that he eventually did.  The Biblical exegesis for this reasoning can be supported in that making a statement with regards to a period of time doesn’t necessarily suggest that prior or after to that period of time the issue in question will cease or begin to exist.  For example, in Matthew 28:20, “… behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”  Surely Jesus will still be with us even after the end of the age.

Catholics also believe that those who live exceptionally holy lives are brought directly to heaven after they die.  These members of the Body of Christ are known as Saints, having earned such recognition through an official screening process that verifies the holiness of their lives, often marked by inspired writings, martyrdom, visions believed to be from Jesus or members of His Body, as well as miracles, such as subsisting on nothing but the Eucharist for periods of time scientifically impossible based on the bodies apparent need for food and water and/or the healing of an incurable disease following a request for intercession.  Moreover, Catholics believe that Mary was an exceptionally holy member of the Body of Christ, having bore Him in her womb and having been faithful to Him her whole life.

Ideally, there would be no division in belief between Protestants and Catholics, who are like the right and left arms of the same body, more greatly unified by the important beliefs they hold than those that would divide.  And yet, in our Lord’s infinite wisdom, He may have intended this division so that those from different backgrounds may be reached more effectively when one form of worship is more suitable to them, just as a child may respond more aptly to guidance from their father than their mother and vice versa, at various times of their development.

In this sense, Catholics and Protestants could benefit from each other, just as a child would benefit from guidance provided by both mother and father.

Nonetheless, if we knew the absolute truth of the matter, we could help eliminate division and more closely unite ourselves in belief and service, learning from each other what works best in building and edifying the Body of Christ.

Whatever the case, there is an absolute fact, a definite truth to the matter, this we can be sure of: either Jesus had biological brothers or he did not.  If he did not, Mary’s perpetual virginity can more readily be embraced by all.

Similarly, we’re told that ‘the truth will set us free.’  Therefore, we should approach this matter with fear and trembling, with a willingness to reevaluate any beliefs we currently hold in light of the evidence that may be pro or contrary to that belief.

Accordingly, in the 4th century St. Jerome proposed that James and John were Jesus’ cousins.  This made sense in that the Aramaic and Hebrew language didn’t have a word for cousin so the word for brother would have been used to mean the same thing.  This would have also made sense because it appears that at that time the Christian Church believed Jesus an only child and Mary a virgin in perpetuity.  This belief would have been passed on by oral tradition by the Apostles.  Protestants who hold to Sola Scriptura reasoning do not consider oral tradition as passed on by the apostles a valid source of information for the formation of church doctrine.

The theory I propose is as follows:

  1. Zebedee was another name used to describe Joseph as the husband of Mary.
  2. Joseph had at least two sons before remarrying. His first wife fell into the deep sleep known as death and when he was betrothed to Mary, he did so with the understanding that she would remain a virgin consecrated to God.
  3. Joseph’s first son was named James.
  4. Joseph named his second son from his first wife Joseph.  This Joseph Jr. who was also known as John.

According to the 2nd oldest New Testament text (Sinaiticus manuscript), the name John is used instead of Joseph when describing the two sons of Mary (the other being James) when she is presented as one of the women present during the crucifixion, as presented by Matthew, Mark and Luke, just after Mary Magdalene is presented.

The older manuscript, known as the Vaticanus manuscript, uses the name “Joseph” as one of the two sons of Mary.

Name changing is frequently going on in Scripture.  Since the apostles were often being hunted and persecuted, using alternate names could have been a method of staying alive.  Matthew was also called Levi, Peter was known as Simon, Paul as Saul, and John as Joseph.  Similarly, in reading “Tortured for Christ,” by Richard Wurmbrand, a book which discusses some of the horrific treatments Christians endured under Soviet-atheist rule, you’ll encounter similar discretion in the use of a person’s name.

We know that John was with Mary at the crucifixion but this was not reported by Matthew, Mark or Luke according to the crucifixion narrative they give.

We also know that there was tension among the apostles regarding who was the greatest (Luke 9:46), or who was loved or favored the most by Jesus.  John describes himself as the one whom Jesus loved.  He also reports that he rested upon Jesus’ breast at the last supper.  Furthermore, there seems to be some tension between Peter and Jesus after the resurrection, as reflected in the discussion over John’s destiny (John 21:20-23).

This tension may explain why John was left out of the crucifixion narrative as reported by Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Moreover, the “jealousy” that Peter and perhaps other disciples demonstrated may have been similar to the jealousy Joseph of Egypt experienced by his brothers when favored by God in the dream he had, the dream which he retold to his father Jacob (aka Israel) and his brothers.

This explanation is also probable in that Matthew, Mark and Luke do not mention Mary as the mother of Jesus as present during the crucifixion.  However, they do mention Mary as the mother of James and Joses (aka Joseph in the Vaticanus manuscript, aka John in the Sinaiticus manuscript).

One may reasonably argue that it would have been odd for Matthew, Mark and Luke to omit Mary’s presence at the crucifixion if she were actually there, just as it would have been odd for her not to have actually been there and for only John to have reported it.

With respect to the theory I’m presenting, Joseph would have been alive at the time that Jesus called James and John to be disciples.  At that time, they left the boat where they were fishing with their father Joseph, aka Zebedee. Similarly, although Joseph was a carpenter, he likely fished with his sons, who may have worked as both fisherman and carpenters.

Interestingly, the meaning of the Hebrew names Joseph and Zebedee are similar in that they both signify something being added or bestowed, such as a gift by God.

Also, Joseph may have been alive at the time of the crucifixion.  If so, it might help explain why Jesus emphasized John’s relationship to Mary as her son in John’s gospel, at which point he took her into his home.  Prior to this, Mary would have been staying in the home where she raised Jesus, either with or without Joseph, depending on whether he was still alive, or with James, John’s older brother.  If Joseph weren’t alive, the custom likely would have been for James to take care of her.  That James was the older brother is based on the fact that he is most often presented before his brother John, e.g. Mark 3:17, Matthew 10:3 and Luke 6:14.

Conversely, if Joseph wasn’t still alive to care for Mary, it has been suggested that Jesus chose John to take care of Mary, as opposed to his older brother James, because James was one of the family members who tried to restrain Jesus, as opposed to John, when he began to grow in popularity.

“…for people were saying ‘he has gone out of his mind.’” Mark 3:21 and John 7:5

However, these members of Jesus’ family, as presented in Mark’s gospel, may have referred to his uncles and their children, such as James the son of Alpheus.  This would seem more likely since Mark had just reported to us that James and John were among the apostles who began following Jesus.  Although it is possible, with regards to John 7:5, that James the brother of John was one of the brothers who didn’t believe in Jesus, as well as James the son of Alpheus, this does not mean that John didn’t equally disbelieve at that time or that either of them wouldn’t have believed to a greater extent at the time of the crucifixion.

In either case, in accordance with Catholic theology, Jesus’ need to emphasize the special relationship between John and Mary stresses our need to receive Mary into the home of our heart as mother if we are to be one of the most beloved of Jesus, i.e. one of his closest followers and disciples.  Moreover, as a Catholic, Mary is your mother and you are her child.

Accordingly, if you enter into a man’s home and show his mother love and respect, you will score points with her son.  Therefore, in following Jesus, Catholics needn’t worry about loving Mary too much… they’re not going to love her more than He does.  And, she’s not the possessive type… she’s going to lead you back to Him.

Many exceptionally great men have been “Momma’s boys.”  For an example of these great men, consider reading the short story, “Moma’s Boys,” as found in Paul Harvey’s book, “The Rest of the Story.”

St. John is a Momma’s boy!  In accordance with this tendency, he was named after his father.  Thus, in that Joseph, being a good and gentle man, passed those traits on to the son who shared his name, the wisdom of providence is further reflected.  Nonetheless, it is also reflected in James who was one of the three in Jesus’ closest circle, the other being Peter (see Matthew 17:1-13).

The other woman mentioned at the crucifixion was Salome, as mentioned in Mark 15:40.  She was Zebedee’s sister and her husband was Cleophas, also known as Alphaeus.  Alphaeus was the father of Levi, also known as Matthew, author of the first gospel.  Salome has another son named James, but of course, not the same James who would have been the stepbrother of Jesus, though he IS his brother in the Kingdom of God sense.

This James, son of Salome, is James the Greater.  And yet, remember our Lord’s saying, ‘he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.’  Though James the younger, or less, as he is also known, may have been closer to Jesus during His youth and ministry, he may not have been greater with regards to his status within the church following the resurrection.

Now one may reasonably ask, “If this theory is true, why aren’t Joseph’s children mentioned during Jesus’ youth, particularly during the trip to Bethlehem for the census or when Jesus stayed in the Temple and Mary and Joseph couldn’t find him?”

On one hand, for the former question, it may have been that they were very young and bringing them along for the journey would have proved too difficult.  On the other hand, for the former and latter question, perhaps they were a part of the journey but their mention wasn’t considered significant, given other aspects of the gospel narrative.  It may also have been that mention of their closer relationship to Jesus may have further endangered their lives.

What do you think?

“Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.  Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”  –2 Corinthians 13:11-12