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James was the blood brother of Jesus

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/17/2014 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 738 times Debate No: 63380
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (12)
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Round 1 = Acceptance
Round 2 = Arguments
Round 3 = Rebuttals + Arguments
Round 4 = Conclusions


James was not the blood brother or Jesus.
Debate Round No. 1



The Gospels of Mark and Matthew both mention the brothers of Jesus. Mark 6:3 names them as James, Joses, Judas, and Simon. Matthew 13:55 names them as James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. The only name that differs is Joseph/Joses. In Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, Paul writes that he had met with "James the Lord's brother." The "Lord's brothers" are also mentioned in 1 Cor 9:5.

Now, the Greek word used in the gospels is adelphos (pl. adelphoi), which translates directly as "brother." This might be interpreted in the wider sense of "brethren" but this seems very unlikely for two reasons. It was not used in this sense anywhere else in the New Testament, and the brothers of Jesus are listed alongside the rest of his direct family, including his mother Mary, in Mark and Matthew. In addition, these men were not the cousins of Jesus as there is a distinct word for this in Greek, anepsioi.

The Catholic Church believe that these brothers were the half-brothers of Jesus, from Joseph's unrecorded, and therefore spurious, previous marriage. The Church hold to the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. However, there is no early evidence for this. It was a later tradition invented to explain these facts. On the other hand, there were those who believed these brothers were the children of Joseph and Mary, and hence the blood brothers of Jesus. The Ebionites, for example, were an early Jewish-Christian sect associated with James, the brother of Jesus, who also denied the Virgin Birth. Tertullian, an early Church father, also believed this was the case.

These facts, taken together, provide a strong argument that James was the blood brother of Jesus.


I agree with everything you put in your first paragraph, I also agree that the Greek has a word that means cousin, the only issue with your argument is that the confusion originates in Hebrew and Aramaic which happened to be the languages of most of the Old Testament, and of Jesus himself.

In Hebrew, and in Aramaic no special word existed meaning cousin, nephew, half-brother, or step-brother; so they used the word brother or a circumlocution, such as in the case of a cousin, "the son of the brother of my father." When the Old Testament was translated into Greek and the New Testament written in Greek, the word was used to capture all of these meanings.

Other Gospel passages clarify the relationships for example James and Joses were the sons of Mary of Clophas (Mk 15:40). and Judas was the son of James (not either of the Apostles) (Lk 6:16). James the Lesser was the son of Alphaeus (Lk 6:15). James the Greater and John were the sons of Zebedee (Mt 20:20).

Also remember that Joseph was already dead and that Jewish law would dictate the eldest son would have to take care of the widowed mother, since Jesus had no blood brother the care of Mary was entrusted to St. John.

Orthodox Churches have "speculated" that Joseph was a widower and had children prior to marrying Mary, in which case they would still be only "half brothers and sisters"
Debate Round No. 2



My opponent claims that there is no word for cousin in Hebrew, and that a longer circumlocution is employed in the text of the Tanakh, e.g. Gen 29:10, "Rachel was his cousin—the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother." In the main, this is correct, although the words ben/bat dohd ("son/daughter of uncle") might have been used. This is immaterial. Firstly, the gospels were written in Greek, not Hebrew, so the author is not restricted by possible limitations in Hebrew. He might have merely used common Greek words to describe various familial relations. Also, even if there was no way to say cousin in Hebrew, they are not called brothers, they write the relationship out explicitly, as they do in Gen 29:10, so it would be obvious who was related to whom and in what way. Lastly, Jesus and his followers all spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew.

My opponent makes the mistake of equating James, the brother of Jesus, with other people, also named James, in the New Testament. James, the son of Mary of Clophas, is a different person. Likewise, James the son of Alphaeus, and James the Greater. They are not James, the brother of the Lord. This can be verified by reference to the text of the New Testament.


I apologize for being unclear in my first post I was talking about Hebrew as the language that the majority of Old Testament was written in, and Aramaic as the language of Jesus, which is neither here nor there as you wish to discount the the use of brother in the old testament for earlier stated and legitimate reasons. Since you like to quote Matthew take a look at Matthew 23:8 where we are told that we should call one another "Brothers" "adelphos" Clearly the bible does not imply that all Christians have the same birth mother. Now since this debate is about James let's look a little closer, The James mentioned in Matthew 13:55 is not in my opinion the actual brother of Jesus for the following reasons, Galatians 1:18-19 informs us: "Then after three years I [Paul] went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord"s brother." please note that the James which Paul is speaking about is bother of the lord and an apostle, of the apostles, there were but two named James. The first James is revealed to be a "son of Zebedee." He most likely would not be the "James" referred to because according to Acts 12:1-2 he was martyred very early on. Not to mention his father was Zebedee. It is more likely that Paul refers to the other James, except this James can not be the brother of Jesus either as Luke 6:15-16 reveals that this James has a father named Alphaeus, and not Joseph. If you would like, you could make the weak argument that James was not an apostle, or not one of the 12 as there is a looser sense of the word used in scripture for example Barnabas in Acts 14, however remember that when Paul wrote about Going up to Jerusalem to see Peter he was writing about a time shortly after he was converted and it would have been much more likely that he were speaking of the "12" ,

Now only 14 chapters after we are introduced to the bothers of Jesus as "James, Joseph, Simon and Judas," we find "James and Joseph" mentioned again, but this time their mother is revealed as being named Mary, but not Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We can conclude that "James and Joseph" are "brothers" of Jesus, but they are not uterine brothers.

Matthew 1:24-25, and the claim Jesus was Mary"s "firstborn son" and that Joseph "knew her not until" Christ was born? Does Matthew here teach that Mary had other children? No, and this is where the old testament will become relevant.
Exodus 13:1-2 reveals something very important about the firstborn in Israel: "The Lord said to Moses, "Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and beast, is mine.""

The "firstborn" were not given the title because there was a "second-born." They were called "firstborn" at birth. Jesus being "firstborn" does not require that more siblings be born after him.

You still have not accounted for Jesus giving his mother to the care of John even though it would have been the responsibility of the next eldest son in accordance with the law.
Debate Round No. 3



My opponent makes a couple of interesting points. First, that Mat 23:8 has Jesus tell the disciples to call one another "brother," and the word adelphoi is indeed used in this instance. He therefore asserts that the brothers of Jesus might be disciples.

There are a number of responses. First, as I've already showed, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas are listed as the brothers of Jesus along with the rest of his direct family, including his mother and unnamed "sisters," in Mat 13:55. No mention of the disciples. Second, in Gal 1:18-19, James alone is called the Lord's brother, and not Cephas (Peter), who is arguably the preferred disciple. Third, the names of the brothers only match some of the disciples; there is no disciple Joseph, for example. Therefore James is the actual brother of Jesus.

The second point he makes is that, building on his first assertion, the James mentioned in Galatians is simply the disciple James, and he goes on to argue that he is James the son of Alphaeus, and therefore not the blood brother of Jesus. However, I have already shown this to be a dubious use of the word "brother." In any case, Tradition holds that these are not the same James.

The third point is that Jesus gave responsibility for his mother's care to John, and not James. This is an interesting argument, but I would argue two possibilities. One, that this never happened, that the author of the gospel wished to demonstrate that John was the disciple most beloved of Jesus as he states. Or two, that the family of Jesus all rejected him initially, including James, as in Mark 3:21, and so Mary was put in the care of John.

In conclusion, it is not possible that the brothers of Jesus were merely disciples, for the reasons listed above. They must have been direct family. They were not cousins, as this is a separate word in Greek. They might have been half-brothers, as the Catholic Church suggests, but there is no record of Joseph's previous marriage. The text says, in several places, that these men were the brothers, adelphoi, of Jesus. That they are blood brothers is in little doubt from the text. Thus, James is a blood brother of Jesus.


My opponent states, "That they are blood brothers is in little doubt from the text." to which I say this is possibly the most preposterous statement made in this entire debate. This is a topic that has been debated continuously for literally centuries. In my opponents opening argument he states,

"Now, the Greek word used in the gospels is adelphos (pl. adelphoi), which translates directly as "brother." This might be interpreted in the wider sense of "brethren" but this seems very unlikely for two reasons. It was not used in this sense anywhere else in the New Testament"

I provided an example of where adelphoi is used in its broader sense "brethren" in Matthew 23:8, which my opponent acknowledged in the last round.

My opponent continues to bring up that James is listed with Joseph, Simon, and Judas as brothers, yet you never see anyone trying to make the case for the other three brothers because it is not supported by the Gospels, Only James, which is mentioned in the couple supporting scriptures already brought up and rebutted.

He states that in Galatians 1: 18-19 "James alone is called the Lord's brother, and not Cephas (Peter), who is arguably the preferred disciple" which first read the verse for yourself

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.

This only helps my case as I had already identified the Fathers of both the Apostles that are named James. Zebedee, and Alphaeus Not Joseph.

As for why Jesus gave John the responsibility of his mother's care to John he suggests to possibilities, Number 1, the author just made it up. Or two, "that the family of Jesus all rejected him initially, including James, as in Mark 3:21, and so Mary was put in the care of John."

Both suggestions hold no water, first you can not argue scripture and claim the parts that don't fit with your interpretations are just made up, and second, Even if James was his blood brother and rejected Jesus early on, there is no suggestion in scripture that James rejected his mother, and the law would still be on the side of James if he were actually her Son.

I will agree that they could have been Half brothers as the Catholic's suggest but even if that were the case, there would be no blood shared as Mary was a Virgin when Jesus was conceived.
Debate Round No. 4
12 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by theskeptik 2 years ago
@Buddahcall This was your first? Excellent. Welcome along. I only found the site last week.

Just to clarify again: there are actually three people named James. James the son of Zebedee, James the son of Alphaeus, and James the brother of Jesus (also called James the Just), who is the son of Joseph. They are not equivalent.
Posted by Buddahcall 2 years ago
@theskeptik : The preposterous statement that I was referring to was you saying that there is little little doubt that they were blood brothers from the text. If that were true this would not have been contested for centuries which is what I posted.

Be careful with that Literal Interpretation of the Bible, that will get you in trouble, look at the Westboro Baptist Church.

I showed you already that both the apostles named James had fathers of a different name than Joseph, or are you suggesting that Mary remarried? Had an affair?

In any case good show, This was my first debate, I just found this site a couple days ago, and I look forward to more.
Posted by theskeptik 2 years ago
@Buddahcall Just to clarify:- You point out that the word adelphoi is used in the broader sense of "brethren" in Mat 23:8. It is. I still say that the word is not used like that to describe individual disciples. There is no mention of "Cephas, the brother of the Lord." Or "Judas Iscariot, the Lord's brother." This is why I say that it is no used like that in the New Testament.

Also, I love how twisted this debate is. The text literally says that James is the brother of Jesus. I think this means that James was very likely the brother of Jesus, to which you respond by claiming that this statement "is possibly the most preposterous statement made in this entire debate." That's funny stuff.
Posted by theskeptik 2 years ago
@NathanDuclos I'm an athiest, so I don't believe in the divinity of Jesus. However, no-one has to "prove" that Jesus existed. No serious historian doubts this. You are quite correct to say that Paul wrote of a spiritual Jesus, but Paul also met James, the brother of Jesus. In addition, the first gospel, Mark, was writen about 40 years after the life of Jesus.
Posted by NathanDuclos 2 years ago
You would still have to prove jesus exists, the original letters of paul refer to spiriual individual not a real life indiviudal. The gospels were writen 150 years after the supposed existence. It could devolve into a debate like "fred" is the brother of santa claus an vince vaune is letting us know another aspects of santa. . .
Posted by theskeptik 2 years ago
@Pfalcon1318 I think you'll find that this was one of the most contentious debates in all of recorded Western history. Catholics believe that James was the half-brother of Jesus for a great many theological reasons. Many others disagreed. Can't see how it's not a viable debate topic.
Posted by Pfalcon1318 2 years ago
This really isn't much of a debate topic...
Posted by mightbenihilism 2 years ago
Mozi's ok, but the one I'm really interested in his at the moment is Seng-Chao.

A History of Chinese Philosophy (Vol. 1-2) by Yu-lan Fung (aka Fung yu-lan) is one of the best books I've ever read. I had a paperback copy of vol. 2 but it fell apart really quick. Later I got hard back --- unquestionably the better way to go. The book covers everything from the earliest stages of turtle-shell divination to the late Qing Dynasty. Seng-Chao is amazing because he represents a period when Buddhist philosophy was first being discovered by the Chinese, and shows a beautiful adaptation of one stunning intellectual culture by another.

I think James, the brother of Jesus, would like this book a lot. There's a lot of parallels between the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas and Chinese thought.
Posted by VelCrow 2 years ago

Still onto Mozi? XD
Posted by mightbenihilism 2 years ago
Skeptik, interestingly enough, Gospel of Thomas indicates James was the go-to guy in the Church. Perhaps intimations of an early power struggle?

The history of early Christianity is one of the most fascinating subjects for me --- especially when we look at the character Simon Magus and his war with Peter. I really got to look into that stuff again. Only, lately, Chinese philosophy has had most of my attention. :(
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