Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 26, 1964
NUMBER 46, PAGE 5,12b

Kinsmen Of The Lord --- (No 2)

Jerry C. Ray

In Gal. 1:19 Paul speaks of "James, the Lord's brother." In Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 James is named among the brothers of Jesus. In Acts 1:14, although no names are mentioned, the brothers of Jesus are said to be among the disciples of Jesus.

What was the exact relationship of James, Joseph, Simon and Judas to the Lord Jesus? As far as extant writings indicate, the majority of post-apostolic writers believed that these men were in fact sons of Joseph by a former wife, before Joseph espoused Mary. They are, then, called brethren only in the same sense that Joseph is called Jesus' father. This is known as the Epiphanian theory after Epiphanius who strongly affirmed it (though he did not originate it) about 370 A.D.

The minority concept was that these brethren were truly Jesus' brothers, being the offspring of Joseph and Mary. Tertullian, among others, accepted this theory, and it was used by various groups and individuals in fighting incipient worship of the mother of Jesus and the one-sided asceticism of the day. This is known as the Helvidian theory after Helvidius, who lived in Rome, and wrote against the majority opinion — the Epiphanian theory.

This was the state of the matter when, in or about 383, Jerome, then a young man, at the insistence of others, wrote a reply to Helvidius. In his treatise he set forth a new theory. This Hieronymian theory (named after Jerome, whose Greek name is Hieronymos) draws its importance from its acceptance as the fixed and settled belief of the Roman Catholic Church.

There are several other minor theories, which can he set aside as being built upon arbitrary assumptions or improbable combinations of known facts, which from their artificial character have failed to gain any acceptance. Examples are: (1) "Brethren" stands for "foster-brethren," Joseph having undertaken the charge of his brother Cleopas' children after their father's death; (2) The Lord's brethren had a double parentage, Joseph having raised seed to his deceased brother Clopas by his widow according to the Levirate law; (3) The cousins of Jesus were rewarded with the title of His brethren, because they were His steadfast disciples, while His own brothers opposed Him, John 7:5. "In themselves indeed they can neither be proved nor disproved. But it is safer to aim at the most probable deduction from known facts than to build up a theory on an imaginary foundation." (J. B. Lightfoot)

Hieronymian Theory

Jerome's complicated arguments run something like this:

(1) James, the Lord's brother, was an apostle, as per Gal. 1:19.

(2) Jerome insists that the word "apostle" can be used only of the Twelve, that it can be used of them alone. This being so, we must look for the Lord's brother among the twelve. He cannot be James, the brother of John and the son of Zebedee; he was martyred before Gal. 1:19, as Acts 12:2 points out. The only other James among the Twelve is James the son of Alphaeus, so this is the Lord's brother.

(3) Jerome further identifies James the Less of Mk. 15:40 with James, the Lord's brother of Mk. 6:3, Hence, he maintains, James the brother of the Lord, James the son of Alphaeus, and James the Less are one and the same person.

(4) The final step in his argument rests on a deduction from the lists of the women at the crucifixion of the Lord. Mark 15:40 mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome. Matthew 27:56 lists Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, the mother of Zebedee's children. John 19:25 lists Jesus' mother, His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene is mentioned in all three passages. Salome is generally believed to be the same as the mother of Zebedee's children. The real problem involves John 19:25. Does John mention three women or four? Should the list read:

Jesus' mother Jesus' mother's sister

Mary the wife of Cleopas Mary Magdalene

Or, Jesus' mother

Jesus' mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas Mary Magdalene.

Jerome maintained that John listed only three women, that Jesus' mother's sister and Mary the wife of Cleopas are the same person. So then, Jesus' mother's sister must be the Mary mentioned in the other lists as the mother of James and Joses. This means that James is the son of Mary's sister and is therefore Jesus' cousin.

Criticism Of The Hieronymian Theory

(1) James, again and again, is called the Lord's brother (adelphos-Greek). This word is used of fleshly brothers and of those of a common fellowship (Christians call one another brother), but at the very least it is doubtful that the word can mean "cousin."

(2) Jerome was absolutely wrong in assuming that the word "apostle" can only be used of one of the Twelve. Paul was an apostle. (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1,2; 2 Cor. 1:1 Gal. 1:1) Barnabas was called an apostle. (Acts 14:14; 1 Cor. 9:6) In 2 Cor. 8:23 Paul speaks of Titus and certain brethren as being "messengers" (Greek - apostles) of the churches.

(3) Jerome's argument depends upon John 19:25 referring to only three women, when in effect, it refers to four. It seems highly unlikely that Mary the mother of Jesus would have a sister of the same name. (For a more elaborate argument on this point see the first article on the Kinsmen of the Lord.)

(4) J. B. Lightfoot further adds that Jerome makes absolutely no appeal to earlier writers to prove his theory. The Hieronymian theory comes upon the scene around 383 A.D. as a completely new interpretation.

The two theories, the Epiphanian and the Helvidian, will be noticed in another article.

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