On The O’Reilly Factor a few days ago, Bill O’Reilly read an email a viewer had submitted of scripture that named the brothers of Jesus. Mr. O’Reilly emphatically replied that he and Martin Dugard had determined through their research that Jewish families during Jesus’ time lived in communal homes and every boy in the home was considered a brother.
Mr. O’Reilly’s research is correct, but he fails to mention that many Jews also lived in single family homes. Especially if the father worked in a carpentry shop, as Joseph would have done. In those days, a carpenter shop was often located in the front of a dwelling, while the family lived in rooms behind the shop. Instead of multiple families, the larger communal homes were usually inhabited by many generations of one family. Would cousins, uncles, fathers and grandfathers be considered brothers?
The only way to uncover anything about Jesus’ life between the time He returned from Egypt until He began His ministry at the age of thirty is through research and the study of historic customs. The only scriptural insight into those years is the incident when Jesus was twelve years old. The next verse is the only scripture mentioning the eighteen silent years between the age of twelve and thirty. Luke 2:51 states, “He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart and Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.”
This is probably the most powerful, totally ignored verse in the entire New Testament. This scripture implies Jesus lived a very normal, well-disciplined earthly life for eighteen years. He was not a rebel as some chose to assume, because rebels do not grow in favor with God or man.
I am not trying to convince anyone that my research is more accurate than anyone else’s, but to present some facts that may suggest a different conclusion. After years of research, I have discovered that scripture holds the answers I need if I am willing to spend the time digging deeper into what is actually written. Using scripture, I would like to offer a different theory from Mr. O’Reilly’s.
Matthew 13:55 asks, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” If Jesus lived in a communal environment where everyone is considered one big family and all the boys are brothers wouldn’t the other women in that community also be considered Jesus’ mother? Matthew clearly recognizes Jesus’ mother and His brothers by name. In this scripture, Matthew gives the same personal relationship to these four men and sisters as he does Jesus’ mother, Mary, whom we know is Jesus’ biological mother.
In Mark 6:3, the question is again asked, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” Mark also recognizes this same personal relationship with the mother and the brothers and sisters.
We also know Joseph and Mary had sexual relations after Jesus was born. Matthew 1:25 clearly states, “But he (Joseph) had no union with her (Mary) until she gave birth to a son.” Every word of the scripture is God-breathed so if God didn’t intend for them to have intimate union, why would Matthew add “until she gave birth to a son” to his statement.
Mary was a young healthy girl, and Joseph was a healthy young man. They had an intimate relationship. The only means of birth control was natural. The scripture offers no indication that other children were not conceived during their sexual encounters. If fact, scripture references and human behavior suggest the opposite result.
The fact that scripture states Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man implies Jesus was not an only child. How many only children do you know who grow in favor with God and man? His family was part of His life experience. Jesus had such an in-depth understanding of the trials and tribulations of earthly life because He was exposed to everyday life including relationships between siblings and cousins.
Luke 3:23 states, “Jesus was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph”. God wanted people to think Jesus was the son of Joseph until the time came for God’s plan to be fulfilled. He did not want Jesus to stand out as being different in any way. With two healthy earthly parents, would it have been unusual for Jesus to be an only child?
The bottom line, as Mr. O’Reilly would say, I cannot disprove Bill O’Reilly’s assumption, but neither can he disprove mine. The fact that only four men were specifically mentioned as Jesus’ brothers by two of Jesus’ closest friends implies their relationship was more than a communal friend. And because they were mentioned in the same context as His mother, Mary, perhaps these men were indeed his half-brothers who shared the same mother and the same earthly father, but only Jesus had a heavenly Father. Some day we will know with certainty the final answer to all our questions. Until then, we can only make an informed decision based on research and information God provides through the scripture.