THE FAMILY OF JESUS
T. PIERCE BROWN
One of the most outstanding things that strikes us as we read of the scriptures in Matthew 13:53-58 and John 7:1-5 is the fact that those who should have been closest to Jesus seemed to understand and believe in Him the least. However, there are some other significant lessons evident as we study the family of Jesus. Because Jesus himself indicated that in the truest, deepest sense, His family included those who do His will (Mk.3:31-35), we shall compare the physical and spiritual family of Jesus.
THEIR LOWLY STATUS. The lowly background of Jesus and His family is indicated by at least three things: First, although the proper and usual offerings for purification was a “lamb of the first year” and a “young turtledove or pigeon” (Lev. 12:1-8), for those who were too poor for that offering, permission was given for bringing two turtledoves or two pigeons. The parents of Jesus brought that offering (Luke2:24). Thus we see that His family was among the poorest and most humble, from the viewpoint of the world.
Second, when He is mentioned in Matthew 13:35, and Mark 6:3 as “the carpenter,” and “the carpenter’s son,” it is with apparent contempt at His lowly station in life. Third, Jesus said in Matthew8:20, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”
As the physical family of Jesus was of humble origin, so must the spiritual family be. Jesus said in Matthew 18:3-4, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
HIS PARENTS. The miracle of the birth of Jesus seems to be a big stumbling block on which the little faith of many has fallen. But if we disregard or disbelieve the simple explanation of the gospel narratives, we have a bigger miracle to explain. We must explain how a mere man could “do these things–except God be with him” (John 3:2). We must explain how He spake as never man spake, with wisdom, authority, and insight. We must either believe that He had no sin (in which case He is the Son of God as He claimed), or believe that the biggest liar and farce the world ever produced did more good by His lying farce than the rest of the world has ever done by any other means! It would be easier to believe that healthy drinking water could be piped from a cesspool, and babies nourished on rat poison than to believe that Jesus was a liar, under the circumstances. It is not the purpose of this article to attempt to prove anything about the Virgin Birth of our Lord. But we will simply call attention to the fact that in order to be the perfect manifestation of God, He must have proceeded from God. John says, “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” And yet, in order to be so representative of man that He could feel our infirmity, have our nature, and bear our sins in His body on the cross, He had to be the Son of Man.
It may be well at this point to note what seems to be a slight distinction between the expression “son of God” and “child of God.” In the King James Version, little, if any distinction is made in the expressions. In the ASV, when the Greek word “teknon” is used, it is translated “child,” and where the word “huios” is used, it is translated “son.” One of the differences seems to be that whereas the word “child” is used when the primary reference is simply to an offspring, or a little child who is under tutors or is immature, the word “son” is used when the primary reference is to one who is mature enough to indicate the characteristics of his father. As in the case of most words, which are practically synonyms, they overlap in meaning, but the distinctions indicated above seem evident. However, the maturity indicated by the term “son” may be positional rather than practical. That is, one who is a “son” may have certain privileges of a full-grown heir, but may not choose to exercise them. At any rate, we notice that Barnabas is called “son of consolation” (Acts4:36), but not “child of consolation.” Luke 10:6 speaks of a “son of peace.” James and John were called “sons of thunder.” So when Jesus was called the Son of God, it includes the fact that He has the characteristics of God. When He is called the Son of Man, it includes the idea that He has the characteristics of man.
Those in the spiritual family of Jesus must also be sons of God. As He was physically begotten of the Spirit, so must we be begotten spiritually. Galatians3:26says, “For we are all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus,” and verse 27 goes on to show how we got to be sons of God by faith. “For as many of us as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Again Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:15, “I have begotten you through the gospel.”
HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS. Although the Bible is plain about the brothers and sisters of Jesus (Mt. 13:53-57; Jn. 7:1-5; Lk. 8:19-21; Mk. 3:31-35; Mt. 12:46-50), because of the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to glorify Mary as presenting her as a “perpetual Virgin” (for whatever value that may have), almost every kind of ingenious hypothesis which the clever, depraved mind of man can invent has been set forth to circumvent the plain statements of scripture.
Since not one iota of proof can be found in the Bible (nor actually even a hint or suggestion) that these were either children of Joseph by a previous marriage, or cousins (as many commentaries influenced by Roman Catholic traditions suggest), we would do well to disregard the whole theory as another in the multitude of Roman traditions and proceed with a study having more practical value. However, we may briefly examine the closest thing that comes to a reasonable argument about the term. It is usually said, “The Hebrew word is used in various senses in the O.T. as : 1. Any kinsman, and not a mere brother. 2. One of the same tribe. 3. Of the same people.” All of these things may be true, but of course have nothing to do with its use in the New Testament.
Kittel, the most recent, up-to-date and authoritative source says in “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” Vol. I, page 144, “In the NT, “adelphos” and “adelphe” denote either `physical brotherhood’ in the strict sense (emp. mine. TPB), or more generally the `spiritual brotherhood’ of Israelites and Christians.” In other words, it NEVER means “cousin” or “near relative.” Any studious person with a good concordance and a Bible can verify that fact. The word translated “cousin” twice and “kinsman” seven times is “suggenes,” not “adelphos.” Even if by some strained effort one should make out a case that sometimes “brother” might mean something besides “brother,” he would still have to prove that “sister” did not mean “sister” in order to prove that Mary had no more children besides Jesus. Actually, we do not care whether or not Mary remained a “perpetual Virgin” or whether Jesus actually had any fleshly brothers and sisters except for the fact that the Bible says, “And (Joseph) knew her not till she had brought forth her first born son” (Mt.1:25). And it says in several places that He had brothers and sisters. Our respect for the authority of the Bible forces us to refute any denial of it.
Membership in His physical family was simply on the basis of physical birth, and did not, of itself, bring any attendant spiritual blessings, as far as we can tell from the Bible. In order to become a member of His spiritual family we must also be born into it. But since this is a spiritual birth, it brings all the spiritual blessings God provided. In view of such verses as Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5, most commentaries we have seen indicate that we are adopted into the family of God. But none of these verses are speaking of getting into the family. They are rather speaking of the ultimate glory and heirship of one who is already a son, as Romans8:23clearly shows. It speaks of “the adoption” as a thing for which we (who are sons) await–the redemption of the body. The son has the “spirit of adoption,” but if we allow the inspired writer to define the term he uses, we must understand “adoption” to refer to the position of adult sons who receive the ultimate reward–being joint heirs with Christ–and not simply to the new birth. Arndt and Gingrich almost suggest this, when on page 841 of “A Greek English Lexicon” they state, “The believers enter into full enjoyment of their “uiothesia” (adoption) only when the time of fulfillment releases them from the earthly body.”
With reference to becoming a part of the family of the Lord, Jesus Himself said, “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mark3:35). But how does one start doing His will? He says, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter thekingdomofGod” (John 3:5). Since Peter says in 1 Peter 2:23, “Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever,” and since Paul says in 1 Cor. 4:15, “I have begotten you through the gospel,” and since he said in Romans 1:16, “For the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” we can see that one becomes a part of the kingdom of God, the family of Jesus, the saved, by hearing the gospel and obeying it (2 Thes. 2:8).
John1:12teaches that everyone who believes on Christ has the POWER to become a son of God. Paul teaches in Romans 6:17 how to exercise that power–by obeying from the heart the form of doctrine delivered unto them. This is done by dying to the love and practice of sin through repentance, being buried with Christ in baptism into His death (Romans 6:4), and then being raised to walk a new life. So, when Peter, in Acts2:38says, “Repent ye, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins,” he is telling us how to be a part of the family of Jesus, for this was and is the will of God. That is the climax of the new birth that gets us into His family.
May God grant that today those who should be closest to Him in His spiritual family may not be the last to really show the proper kind of faith in Him in continual work and a walk of faith!