Q&A: Jesus, His Mother, and John

Jesus, His Mother, and John

Question

Referring to John 19:26, I heard a Catholic say that if Mary had other children and Jesus gave his mother to the care of John, he would be going against the law because the law states that the next eldest sibling would have the responsibility to care of her. This also implies that if Mary had other children, Jesus would have disobeyed the law to take his mother away from his family. But Jesus wouldn't disobey the law and therefore Mary did not have other children. Can you respond to this claim? Also, is it correct that the law states that the next eldest sibling would have the responsibility to care for her? If so, where is this law found? Is it in the Old Testament? If so, which passage? Also, did Jesus disobey this law? If so, how should we defend this?

Answer

Your question made reference to this passage, John 19:25-27:

But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Mary was by now without a husband. In the Bible the last time we hear of Joseph is when Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2: 41-50). Thus it appears Joseph died while Jesus was somewhere between age 12 and approximately 33 years of age.

In biblical tradition firstborn sons in each family were set apart to the Lord (cf. Exod. 13:2, 12-13; 22:29; 34:19; Num. 3:13; 8:16-27; Luke 2:23, etc.). The eldest son normally received a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17) and the head of household fell upon him. Since Jesus was the eldest child he would have assumed the responsibility as the head of the household and, knowing that he was going to die, he honored the fifth commandment by making provision for his mother (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; cf. Eph. 6:2-3; 1 Tim. 5:3, 8).

It’s reasonable to ask why Jesus didn’t assign this task to one of his half-brothers (1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19; Mark 6:3). The logical flow of thought could be stated something like this:

(1) The Bible doesn't tell us if any of Jesus' brothers were at the crucifixion (John 19:25-27). However, before the crucifixion his brothers thought Jesus was "out of his mind" (Mark 3:21) and so it is likely they weren't at the crucifixion to take responsibility in the first place.

(2) It appears that none of Jesus' natural half-brothers believed the gospel until after the resurrection. John 7:5 states, "For even his own brothers did not believe in him." While it is not recorded that Jesus' half-brothers were at his crucifixion, after Jesus' resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:5) they were in the upper room with his disciples and mother (Acts 1:14). So, only after his resurrection did at least some of Jesus' half-brothers become believers (1 Cor. 9:5). For instance, James was a leader and apostle in the church (Gal. 1:19; 2:9; Acts 12:17; 15:13);

(3) In the Old Testament we read of birthright sanctions being invoked for family unfaithfulness. For instance, firstborn Esau sold his birthright and Jacob inherited the double portion (Gen. 25:29–34; Heb. 12:16). When Reuben, the firstborn of the first wife, proved to be unworthy by committing adultery with Bilhah (Gen. 35:21-22; Gen. 49:3-4), the birthright went to the firstborn son of the second wife, that being Joseph, the son of Rachel (1 Chron. 5:1). Since Jesus' half-bothers were still unbelievers at the time of crucifixion, covenant sanctions would have fallen upon them.

(4) Jesus had other brothers: "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35). The disciples and other believers would qualify to replace Jesus' half-brothers at the time of the crucifixion.

(5) Jesus and John were in all probability cousins. From Matthew we know that James and John were the sons of Zebedee (Matt. 4;21). By comparing Matthew and Mark we discover that Salome was the name of the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40). From John we see that Salome was Mary's sister (John 19:25). Therefore, James and John were very likely Jesus’ first cousins.

So, Jesus would have biblically selected one of his close disciples – John, "the disciple Jesus loved" (John 13:23), a believer, a brother, and his relative – to take on the responsibility of caring for his mother.

And how interesting that we are later able to see that James seemed to have learned a lesson from Jesus concerning his mother: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (Jas. 1:27).

With regard to answering the Catholic perspective, please see "What is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary?" below.

Related Topics:

What is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).