“What happened to the family of Jesus after his death and resurrection?” Ensign, Sept. 1975, 36–37
Gerald N. Lund, curriculum specialist, Department of Seminaries and Institutes
While the answer to this question is yes, it is important to realize that the New Testament writers did not intend to give a comprehensive picture of the personal or family life of Jesus. Their purpose was to portray Jesus as the Christ and to convey the significance of that fact to the world. This partially explains why we have almost no information about the early years of Jesus and why references to his family life are scanty and usually incidental to the main narrative.
We do know that Jesus had four brothers and probably three or more sisters. The people of Nazareth objected to the divine calling of Jesus on the grounds that he was someone who had grown up in their midst. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” they asked in astonishment, “is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
“And his sisters, are they not all with us?” (Matt. 13:55–56; italics added.) This is the only reference to the sisters of Jesus (other than in the parallel passage in Mark 6:1–6) in the New Testament and nothing more is known of their involvement with the Church or their attitude toward the Savior.
Though the record is also silent concerning the later life of Joseph, most scholars assume that he died sometime during the 18 years between the family’s visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 (see Luke 2:41–50) and the beginning of Christ’s formal ministry. If Joseph had been alive, it seems likely that he would have been mentioned as being at the marriage celebration in Cana (see John 2:1–11) and almost certainly Jesus would not have given John the charge to care for his mother. (See John 19:25–27.)
The brothers of Jesus—or more correctly, the half-brothers of Jesus—receive more mention, however. John tells us that the brethren of Jesus did not fully accept him as the Messiah while he was laboring among them (see John 7:5), but evidently, they were converted shortly thereafter, for Luke records that immediately after Christ’s ascension into heaven, the Church met in “prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (Acts 1:14.) Also, Paul includes James in his list of those who had seen the resurrected Lord. (See 1 Cor. 15:7.)
More is known about James than any of the other brothers of Jesus. He is mentioned several times in Acts and the epistles as playing a prominent role in the leadership of the church. He takes, for example, a leading role in the great Jerusalem Council, which debated the issue of circumcision for Gentiles. (See Acts 15.) It was James who suggested that a letter be drafted outlining the official Church position on this matter. (See Acts 15:19–20.) Perhaps it should be noted here that some erroneously assume that the James of Acts 15 was James, the son of Zebedee, who served in the presidency of the early church with Peter and John. That James, however, was killed by Herod in a wave of persecution against the church. (See Acts 12:1–2.) This was about A.D. 44, five or six years before the Jerusalem Council.
In his letter to the Galatian saints, Paul refers to James, the Lord’s brother, as an apostle (see Gal. 1:19) and classes him, along with Peter and John, as “pillars” of the church. (See Gal. 2:9.) Some have conjectured from that comment of Paul that James, the brother of the Lord, not only became an apostle, but even filled the vacancy in the presidency caused by the martyrdom of James, the son of Zebedee. The fact that James declared the official policy of the church at the Jerusalem Council would lend added support to that supposition. (Of course, based on present knowledge, it remains conjecture, and is not considered fact.)
It was James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote the epistle of James. Not only does this short letter contain some of the great teachings of gospel doctrine, but in it Joseph Smith found the words which sent him to the sacred grove in the spring of 1820. (See James 1:5–6.) It is interesting to note that in that epistle James does not refer to himself as the brother of the Lord but as his servant. (See James 1:1.)
The writer of the epistle of Jude refers to himself as the brother of James (see Jude 1:1) and so most scholars assume this is Judas, another of the Lord’s brothers. Though he does not call himself an apostle, the fact that his letter would be recognized and accepted as authoritative suggests that he too may have been an apostle.
Nothing more is recorded of Simon and Joses in the New Testament, but an ancient tradition, preserved for us by the early church historian, Eusebius, states that Simon later became bishop of the church in Jerusalem and was finally crucified in the Roman persecutions under the emperor Trajan.
Aside from the reference to Mary meeting with the Church shortly after the ascension of her Son (see Acts 1:14), we have no record of her after the events of the crucifixion. Ancient traditions, which are not always reliable, tell us that Mary associated with the church in Jerusalem for many years, and finally accompanied John to Ephesus, where she eventually died.
But Mary’s contribution to the church and to the work of her Son may be more lasting than most people realize. Luke frankly admits that he is writing his gospel from material he has gathered from eyewitnesses of Christ’s life. (See Luke 1:1–4.) Many Bible scholars believe that Luke gathered these materials for his gospel while Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years before being sent to Rome for trial before the emperor. (See Acts 24:26–27.) Caesarea was only about 50 miles northwest of Jerusalem. If Mary was still in Jerusalem, what better source of information concerning the life of the Master could there be than his mother?
Some unique characteristics of Luke’s gospel support the possibility that Mary was one of Luke’s sources. First, only in Luke is there a detailed record of the story of the birth of Christ. Matthew records the visits of the angel Gabriel, and of the later visit of the wise men, but it is to Luke we turn to read of the manger and the shepherds, the crowded inn and the swaddling clothes. Only in Luke do we find an account of Gabriel’s words to the young Mary (see Luke 1:26–38), of Mary’s visit to Elisabeth (see Luke 1:39–56), of the nativity (see Luke 2:1–20), of the circumcision of Jesus and the inspired declarations of Anna and Simeon in the temple (see Luke 2:21–38), and of the teaching of the young Jesus in the temple at the age of 12. (See Luke 2:39–52.) And interestingly enough, Luke, who exhibits some of the most polished and refined Greek in the New Testament, uses a Greek that is rough and filled with Hebraic style in the chapters that tell us of the infancy and childhood of Jesus. So markedly different is it from the rest of his work, that one scholar called these verses “translation Greek,” a concept that would perfectly support the idea that this information was supplied by Mary.
The information about the family of Jesus that has survived the erasing effects of time is sketchy and incomplete. Yet the evidence we do have suggests strongly that the family of the Savior played active and prominent roles in the early development and history of the Church of Jesus Christ.