Who constituted the household of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth? Was Jesus the only child in the family circle; or, if there were other children, in what relation did they stand to Him? The gospel writers often mention His brothers and sisters. Who were they? This question has been in dispute from very early times, and many elaborate essays have been written upon it. Its impartial discussion has been hindered by dogmatic considerations connected with the perpetual virginity of the Lord's mother, with denominational issues, and with the canonicity of non-Apostolic epistles. Passing by these for the present, and avoiding, so far as possible, mere conjectures, let us attempt to bring the matter in its more important bearings fairly before us.
Let us first sum up what we know from the New Testament of the brothers and sisters of the Lord. They are mentioned in Matthew 12:46-50, 13:55-56; Mark 3:31, 6:3; Luke 8:19; John 2:12, 7:3; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; and Paul speaks of a James the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19). Of the brothers, there seem to have been four who are named in Matthew 13:55: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (see Mark 6:3). Matthew and Mark mention the sisters, but neither the number nor the names are given. From the language of the Nazarenes (Matthew 13:56, "His sisters, are they not all with us?"), there must have been at least two, probably more, and apparently married, and resident at Nazareth. These brothers and sisters are not mentioned at all until after the Lord began His ministry and are first mentioned as going with His mother and Himself to Capernaum (John 2:12). It is in dispute whether any were believers in His Messianic claims, at least until the very end of His ministry (John 7:3-10). Most say that they were made believers through His resurrection, as they appear in company with the Apostles (Acts 1:14).
In all the references to the Lord's brethren several things are noticeable: first, that they are always called brothers and sisters, not cousins or kinsmen; second, that their relationship is always defined with reference to Him, not to Joseph or to Mary; they are always called His brothers and sisters, not sons and daughters of Mary; third, that they always appear in connection with Mary (except in John 7:3) as if her children, members of her household, and under her direction.
Adapted from The Life of Our Lord upon the Earth by Samuel James Andrews.