The story of Jesus’ birth is well known. His mother was pregnant before she was married and he was born in a manger. But what do we know about the family he was born into? Jesus’ family could trace its roots all the way back to David, and even Abraham, but they weren’t royalty by any means. His earthly father, Joseph, was a righteous man, and a carpenter.
Most people know some of the basics about Jesus’ family, but there’s a lot more we can gather from Scripture. Here are five interesting facts about Jesus’ earthly family:
1. He and his family had common names
Jesus’ known family members include his mother Mary, his father Joseph, and his three brothers, James, Jude (or Judas-not to be confused with Judas Iscariot), and Simon (not to be confused with Simon Peter).
Jesus is a Greek form of Joshua, meaning “savior,” but it was a pretty common name. Like many Jewish boys in his day, Jesus was likely named after the man God chose to lead Israel after Moses died. The man God used to claim and establish the lands of his people. Archaeologists have discovered the tombs of more than 70 men with the name Jesus from around the time of Jesus’ death.
There seems to be seven Marys in the New Testament.
Jesus had two disciples named James.
Jesus’ father Joseph was likely named after Joseph, one of the heroes of Genesis.
These were common names, and they were ordinary people. Even though we’ve built them up in our minds, Jesus was born into a typical first-century Israelite family.
2. Mary treats Jesus like any other son
Jesus famously turns water into wine in John 2:1-11. This miracle likely would’ve never occurred, however, if Mary hadn’t prompted Jesus to help. In John 2:3-5, she tells Jesus there’s a problem, and he suggests he isn’t going to get involved: “Woman, why do you involve me?” He even offers an excuse: “My hour has not yet come.”
Mary responds by telling the servants to do whatever he says, as if to say, “So? Do something.” And then he does.
3. His birth was a family scandal
Before he was born, angels appeared separately to Mary (Luke 1:30-37) and Joseph (Matthew 1:20-21), affirming that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit. While this was enough to convince Joseph not to divorce Mary, that doesn’t mean everyone believed them. She was at least three months pregnant before she married Joseph (Luke 1:56). There was no hiding the pregnancy.
It’s not very likely that people believed Mary and Joseph’s story about their pregnancy, and why would they? Unfortunately, the only other explanation didn’t paint the couple in the best light.
4. Jesus’ family struggled to understand his behavior
Everywhere Jesus went, crowds swelled around him until there was no room, but at the same time the Pharisees are beginning to turn against him. In Mark 3, Jesus and his newly-appointed disciples entered a home, and so many people followed that Jesus couldn’t even eat.
It must have been hard for Mary and Jesus’ brothers to understand why Jesus would be drawing such huge crowds but upsetting religious authority figures. If he was truly the Messiah, wouldn’t the Pharisees be the first to know? So, they decided they needed to step in.
“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” -Mark 3:21 (NIV)
Similarly, the teachers of the Law said he was possessed (Mark 3:22).
The people who knew Jesus best and the people who supposedly knew God the best were completely taken by surprise when Jesus began his ministry. Who did Jesus think he was?
His family stood outside and sent someone to fetch him. The crowd told him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you” (Mark 3:32).
Likely adding to the confusion, Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33) and goes on to say that “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and my sister and my mother” (Mark 3:35).
5. Jesus gives John responsibility for Mary
As he hung on the cross, Jesus saw John and his mother, bewildered and grieving. In his darkest moment, Jesus made sure that Mary would be cared for:
“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” -John 19:26-27 (NIV)
Tell your friends about Jesus’ family
Even if you’re intimately familiar with the gospel, it’s not always easy to start a conversation about it. Despite his divinity, there was much about Jesus that was ordinary. He was fully God and fully human. He ate food and drank water. He slept. He walked. He had parents, brothers, and relatives.