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Christian Nepotism

Friday, February 16th, 2007

At Christianity’s dawning, believers were coming to the church in families. Jesus’ family was no exception.

Although they preferred to refer to themselves as “servants” of Christ, Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, were major contributors to the cause, having contributed two of the books of the New Testament.

It is also a fact that John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, was a “relative” to Jesus’ mother, Mary (Lk. 1:36). So Jesus’ cousin also served as his forerunner.

That is not all. The gospel accounts hint at a family relationship between Jesus and two of his apostles, James and John, whom he nicknamed “Sons of Thunder.” John tells us, “But, standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (19:25). Some scholars argue that only three women are mentioned here, and “Mary the wife of Clopas” was Jesus’ aunt. But it is more likely that four women are listed, Mary’s sister being separate from the other Mary. How likely is it that sisters would wear the same name?

If this is the case, it would be natural to associate Jesus’ aunt with the mother of the apostles James and John, using Matthew and Mark. Both mention only three women, probably because their accounts follow John’s, which describes John removing Jesus’ mother from the scene. Mary Magdalene and the mother of James the Less and of Joseph are found in both, leaving one discrepancy, the third woman. In Matthew’s account she is called “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mt. 27:56); in Mark she is “Salome.” Since the accounts agree in number, it makes sense to deduce that Salome and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (James and John) were one and the same.

This being the case, John’s account serves as compelling evidence that Jesus and the Sons of Thunder were cousins. This would explain why John doesn’t name her, for it was his custom to withhold the names of himself and his family members. Personally, he would use the designation, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It also explains why Jesus left the care of his mother to John (J.W. McGarvey, The Fourfold Gospel, p. 225).

So the gospel was, at least in part, a family affair. Family members often have trouble believing in the greatness of their relatives. In fact, at first Jesus’ brothers did not believe him (Jn. 7:5). Therefore, the fact that Jesus convinced his mother, his aunt, and his cousins to face persecution for his cause is strong testimony to its validity.