I noticed that you indicated in a question concerning how many were in Jesus' family, that he may have had 4 brothers and at least 3 sisters. My question -- and something that bothers me and no one has ever been able to answer to my satisfaction is -- if Jesus had such a large family and Jews were noted to care for their parents, why does Mary go to live under the care of the apostle John after Jesus died on the cross? Sorry to say, the only logical explanation is the Catholic position that Jesus was the only child.
Answer by John Oakes, Gordon Ferguson, and myself:
We agree that it is strange that the Beloved Disciple (presumably John) would be entrusted with the mother of the Lord, since his younger brothers were still alive. Yet Jesus, as firstborn son and head of the family, had the right to appoint a protector for his mother. Besides, John was in fact there at the foot of the Cross, whereas Jesus´ brothers were nowhere to be found.
We are familiar with the Catholic position, but think we must also take account of the fact that according to early church tradition James and Jude were Jesus' brothers; this certainly wasn't made up by Protestants in later centuries. Ockham tells us that a later historical revision is not likely the truth.
Consider, for example, the second century testimony of Hegesippus (related in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae III, ch. 19-20):
But when this same Domitian had commanded that the descendants of David should be slain, an ancient tradition says that some of the heretics brought accusation against the descendants of Jude (said to have been a brother of the Saviour according to the flesh), on the ground that they were of the lineage of David and were related to Christ himself. Hegesippus relates these facts in the following words:
"Of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord's brother according to the flesh. Information was given that they belonged to the family of David, and they were brought to the Emperor Domitian by the Evocatus. For Domitian feared the coming of Christ as Herod also had feared it. And he asked them if they were descendants of David, and they confessed that they were. Then he asked them how much property they had, or how much money they owned. And both of them answered that they had only nine thousand denarii, half of which belonged to each of them; and this property did not consist of silver, but of a piece of land which contained only thirty-nine acres, and from which they raised their taxes and supported themselves by their own labor. Then they showed their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies and the callousness produced upon their hands by continuous toil as evidence of their own labor. And when they were asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear at the end of the world, when he should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto everyone according to his works. Upon hearing this, Domitian did not pass judgment against them, but, despising them as of no account, he let them go, and by a decree put a stop to the persecution of the Church. But when they were released they ruled the churches because they were witnesses and were also relatives of the Lord. And peace being established, they lived until the time of Trajan."
Thus it appears that these were Jesus' literal brothers. For what reason they allowed the Beloved Disciple to provide his home for the care of their mother, we are not told. Perhaps Jesus was expanding the notion of Christian family, just as he did in Mark 3:31-35.
Further, Jesus made it clear that in some sense the spiritual family was closer and more important than the physical one. What the Jews did or didn't do seemed to be of little concern to Jesus. He bashed most traditions he could--with relish, it seems--and in this case, he thought John was his closest brother and would best take care of his mom--especially at that juncture in time when his physical half-brothers and sisters were pretty faithless. Mary may well have ended up being cared for by one of her biological children (or several) before her life was over, but at the cross, only John was trusted by Jesus to do it.
Whatever explanation we choose must explain all the data, or at least more of the data than alternate explanations.