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Jesus' cousins were the Apostles James and John

This is a post I’d really like to get your comment on …

Most people know that Jesus and John the Baptist were second cousins, but few know that the Apostles James and John were Jesus’ first cousins.

I’ve always found John the Baptist interesting because I was born on the feast day of St. John the Baptist (June 24th) and was actually named “John” for this reason. Jay is a nickname. I later became the editor of The Forerunner which is another name for John the Baptist. John was a bold prophet who spoke the word of God without fear for his own life. James and John were similar. They were called the “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus. The Apostle John is also known as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” So my other namesake, the Apostle John, is interesting to me as well.

This is something I discovered this year while reading a book on the canonicity of the Bible. Jesus’ first cousins were James and John. I doubted this when I first read it, but the more I looked at the scriptures concerning the relationships, the more convinced I became that this is right. It has significance because it helps to explain how the New Testament canon came about. It also helps to explain several other obscure passages in the New Testament scriptures.

I’ll write more on that later, but first the data. Read the following and decide for yourself if Salome is the wife of Zebedee, the mother of James and John, and Mary’s sister. If you disagree or agree, I’d like to get your comments.

1. In the Gospel of Matthew, James and John are identified as the sons of Zebedee.

“And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father” (Matthew 4:21).

2. Standing among the women near the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary was the mother of Zebedee’s children as identified by the Gospel of Matthew.

“Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children (Matthew 27:56).

3. Standing among the women near the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary was Salome as identified by the Gospel of Mark.

“There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome“ (Mark 15:40).

4. Salome was Jesus’ mother’s sister as the apostle John himself states, about his own mother. Mark’s Gospel account refers to her by name. John’s Gospel account refers to her by her relationship to Mary.

“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25).

From Matthew’s account we know that James and John were the sons of Zebedee. By comparing Matthew and Mark we discover that Salome was the name of wife of the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John. From John we see that Salome was Mary’s sister.

I first thought that there could be other women in the account as well, but the order of the names and the similarity of the language in the accounts leads me to be almost certain that Jesus’ mother’s sister is Salome, the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John. Therefore, James and John were Jesus’ first cousins.

The implications of this are enormous when we consider how the various books of the New Testament were compiled and the roles that James and John, and also the “brothers of the Lord” James and Jude, had in writing and compiling the New Testament canon.

I’ll write more on that idea next.


Your comments are welcome!

Great work.

Posted by Arlynda on 01/29/2015 11:22 AM #

In my study, I decided that the only other possibility is there were more than four women at the tomb and that Salome and Mary's sister are two separate people. I find the alternative is more likely that they are one and the same. It is also interesting to note that one must piece it all together from four different passages in three Gospels to from the whole picture. But the Church Fathers seem to know this by tradition -- they don't exegete the texts to draw the conclusion.

I first discovered this relationship reading a book called The Original Bible Restored, by Ernest L. Martin, which is chock full of these little esoteric ideas. The book caused me to change my most basic presuppositions about the canonicity of the New Testament.

He also wrote an excellent book defending the historicity of eh Nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke called: The Star That Astonished the World. I don't agree with 100 percent of what martin wrote, but these two studies have become favorites of mine and have challenged me to defend the authenticity, and historicity of the Bible. I produced a video series called The Real Jesus (available at this website) during the time I was studying this.

Martin also has another book in which he argues that the Apostles James and John were Aaronites and were serving as priests during the Passover when Jesus was killed. But I haven't read that book yet (Secrets of Golgotha).

I used to think the canon was determined by the church fathers and that the early Church councils somehow had the authority to decide this infallibly. As a Protestant that is an odd view to take. However, I came to it because I once asked R.C. Sproul in a call-in TV show how he knew that canon was decided correctly. He basically said he didn't know for sure, but that he has confidence looking at all the evidence that it was decided correctly.

I wasn't satisfied. Think about it: Protestants believe in sola Scriptura. So since he Bible doesn't have a table of contents that is inspired, how do we know we have all the right books?

As a result of seeing that paradox I adopted the view held by the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, that the Church preceded the Bible. Therefore, the apostolic church that wrote the Bible also had the authority to canonize the Bible.

I used to think that men such as Irenaeus and Tertullian had the authority to decide which books were canonical. I know thing that these men merely received a known canon that was transmitted directly to them by bishops -- such as Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and others -- who were ordained by Peter, John and Paul. Ironically, that was the view of Tertullian and Irenaeus themselves.

Posted by Jay Rogers on 01/29/2015 11:22 AM #

After reading Martin's book, I came full circle to sola Scriptura once again. I now believe that the canon was collated by Paul, Peter and John. The evidence for which books are canonical is in scripture itself. It begins with Jesus canonizing the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (the Tanakh). The close relationship between James, John and Jesus is another clue. With Peter they formed an inner circle to whom the greatest revelation was given -- there are several direct statements made by Jesus in recorded in the Gospels that show that through these three would carry the Revelation of Christ to the world.

Matthew, the Epistles of James and Jude get their canonical authority directly from Jesus. They were received and recognized by the Apostles at Jerusalem in the mid-60s prior to the Roman-Jewish War.

I believe that most of the NT (with the exception of John) was collated and canonized as scripture by the Apostles Peter and Paul and their bishops in Rome during the persecution under Nero.

Peter canonizes Paul's writings.

Paul canonizes Luke.

Peter canonizes Mark.

Peter and Paul (with the assistance of Luke, Timothy and some other bishops in Rome collate the all the NT books they have (including Hebrews) before they die in 67 AD.

John receives these books which were passed on to him in Ephesus. The bishops in Asia Minor receive John's books.

For a while (until the early 2nd century) the Church at Rome either did not receive John's books or simply did not know about them.

But in the east the canon was established very early -- before the death of John during the reign of Domitian.

I also hold that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are dependent on an earlier oral telling of the Gospel (they are independent) but that Luke also made use of written copies of Mark and was at least aware of Matthew. He also used oral accounts from Jesus' immediate family and cousins, including the Apostle John.

Posted by Jay Rogers on 01/29/2015 11:22 AM #

I have also come to believe that James and John were Jesus' first cousins.
This would explain why Jesus told John to take Mary as his mother.
It would explain why Salome (James and John's mother) felt comfortable
in asking Jesus to make them his right and left hands.
It would explain why they were the first to follow him.
When I was reading my Bible one day, I was suddenly struck by this fact.
I believe that only the Holy Spirit could have been the agent that
explained this to me.

Posted by  Bob Rutledge on 12/11/2007 08:36 AM #

I think there are two different women named Salome. The niece of Herod is Salome, but this is a different context. The Salome who came to the tomb is the mother of Zebedee's sons, obviously his wife.

Posted by Jay Rogers on 07/08/2009 02:25 PM #

Excuse me, I meant to say, Salome was both the niece and step-daughter of Herod and bore a grudge against John the Baptist because he said her mother Herodius' marriage to Herod was incestuous according to the law of Moses due to the fact that according to Josephus' Jewish Antiquities (Book XVIII, Chapter 5, 4):

Herodias, [...], was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great, who was born of Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the high priest, who had a daughter, Salome; after whose birth Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod, her husband's brother by the father's side, he was tetrarch of Galilee; but her daughter Salome was married to Philip, the son of Herod, and tetrarch of Trachonitis; and as he died childless, Aristobulus, the son of Herod, the brother of Agrippa, married her; they had three sons, Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus ...

Posted by Jay Rogers on 07/08/2009 02:31 PM #

And you if think YOUR family is messed up just think about that for a minute if you can untangle it in your mind!

Posted by Jay Rogers on 07/08/2009 02:33 PM #

Salome is never called the wife of Zebedee but rather the mother of Zebedee's sons. If Salome is also Joanna then she is the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward. Salome means peace and Joanna is a variation of John. It is quite likely that the mother of Zebedee's sons is the sister of Mary for she came to Jesus asking a favor for her sons. And also Jesus left His mother in the keeping of John. Remember Mary had no other children.

Posted by Anthony on 08/07/2009 05:14 PM #

Jay, when I first studied the NT scriptures in depth, during college, I came to the conclusion that Jesus and the first several disciples knew each other before He called them to follow Him. It made sense: why else would they have abandoned the trade that supported their families? Peter, at least, had a wife and mother-in-law, who depended on his income. So, to follow a perfect stranger is unlikely. But I have only this week heard that Jesus and the Sons of Zebedee might have been first cousins. That would SO make sense. That would explain why they were in training with John the Baptist, and why, when John sees Jesus one day (gospel of John), he tells James and John to follow Jesus because He is the Messiah. Jesus meets several of His disciples in Jerusalem before John is imprisoned and Jesus leaves town. It is likely they traveled back north together. Also, at the Wedding at Cana it says that Jesus AND HIS DISCIPLES were invited to the wedding. If they were family, that would make sense, because they are not yet traveling with him “officially.”

However, this last entry I find rather surprising, the one by Anthony. He claims Mary had no other children… that would go against the information we receive directly out of scripture. Though the gospels refer to the visit of Jesus’s mother and brothers as simply that, “His brothers” (not her sons), it stands to reason that they were her sons. They would otherwise not have traveled with her. They would have been with THEIR mother. so I am rather surprised by Anthony’s statement.

Posted by Carrie on 02/22/2012 09:34 AM #

Carrie - 

From my studies into the matter of Jesus being the only son of Mary, scripture does support Anthony’s statement. Mark6.3 says Jesus was the son of Mary. ‘The’ is singular, if Mary had other children, it would have read  ‘one of Mary’s sons’ or ‘a son of Mary’. John 6.42 shows the same language for Joseph.

It was traditional in those times that if someone did not have siblings, their nearest kinsman (i.e. cousins) would be referred to as their brothers. In Mark 15.40 it is another Mary that is called the mother of James and Joseph, who in Mark6.3 were identified as being with Mary. This would suggest that these men with Mary were related but not directly. 

It should also be noted that in the modern day, brother is used by many to refer to someone who is not their literal brother, but with whom they share a connection with (blood/social group) So this supports the idea that the use of ‘brother’ is not necessarily saying they are his literal brothers.

John19.26-27 shows Jesus giving his mother to the care of the beloved disciple. If Jesus would have had any brothers, according to the Jewish custom, they would have been obligated to take care of Mary after Jesus died. But  Jesus placed the care of His mother to another man, this would indicate that Mary had no other children who would look after her.

In Matthew1.25 where it refers to there being no sexual relations with Joseph before/until Mary gave birth, this use of words ‘before/until’ does not confirm that after birth they went on to have more children. 1Timothy4.13 says ‘Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. ‘ Paul isn’t saying that when he comes back that they should stop reading/preaching/teaching. Similar language used 2samuel6.23, she did not suddenly start having children after she died.

Luke2.7 reference to Jesus as the first born, this was his legal title, inheritance of the first born rites and privileges that Jewish custom follows, and doesn’t mean that he had other siblings.

Hope this helps you see why Anthony made his statement, even if you don’t hold the view yourself

Posted by Douglas on 03/20/2012 11:45 PM #

James was Jesus’ half brother. Seriously, do your homework.

Posted by Anonymous on 12/08/2012 07:49 PM #

Dear Anonymous,

The article deals with James the brother of John and the son of Zebedee, not James the brother of the Lord. There is a debate over whether James the “brother of the Lord” is actually a cousin of Jesus or Mary and Joseph’s son (Jesus’ half-brother). There are also some who say that this James is also the same person as “James the Less,” one of Jesus’ Apostles.

Posted by Jay Rogers on 12/11/2012 07:53 AM #

I just don’t see it – in Matthew & Mark it says “Mary” is the mother of James & John (Joses). “Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses” – it doesn’t say Salome was their mother. It may be plausible and probable, but I just don’t see it in scripture.

Posted by Elaine on 01/02/2013 03:11 PM #

Just a thought on James the Less and Joses’ Mother. We know that James the Less and Joses are not the same James and John (Zebedees Children) according to Mat 27:56 – “Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.” There is James the Less and Joses and there is James the Great and John whom Jesus Loved. The same verse here states that Mary the Mother of James and Joses was among the women at the crucifixion.
Notice there’s another Mary in the picture here other than Mary (the mother of Jesus). According to John 19:25 ““Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene”. Could this Mary (the wife of Cleophas) be the Mother of James and Joses? That would make more sense to me because the Mary in Mathew 27:56 does not say “Mary the Mother of Jesus” or “Mother of the Lord” which in all other places it refers to her that way instead of just “Mary”.
Another reason I believe this is, according to John 19:26-27, Mary the Mother of Jesus LEAVES THE SAME HOUR when Jesus told John to Behold his Mother and they go to Johns Home. John 19:26 “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27-Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own [home].” James and John live in Capernaum which is more than 100 miles from Jerusalem.
Notice shortly after the death of Jesus, that his body is taken to a sepulcher for the evening and the Mary of James and Joses, along with Mary Magdalen, beheld where he was laid. Mark 15:45-47 “And when he knew [it] of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. 46: And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. 47: And Mary Magdalene and Mary [the mother] of Joses beheld where he was laid.” Mary the Mother of Jesus would not have been at the Sepulchre because she had already left with John to go to His home.
This shows us that Mary the Mother of James the Less and Joses is Not Mary the Mother of Jesus but It is in fact Mary the wife of Cleopas.
Any other thoughts would be appreciated, Thanks! Feel free to email me at bwatson@titustransport.com

Posted by Bryan Watson on 05/02/2013 12:37 AM #

Jay Rogers - I think your right. That Mary Salome the wife of Zebedee or Mary the mother of James and John is identify as Virgin Mary’s (or Jesus Mother) sister therefore James and John is Jesus first cousin.We have in our house a life size image of Saint Mary Salome. When I analyze your blog, Mary Salome is said to be the wife of Zebedee and also the Mother of Saint James the Greater and Saint John the Evangelist. She is different from Mary mother of James and Joses. Jesus apostle have 2 different James. James the lesser is the son of Mary wife of Cleophas. and the other James is the son of Mary wife of Zebedee. Note that in the Crucifixion of Jesus or the women who stood by the cross are the 4 MARY’s. FIRST MARY the mother of Jesus (Virgin Mary). SECOND is MARY his mother's sister (Saint Mary Salome). The THIRD is MARY the wife of Cleophas (Mary Jacobe) and the FOURTH is MARY from the town of MAGDALA (or known as Mary Magdalene)

Posted by mark on 08/21/2013 08:55 PM #

With your interest in John the Baptist, and his cousin John the Apostle, do you think both served as priests?

Posted by David on 09/03/2013 07:36 AM #

Jesus told John, (THE APOSTLE WHOM THE LORD LOVED), to take Mary as his mother because Jesus' brothers, were not believers… just yet. It wasn’t until Acts that we hear about his brother James and the Council of Jerusalem (writes his epistle) and then Jude, Jesus' other brother writes the epistle.

Posted by Stacey on 01/11/2014 02:22 PM #

Was it Cleopas and Salome who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus?

Posted by Robert Bamford on 02/26/2014 06:35 AM #

In doing my Bible study this morning, I started to read I John. My Bible states that John is the son of Zebedee, and that this John is a cousin of Jesus. Amazingly, I had never reflected on the Gospel REMEMBERING James and John were the cousins of Jesus. This changes EVERYTHING in that it makes it so much easier to see why they were so eager to leave their nets and father to follow Him. Yes, knowing my own cousins, I can see the two men vying for a place at the right and left of Jesus. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all Truth. As I read through the Scriptures you posted, (with Scripture interpreting/shedding light on Scripture), the whole counsel of God makes it clear. The Gospels just took on a new life of insight. Thank you! Keep searching for the treasures in God’s Word!

Posted by Deborah Neilan on 08/09/2014 07:00 AM #

I think we should not be quick to jump to the conclusion that Salome was Mary’s sister. It’s possible but its quite a big assumption based on the evidence, and the assumption can skew the way we look at John’s relationship with Jesus. There may have been more than three or four women present in these accounts and there is the possibility that Clopas and Zebedee were the same individual which would mean that Mary’s sister was not the mother of James and John.

Posted by Gary Sampson on 08/21/2014 06:34 AM #

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