I Have a Question

Print Share

    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    I Have a Question

    Do the scriptures give any indication as to what happened to the family of Jesus after his death and resurrection?

    Gerald N. Lund, curriculum specialist, Department of Seminaries and Institutes

    While the answer to this question is yes, it is important to realize that the New Testament writers did not intend to give a comprehensive picture of the personal or family life of Jesus. Their purpose was to portray Jesus as the Christ and to convey the significance of that fact to the world. This partially explains why we have almost no information about the early years of Jesus and why references to his family life are scanty and usually incidental to the main narrative.

    We do know that Jesus had four brothers and probably three or more sisters. The people of Nazareth objected to the divine calling of Jesus on the grounds that he was someone who had grown up in their midst. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” they asked in astonishment, “is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

    “And his sisters, are they not all with us?” (Matt. 13:55–56; italics added.) This is the only reference to the sisters of Jesus (other than in the parallel passage in Mark 6:1–6) in the New Testament and nothing more is known of their involvement with the Church or their attitude toward the Savior.

    Though the record is also silent concerning the later life of Joseph, most scholars assume that he died sometime during the 18 years between the family’s visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 (see Luke 2:41–50) and the beginning of Christ’s formal ministry. If Joseph had been alive, it seems likely that he would have been mentioned as being at the marriage celebration in Cana (see John 2:1–11) and almost certainly Jesus would not have given John the charge to care for his mother. (See John 19:25–27.)

    The brothers of Jesus—or more correctly, the half-brothers of Jesus—receive more mention, however. John tells us that the brethren of Jesus did not fully accept him as the Messiah while he was laboring among them (see John 7:5), but evidently, they were converted shortly thereafter, for Luke records that immediately after Christ’s ascension into heaven, the Church met in “prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (Acts 1:14.) Also, Paul includes James in his list of those who had seen the resurrected Lord. (See 1 Cor. 15:7.)

    More is known about James than any of the other brothers of Jesus. He is mentioned several times in Acts and the epistles as playing a prominent role in the leadership of the church. He takes, for example, a leading role in the great Jerusalem Council, which debated the issue of circumcision for Gentiles. (See Acts 15.) It was James who suggested that a letter be drafted outlining the official Church position on this matter. (See Acts 15:19–20.) Perhaps it should be noted here that some erroneously assume that the James of Acts 15 was James, the son of Zebedee, who served in the presidency of the early church with Peter and John. That James, however, was killed by Herod in a wave of persecution against the church. (See Acts 12:1–2.) This was about A.D. 44, five or six years before the Jerusalem Council.

    In his letter to the Galatian saints, Paul refers to James, the Lord’s brother, as an apostle (see Gal. 1:19) and classes him, along with Peter and John, as “pillars” of the church. (See Gal. 2:9.) Some have conjectured from that comment of Paul that James, the brother of the Lord, not only became an apostle, but even filled the vacancy in the presidency caused by the martyrdom of James, the son of Zebedee. The fact that James declared the official policy of the church at the Jerusalem Council would lend added support to that supposition. (Of course, based on present knowledge, it remains conjecture, and is not considered fact.)

    It was James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote the epistle of James. Not only does this short letter contain some of the great teachings of gospel doctrine, but in it Joseph Smith found the words which sent him to the sacred grove in the spring of 1820. (See James 1:5–6.) It is interesting to note that in that epistle James does not refer to himself as the brother of the Lord but as his servant. (See James 1:1.)

    The writer of the epistle of Jude refers to himself as the brother of James (see Jude 1:1) and so most scholars assume this is Judas, another of the Lord’s brothers. Though he does not call himself an apostle, the fact that his letter would be recognized and accepted as authoritative suggests that he too may have been an apostle.

    Nothing more is recorded of Simon and Joses in the New Testament, but an ancient tradition, preserved for us by the early church historian, Eusebius, states that Simon later became bishop of the church in Jerusalem and was finally crucified in the Roman persecutions under the emperor Trajan.

    Aside from the reference to Mary meeting with the Church shortly after the ascension of her Son (see Acts 1:14), we have no record of her after the events of the crucifixion. Ancient traditions, which are not always reliable, tell us that Mary associated with the church in Jerusalem for many years, and finally accompanied John to Ephesus, where she eventually died.

    But Mary’s contribution to the church and to the work of her Son may be more lasting than most people realize. Luke frankly admits that he is writing his gospel from material he has gathered from eyewitnesses of Christ’s life. (See Luke 1:1–4.) Many Bible scholars believe that Luke gathered these materials for his gospel while Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years before being sent to Rome for trial before the emperor. (See Acts 24:26–27.) Caesarea was only about 50 miles northwest of Jerusalem. If Mary was still in Jerusalem, what better source of information concerning the life of the Master could there be than his mother?

    Some unique characteristics of Luke’s gospel support the possibility that Mary was one of Luke’s sources. First, only in Luke is there a detailed record of the story of the birth of Christ. Matthew records the visits of the angel Gabriel, and of the later visit of the wise men, but it is to Luke we turn to read of the manger and the shepherds, the crowded inn and the swaddling clothes. Only in Luke do we find an account of Gabriel’s words to the young Mary (see Luke 1:26–38), of Mary’s visit to Elisabeth (see Luke 1:39–56), of the nativity (see Luke 2:1–20), of the circumcision of Jesus and the inspired declarations of Anna and Simeon in the temple (see Luke 2:21–38), and of the teaching of the young Jesus in the temple at the age of 12. (See Luke 2:39–52.) And interestingly enough, Luke, who exhibits some of the most polished and refined Greek in the New Testament, uses a Greek that is rough and filled with Hebraic style in the chapters that tell us of the infancy and childhood of Jesus. So markedly different is it from the rest of his work, that one scholar called these verses “translation Greek,” a concept that would perfectly support the idea that this information was supplied by Mary.

    The information about the family of Jesus that has survived the erasing effects of time is sketchy and incomplete. Yet the evidence we do have suggests strongly that the family of the Savior played active and prominent roles in the early development and history of the Church of Jesus Christ.

    What do we know of Luke’s qualifications to write the book of Acts?

    Robert T. Stout, Colorado Springs/Pueblo area director of Seminaries and Institutes

    “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee …

    “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” (Luke 1:3–4.)

    The first of two very long letters written from Luke to Theophilus began with the above quote. These two letters today are called “The Gospel According to Saint Luke” and “The Acts of the Apostles.” These two books comprise 49, 628 (27.3 percent) of the 181,253 words of the New Testament.

    Who was Luke, that he should be called to write so much of the life of Jesus and of the acts of the apostles? What do we know of the man whom Paul called “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) in his letter to the saints at Colossae?

    Though Luke tells us nothing of himself in his letters, still his writings reveal much about his values, priorities, personal testimony, and his tender charity toward mankind. Any sincere student of the scriptures must be moved by the humane selectivity of Luke’s characterizations, descriptions, and phrasing.

    Luke was thought to have been born in Antioch of Syria, the “City of Greek Kings.” With its 200,000 people it was one of the greatest cities of the Roman Empire and more than 33 times its present size. During Luke’s lifetime, Jews in Antioch had the same status and privileges as Greeks. It was here that the first gentile branch of the church in that dispensation was formed; here, disciples were first called Christians. (See Acts 11:20–21, 26.)

    It appears that Paul started three missions from Antioch. Perhaps it was in his home city that Luke became involved with Paul, the “apostle of the Gentiles.” (Rom. 11:13.) Or, Luke may have become acquainted with Paul at Troas.

    Luke did not identify which areas or to what extent he traveled with Paul on his missions. The fact that he first recorded many of the highlights of Paul’s life and travels in the third person (“he” and “they”) and then abruptly changes to the first person plural (“we” and “us”) indicates that they served together from Troas to Philippi, and perhaps also in Achaia and Alexandria. (See Acts 16:10–17; Acts 20:5 through Acts 21:18; Acts 27:1 through Acts 28:16.) Later they traveled together to Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea, and Jerusalem.

    After Paul’s arrest, Luke joined him in Caesarea, where Paul boldly declared his testimony before Festus and King Agrippa. When Paul went to Rome, Luke went with him.

    Certainly this close association with Paul would have qualified Luke to write the book of Acts. Another important qualification was his matchless access to key facts about the life of Jesus Christ. Over 100 quotations or facts from 32 events of major consequence in the life of the Savior are recorded only in Luke. Similarly, most of the events and testimonies in Acts are uniquely recorded by Luke. He alone recorded 18 of the descriptive titles for Jesus; there are 258 such titles or characterizations of Jesus in the entire Bible.

    Luke sought out the “eyewitnesses” to the Lord’s life and ministry, even those “which from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” (See Luke 1:2.) Some scholars think that, during the years Paul was in prison in Caesarea, Luke contacted persons who remembered the event of Christ’s life. Perhaps Luke contacted the eyewitnesses earlier than this. Certainly, his narrative contains details dealing with “the beginning” (annunciation to Elisabeth and Mary, the birth and blessing, etc.) that suggest he did seek to obtain all that was known from as many witnesses as possible.

    We cannot know from his record how much of Luke’s testimony is from eyewitness experience, how much is from others that were called to testify, and how much is the result of teachings of the Holy Spirit. But we do know that, as far as it has been translated correctly, it is the word of God. (See A of F 1:8.)

    Some scholars have speculated that Luke may have become a member of the Twelve, but we have no evidence to support the idea. Perhaps he was the equivalent of an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve or a Seventy. It is believed that he died as a martyr about A.D. 75 in Bithynia. Yet nothing more than an educated guess is known of his birthplace or the time of his birth or death. No record can be found of his conversion and early church life. Still, Luke’s contribution to the kingdom, both during his day and ours, is significant. We may not know the man, but we have evidence of his works, and they are far-reaching.

    In my gospel study this year, how can I get the most out of the New Testament?

    F. Craig Sudbury, bishop of the Princeton Ward, Salt Lake Park Stake

    As a teacher of English, I am interested in words. As a bishop and a member of the Church, I am intensely interested in the words of the Lord. So when the Lord exhorts us to “search the scriptures” (John 5:39), I am convinced that he means more than simply to read or enjoy them. I think the key to getting the most out of our study of the New Testament this year is found in an analysis of the word search.

    1. To search is to look over and through for the purpose of finding something. Let us consider this definition with a special emphasis on the word purpose. What is our purpose for searching the New Testament this year? We need to accept the fact that the Lord wants us to search the scriptures of the New Testament, particularly at this time. It is no accident that the New Testament is the Church-correlated course of study for Melchizedek Priesthood, the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine class, and the Relief Society spiritual living lessons.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in 1834: “No month ever found me more busily engaged than November; but as my life consisted of activity and unyielding exertions, I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it.” (History of the Church 2:170.) Therefore, knowing that the Lord wants us to search the scriptures and that he, through his inspired leaders, has designated the New Testament as the scriptures to search, it simply remains for all of us to do it. Our purpose, then, is to obey.

    Of course, it would be very difficult to embrace a personal commitment to study without also making a commitment to attend the meetings designated for the investigation of these gospel truths. Those who so prepare and so attend should also participate in class, helping to make the class a thought-provoking and spiritually stimulating experience for all.

    2. To search is to look for, to try to find. We will get more out of our study of the New Testament as we increase our ability to find specific scriptures within its 27 books. It would be a simple procedure to print in the manuals the scriptures applicable to each discussion topic. The basic manual, however, is the New Testament itself. Why? Because it is our individual responsibility to find as we search the scriptures. Indeed, the simple procedure of taking our scriptures to class will help us to get more out of our study of the New Testament this year.

    3. To search is to go over and examine. A scripture found but not examined is like an ordinance performed without the priesthood; the source of power is missing. How we read the scriptures will determine their influence upon us. Brigham Young once asked, “Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them?” He then counseled, “If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation, or as you are with your workmen or with your households.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 128.)

    What a great experience it would be to follow President Young’s counsel! Husbands and wives could read the scriptures together, as well as alone. Families could spend time together reading and discussing the word of God as recorded in the New Testament. As we truly examine the scriptures, we will not only appreciate the spirit in which they were originally written, but we will also come to know their meaning for us today.

    4. To search is to test, to put to the test. After examining and pondering the New Testament scriptures, each member of the Church must put the scriptures to the test in a manner unique to his personal needs. This is the rare kind of test that provides the answers to our problems and to our gospel questions. The prophet Brigham Young, speaking of the scriptures, provides us this assurance: “… they are of great worth to a person wandering in darkness. They are like a lighthouse in the ocean, or a finger-post which points out the road we should travel. Where do they point? To the Fountain of light.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 127.)

    As we put the Scriptures to the test, we also put ourselves to the test. We test our ability to really communicate with our Father in heaven as we seek for answers. We prove our ability to regard the scriptures as personal advice and sound doctrine.

    Our search is not an aimless one. As we determine a purpose, try to find, carefully examine, and then test, we are promised understanding. As a result of our searching the scriptures the Prophet Joseph Smith tells us, “You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how He will save them.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 11–12.)

    It is important to realize, though, that the scriptures come only through the influence of the Holy Ghost, and that we must rely upon that same influence for our own understanding. We must place our lives in line with the will of God; we must seek him earnestly in prayer. Those who only partially do these things will certainly find comfort and strength in the scriptures, but those who seek the Lord with all their hearts will find great insight and increased power of understanding.

    The Lord will help us to get the most out of our study of the New Testament this year as we make our own personal commitments to search the scriptures.