Alphreus and Klopas

William Robertson Nicoll


Alphreus and Klopas. The various theories which have been invented to explain the relationship of the brethren of our Lord to their Master may be classified under two divisions. (1) Those that distinguish the sons of Alphreus from our Lord's brethren. (2) Those that presuppose their identity. Under the first head are: (i.) the Heladian theory, which supposes them to have been His uterine brothers, children of Joseph and Mary; (ii.) the Epiphanian, which supposes them to have been children of Joseph and an earlier wife. Under the second head are: (i.) the Hieronymian, which makes them His cousins german1, sons of Alphreus and the Virgin's sister Mary; (ii.) Lange's theory that they were His cousins german, sons of Clopas, said by Hegesippus to have been Joseph's brother; and (iii.) the Theophylactian, according to which they were both His brothers and cousins, the sons of Joseph by a levirate marriage2 with the widow of his brother Clopas. The arguments for the second class of theories rest on the identification of Clopas and Alphreus; for they all turn on the identity of the names assigned in the Gospels to the sons of Alphreus and the Lord's brethren alike. But the New Testament tells us of only two sons of Alphreus, James, and Levi or Matthew; and the first step in gaining more to accord with the list of Matt. xiii. 55, Mark vi. 3, turns on identifying Alphrous with Clopas, and thus the James of Alphrous (Matt. x. 3) with the James of Mary (John xix. 25). Again, with the supporters of the Hieronymian theory the sole evidence of the cousinship of the sons of Alphrous to our Lord turns on his identification with Clopas. Now it has been usually claimed and admitted that the two names were the same—diverse transliterations into Greek of the one Aramaic name חלפי. But Wetzel iu the Studien und Kritiken, 1883 (620-6), contends elaborately that as representation of חלפי Κλῶπας fails in almost every one of its letters. The Greek κ is not used to transliterate the initial Hebrew ח. There is no accounting for the spreading of the syllable חַל into the soundless κλ—nor for the subintroduction of the long vowel ω—nor for π instead of φ as in Alphrous. A note is added from Delitzsch, who affirms that Alphrous is Hebrew, while Klopas is Greek and identical with Cleopas—both being abbreviations of Cleopatros. Riehm concurs, and Prof. Warfield, in the Independent, says that while in his view the identity hypothesis did not need another deathblow, this argument is absolutely final. Thus our Lord's brethren were either, (1) the children of Joseph and Mary, or (2) the children of Joseph and an earlier wife.


Footnotes added by me.

1) a cousin german - born of the brother or sister of one's father or mother, as a first cousin.

2) Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother's widow. The term levirate is itself a derivative of the Latin word levir meaning "husband's brother"