James, the so-called brother of Jesus

This other James, the so-called brother of Jesus, played an important role in the development of the early Christian communities, especially those around Jerusalem.  This James was a much more important person in the early Christian movement than most casual readers of the New Testament imagine.  Sometimes he was known as James the Less, just like James, the son of Alphaeus.  This James was respected, well known, and often called James the Just.  The main sources for the life of this James are the Pauline epistles and the latter part of the Acts of the Apostles.  Paul the apostle described him as “the brother of the Lord” in Galatians chapter 1:19.  This James, the brother of Jesus was mentioned in Galatians, chapter 2:9, and Acts chapters 12:17,15:23, and 21:18, as an important Christian leader in Jerusalem.  Traditionally, it is believed he was martyred in 62 or 69 CE by being stoned to death.  There was also a mention of this James among the early Christian writers in the second and third centuries. Most of them portray him as the righteous undisputed leader of the Jewish Christians, especially in Jerusalem.  He was called the bishop of bishops, who ruled Jerusalem, the Holy Church of the Hebrews. This James the righteous would have been the first bishop of Jerusalem, appointed by Peter and John.  Thus, James the Just, brother of the Lord, was an early leader of the Jerusalem Church in the Apostolic Age.  He was also the principal authority who presided at the Council of Jerusalem around the year 50 CE.  This James seems to have taken the place of James, the son of Zebedee, after his martyrdom, around 44 CE.  Modern historians of the early Christian churches tend to place James as the leader of Jewish Christianity, while Paul was an apostle to the gentiles with the importance of faith over the observance of Mosaic Law.  Peter was the bridge between these two prominent leading Christian figures, Paul and James the Just.  The Holy Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that the Book of James was “written not by either of the apostles, but by the ‘brother of the Lord’ who was the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem.”  In fact, there is a liturgy of St. James.  However, there is no reference to personal family ties in this letter of James.  Some have suggested that the authorship of this epistle points to this James, since he was prominent among the disciples, but not a follower of Jesus before Jesus died and rose from the dead.  From the middle of the 3rd century, patristic authors cited this epistle as being written by James, the brother of Jesus and a leader of the Jerusalem church.  Thus, this Jerusalem Christian leader seems a more likely suspect to have written this letter.  Do you think that James the Just may have written this letter?

James, the son of Alphaeus

James, the son of Alphaeus, was another one of the twelve apostles.  However, he was not as prominent in the biblical record as James the son of Zebedee, so that relatively little is known about him.  However, his name appears in all three lists of the twelve apostles in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, chapter 10:3, Mark, chapter 3:18, and Luke chapter 6:14, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1:13.  Alphaeus is also the name of the father of the publican Levi mentioned in Mark, chapter 2:14.  Some have concluded that James and Matthew, who was sometimes called Levi, might have been brothers.  This James is often identified as James the Less and commonly known by that name in church tradition.  This was in contrast with James, the son of Zebedee, who was known as James the Great.  Papias of Hierapolis (70–163 CE) said that Mary, the wife of Alphaeus was the mother of James the Less.  He mentioned four women named Mary in the gospels: (1) Mary the mother of the Lord, Jesus Christ; (2) Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle; (3) Mary Salome the wife of Zebedee, mother of John the evangelist and James; and (4) Mary Magdalene.  Hippolytus (170-235 CE) said that James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there beside the Temple.  This is the meager information we have about James, the son of Alphaeus.  He is a more viable candidate for the authorship of this epistle of James.  Was this James as literate as Matthew or his friends?  Certainly, they were both Jewish and early followers of Jesus Christ, among his twelve chosen ones.  However, there has been some confusion with this James and the other James, the so-called brother of Jesus.  The Catholic tradition holds that this James is to be identified with James, son of Alphaeus, called James the Less.  Where they all the two or three people named James one and the same person?  Were they related to each other, since they were all from Galilee?  We do not know the answer with any kind of certainty.  There were a number of important people among the followers of Jesus named James.  Do you have friends with the same first name?

James, the son of Zebedee

Jesus had two apostles named James.  The most important James was the son of Zebedee and the brother of the apostle John, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.  James, the son of Zebedee and Mary Salome, with his brother John was one of the first disciples to join Jesus.  The synoptic gospels state that James and John were with their father Zebedee fishing by the seashore when Jesus called them to follow him in Matthew, chapter 4:21–22 and Mark, chapter 1:19-20.  Jesus also selected this James, his brother John, and Peter to witness the Transfiguration of Jesus, according to Mark, chapter 9:2, Matthew, chapter 17:1-8, and Luke, chapter 9:28-36.  The two brothers, James and John, also argued about whether they would sit on Jesus’ right and left in his glory in Mark, chapter 10:35-45, and Matthew, chapter 20:20-28. According to Acts, chapter 12:2, “Herod the king had James the brother of John executed by the sword.”  Herod Agrippa I was the ruler of Palestine from 41-44 CE.  Thus, James would have died in the early forties, about ten years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He also had a fiery temper, so that he and John were named the “Boanerges, or the Sons of Thunder” in Mark, chapter 3:17.  This apostle James is the patron saint of Spain with a famous traditional walk called the “Way of St. James”.  His feast day is celebrated on July 25.  Apparently, he had gone to Spain to preach the gospel before his early death.  With this information, it is hard to name him the author of this epistle from James.  This author did not call himself an apostle like Paul had done.  Secondly, with his early death, this epistle would then be the oldest New Testament document, written even before the letters of Paul, if it was him.  Therefore, although interesting, it is hard to prove that this James, the son of Zebedee, was the author of this epistle.  What do you know about James, the son of Zebedee?

James (Jas 1:1)


A servant

Of God

And of the Lord

Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes

In the dispersion:


Ἰάκωβος Θεοῦ καὶ Κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ Διασπορᾷ χαίρειν.

James said, “James (Ἰάκωβος), a servant (δοῦλος) of God (Θεοῦ) and of the Lord (καὶ Κυρίου) Jesus Christ (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), to the twelve tribes (ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς) in the dispersion (ἐν τῇ Διασπορᾷ): Greetings (χαίρειν)!”  Who is this James?  There are at least four people with this name of James (Ἰάκωβος) mentioned in the NT writings.  There is first of all James, the son of Alphaeus the Less or the Small one, one of the Twelve original apostles.  He may have been the brother of Matthew or Levi.  James the son of Alphaeus was explicitly mentioned four times, always in the list of the twelve apostles, Mark, chapter 3:18, Matthew, chapter 10:3, Luke, chapter 6:15, and Acts, chapter 1:13.  Then there was James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, also one of the Twelve original apostles.  Acts, chapter 12:2, explicitly mentioned his death around 44 CE.  He was referred to as James the Greater.  He was mentioned quite often with his brother John on a number of occasions in the gospel stories, plus in the list of the twelve apostles listed above.  Thus, two of the twelve apostles were named James.  Then there is the half-brother of Jesus, James, the Just, who seems to in charge in Jerusalem.  He may have died around the year 62-66 CE.  Finally, James was the name of the father of Jude, the apostle.  As you can see, James was a common name.  This James was a servant or slave of God and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  He was writing this letter to the twelve Jewish tribes, the sons of Jacob, who were dispersed throughout the world.  He wanted to send them greetings or grace.  He did not call himself an apostle the way that Paul did.  However, he used another Pauline term, slave or servant of God.  This was a standard Greek greeting, but addressed to the Jewish people who were not in Jerusalem.  Do you know anyone named James or Jim?

James (Gal. 1:19)

“But I did not see

Any other apostle

Except James,

The Lord’s brother.”

ἕτερον δὲ τῶν ἀποστόλων οὐκ εἶδον, εἰ μὴ Ἰάκωβον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ Κυρίου.

Paul said, “But I did not see (οὐκ εἶδον) any other apostle (ἕτερον δὲ τῶν ἀποστόλων) except James (εἰ μὴ Ἰάκωβον), the Lord’s brother (τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ Κυρίου).”  Paul indicated that that he did not meet or see any other apostle other than Peter or Cephas and James, the brother of the Lord.  James was the leader or the bishop of the Jerusalem Christian community.  He must have been a relative of Jesus.  The use of “brother” in a wider sense than blood brother was very common.  Paul used it all the time when speaking to his various churches.  They were the believing brothers.  Paul made sure to mention that he had seen the two most important apostles during his stay in Jerusalem, Peter and James, the leaders of the early Christian developing church.  Do you like to meet with church leaders?

When will this be? (Lk 21:7-21:7)

“They asked him.


When will this be?

What will be the sign

That this is about

To take place?’”


ἐπηρώτησαν δὲ αὐτὸν λέγοντες Διδάσκαλε, πότε οὖν ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα γίνεσθαι;


Luke indicated that some vague “they” or the disciples of Jesus asked him (ἐπηρώτησαν δὲ αὐτὸν), calling him teacher (λέγοντες Διδάσκαλε) when these things would happen (πότε οὖν ταῦτα ἔσται).  What would be the sign that this was about to take place (καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα γίνεσθαι)?  There is something similar in Matthew, chapter 24:3.  Only Matthew brought up the question of the Parousia (παρουσία) or second coming of Jesus.  He said that Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives (Καθημένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ ὄρους τῶν Ἐλαιῶν), just east of Jerusalem, where he could see the Jerusalem Temple.  Some unnamed disciples came to Jesus privately (προσῆλθον αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ κατ’ ἰδίαν).  They wanted to know when would these things, like the Temple being destroyed, take place (λέγοντες Εἰπὲ ἡμῖν, πότε ταῦτα ἔσται)?  What would be the sign that Jesus was coming again in the Parousia (καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας).  On top of that, they wanted to know about the end of the world or the completion of the ages (καὶ συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος).  Matthew combined the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the Second coming of Jesus, and the end of the world together.  Rather than unnamed disciples, as in Matthew, Mark, chapter 13:3-4 explicitly mentioned the two sets of brother apostles, who were speaking privately with Jesus.  Mark, like Matthew, said that Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives (Καὶ καθημένου αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ τοῦ ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν), just east of Jerusalem, since the Temple was opposite them (κατέναντι τοῦ ἱεροῦ).  In Mark, these apostolic leaders, Peter (Πέτρος), James (καὶ Ἰάκωβος), John (καὶ Ἰωάνης), and Andrew (καὶ Ἀνδρέας), questioned Jesus privately (ἐπηρώτα αὐτὸν κατ’ ἰδίαν).  Mark did not combine the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the Second coming of Jesus, and the end of the world together, since he concentrated on the destruction of the Temple.  Mark said that these big four apostles wanted to be told (Εἰπὸν ἡμῖν) when would these things take place (πότε ταῦτα ἔσται)?  What would be the sign (καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον) that all these things were going to finally happen (ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα συντελεῖσθαι πάντα)?  They wanted the inside scoop about what was coming up.  After all, they were the important leaders among the followers of Jesus.  Do you like information about the future?

Jesus said no (Lk 9:55-9:55)

“But Jesus turned.

He rebuked them.”


στραφεὶς δὲ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς.


However, Luke uniquely indicated that Jesus turned around (στραφεὶς) to these two apostles.  He was not going to have any fire from heaven.  He rebuked both James and John (δὲ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς).  This was not the first or last time that Jesus would be upset with his apostles.  A Byzantine text added that Jesus said something to them.  He said that they did not know (Οὐκ οἴδατε) what spirit was in them (οἵου πνεύματός ἐστε ὑμεῖς).  Do you think that you have ever upset God?

The apostles kept silent (Lk 9:36-9:36)

“When the voice

Had spoken,

Jesus was found alone.

They kept silent.

In those days

They told no one

Any of the things

They had seen.”


καὶ ἐν τῷ γενέσθαι τὴν φωνὴν εὑρέθη Ἰησοῦς μόνος. καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐσίγησαν καὶ οὐδενὶ ἀπήγγειλαν ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις οὐδὲν ὧν ἑώρακαν.


Luke said that when the voice had spoken (καὶ ἐν τῷ γενέσθαι τὴν φωνὴν), Jesus was found alone (εὑρέθη Ἰησοῦς μόνος).  Peter, James, and John kept silent (καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐσίγησαν).  In those days (ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις), they told no one (καὶ οὐδενὶ ἀπήγγειλαν) about any of the things that they had seen (οὐδὲν ὧν ἑώρακαν).  The other two synoptics said that Jesus told them to be silent, but here they did so on their own.  This leaving of Moses and Elijah can be found in all 3 synoptic gospels, Matthew, chapter 17:8-9, Mark, chapter 9:8-9, and here in LukeMatthew was more elaborate than the others, but there are some differences in all 3 accounts.  Mark said that suddenly or unexpectedly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone, but only Jesus himself alone with them.  Once again, we are back at the messianic secret where Mark was closer to Matthew.  He said that Jesus and his 3 disciples came down from the mountain.  Jesus admonished them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until the Son of Man had been raised from the dead.  Matthew said that when the disciples heard this voice from the cloud, they fell face down to the ground.  They were greatly terrified.  However, Jesus came to them and touched them.  Then he told them to get up and not be afraid.  When they looked up, they saw no one, but only Jesus himself alone.  Where were Moses and Elijah?  Was this just a dream?  Matthew said that Jesus and his 3 disciples came down from the mountain.  Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone about this spectacular vision until the Son of Man had been raised from the dead.  They would be free to speak about this after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but not before that turning point among the followers of Jesus.  Have you ever had a secret for a limited time?

The cloud overshadows them (Lk 9:34-9:34)

“While he was saying this,

A cloud came.

It overshadowed them.

They were terrified,

As they entered

The cloud.”


ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ἐγένετο νεφέλη καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς· ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην.


Luke said that while Peter was saying this (ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος), a cloud came (ἐγένετο νεφέλη) and overshadowed them (καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς).  They were terrified (ἐφοβήθησαν), as they entered the cloud (δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην).  This cloud can be found in all 3 synoptic gospels, Matthew, chapter 17:5-6, Mark, chapter 9:6-7, and here in LukeMark said that a cloud overshadowed them.  Mark also said that Peter was speechless, since he did not know what to say, as he, John, and James, were greatly terrified.  Matthew, like Luke, said that suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, while Peter was still speaking.  He also mentioned that the 3 apostles were afraid.  Would you be afraid if a cloud came down and enveloped you?

Peter and the others see the glory (Lk 9:32-9:32)

“Now Peter

And his companions

Were weighed down

With sleep.

But since they

Had stayed awake,

They saw his glory

And the two men

Who stood with him.”


ὁ δὲ Πέτρος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ ἦσαν βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ· διαγρηγορήσαντες δὲ εἶδαν τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς δύο ἄνδρας τοὺς συνεστῶτας αὐτῷ.


Luke uniquely said that Peter (ὁ δὲ Πέτρος) and his 2 companions (καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ) were weighed down with sleep (ἦσαν βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ).  However, since they had stayed fully awake (διαγρηγορήσαντες), they saw the glory of Jesus (δὲ εἶδαν τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ) and the 2 men (καὶ τοὺς δύο ἄνδρας) who stood with him (τοὺς συνεστῶτας αὐτῷ).  This is another unique statement by Luke about Peter during the transfiguration, since the other synoptics did not mention this.  Peter with his 2 companions were almost asleep, like they did later in the Garden of Gethsemane.  However, Peter, James, and John stayed awake long enough to catch a glimpse of the glory of the transfigured Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, as they watched them talk together.  There was no indication what language was being spoken, but the assumption might be that it was Hebrew or Aramaic.  Have you ever fallen asleep so that you missed an important event?