James of Jerusalem

Brother of the Lord, Martyr

MENU

see caption
James of Jerusalem
Brother of the Lord, Martyr

Picture courtesy of Matt Dabbs

James is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Jacob. His mother was Mary (Mark 6:3), his half brother was Jesus (Gal 1:19) and his full brothers were Joses, Judas (Jude) and Simon (Mark 6:3). James didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah during Jesus’ lifetime (John 7:5). That changed with a personal encounter with his resurrected brother. This occured in the days between his resurrection and ascension (1 Cor 15:7). After that we find James, Mary and others waiting with the Apostles for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14). James was a popular name, and there were 2 others called James among the disciples; James, brother of John and son of Zebedee, called by the church James the Great and James, son of Alphaeus called by the church, James the Less, we must take care not to confuse the 3 of them.

Paul found James to be one of the reputed pillars of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). These pillars, including Peter, James and John, reserved to themselves the mission to the Jews, while Paul and Barnabas were to go to the Gentiles. It would seem to be after Peter’s departure from the city that James gathered around himself a college of presbyters (elders), whose spokesman he was at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13-21). James’ leadership of the Jerusalem church was now established. At the council, James adopted a mediating position between those who wished complete observance of the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic Law, and those Gentile Christians who sought exemption from them. James appears to have offered the compromise position that made table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians easier.

Later in Galatia Paul was challenged by a group that adhered to still strictly following Mosaic Law, who claimed the backing of James (Galatians 2:12). Whether this accurately portrays James’s opinion is not clear, but James did advise Paul to join in a Temple ceremony when he was in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26). James seems, then, to have wanted to uphold traditional Jewish piety; though how that related to his Christian faith is uncertain. He was in any case sufficiently liberal in his views to be put to death for them, which contrasts with the view of him, found especially in Jewish Christian circles, that he was a staunch upholder of the Mosaic tradition and piety. In 62 CE, during the interregnum between two governors, who would otherwise have tried the case, the high priest brought charges against James and others of violating the Mosaic Law and had them stoned to death. Josephus reports that most fair-minded citizens were offended at this action.

The letter of James in the New Testament is traditionally ascribed to the Lord’s brother, but the text only says it was written by “James” of whom there are 3. James the Great can be ruled out, because he died too soon to be the author but it could have also been written by James the Less.

“It bears striking testimony to Jesus' words. Jesus' sayings are embedded in James' exhortations in a form that is clearly not dependent on the written Gospels." - Luke Timothy Johnson, Biblical Scholar.

We will adhere to the tradition that it can be attributed to Jesus brother, James of Jerusalem, who is the most probable source. However the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of James, also attributed to him, comes from the 2nd century and has no historical value. So our quotes today will be from the epistle.