St James and St John



see caption
St James and St John
Picture - 'Jesus calls the Disciples'

Picture courtesy of

James and John, were brothers, the sons of Zebedee, and were among the first disciples to be recruited by Jesus. They were fishermen on Lake Galilee, and lived either in or near Capernaum (Mark 1:21). Jesus called them, along with Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:14-20). Luke adds that they were partners of Peter (Luke 5:1-11). The mention of hired servants (Mark 1:20) suggests a modest family business. James was probably the elder, since he is usually named first.

Jesus, according to Mark, called the brothers, “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). Together with Peter they formed an inner core of disciples. They (and also Andrew) were present at the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31). Peter, James and John were the only disciples with Jesus at the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51) at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28), and in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33).

James and John asked Jesus whether he wanted them, in the tradition of Elijah, to call down fire on the Samaritan village which declined to receive them (Luke 9:51-56). They also requested the right to sit on either side of Jesus in his coming glory (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45; Matthew says their mother requested on their behalf). John accompanied Peter in making the preparations for the Last Supper (Luke 22:8).

In John’s Gospel, James and John were together with other disciples at the resurrection appearance of Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee, in an episode that has striking similarities to their original call (John 21:2). James was executed on the orders of Herod Agrippa in the early 40s A.D. (Acts 12:1-3), which indicates his significant leadership role in the early church. John appears on several occasions with Peter: in the upper room (Acts 1:13); in the Temple precincts, leading to their subsequent arrest and release (Acts 3:1-4,31); and in a visit to Samaria, in the wake of Philip (Acts 8:14-25). John was clearly therefore another significant leader of the early church, and was recognized as such by Paul (Galatians 2:9).

We have no further information from the New Testament about either apostle. There is a strong tradition that John eventually went to Ephesus and was a leader of the church there. That is bound up with the very difficult question of whether John the apostle is also John the evangelist. In the New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, without prejudice to that question, John the apostle is commemorated with his brother James the Great, and John the evangelist (even though he may be the same man) is commemorated separately (on 27 December).

James came to have an association with Santiago de Compostella in Spain. It is possible that James’ bones were removed to Spain. What is known is that Compostella became a very important place of pilgrimage and of the cult of St James in the late Middle Ages.