The 2001 Commentaries

James the Half-Brother of Jesus

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There are three people in the Bible named James:

However, the name ‘James’ is just the English pronunciation, it was actually Iakobos (Ya-koh-bose), or Jacob (James is the Anglicized Greek spelling of Jacob).

We know little about James the son of AlphaEus other than that he was listed (at Mark 3:18) among the Apostles.

James the son of Zebedee was one of the earliest Apostles of Jesus and the brother of John (Jesus called the brothers, ‘the sons of thunder’). He was martyred about 44-CE.

James (‘the Just’) was a prominent elder in the JeruSalem congregation and he’s thought to have been the writer of the Bible book of James.

At Jude 1:1, James ‘the Just’ was identified as the brother of Jude, and the two are likely the half-brothers of Jesus through Mary. Notice that their names (James and Jude) are mentioned among Jesus’ other family members at Matthew 13:55, where we read that the people in the synagogue at Nazareth were saying this about Jesus:

‘Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, JoSeph, Simon, and Judas?’

We know that this James (who likely became a disciple after Jesus’ death) came to hold a prominent position in the JeruSalem congregation, because he is mentioned as taking the lead in the declaration that the gentiles would not be required to be circumcised.
(Acts 15:13-21).

James was also the person that took the lead in the meeting with Paul during his last visit to JeruSalem; it was he who suggested that Paul should go to the Temple and undergo ritual purification in order to pacify local Christians who were irritated by him teaching gentiles that they didn’t have to be circumcised (Acts 21:21-24). Of course, when Paul did this, it led to his being beaten by a mob, arrested, and taken to Rome to stand before Caesar.

So at least some in the JeruSalem congregation still didn’t fully understand that the terms of the Old Law had been fulfilled with the death of Jesus, and that circumcision of the flesh was no longer a requirement for Christians under the New Sacred Agreement.

However, this isn’t the only occasion where this James is mentioned in reference to arguments about circumcision and the Law. For at Galatians 2:11-13, he was referred to as the person that sent men from JeruSalem to AntiOch to encourage the Christian Jews there to separate themselves from the Christian gentiles and to return to following Jewish religious customs.

Also, history records a sect that emerged among many of the Jewish Christians around that time which rejected Paul and his teachings, and claimed to follow the teachings of James instead. This group, known as the Ebionites, are said to have held strictly to the Law of Moses.

So, regardless of James’ earlier stance that seemed to support Paul’s work with the gentiles, he may have been a staunch Jewish traditionalist who sometimes disagreed with Paul.

Therefore, although we think of the Bible book of James as being inspired, we really know very little about this man’s faith in his later years.

According to the Jewish historian Josephus (in The Antiquities of the Jews), James was martyred by the Procurator Porcius Festus about 62 CE. However, much later (around 248 CE), the early Christian writer Origen implied that James died during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. If this is true, then James was not one of the Christians that followed Jesus’ instructions to flee JeruSalem when it became surrounded by armies.

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