There appear to be five different people named James who are mentioned in the New Testament. They are listed below. The Greek word Ἰάκωβος Iákōbos; or Iakṓb, or Jacob, occurs 42 times. Of those five people, the author of the book of James, who appears to be the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:19), occupies an important ecclesiastical position in the Jerusalem church, along with the elders there. It is possible that James took Peter’s place when Peter was jailed which would explain his influence.
Acts 12:17, “But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Report these things to James and the brethren.’ Then he left and went to another place.”
So, James was considered an important figure, especially when you look at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15:13-20. He states that the people should not trouble those Gentiles are turning to God (v. 19) and that the Gentiles should “…abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood,” (v. 20).
According to Hegesippus and Josephus, James (the author of the book) was martyred by being thrown from the pinnacle of the temple. He survived that, knelt in prayer, and said, “Father forgiven them for they do not know what they do.” James was then stoned and beaten with a club until he died. The Hegesippus account is less reliable which has James’ death around AD 68 and AD 62 according to Josephus.1
Of all the persons named James in the New Testament (James, son of Zebedee: Matt 4:21; James, son of Alphaeus: Matt 10:3; James the father of the apostle Judas [not Iscariot]: Luke 6:16; James the Less the son of Mary: Mark 15:40), no one is as crucial to the development of the early church as James, the Lord’s brother. Yet, his name appears only eight times in the New Testament (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; Acts 12:17; 15:13–29; 21:17–26; 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1–2; and Jude 1:1)
Five different James in the Bible
James, the brother of Jesus
The relationship of this James as the brother of Jesus has been disputed heavily in the Christian church.
The idea of Jesus having brothers is mentioned in two places
Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.”
Acts 1:14, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
1 Cor. 9:5, “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
The three main theories about this James are
James was the literal blood half-brother of Jesus, born after Jesus, whose parents were Joseph and Mary
James was Jesus’ stepbrother from a previous marriage of Joseph
James was a cousin of Jesus
This James apparently was not a believer at first, but later came to trust in Christ after Jesus appeared to people (1 Cor. 15:7)
Jude mentions James as well. Jude 1, “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:”
This implies that Jude was a literal brother or that the term is used figuratively.
James, the son of Zebedee
A fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, who was the brother of John and Peter, was called by Jesus to be an apostle (Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:10-11).
Always listed among the first three names in the four lists of the twelve apostles (Matt. 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16; Acts 1:13)
He was called a Son of Thunder (Mark 3:17) and was rebuked in Luke 9:54 by Jesus when they wanted to destroy the Samaritans.
James’ death is recorded in Scripture (Acts 12:2).
Legend says he preached and died in Spain.
See also Mark 10:35, John 21:2
James, the son of Alphaeus
Listed as one of the original disciples (Mark 3:18)
Listed among the four lists of apostles and always designated as the “son of Alphaeus” (Matt. 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16; Acts 1:13)
He is not mentioned except in these lists.
James, the son of Mary (not the Mary who gave birth to Jesus)
Not much is said of this James, but he is related to another Mary
Mary, the mother of James, was a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40), who brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1), and who was among those women who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:10).
James, the father of Judas, not Judas Iscariot
Not much is known of him except that he is mentioned in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13
1↑ Reference: Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
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