(c. ?Ė62)

Leading elder in the church at Jerusalem; author of epistle bearing his name

The only two references to James in the Gospels mention him with his brothers Joses, Simon, and Judas (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). This James may have been, after Jesus, the oldest of the brothers.

The question has been raised about whether these were indeed full brothers of Jesus by Mary, for such a situation has created difficulty for some of those who cannot square it with their views on the perpetual virginity of Mary, but there seems no good reason to challenge the fact from Scripture. As with the other brothers, James apparently did not accept Jesusí authority during his earthly life (John 7:5).

There is no specific mention of Jamesís conversion; it may have dated from Jesusí appearance to him and the others after the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). He became head of the church at Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9; Acts 12:17; 21:18). Although Jesus had always taught the relative subordination of family ties (Matt. 12:48-50; Mark 3:33-35; Luke 8:21), it is hard to believe that Jamesís authority was not somehow enhanced because of his relationship to the Master.

James was regarded as an apostle (Gal. 1:19), although he was not one of the Twelve. Some suggest he was a replacement for the martyred son of Zebedee; others infer his apostleship by widening the scope of that term to embrace both the Twelve and "all the apostles" (see the two separate categories cited in 1 Cor. 15:5, 7).

Tradition stated that James was appointed the first bishop of Jerusalem by the Lord himself and the apostles. What is certain is that he presided over the first Council of Jerusalem, called to consider the terms of admission of Gentiles into the Christian church, and he may have formulated the decree that met with the approval of all his colleagues and was sent to the churches of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia (Acts 15:19). James evidently regarded his own special ministry as being to the Jews, and his was a mediating role in the controversy that arose in the young church around the place of the law for those who had become Christians, from both Gentile and Jewish origins.

That he continued to have strong Jewish Christian sympathies is apparent from the request made to Paul when the latter visited Jerusalem for the last time (Acts 21:18-25). This was also the last mention in Acts of Jamesís career. His name occurs again in the New Testament as the traditional author of the Epistle of James, where he describes himself as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1).

According to Hegesippus (c. 180), Jamesís faithful adherence to the Jewish law and his austere life-style led to the designation "the Just." It seems clear that he suffered martyrdom. Josephus places it in the year 61 when there was a Jewish uprising after the death of Festus the procurator and before his successor had been appointed.

Jerome (c. 345Ėc. 419) speaks of an apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews (fragments of which appear in various patristic writings), which contained a passage recounting the appearance of the risen Christ to James. In contrast to 1 Corinthians 15:7, the Gospel of the Hebrews claims that this was the first appearance of the Lord after the Resurrection. The same writing is alleged to have noted Jamesís vow to eat no bread from the time of the Last Supper until he had seen the risen Lord. This raises questions, especially the assumption that James was in fact present at the Last Supper.

J. D. Douglas

Taken from:   Whoís Who in Christian History
                         Copyright © 1992 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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