James, the Brother of Jesus
JESUS, the Son of God, once stated: “A prophet is not unhonored except in his native territory and in his own house.” That he himself had this experience in regard to his immediate family is apparent from the record made by his preferred disciple John: “His brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him.” Matthew and Mark name four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. (Matt. 13:55-57; Mark 6:3; John 7:5, NW) After Jesus’ death and resurrection, however, at least some of his uterine brothers (having the same mother but a different father) did exercise faith in him, for we read that, pending Pentecost, the eleven apostles with one accord “were persisting in prayer, together with some women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers”.—Acts 1:13, 14, NW.
In view of the fact that some of our readers may object to the statement that Mary had other children besides Jesus, holding that she was “ever virgin”, before considering what the Christian Greek Scriptures have to say about James, the brother of Jesus, let us briefly consider that objection. If Mary was “ever virgin” then why did Matthew say at chapter one, verse twenty-five Mt 1:25, that Joseph “knew her not”, that is, “had no relations with her until she gave birth to a son”? (Dy; NW) And why did Luke describe Jesus as her “firstborn”? (Luke 2:7) Had Mary given birth to no other children would he not have referred to Jesus as her “only” son? Clearly Matthew and Luke did not consider that Jesus was Mary’s only son or they certainly would have emphasized the point; especially if they had thought this matter as vital as some religious organizations do.
Nor can it be argued that these “brothers” were not of Jesus’ immediate family, but were kinsfolk or cousins, for the word used literally means “from the same womb”. (Young’s Concordance) Had mere kinsfolk been meant the inspired writers doubtless would have used the Greek word translated cousin and cousins at Luke 1:36, 58. (”Cousin” and “kinsfolks” in the Douay) Neither is the position tenable that these “brothers” were his spiritual brothers or disciples, because, as we have already seen, they did not exercise faith in Jesus at the time. That these “brothers” were separate and distinct from his disciples John’s record makes clear, for in it we read: “After this he [Jesus] and his mother and brothers and his disciples went down to Capernaum.”—John 2:12, NW.
PROMINENT IN EARLY CONGREGATION
Of these flesh-and-blood brothers who became Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection James was foremost. Evidently foreknowing the role James would play in the early Christian congregation, Christ Jesus singled him out for special attention, for Paul, in giving proof of Jesus’ resurrection, seems to refer to Jesus’ brother James, when he writes: “After that he appeared to James,” the only one Paul mentions by name, aside from Peter and himself, as ones to whom Jesus appeared individually.—1 Cor. 15:7, NW.
Peter likewise gives James special mention. When visiting the group of Christians assembled at the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, after his miraculous release from prison, Peter instructed them: “Report these things to James and the brothers.” (Acts 12:17, NW) And that James was not only foremost among his flesh-and-blood brothers but also prominent among his spiritual brothers seems apparent from the fact that he evidently presided at the special meeting held at Jerusalem to discuss the question of whether Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised or not, for he summed up the proceedings. His recommendations were adopted and instructions in keeping therewith were sent to the various Christian congregations.—Acts 15:14-21, NW.
Not only did Peter at the time of his miraculous release from prison make it a point that James should be notified, but Paul likewise specially mentions him. In telling the Galatians of his first years as a Christian minister he states: “Later I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. But I saw no one else of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord.”—Gal. 1:18, 19, NW.
Undoubtedly James the brother of Jesus played a most prominent role in the governing body of the early Christian congregation situated at Jerusalem. He would be the logical one to write the letter bearing the name of James. The apostle James, who was the brother of John, was martyred far too early to allow his authorship of such a letter, and since of James the son of Alphaeus practically nothing is known, it is not likely that he would have written this letter and not identified himself as an apostle. Peter and Paul repeatedly mention the fact that they are apostles, while John in his letters leaves no doubt of his being an intimate associate of Jesus. Particularly in view of the outspoken nature of the letter, had the writer been an apostle he would have so stated so as to add weight to his message, instead of merely beginning with “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”.—Jas. 1:1, NW.
In view of the foregoing it also follows that this letter was sent out by at least A.D. 62. How so? Because, according to secular history, it was in that year that the procurator of Judea, Festus, died; and before Albinus, who was to take his place, arrived, the Jews staged an outbreak in which James, the brother of Jesus, was haled before the Sanhedrin. There, due to false charges made against him by the high priest, who, it seems, had convened this council for this very purpose, James was delivered over to be stoned to death.
THE LETTER OF JAMES
It seems that by the time that James wrote this letter the early church had grown considerably, had become quite firmly established and was enjoying a measure of freedom from persecution. As a consequence some were growing careless and were allowing themselves to become spotted by the world and were seeking friendship with it. There were gossiping, yielding to selfish desires and even willful sinning. To arouse Christians to the danger of the Devil’s thus corrupting them James wrote his letter.
James, throughout his letter, shows keen discernment as to the motives prompting individuals and he counsels with the greatest directness. Beginning by telling his brothers to rejoice in trials because of the fruits that endurance of such trials brings with it, he then shows the need of wisdom which God gives liberally to all if we will but ask in confidence. He next puts his finger on the cause of temptation, showing that it does not come from God. “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire.” So put aside all “moral badness” and become doers of the Word, and not hearers only. And “keep oneself without spot from the world”.—Jas. 1:1-27, NW.
In the second chapter James first reproves those who judge by outward appearance, who show favoritism to the rich; such is not loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Then the part which shows how practical the letter is: Faith without works to back it up is meaningless. If your brother is hungry, cold, naked, and all you say is, ‘Be filled, be warm, be clothed,’ how much benefit does he receive? Were not Abraham and Rahab declared righteous because they proved their faith by their works? “Indeed, . . . faith without works is dead.”—Jas 2 Vs. 26.
Further practical admonition James gives as he discusses the use and the power of the tongue. The tongue is a tiny member but it can do immense harm, even as a great conflagration can result from just a little fire. To use our tongues to praise God on the one hand and to slander or curse men on the other simply does not make sense. Bitter jealousy, lying and such traits are earthly, animalistic and demonic. “But the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical.”—James, chapter 3.
Those motivated by selfish desire cause trouble in a Christian congregation, and these James next admonishes by asking them: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” Those taking such a course of action betray high-mindedness, pride, and therefore should beware, for “‘God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.’ Subject yourselves, therefore, to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you.”—James 4.
James begins his fifth chapter by giving some of the strongest condemnation of the rich to be found in the Scriptures. He censures them for their greedy and sensual course and warns that their ill-gotten gains will be a witness against them, crying out for vengeance. They have not only oppressed their workers but killed the righteous one. Next James counsels us to be patient and to consider the example of Job as regards endurance.
Some have taken James’ exhortation for Christians to pray for one another to mean that we may expect divine healing, since “a righteous man’s supplication when it is at work has much force”. However, the context makes it clear that spiritual, not physical, sickness is what James was referring to: “Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed.” To hold that this refers to physical sickness is to accuse all those suffering from bodily infirmity of being gross sinners and implying that all those who enjoy good health are good Christians.
Truly the letter of James is a most practical one.
JAMES, THE APOSTLE AND BROTHER OF JOHN
James the son of Zebedee, together with his brother John, left his fishing business to become among the first followers of Christ Jesus. It is generally held that of the two James was the older, not only because of his being mentioned first, but also in view of John’s living to about the year A.D. 100. It has also been suggested that James and John were acquainted with Jesus before he called them to follow him.—Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19, NW.
Among his twelve apostles Jesus preferred three, and James was among these. He was therefore with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration; was with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus, and accompanied Jesus farther into the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal; the other two of this favored group being, of course, Peter and John.—Matt. 26:36-39; Luke 8:41, 51-56; 9:28-36, NW.
James and his brother John were termed Boanerges, “sons of thunder.” On one occasion when a certain city refused Jesus entry they were ready to call down fire from heaven to devour its inhabitants. They also had an ambition to be first in Jesus’ kingdom, as betrayed by their mother’s request.—Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 3:17; 9:33-35; 10:35-40; Luke 9:51-55, NW.
Although the book of Acts gives little information concerning James it seems reasonable to conclude that this ‘son of thunder’ was an outspoken minister of the good news. This would account both for his being the first of the twelve apostles to suffer martyrdom and for the Jews’ being so greatly pleased at this murderous action of Herod Agrippa.
Jesus warned that his followers would be persecuted. James the disciple and brother of Jesus and James the apostle and brother of John both had the privilege of proving themselves “faithful even with the danger of death”. They set a good example for all Christians living since their day.—Matt. 10:16-31; Rev. 2:10, NW.