James, Jesus’ Brother

James was one of Jesus’ four named brothers

Is this One not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Jude and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they were taking-offense at Him.

Mark 6:3 (DLNT)

James, Leader of the Jerusalem Church

and the leader of the assemblies in Jerusalem. The Apostle Paul also identified James as Jesus’ brother, and an apostle, though not one of the original twelve disciples.

But I did not see another of the apostles except James, the brother of the Lord.

Galatians 1:19 (DLNT)

In fact, Paul revealed James did not become a follower of Jesus until after the resurrection.

At least some Jewish Christians tried to use James’ name as their claim of authority to insist upon full adherence to Moses’ Law, and to undermine Paul’s ministry.

James the Just

But, James, who came to be known as “James the Just,” opposed Jewish Christians insisting that all believers be circumcised and submit to the Law as outlined in the Hebrew scriptures. Still, he did support Jewish Christians who wanted to continue in the practices and lifestyle of their heritage and faith.  

His letter was written possibly in the mid-to-late 50’s AD, more as a circular of wisdom and exhortation, to be passed from community to community, much like the letter written by the Jerusalem Council around 50 AD, recorded in Acts 15. Christian assemblies were experiencing not only increased pressure and persecution, the situation in Judea and Jewish communities was also unravelling. Frustration had been growing over the corruption associated with Roman rule, grinding poverty overburdened by onerous taxation, the lack of justice, increasing violence, and one uprising after another brutally and swiftly dealt with.

James was martyred around 62 AD, having been either stoned or thrown from a parapet of the temple, by the Jewish religious elite. He died just a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the consequent shift of the Christian center from Jerusalem to Antioch.

James in Greek—Jacob!

When I opened the Book of James in the Greek text, the very first thing I noticed was the name.

Ἰάκωβος | Jacobus

<cough> <cough> <splutter>

Whoopsie Daisie! What have we here? How did Jacobus turn into James?!

I turned to the Biblical Archaeology Society for my answer.

Since the 13th century, the form of the Latin name Iacomus began its use in English. In the 14th century, John Wycliffe made the first Bible translation into English and translated Iakobus as James. (However, in both the Old and New Testaments he arbitrarily used the name Jacob for the patriarch). In all future English translations the name stuck, especially after 1611, when King James I sponsored the translation then called the Authorized Version. Since 1797 it has been called the King James Bible.

Mark Wilson, “James or Jacob in the Bible?” Biblical Archaeology Society, May 7, 2021

The article goes on to delineate several important issues this name change generates.

  1. It creates awkwardness for scholars and their lay readers, and initially obfuscated the significance of the discovery of the James/Ya’akov Ossuary.
  1. James’ lineage is also hidden! The name Jacob appears in Jesus’ genealogy first as the Patriarch of Israel (Matthew 1:2, Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers) and again as Jesus’ grandfather (Matthew 1:15-16, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.) It seems Joseph was able to name one of his sons after his own father, Jacob.
  1. James’ Jewish heritage is also minimized, as Jacob seems to have been the third most popular name for Jewish boys in his day.
  1. And James’ had written his epistle in the style of a diaspora letter, akin to Jeremiah’s “Letter to the Exiles,” and other literary works well-known in James’ day, such as in the Books of the Maccabees and the Apocalypse of Baruch. The whole thrust of his own introductory sentence is lost, for he intended it to read,

Jacob, of God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ a slave, to the twelve tribes that are in the Diaspora, be of good cheer”

James 1:1 (my translation)

James is Jacob Throughout

Now, you maybe are bracing for this, but guess what? Guess what Zebedee’s older son’s name was? Did you guess James? Well. It is not. It is actually Ἰάκωβος | Jacobus

Okay, how about this one. Jesus had twelve specially selected disciples, eleven of whom became apostles. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, their names are:

  1. Peter son of John
  2. Andrew son of John
  3. James (<cough> Jacob) son of Zebedee
  4. John son of Zebedee
  5. Philip
  6. Batholomew
  7. Matthew
  8. Thomas Didymus (“The Twin”)
  9. James son of Alphaeus
  10. Jude (or Thaddeus) son of James
  11. Simon the Cananaean (or Zealot)
  12. Judas the Iscariot

Yup. John’s brother was actually Jacob.

But, what was Alphaeus’ son’s name again? Did you say James? Nope.  Ἰάκωβος ὁ τοῦ Ἁλφαίου | Jacobus him of Alphaeus

So maybe at least Jude’s father’s name was James. Right? Wrong. Ἰούδαν Ἰακώβου | Jude of Jacobus.

At least translators were consistent, anyway.

Book of Jacob

So the introduction to James’ book is to first say it is really Jacob’s book, and he was writing in the tradition of his namesake the Patriarch Jacob (Israel), to the twelve tribes of Israel scattered throughout the exile,

. . . full of references and allusions to the Torah and Wisdom Literature of the Jewish Bible (Christians’ Old Testament). Scholars consider James the most “Jewish” book in the New Testament.

Mark Wilson, “James or Jacob in the Bible?” Biblical Archaeology Society, May 7, 2021

With many thanks to a really wonderful resource on YouTube called “The Bible Project,” let us begin our study of James with this overview of his letter to “The Twelve Tribes of the Diaspora.”.

[The first page of James in Minuscule 319, a Greek minuscule manuscript of the New Testament. | By Unknown author – Minuscule 85 (Gregory-Aland), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14316420]

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