James, the Brother of Jesus

[This is an incomplete yet-to-be-organized “dumping ground” of notes collected on James, the brother of Jesus.]

  • James was probably the oldest of Jesus’ brothers (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3).
  • In the gospels, the last mention of Jesus’ brothers prior to His resurrection is found in John 7:5, where we learn that they didn’t yet believe in Him.
  • All of Jesus’ brothers are found, along with His mother Mary, gathered with the disciples in Acts 1:12-14.
  • Following the resurrection, James is next mentioned by name in Acts 12:17, indicating his prominent place in the Jerusalem church.
  • Paul alludes to Jesus appearing to James after the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:7.
  • Subsequently, we read of his leadership role as one of the elders in the Jerusalem church at the council recorded in Acts 15 and Gal. 2.
  • Paul refers to James as one of the pillars of the church in Gal. 2:9.

Excerpts from Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church Series

The following notes are taken from the Kindle edition of Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church – Complete in 8 volumes (Annotated).

Next to Peter, who was the oecumenical leader of Jewish Christianity, stands James, the brother, of the Lord (also called by post-apostolic writers “James the Just,” and “Bishop of Jerusalem”), as the local head of the oldest church and the leader of the most conservative portion of Jewish Christianity. He seems to have taken the place of James the son of Zebedee, after his martyrdom, A.D. 44. He became, with Peter and John, one of the three “pillars” of the church of the circumcision.

(Kindle Locations 4959-4962)

Details on Jesus’ Post-Resurrection Appearance to James

James was not a believer before the resurrection of our Lord. He was the oldest of the four “brethren” (James, Joseph, Judas, Simon), of whom John reports with touching sadness: “Even his brethren did not believe in him.” …

But a special personal appearance of the risen Lord brought about his conversion, as also that of his brothers, who after the resurrection appear in the company of the apostles. This turning-point in his life is briefly but significantly alluded to by Paul, who himself was converted by a personal appearance of Christ. It is more fully reported in an interesting fragment of the, “Gospel according to the Hebrews” (one of the oldest and least fabulous of the apocryphal Gospels), which shows the sincerity and earnestness of James even before his conversion. He had sworn, we are here told, “that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein the Lord had drunk the cup [of his passion] until he should see him rising from the dead.” The Lord appeared to him and communed with him, giving bread to James the Just and saying: “My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from them that sleep.”

In the Acts and in the Epistle to the Galatians, James appears as the most conservative of the Jewish converts, at the head of the extreme right wing; yet recognizing Paul as the apostle of the Gentiles, giving him the right hand of fellowship, as Paul himself reports, and unwilling to impose upon the Gentile Christians the yoke of circumcision.

(Kindle Locations 4967-4969, 4975-4987) 

James’ Role in the Early Church

The mission of James was evidently to stand in the breach between the synagogue and the church, and to lead the disciples of Moses gently to Christ. He was the only man that could do it in that critical time of the approaching judgment of the holy city. As long as there was any hope of a conversion of the Jews as a nation, he prayed for it and made the transition as easy as possible. When that hope vanished his mission was fulfilled.

According to Josephus he was, at the instigation of the younger Ananus, the high priest, of the sect of the Sadducees, whom he calls “the most unmerciful of all the Jews in the execution of judgment,” stoned to death with some others, as “breakers of the law,” i.e. Christians, in the interval between the procuratorship of Festus and that of Albinus, that is, in the year 63. The Jewish historian adds that this act of injustice created great indignation among those most devoted to the law (the Pharisees), and that they induced Albinus and King Agrippa to depose Ananus (a son of the Annas mentioned in Luke 3: 2; John 18: 13). He thus furnishes an impartial testimony to the high standing of James even among the Jews.

Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian historian about A.D. 170, puts the martyrdom a few years later, shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem (69). He relates that James was first thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple by the Jews and then stoned to death. His last prayer was an echo of that of his brother and Lord on the cross: “God, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

(Kindle Locations 4994-5007)

James’ Attire

According to tradition, mentioned by Epiphanius. James, like St. John at Ephesus, wore the high-priestly petalon, or golden plate on the forehead, with the inscription: “Holiness to the Lord” (Ex. 28: 36). And in the Liturgy of St. James, the brother of Jesus is raised to the dignity of “the brother of the very God” (ajdelfovqeo”).

(Kindle Locations 5012-5015)

I personally find this notion that James and John would wear the petalon difficult to believe, for it seems to opposed to the lowly call of servanthood of the Master.

James’ Supposed Successor(s) in Jerusalem

After the martyrdom of James he was succeeded by Symeon, a son of Clopas and a cousin of Jesus (and of James). He continued to guide the church at Jerusalem till the reign of Trajan, when he died a martyr at the great age of a hundred and twenty years. The next thirteen bishops of Jerusalem, who came, however, in rapid succession, were likewise of Jewish descent.

Throughout this period the church of Jerusalem preserved its strongly Israelitish type, but joined with it “the genuine knowledge of Christ,” and stood in communion with the Catholic church, from which the Ebionites, as heretical Jewish Christians, were excluded. After the line of the fifteen circumcised bishops had run out, and Jerusalem was a second time laid waste under Hadrian, the mass of the Jewish Christians gradually merged in the orthodox Greek Church.

(Kindle Locations 5049-5056)

James’ Lifestyle and Death

The description of James by Hegesippus (from Eusebius, H. E. II. 23).” Hegesippus also, who flourished nearest the days of the apostles, gives (in the fifth book of his Memorials) this most accurate account of him: ” ’Now James, the brother of the Lord, who (as there are many of this name) was surnamed the Just by all (oJ ajdelfov” tou’ Kurivou   jIavkwbo” oJ ojnomasqei;” uJpo; pavntwn divkaio”), from the Lord’s time even to our own, received the government of the church with (or from) the apostles [metav, in conjunction with, or according to another reading, para; tw’n ajpostovlwn, which would more clearly distinguish him from the apostles]. This man [ou | to” not this apostle] was consecrated from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, and abstained from animal food. No razor came upon his head, he never anointed himself with oil, and never used a bath [probably the luxury of the Roman bath, with its sudatorium, frigidarium, etc., but not excluding the usual ablutions practised by all devout Jews]. He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary [not the holy of holies, but the court of priests]. He wore no woolen, but linen garments only. He was in the habit of entering the temple alone, and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as a camel’s, on account of his constant supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed, on account of his exceeding great piety, he was called the Just [Zaddik] and Oblias [divkaio” kai; wjbliva”, probably a corruption of the Hebrew Ophel am, Tower of the People], which signifies justice and the bulwark of the people (perioch; tou’ laou’); as the prophets declare concerning him. Some of the seven sects of the people, mentioned by me above in my Memoirs, used to ask him what was the door, [probably the estimate or doctrine] of Jesus? and he answered that he was the Saviour. And of these some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the aforesaid sects did not believe either a resurrection, or that he was coming to give to every one according to his works; as many, however, as did believe, did so on account of James. And when many of the rulers also believed, there arose a tumult among the Jews, Scribes, and Pharisees, saying that the whole people were in danger of looking for Jesus as the Messiah.

They came therefore together, and said to James: We entreat thee, restrain the people, who are led astray after Jesus, as though he were the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade all that are coming to the feast of the Passover rightly concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in thee. For we and all the people bear thee testimony that thou art just, and art no respecter of persons. Persuade therefore the people not to be led astray by Jesus, for we and all the people have great confidence in thee. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple, that thou mayest be conspicuous on high, and thy words may be easily heard by all the people; for all the tribes have come together on account of the Passover, with some of the Gentiles also. The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees, therefore, placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him: “O thou just man, whom we ought all to believe, since the people are led astray after Jesus that was crucified, declare to us what is the door of Jesus that was crucified.” And he answered with a loud voice: “Why do ye ask me respecting Jesus the Son of Man?   He is now sitting in the heavens, on the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven.” And as many were confirmed, and gloried in this testimony of James, and said:, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” these same priests and Pharisees said to one another: “We have done badly in affording such testimony to Jesus, but let us go up and cast him down, that they may dread to believe in him.” And they cried out: “Ho, ho, the Just himself is deceived.” And they fulfilled that which is written in Isaiah, “Let us take away the Just, because he is offensive to us; wherefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.” [Comp. Is. 3: 10.]

And going up, they cast down the just man, saying to one another: “Let us stone James the Just.” And they began to stone him, as he did not die immediately when cast down; but turning round, he knelt down, saying:, I entreat thee, O Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Thus they were stoning him, when one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, a son of the Rechabites, spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 35: 2), cried out, saying: “Cease, what are you doing?   The Just is praying for you.” And one of them, a fuller, beat out the brains of the Just with the club that he used to beat out clothes. Thus he suffered martyrdom, and they buried him on the spot where his tombstone is still remaining, by the temple. He became a faithful witness, both to the Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. Immediately after this, Vespasian invaded and took Judaea.’ “

“Such,” adds Eusebius, “is the more ample testimony of Hegesippus, in which he fully coincides with Clement. So admirable a man indeed was James, and so celebrated among all for his justice, that even the wiser part of the Jews were of opinion that this was the cause of the immediate siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them for no other reason than the crime against him. Josephus also has not hesitated to superadd this testimony in his works: ’These things,’ says he, ’happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was the brother of him that is called Christ and whom the Jews had slain, notwithstanding his preeminent justice.’ The same writer also relates his death, in the twentieth book of his Antiquities, in the following words,’ ” etc.

Then Eusebius gives the account of Josephus.

(Kindle Locations 5154-5199)

Notes Regarding the Jerusalem Council

The following excerpts are discussing the Jerusalem Council mentioned in Acts 15 and Gal. 2. Schaff dates the conference at AD 50.

All the Christians of the first generation were converts from Judaism or heathenism. It could not be expected that they should suddenly lose the influence of opposite kinds of religious training and blend at once in unity.

(Kindle Locations 6052-6053)

In another form the same difference even yet appears between the different branches of Christendom. The Catholic church is Jewish-Christian or Petrine in its character; the Evangelical church is Gentile or Pauline. …

The relation between these two fundamental forms of apostolic Christianity is in general that of authority and freedom, law and gospel, the conservative and the progressive, the objective and the subjective. These antithetic elements are not of necessity mutually exclusive. They are mutually complemental, and for perfect life they must co-exist and co-operate. But in reality they often run to extremes, and then of course fall into irreconcilable contradiction. Exclusive Jewish Christianity sinks into Ebionism; exclusive Gentile Christianity into Gnosticism. And these heresies were by no means confined to the apostolic and post-apostolic ages; pseudo-Petrine and pseudo-Pauline errors, in ever-varying phases, run more or less throughout the whole history of the church. …

But even after the baptism of the uncircumcised centurion, and Peter’s defence of it before the church of Jerusalem, the old leaven still wrought in some Jewish Christians who had formerly belonged to the rigid and exclusive sect of the Pharisees.

(Kindle Locations 6056-6057, 6061-6066, 6074-6076)

To avert this calamity and to settle this irrepressible conflict, the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch resolved to hold a private and a public conference at Jerusalem.

(Kindle Locations 6100-6101)

The last and weightiest speaker was James, the brother of the Lord, the local head of the Jewish Christian church and bishop of Jerusalem, who as such seems to have presided over the council. He represented as it were the extreme right wing of the Jewish church bordering close on the Judaizing faction. It was through his influence chiefly no doubt that the Pharisees were converted who created this disturbance. In a very characteristic speech he endorsed the sentiments of Symeon— he preferred to call Peter by his Jewish name— concerning the conversion of the Gentiles as being in accordance with ancient prophecy and divine fore-ordination; but he proposed a compromise to the effect that while the Gentile disciples should not be troubled with circumcision, they should yet be exhorted to abstain from certain practices which were particularly offensive to pious Jews, namely, from eating meat offered to idols, from tasting blood, or food of strangled animals, and from every form of carnal uncleanness.

(Kindle Locations 6153-6160)

The address entirely accords in spirit and language with his own epistle, which represents the gospel as law, though “the perfect law of freedom,” with his later conduct toward Paul in advising him to assume the vow of the Nazarites and thus to contradict the prejudices of the myriads of converted Jews, and with the Jewish Christian tradition which represents him as the model of an ascetic saint equally revered by devout Jews and Christians, as the “Rampart of the People” (Obliam), and the intercessor of Israel who prayed in the temple without ceasing for its conversion and for the aversion of the impending doom.

(Kindle Locations 6163-6167)

The restrictions remained in full force at least eight years, since James reminded Paul of them on his last visit to Jerusalem in 58. The Jewish Christians observed them no doubt with few exceptions till the downfall of idolatry, and the Oriental church even to this day abstains from blood and things strangled; but the Western church never held itself bound to this part of the decree, or soon abandoned some of its restrictions. Thus by moderation and mutual concession in the spirit of peace and brotherly love a burning controversy was settled, and a split happily avoided.

(Kindle Locations 6182-6188)


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