What does the Bible tell us about James the brother of Jesus?

James was a half-brother of Jesus and the son of Mary and Joseph. He was considered an apostle in the early Christian church. Paul wrote, “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). Although this James was not one of the original Twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:2-3), he was an important figure during he Apostolic Age.

Jesus’ siblings

James is one of several of Jesus’ siblings. Mark wrote, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?…” (Mark 6:3 also Matthew 13:55-56).  James’ name appears first in every list of siblings mentioned, which indicates that he was likely the oldest.

His record in the Gospels

James is mentioned indirectly in the gospels only a few times. It appears that Jesus’ brothers were not convinced that He was the Messiah during His early ministry. John wrote, “For neither did his brethren believe in him” (John 7:5).

James may have also been one of Jesus’ brethren who tried to interrupt His work. “While He [Jesus] yet talked to the people, behold, His mother and His brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But He answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-49 also Mark 3:31-35).

James’ change of heart

After the crucifixion, James was one of the earliest witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). This implies that he became a believer in Jesus just before or after His death and resurrection. James is recorded as ministering in the early Christian church. And he was part of the group of believers who prayed in the upper room for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Thus, he would have been part of the first Pentecost. From that time forward, James’ status within the church in Jerusalem started to grow.

His record in Paul’s writings

Paul further describes James as being one of the persons to whom the risen Christ showed himself (1 Corinthians 15:3–8). Paul also refers to him as an apostle (Galatians 1:19). When the Council of Jerusalem met to consider and decided on what rules Gentile Christians should be required to keep, James formulated the final consensus (Acts 15:13-21). His speech showed his reliance on Scripture, and focus on the grace over the law. Although his ministry was dedicated for the Jewish Christians, he cared also for the gentiles believers.

The epistle of James

James the brother of Jesus is the author of the epistle that bears his name, written between 50 and 60 A.D. James identified himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” and not as the Lord’s brother (ch. 1:1). The theme of his book focused on the outworking of faith—the external evidence of internal conversion. The content deals with Christian ethics more than Christian theology. He wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

His death

After the departure of Peter from Jerusalem, James resided over the mother church of Christendom. He sat as the local head of the oldest church at Jerusalem until his death. It is believed that he was martyred about 62 A.D., although there is no biblical record of his death. It is said that he was killed by stoning. Although James died as a martyr, his memory lives on as one who was a faithful servant of the Son of God.

His famous words is a source of encouragement to the Christian church, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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