Who was James the less in the Bible?


By BibleAsk Team

James the less

James the Less, also known as James the son of Alphaeus, is a figure mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible. Despite the limited information available about him, his contributions to the early Christian community are significant.

Background and Identity

James the Less is often referred to as such to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, who was one of the twelve disciples and part of the inner circle with Peter and John. The designation “the Less” may indicate that he was younger or of lesser stature within the group of apostles.

The Bible provides scarce details about James the Less, leaving scholars and theologians with few clues about his life before he became a follower of Jesus. His designation as the son of Alphaeus distinguishes him from James, the son of Zebedee, and implies a possible family connection with the Apostle Matthew, also known as Levi, who was the son of Alphaeus according to Mark 2:14.

Apostleship and Ministry

James the Less is included in the list of the twelve apostles in all three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, and Luke 6:15. However, beyond being named in these lists, the Gospels provide minimal information about his specific activities, teachings, or encounters with Jesus during the earthly ministry.

The term “apostle” is derived from the Greek word “apostolos,” meaning “one who is sent.” The apostles were chosen by Jesus to be His closest followers, witnesses to His teachings, and heralds of the Gospel. While the Bible may not highlight James the Less as prominently as some other apostles, his inclusion among the twelve underscores his significance in the early Christian movement.

The Gospel of John

Interestingly, this disciple is not explicitly mentioned in the Gospel of John. However, scholars speculate that he might be included under the name “James, the son of Alphaeus” in John 14:22. In this verse, during the Last Supper, one of the disciples named James asks Jesus a question. While it’s not explicitly stated that this James is the son of Alphaeus, some scholars suggest this could be a reference to James the Less.

The Crucifixion and Aftermath

James the Less gains a more noticeable presence in the narrative surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. In Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40, he is listed among the women who were present at the crucifixion, possibly indicating his loyalty and courage in standing by Jesus during this difficult time.

After the death of Jesus, he is again mentioned in the list of apostles in Acts 1:13, where he is grouped with the other apostles awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. This passage is crucial in establishing this disciple as part of the early Christian community that played a foundational role in the establishment and spread of the Christian faith.

Legacy and Tradition

Despite the limited information available in the biblical texts, tradition and early Christian writings offer some insights into the post-biblical legacy of James the Less. One significant tradition is that he played a key role in the early Christian community in Jerusalem. Eusebius, a fourth-century historian, notes that he held a prominent position among the apostles and became the leader of the Jerusalem church after James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred.

Additionally, some traditions suggest that he traveled to different regions to spread the Gospel. There are accounts associating him with missionary activities in Egypt and Persia, although the historical accuracy of these traditions remains debated among scholars.


The tradition of James the Less’s martyrdom is deeply rooted in early Christian writings. Eusebius, citing earlier sources, mentions that he was martyred for his faith. The circumstances of his death vary in different accounts, with some traditions suggesting he was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple and others proposing that he was beaten to death with a fuller’s club.


James the Less occupies a significant place in the biblical narrative and early Christian tradition. His designation as “the Less” does not diminish the importance of his role among the twelve apostles and in the nascent Christian community. While the biblical accounts provide limited details about his life and ministry, the traditions surrounding his life highlight his enduring legacy as a faithful disciple, a leader in the Jerusalem church, and a martyr for the Christian faith.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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