Who was James?
This James is mentioned by name only twice in the Gospels, i.e. when, on the visit of Jesus to Nazareth, the countrymen of our Lord referred in contemptuous terms to His earthly kindred, in order to disparage His preaching (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). As James was one of "his brethren," he was probably among the group of Christ's relatives who sought to interview Him during His tour through Galilee with the Twelve (Matthew 12:46). By the same reasoning, he accompanied Jesus on His journey to Capernaum (John 2:12), and joined in attempting to persuade Him to depart from Galilee for Judea on the eve of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:3). At this feast James was present (John 7:10), but was at this time a non-believer in Jesus (compare John 7:5, "Even his brethren did not believe on him").
Yet the seeds of conversion were being sown within him, for, after the crucifixion, he remained in Jerusalem with his mother and brethren, and formed one of that earliest band of believers who "with one accord continued stedfastly in prayer" (Acts 1:14). While there, he probably took part in the election of Matthias to the vacant apostleship (Acts 1:15-25). James was one of the earliest witnesses to the resurrection, for, after the risen Lord had manifested Himself to the five hundred, "he was seen of James" (1 Corinthians 15:7 the King James Version).
In the Epistles
By this his growing belief and prayerful expectancy received confirmation. About 37 or 38 AD, James, "the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:19), was still in Jerusalem, and had an interview there for the first time with Paul, when the latter returned from his 3 years' sojourn in Damascus to visit Cephas, or Peter (Galatians 1:18,19; compare Acts 9:26). In several other passages the name of James is coupled with that of Peter. Thus, when Peter escaped from prison (about 44 AD), he gave instructions to those in the house of John Mark that they should immediately inform "James and the brethren" of the manner of his escape (Acts 12:17).
By the time of the Jerusalem convention, i.e. about 51 AD (compare Galatians 2:1), James had reached the position of first overseer in the church (compare Acts 15:13,19). Previous to this date, during Paul's ministry at Antioch, he had dispatched certain men thither to further the mission, and the teaching of these had caused dissension among the newly converted Christians and their leaders (Acts 15:1,2; Galatians 2:12). The conduct of Peter, over whom James seems to have had considerable influence, was the principal matter of contention (compare Galatians 2:11 if). However, at the Jerusalem convention the dispute was amicably settled, and the pillars of the church, James, John and Cephas, gave to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9).
The speech of James on this occasion (Acts 15:13-29), his sympathy with the religious needs of the Gentileworld (Acts 15:17), his desire that formalism should raise no barrier to their moral and spiritual advancement (Acts 15:19,20,28,29), and his large-hearted tributes to the "beloved Barnabas and Paul" (Acts 15:25,26), indicate that James was a leader in whom the church was blessed, a leader who loved peace more than faction, the spirit more than the law, and who perceived that religious communities with different forms of observance might still live and work together in common allegiance to Christ. Once more (58 AD), James was head of the council at Jerusalem when Paul made report of his labors, this time of his 3rd missionary Journey (Acts 21:17).
At this meeting Paul was admonished for exceeding the orders he had received at the first council, in that he had endeavored to persuade the converted Jews also to neglect circumcision (Acts 21:21), and was commanded to join in the vow of purification (Acts 21:23-26). There is no Scriptural account of the death of James From 1 Corinthians 9:5 it has been inferred that he was married. This is, however, only a conjecture, as the passage refers to those who "lead about a sister, a wife" (the King James Version), while, so far as we know, James remained throughout his life in Jerusalem. This James has been regarded as the author of the Epistle of James, "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ ."
References in Apocryphal Literature
James figures in one of the miraculous events recorded in the Gnostic "Gospel of the Infancy, by Thomas the Israelite philosopher," being cured of a snake-bite by the infant Jesus (compare Hennecke, Handbuch zu den neutestamentlichen Apokryphen, 73). According to the Gospel of the Hebrews (compare ib, 11-21), James had also partaken of the cup of the Lord, and refused to eat till he had seen the risen Lord.
Christ acknowledged this tribute by appearing to James first. In the Ac of Peter (compare Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, II, 475), it is stated that "three days after the ascension of our Lord into heaven, James, whom our Lord called his `brother in the flesh,' consecrated the Offering and we all drew nigh to partake thereof: and when ten days had passed after the ascension of our Lord, we all assembled in the holy fortress of Zion, and we stood up to say the prayer of sanctification, and we made supplication unto God and besought Him with humility, and James also entreated Him concerning the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Offering."
The Preaching of James the Just (compare Budge, II, 78-81) tells of the appointment of James to the bishopric of Jerusalem, of his preaching, healing of the sick and casting out of devils there. This is confirmed by the evidence of Clement of Alexandria (Euseb., HE, II, 1). In the Martyrdom of James the Just (compare Budge, II, 82-89), it is stated that J., "the youngest of the sons of Joseph," alienated, by his preaching, Piobsata from her husband Ananus, the governor of Jerusalem.
Ananus therefore inflamed the Jews against James, and they hurled him down from off the pinnacle of the temple. Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, II, 23), and Josephus (Ant., XX, ix, 1), testify to the general truth of this. It is thus probable that James was martyred about 62 or 63 AD. Besides the epistle which bears his name, James was also the reputed author of the Protevangelium Jacobi, a work which originated in the 2nd century and received later additions
The following article is excerpted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.
C. M. Kerr
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia