JAMES, BROTHER OF JESUS (Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ)

There are four to six persons with the name James mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible. There are two James among the 12 apostles or disciples on Jesus. They are James, son of Zebedee and James, son of Alphaeus. Here we treat James, brother of Jesus.

Four brothers of Jesus are mentioned by the evangelist Mathew. Amazed with the wisdom of Jesus his own village people at Nazareth asked: “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t Mary his mother, and aren’t James, Joseph, Simon and Judas his brothers?” (Mt 13, 55). Bible scholars believe that these four brothers of Jesus are either Jesus’ cousins or half-brothers. Given the Asian culture, I am inclined to think that these four brothers are cousins of Jesus. If James and the other three brothers were blood brothers of them same father and mother, there would have been more direct mention of them in the four Gospels and the Acts. The fact that there are numerous references to brothers and sisters in general in the Bible, indicates that these words used mostly for close relationship and not necessarily to indicate blood relationship of children of the same parents.

James, the brother of Jesus was a very important person in the history of the early Church at Jerusalem. Paul has mentioned the name of James to who Jesus has appeared after his resurrection. “Then he appeared to James, and afterwards to all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15, 7).

James is acknowledged as a prominent leader of the Christians at Jerusalem. In his autobiographical writings in the letter to Galesians, Paul has referred to James as “the Lord’s brother”. Besides Peter, James was the only apostle Paul met while he went to Jerusalem and stayed two weeks with Peter. “I went to Jerusalem to obtain information from Peter, and I stayed with him for two weeks. I did not see any other apostle except James, the Lord’s brother” (Cal. 1, 18-19). Certainly James was the most important Christian leader in Jerusalem after Peter.

When Peter got miraculously freed from the prison, he went so the home Mary, mother of John Mark where he found many people praying for him. After explaining to the people about how he was freed, Peter told them, “Tell this to James and the rest of the believers” (Acts 12, 17). Here has indicated how important a person James was to Peter.

After Paul’s first meeting Peter and James at Jerusalem, fourteen years later he returned to Jerusalem. Mentioning the visit Paul has referred to James as one of the 3 pilars of the Church at Jerusalem. “James, Peter and John, who seemed to be the leaders, recognized that God had given me this special task.

In the early Church there was a powerful group of Jewish Christians opposed to welcoming Gentile Christians who did not observe the Law of Moses, that is the Jewish laws. Paul did not want the Gentile Christians to observe the Law of Moses. James understood Paul’s point of view. Thanks to his personal sanctity and political wisdom, James was an accepted and respected leader by both the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.

The Apostles and other leaders met in Jerusalem in the first council to resolve the problems arising from welcoming Gentiles, that is non-Jewish people like the Greeks into the Christian-fold, the Way. After the Council discussion it was James who gave the ruling on behalf of the council as its chairperson or in our terms, the Bishop of Jerusalem. After asking Paul to join four men in the ceremony of purification in the Temple James continued, “But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent them a letter telling them we decided that they must not eat any food that has been offered to idols, or any blood, or any animal that has been strangled, and that they must keep themselves from sexual immorality” (Acts 21, 25).

Some biblical scholars like Herbert Lockyer, author of “All the Men of the Bible”, believe that this James, the brother of the Lord, is the some called “James the Just”, and the author of letter bearing his name.

The Jewish historians Josephus and Hegesippus have recorded the martyrdom of James, brother of Jesus. At the instigation of the high priests and the Sanhedrin, James was thrown from the high wall of the Temple area down into Kidron Valley. The fall did not kill him. So his enemies made him a martyr by stoning and clubbing in the ravine. (contact the author: यह ईमेल पता spambots से संरक्षित किया जा रहा है. आप जावास्क्रिप्ट यह देखने के सक्षम होना चाहिए. )

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