Who was James?
Who was James? He was Jesus' half brother. While they had the same mother, their father was different. The following will give you a good idea of who he really was.
The Book of James is a complete work of repentance. Trapped in the human condition, James could not see past his own piety. Like all others who have experienced the transition from darkness to light, his spiritual eyes were open to see the error in religion as compared to the truth in Christ. While this reflection will be based on the writings of the Book of James, a historical recollection of the man will help set the table to understand the mindset of his writings, as well as his final moments that led to his martyrdom.
What position in the family would James have been? Most early church fathers agree that Jesus was born between 3 B.C. and 1 B.C. so for our purposes, we will assume 2 B.C. Most Jewish traditions point to naming male children after the father, then the grandfather, etc. The two scriptures that seem to name Jesus’ siblings collectively are Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. We know Jesus’ legal father was Joseph and his legal grandfather was Jacob. We get insight into the name James when looking in the Hebrew language. The word is Iakobos or Jacobus. We would say Jacob in the English language. Why James? According to Bill Mounce, “The consensus is that the name goes from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to French and finally to English, and it is the succession of changes that account for the changes. One person wrote: Yaʻaqov (Hebrew) → Iacobus (Greek) → Iacomus (Latin) → Jammes (Old French) → James (English)”.
James, or Jacob, was named after his grandfather. The first male in Joseph and Mary’s family was Jesus. The angel Gabriel, in Matthew 1:21, told them to name him Jesus. Using this information, the first male born to both Joseph and Mary would have been Joses or Joseph, in English. According to the same two scriptures that list the siblings mentioned above, James had at least two sisters, as well as the four brothers named. Whatever order the female siblings were born would be irrelevant for this study. The middle male child would have been Jacob; or James in the English.
A glimpse into his being strong-willed is seen in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55. If James is the middle child, why is he mentioned before Joseph or the rest of the brothers? The Holy Spirit has a way of directing us to the truth, even when we are not looking specifically for it.
While it is impossible to age James, we can get a glimpse by using common sense. Use the date of 2 B.C. for Jesus’ birth and a separation of about 18 months in between each subsequent birth. Mary would have had another child around 1 or 2 A. D. Then another around 3 or 4 A. D. Using this, and speculating of a boy then girl birth rate, James would have been born around 7 or 8 A.D. While this may be pure speculation of his age, we can be sure that, at the very least, he was the middle male child.
The challenges that accompany the middle child can shape their lives and create the “black sheep of the family” image. The oldest is usually revered by the parents as taking care of the younger children. The youngest is usually babied more by the parents, knowing there will be no more to baby. By unintentional neglection via the parents, the middle child has a tendency of drifting away and becoming a loner. There is an actual medical term known as Middle Child Syndrome as outlined by such sources as Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, and Prevention Magazine among others. With James being the middle male child, he felt the need to assert himself and find relevance.
With the full understanding of Mary and Joseph as to who Jesus really was, it would be impossible for their favoritism not to show. The very glaring example of sibling rivalry and hatred toward those who have found more favor with their parents is Joseph, the brother of the inflamed 12 tribes of Israel; Jacob’s (Israel) sons. So much so, they sold him into slavery to get rid of him. The real difference here is Joseph was next to last in family ranking, where Jesus was first in line in His. All children need attention, and while it is difficult to go through school knowing your teachers have had your sibling in class before you, it is even more difficult knowing that the child you are chasing excelled in everything they did. While this is not an exact science, it gives a better understanding as to what will be reviewed next.
In the third chapter of Mark, Jesus goes from healing on the Sabbath and confronting the leadership, to basically running from the throng that was trying to just touch Him. He ended up in the mountain commissioning His twelve core disciples for duty. When they came down from the mountain and into town, the crowds were back. He and His group then went into a house. While Strong’s definition for house can mean family house in the original language, it is unclear of whose house it was. However, when the crowds were so great outside the home that they could not eat, Jesus and the disciples went out to them. It is with verse 21 that we start to see how Jesus’ family feels about Him. Reviewing 28 separate Biblical translations of Mark 3:21, family or relatives is used two-thirds of the time, while friends is used only a third. If it were truly family, about this time, James would have been about 20 years old and on his way to learning the ways of the Jews. Did he lead this? Did he go and get his mother to help in retrieving Jesus?
The size of the crowd would have been huge. So much so that Mark 3:23 says that Jesus called the Pharisees unto himself or had them brought to the center of the crowd where He was healing. It is during this confrontation with the Pharisees that Jesus mother and “brethren” have come to bring Him home. The word for brethren, in Greek, is used singularly most of the time. If that is the case here, using the previous verse referenced, Mark 3:21, it was James that was with her.
There is an interesting conversation between Jesus and His brethren in the seventh chapter of John. Jesus was avoiding the leadership due to the threat of assassination. His brethren told Jesus that He should go and show these works and quit hiding; knowing that the Jewish leadership wanted to kill Him. It is interesting to know that brethren is often singular and based on previous findings, could have been just James. After this, Jesus then explained that His time “had not yet come”, but theirs had. He was letting them, and us, know that they were not believers yet and still had time to believe. As the eldest, Jesus had authority in His house with the absence of their father. When He told them to go on ahead to the Feast of the Tabernacles, they went.
Take a step back for just a minute. Most scholars agree that Jesus life, between the ages of twelve and thirty, are undocumented. However, if you review Psalm 69:8, you see that, through the psalmist David, Jesus was pining about His position within the family. Specifically, He points out that while becoming a stranger to His brethren, He was “alien to His mother’s children”. Interesting that the word for children is ben in the Hebrew. This word is used for son. He was alien to His mother’s son; singular. Out of the 4,904 uses of the word in the scriptures, it is used 2,998 times for son or man. Jesus cried inside because of the relationship with His family, but it can be argued it was most notably, James.
The direction for this thinking can best be brought home by Paul. According to 1 Corinthians 15:7, Jesus appeared directly to James after His resurrection. No matter who you are, either now or in scripture, to have a relationship with our Lord and Savior, you must have a personal meeting with Him; 1 Corinthians 15:7 may have been that meeting. Most scholars point to the Upper Room and that it states Jesus mother and His brethren were there. Yet, the verse right before states Judas, the “brother of James” was there while not mentioning James at all. If James was a believer by now, wouldn’t he have been there? If nothing else, to support his mother and family? If the Holy Spirit had mentioned him first in the other references, it only makes sense He would have here as well.
What happened at the cross? Jesus’ mother was mentioned as the mother of James first, then Joseph. This is seen in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40. Why is this? The next day, Mary is mentioned again as the mother of James in Mark 16:1. The Holy Spirit is encoding the underlying message for us.
This brings the shift back to 1 Corinthians 15:7. Jesus made four individual appearances after His resurrection; Mary Magdalene, Peter, James, and Saul (Paul). While all four could be put into many boxes, seeing them for their individual transitions fits the narrative best. All four were outspoken, brazen, and motivators. It can also be argued that they had the need to be encouraged after the resurrection due to the sensitivity of their personalities and impression in their own minds as to the last they remember of Jesus in His earthly ministry as well as their own personal histories. James treated his brother with disrespect and disdain throughout Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus loved him anyway and even showed it by their conversation that is recorded. James did what all do in the situation given; he ran. Lovingly, Jesus found him, and according to 1 Corinthians 15:7, He went to him. What was said? It doesn’t matter. We know from the results that James became the strongest Christian in the early church, as in the same manner that before the resurrection he was, perhaps, Jesus' strongest critic.
The things we normally run from make us the strongest we can be by design. James ran from his brother. Like Jonah discovered, there is nowhere to hide from Him. When saved from something horrific, one normally becomes the biggest advocate for saving others from whatever the malady is or was. In James’ case, sin was the disease and Jesus was, and still is, the cure. It is only natural for someone to speak out plainly and boldly if the admission of wrongdoing was what led them out of the predicament they were in; as was the case for James.
Without exception, good scholars across the board agree that Mary and Joseph were good Jewish parents. This assumption would lead to their children being in the synagogue for Sabbath celebrations and learning the Jewish laws and customs. With what is presumed to be an untimely death of Joseph, Mary’s husband, Jesus would have been elevated to the head of the house. This is outlined when in John 19:26 and 27, Jesus turns the care of His mother over to the Apostle John while He was dying on the cross. He wanted to make sure she would be in a home with believers when He was gone. With the internal turmoil of His own brothers, this would be the best option for her.
Growing up in that environment, James would have been taught the law and the prophets. While it is unclear of his ability to learn, it can be assumed that with the challenge of a brother claiming to be God, he wanted to learn as much as possible. It is in this vein that we transition to his writings.
While there are many issues addressed in what we call The Book of James, when broken down, they become clearly things that may have been very personal to him. The book was most likely written right after the events of Acts chapter 12 with the references to scattering and suffering. This would have been about 44 or 45 A.D. Using our age model, he would have been in his mid to late thirties by this time.
The greeting is very telling in that he doesn’t feel worthy to name drop his big brother, but to simply call Jesus, the Lord. While it would have been correct to say that he was Jesus’ brother, he only referred to himself as a servant. Jesus doesn’t just change hearts, He trades them out for new, as evidenced in the miraculous turnaround in James. A review of the remainder of the book will break down the verses into sections of what can be argued as his own lowlights and thus became his mission to keep others from making the same mistakes outlined.
In verses 2-4 of chapter 1, he deals with patience. Oddly enough, he brings it up twice more in verses 16-21 and in verses 7-8 of chapter 5. This is clearly the most difficult position of his transition. He starts his letter with it and reviews it near the end of the letter. The Jewish leaders were the most learned men on the planet and fully understood the prophecies concerning the Messiah and looked for Him to come. This required patience, and while some were, others became frustrated each time a new Messiah would come into the fray. In Jesus’ day, as today, many came forward claiming to be The Messiah. In Matthews 24:23-25, Jesus points this out clearly to His disciples.
James then transitions this patience into wisdom. It takes wisdom to be patient and he says to ask for it while hammering home the point of not being double-minded or wavering while in the process of asking. True faith does not waver but accepts what is promised.
Then, knowing his letter will be read by rich and poor alike, he gives a call for an even playing field by letting the poor know that riches will not last and that all will be equal with the Lord. While the temptations may come, he makes sure the reader understands that God tempts no one. While explaining the transition from temptation to death, he makes it clear that all good things come from God and that to think otherwise is an error in judgment. It is the next movement in the letter that makes James who he is.
The leaders of the Jews made it a spectacle to be in public while doing God’s work. James is experienced at this and says it is not enough to just talk about it; you must mean it and actually do good works. By starting this portion of the letter with imploring all to listen twice as much as they speak; it ties the loose ends with the idea that you deceive yourself if you cannot control your own tongue. The leadership of the Jews put their foot in it many times while trying to impress Jesus with their vast knowledge. James was making the point that it means nothing if there is no control with actual works that show your real religion and not a false religion. In case the reader cannot determine the difference, he gives a great example of taking care of orphans and widows. The work of orphans and widows is mostly done in private and receives only the glory of God and not those watching. Being doers of the word, and not hearers only will eliminate the possibility of being a hypocrite.
The translators who divided James’ letter into chapters, did a masterful job of putting a new chapter break to introduce the sin of respecting rich people over the poor. The leadership was very clear that status made you who you were in the synagogue. Unfortunately, Jesus called them a generation of vipers in Matthew 12:35. Vipers are the very poisonous snake also known as the asp. The poison from this snake kills quickly and that is the reference Jesus was making. This sort of teaching was poisonous, and James understood it firsthand. He called out the respecting of persons as sin; plain and simple.
Of course, any good Jew understands the law and by tying the law to this, he makes his point well. If someone were to do everything perfectly, yet be sinful in one area, they are sinners in all areas and in need of a savior. After this, he takes it back to the respecter of persons argument by saying if they are not merciful to others, mercy will not be shown to them. He then further enhances with the examples of needing clothing or food. It is conceivable that he gains this from experience as his example shows the offender saying, go in peace without doing anything to help, thus tying back in the works issue as outlined previously.
James addresses false teachers extensively by using the tongue as the main culprit in the problem. He starts out chapter three with the word masters, which is translated as teachers. He understood false teaching and was trying to help those who teach to understand the repercussions for bad presentation while culminating the thought with the comparison of blessings and cursings. It is obvious that the teachers he had encountered do this and the admonition is to correct it.
By the end of the third chapter, James comes to grips with the envying he may have felt toward Jesus. By pointing out that envying and strife create confusion, the position sounds like it comes from experience. Having grown up with God as a brother and seeing only good there, no doubt confusion was induced by seeing this, while at the same time, feeling envy.
The fourth chapter begins with a chastisement of lust and warring members within ourselves. By the fourth verse, the comparison to adultery hits home by showing you can not serve the world and the Lord. In the process, he makes it clear that the proud are resisted; an obvious problem with the educated Jews. Blending this thought to one of the most quoted scriptures, "resist the Devil and he will flee", makes good sense that the mention of pride is connected and makes the argument that you can resist pride by resisting the Devil. This is brought home by just a few verses later stating that if you humble yourself to God, He will lift you up. In other words, you need not lift yourself up, which is what pride leads one to believe. Pride will tell you that only you can do it while God tells you He will.
James rounds out the fourth chapter by admonishing against speaking ill of anyone while also letting them know life is but a vapor. By putting this in the letter, he is making it clear that they cannot plan without God as the planner. Planning without God as the planner is boasting, per his record and ends with if they know what is good and do evil, it is sin. James is revealing a lot about his prior experiences; this is very telling of where he has been versus where he is going as not only a person but a believer in Christ.
The strongest witness against his past has been saved for the beginning of chapter five. By calling out those that are rich from ill-gotten gains would have put him in the cross-hairs of the elite. Pointing out how they cheated the working class has a fiery ring to it that oozes, “I know what I am talking about”.
While many of the verses of James are quoted by Christians on a regular basis, perhaps none as much as the sixteenth verse of chapter five. Possibly, James can remember praying to no avail and upon conversion, received the understanding that God hears His children loud and clear. He capped his illustration with the example of Elijah praying for rain. Throughout history, this miracle has been placed above all others. Perhaps this shining example of fervent prayer helped him understand.
Finally, James uses his final sentences of the letter to admonish all to lead people out of the darkness of sin and into the light of salvation. When he states that it will save a soul from death, there is no doubt he uses himself as an example.
Now, as was common in the early days of the church, James was to pay for his crossing of the elite. They say there are two things you do not involve yourself within another man’s life: his religion and his money. Jesus did both and was killed for it. James would follow in his big brother’s footsteps in life, and ultimately to death.
The two historical accounts to be drawn from here are from Flavius Josephus and Hegesippus. As the earliest church historian, Hegesippus wrote five volumes of history that seemed best preserved by the writings of Eusebius and his works “History of the Church”. The following is an excerpt that Eusebius quotes from Hegesippus:
The manner of the death of James has been already indicated by the abovementioned words of Clement, who records that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and was beaten to death with a club.
But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his memoirs. He writes as follows:
James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the just by all from the times of the Lord to the present day, for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from the womb of his mother.
He drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath.
He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and he was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God and asking forgiveness for the people.
Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the just, and oblias, which in Greek signifies a bulwark of the people, and justice, in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.
Now some of the seven sects, which existed among the people and which have been mentioned by me in the memoirs, asked him: What is the gate of Jesus? And he replied that it was the savior.
On account of these words some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in the coming of one to give to every man according to his works. But as many as believed did so on account of James.
Therefore, when many even of the rulers believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and scribes and Pharisees, who said that there was danger that the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Christ. Coming therefore in a body to James they said: We entreat you, restrain the people, for they have gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat you to persuade all that have come to the feast of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in you. For we bear you witness, as do all the people, that you are just and that you do not respect persons.
Persuade, therefore, the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus. For the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence in you. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple, that from that high position you might be clearly seen, and that your words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the gentiles also, have come together on account of the Passover.
The aforesaid scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple and cried out to him and said: Just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us what the gate of Jesus is.
And he answered with a loud voice: Why do you ask me concerning Jesus, the son of man? He himself sits in heaven at the right hand of the great power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven!
And, when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said: Hosanna to the son of David, these same scribes and Pharisees said again to one another: We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.
And they cried out, saying: Oh, oh, the just man is also in error! And they fulfilled the scripture written in Isaiah: Let us take away the just man because he is troublesome to us; therefore they shall eat the fruit of their works.
So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other: Let us stone James the just. And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said: I entreat you, Lord God our father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying: Cease! What are you doing? The just one is praying for you!
And one of them, one of the fullers, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them.
In the historical records of Flavius Josephus known as “Antiquities of the Jews”, James’ death was recorded as follows:
CONCERNING ALBINUS UNDER WHOSE PROCURATORSHIP JAMES WAS SLAIN; AS ALSO WHAT EDIFICES WERE BUILT BY AGRIPPA.
1. AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.
All speculation of James being an insurrectionist against Jesus’ earthly ministry was put to rest with the account of Hegesippus. The first part of the account shows his Judaism was deep, and when he was called upon by the leadership to stand and denounce the deity of Christ, the words used to ask him to do so were strong and presumptive. They stated that they “trust him”. How can a Pharisee trust anyone but a Pharisee, especially concerning Jesus of Nazareth? This also shows that James was educated and had obviously been a part of what they were doing earlier. The disappointment showed greatly in their response to his testimony from the pinnacle, thus killing him.
The threat of death is something most have not experienced. What would someone do when brought to that dark place and asked to deny the one that saved them. James understood where he had been, where he was going, and where he would end up. He tried to write down his experiences in a way that would keep others from making the same mistakes. He bared his soul for all to see because shame left the building with Elvis and he was now fully committed to the truth.
By summarizing the letter in its entirety, you see a man who is not afraid to admit the things that kept him from the truth. A man who grew up with the truth. A man who shunned the truth. But thankfully for all of us, a man who learned to embrace the truth. Amen!
Heid, Markham, Prevention.com, “Middle Child Syndrome: How Birth Order Impacts Your Personality”, May 2, 2018, accessed October 12, 2018, https://www.prevention.com/health/mental-health/a20125566/middle-child-syndrome-personality/
The Holy Bible, King James Version
Kirsopp Lake. J.E.L. Oulton. H.J. Lawlor. William Heinemann, Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, Vol 2, Chapter 23. Eusebius of Caesarea.; G.P. Putnam's Press; Harvard University Press. London; New York; Cambridge, Mass. 1926-1932
Mounce, Bill, “Why is Ἰάκωβος James and not Jacob?” Bill Mounce Blog, November 4, 2012, accessed October 12, 2018, https://www.billmounce.com/monday-with-mounce/why-%E1%BC%B0%CE%AC%CE%BA%CF%89%CE%B2%CE%BF%CF%82-james-and-not-jacob
Urban Dictionary, “Middle Child Syndrome”, accessed October 12, 2018, https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Middle%20Child%20Syndrome
Whiston, William A.M., translator, The Works of Flavius Josephus: The Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter IX, pages 613-615, David McKay Publisher, Philadelphia, (no publishing date, however, it is presumed late 1800’s to early 1900’s)
Wikipedia, “Middle Child Syndrome”, accessed October 12, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_child_syndrome
 The Holy Bible, King James Version, James
 Bill Mounce, “Why is Ἰάκωβος James and Not Jacob”, Bill Mounce Blog, November 4, 2012, accessed October 12, 2018, E1%BC%B0%CE%AC%CE%BA%CF%89%CE%B2%CE%BF%CF%82-james-and-not-jacob
 The Holy Bible, King James Version, Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55
 Wikipedia, “Middle Child Syndrome”, accessed October 12, 2018,
Urban Dictionary, “Middle Child Syndrome”, accessed October 12, 2018,
Markham Heid, Prevention.com, “Middle Child Syndrome: How Birth Order Impacts Your Personality”, May 2, 2018, accessed October 12, 2018,
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 "G80 - adelphos - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV)." Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 16 Oct, 2018.
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 The Holy Bible, King James Version, John 7:6-8
 The Holy Bible, King James Version, James
 The Holy Bible, King James Version, James 1:1
 Lake Kirsopp. J.E.L. Oulton. H.J. Lawlor. William Heinemann, Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, Vol 2, Chapter 23. Eusebius of Caesarea.; G.P. Putnam's Press; Harvard University Press. London; New York; Cambridge, Mass. 1926-1932
 William Whiston, A.M., translator, The Works of Flavius Josephus: The Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter IX, pages 613-615, David McKay Publisher, Philadelphia, (no publishing date, however, it is presumed late 1800’s to early 1900’s)