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Jesus’ Inner Circle: James (Part 1)

We now come the point in our study where we begin to focus our attention on the men who writers call Jesus’ “inner circle”1 of the apostles: Peter, James, and John.  These men enjoyed a close relationship with Jesus, and as such, the Bible gives us more information about them than any of the other original apostles.

James and His Relations

James is unique among the “inner circle” in that every time he is mentioned in the Bible, he is always mentioned in connection with at least one of his relatives.

He is known as one of the “sons of Zebedee.”  In part, this is to distinguish him from another apostle, “James, the son of Alphaeus”; but there is also something noteworthy about Zebedee himself.  Zebedee was almost certainly a very devout child of God.  He raised two sons who later became apostles, and who left their business at a moment’s notice to follow Jesus.  His own wife was a firm (though misguided) believer in the coming kingdom,2 most likely a personal financier of Jesus’ ministry,3 and was present at the crucifixion of Jesus.4  These facts point to the likelihood of Zebedee being a very faithful child of God who worked hard to instill a love of the Lord in the hearts and minds of his family.

There is not a single passage in Scripture that mentions James without also mentioning his brother John.  And with only one exception, James is always mentioned first.5  This shows that these two brothers worked well together.  They were fishermen together,6 they were sent out as a pair to preach the gospel together,7 they were told together about the suffering they would endure for Jesus,8 and were in Jerusalem together until James was put to death.9

James was most likely Jesus’ cousin.  Matthew 27:56 lists three women who were at the cross:

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Mary the mother of James and Joses [also known as Mary, the mother of Jesus],10 and
  • The mother of Zebedee’s children.

John 19:25 mentions four women:

  • Mary, the mother of Jesus,
  • Mary’s sister [Salome],11
  • Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and
  • Mary Magdalene.

The mother of Zebedee’s children (his wife) could not be the same as the wife of Cleophas.12  Thus, the only other possibility is that James’ mother was Salome, the sister of Mary.13  Therefore, James and John were cousins of Jesus and His brothers.

James the Apostle

James was one of the first disciples to be called to be a permanent follower of the Lord.14 The fullest account of his calling is given by Luke:

It came to pass, that as the people pressed on Him to head the word of God, He stood by the lake of Gennesaret [Sea of Galilee], and saw two ships standing by the lake.  But the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.  And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and asked him that he would thrust out a little from the land.  And He sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.

Now when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught [a catch].”

And Simon, answering, said to Him, “Master, we’ve toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at your command, I will let down the net.”  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net broke.  And they beckoned to their partners which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them.  And they came and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fish that they had taken.  And so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon.

And Jesus said to Simon, “Fear not; from now on, you shall catch men.”  And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him.15

Matthew and Mark both record that James was “called” by Jesus at this time.16

James, along with his brother John, followed Jesus to Capernaum, entered with him into the synagogue, and listened to Him teach with authority.  James must have turned with surprise when a man in the synagogue screamed out, “Leave us alone!  What do we have to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?  I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God!”  And James watched with amazement as Jesus said, “Hold your peace and come out of him,” which was immediately followed by the man convulsing17 as a demon fought a hopeless battle to keep from being cast out of him.18

The same day, James accompanied Jesus as they went to Peter and Andrew’s house, where the Lord healed Peter’s mother-in-law.  That evening, James saw a crowd of people coming to Jesus from all over Capernaum, bringing all the sick, and all the demon-possessed people to Him—and Jesus healed them.  The next morning, James awoke from sleep and found that Jesus had left, so he accompanied Peter and looked until they found Him on a mountain where he had gone to pray.19

Some days later,20 James was called by Jesus to come to a mountain, and was selected to be part of a special group of twelve men, whom Jesus named “apostles.”21

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 The King James Commentary, on Luke 9:28, says, “Peter, James, and John made up the inner circle of disciples. At the outer perimeter was the group of five hundred who saw Christ after His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6 ). A bit closer were the seventy disciples who were sent out two by two to preach and heal (Luke 10:1, 17 ). Still closer were the Twelve, of whom these three were specially selected to witness this event [the transfiguration], the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane.”

2 Matthew 20:20-21.  More will be said on this passage later in this chapter.

3 Matthew 27:55-56 shows that Mrs. Zebedee (whose name was Salome) was among those who “followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him.”  Luke 8:2-3 describes certain women, and “many others” who ministered to Jesus out of their own substance.  Most likely, then, Salome was one of the women who personally financed Jesus’ ministry.  See also the Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, ed. James Hastings, “James” (second footnote).

4 Matthew 27:55-56.

5 That one exception is Luke 9:28, where Jesus takes “Peter and John and James” to the mount where He is transfigured.  Both Matthew and Mark, when describing the same event, say “James and John.”  There are also some Greek manuscripts which also have James listed after John in Luke 8:51 and Acts 1:13 (see ESV at those verses), but the manuscripts that God saw fit to providentially preserve throughout the past two millennia read “James and John.”

6 Matthew 4:18-22.

7 See Matthew 10:1-4, and Mark 6:7.

8 Matthew 20:20-23.

9 Acts 8:1, 14; 12:2, 12; 13:13; Galatians 2:1, 9.

10 Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 do not describe Mary as “the mother of Jesus,” because Jesus had died, whereas John 19:25 mentions her prior to Jesus’ death, thus calls her “His [Jesus’] mother.”

11 See Mark 15:40.

12 John refers to himself as one of “the sons of Zebedee.”  It is beyond credulity to believe that he would then identify his mother as the wife of some other man when his father was in all likelihood still alive (see Mark 1:20).

13 As discussed in the chapter on “James, the Son of Alphaeus,” the Catholic Church wants to make Mary, the wife of Cleophas, the same as the sister of Mary (mother of Jesus).  This suggestion has been thoroughly disproven both in that chapter, as well as in writings from other individuals, and as such is not even mentioned as a possibility here.

14 See Matthew 4:18-22.  It is generally believed that, like Peter and Andrew, the two sons of Zebedee followed Jesus prior to their official calling.  Many think that John (the brother of James) refers to himself in John 1:35-37, and that after being told that Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” he would have run to tell his brother.  Behind this supposition is the fact that John never mentions himself or his brother by name in his gospel account, though it is obvious (based on the other gospel writings) that both were present.

15 Luke 5:1-11.

16 Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20.

17 Mark 1:26, Modern Literal Version.

18 These events are recorded in Mark 1:21-28, as well as Luke 4:31-37.

19 These events are recorded in Mark 1:29-36, as well as Luke 4:38-44.

20 We are not told how much time elapsed between the events in Luke 4 and in Luke 6.  It could have been several months, considering that Jesus went around Galilee preaching in the synagogues prior to selecting the apostles (Mark 1:39, see also 2:1, 3:13-19).

21 Luke 6:12-16.