Tag Archives: Tradition

Jesus’ Inner Circle: James (Part 4)

The Death of James

James is specifically mentioned just three times after the resurrection of Jesus.  He’s among the apostles who spent all night fishing, catching nothing until Jesus (the next morning) told them to let the net down on the right side of the ship.  Then they caught so many fish, they couldn’t bring the net into the boat.  James was one of the apostles who helped bring the boat to shore, dragging this massive catch with them.  Then Jesus invited James and the others to “come and dine,” which they did.1

Just a matter of days later, James watched as Jesus ascended into heaven after telling all the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit.  He went into an upper room with his fellow-apostles and other disciples where a replacement was chosen for Judas.  Then, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon James and the other apostles, and they all began to preach the word of God in different languages.  No doubt, James spent a large part of that day happily baptizing some of the 3,000 who gladly received the word of God.2

But things didn’t continue on their positive streak.  Saul of Tarsus and the Jewish leaders stirred up the people in antagonism against the church.  Herod the king, who wanted the Jews to like him, began to persecute the church.3  Some of them he arrested,4 and James was among them.  Since James was a leader of the church, Herod had him killed with the sword.5

So ends the life of a man who was Jesus’ cousin, Jesus’ disciple, and Jesus’ friend.

Traditions About James

Since his life ended in AD 42-44, and the Bible records it, there’s not much in the line of traditions about this member of the “inner circle.”  One writing says that “Zebedee was of the house of Levi, and his wife of the house of Judah.  Now, because the father of James loved him greatly, he counted him among the family of his father Levi, and similarly, because the mother of John loved him greatly, she counted him among the family of her father Judah.  And they were surnamed ‘Children of Thunder,’ for they were of both the priestly house and the royal house.”6

A writing that claims to be written by Clement (the man mentioned in Philippians 4:3) records this incident:

But a certain Samaritan, speaking against the people and against God, and asserting that neither are the dead to rise, nor is that worship of God to be maintained which is in Jerusalem, but that Mount Gerizim is to be reverenced, added also this in opposition to us, that our Jesus was not He whom Moses foretold as a Prophet to come into the world. Against him, and another who supported him in what he said, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, strove vigorously; and although they had a command not to enter into their cities, nor to bring the word of preaching to them, yet, lest their discourse, unless it were confined, should hurt the faith of others, they replied so prudently and so powerfully, that they put them to perpetual silence. For James made an oration concerning the resurrection of the dead, with the approbation of all the people; while John showed that if they would abandon the error of Mount Gerizim, they should consequently acknowledge that Jesus was indeed He who, according to the prophecy of Moses, was expected to come; since, indeed, as Moses wrought signs and miracles, so also did Jesus. And there is no doubt but that the likeness of the signs proves Him to be that prophet of whom he said that He should come, ‘like himself.’ Having declared these things, and more to the same effect, they ceased.7

The Acts of James in India says that James and Peter went to preach to the Jews in India, where they healed a blind man, were imprisoned, were released, and converted the people.8

The Martyrdom of James says that the son of Zebedee preached to the diaspora, the twelve tribes who lived outside the Promised Land, convincing them to give their “first-fruits” to the church as opposed to Herod, which then led to the murder of James by Herod.9

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 This incident is recorded in John 21:1-14.

2 These events are recorded in Acts 1 and 2.

3 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18-19, says that this Herod (Herod Agrippa I) was zealous for the Jewish law.  He, like his grandfather, Herod the Great, wanted the Jews to like him.  This is why he persecuted the church, and why he continued when he saw that killing James please the Jews.  See Chuck Northrop’s comments on Acts 12:1-2 in Preaching School Notes (Bible Institute of Missouri) for e-Sword.  Available at TheCobbSix.com.

4 See The NET Bible footnotes on Acts 12:1.

5 Most likely, this means that he was beheaded.

6 See The Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles in Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 49.

7 The Recognitions of Clement, Book 1, chapter 57.  This writing is classed among the pseudo-Clementine literature, because its authenticity is rejected by almost all scholars.  It can be found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 92.

8 See The Acts of James in India, in Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 295-303.  This work, among other things, seeks to elevate the status of Peter, having James call him “my father” multiple times.

9 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 304-308.  This writing is shown to be a forgery because it is historically inaccurate.  James was killed between AD 42-44, yet The Martyrdom of James claims that James was teaching people not to serve Nero—who was at that point no more than seven years old, and who wouldn’t become emperor for at least another ten years.  See also International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “James.”

The Replacement Apostle (Part 2)

Matthias in Tradition

Almost all the early writers who deal with the topic say that Matthias was one of the seventy men chosen by Jesus in Luke 10 to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God, and heal sicknesses.1 These men were “sent”2 by Jesus Christ with a mission very similar to the apostles in their “limited commission.”3  Some believe that it is this group of people that Paul was referencing when he said that Jesus appeared to all the apostles (after already mentioning “the twelve”) in 1 Corinthians 15:7.4

It is said by some that the selection of Matthias was a mistake, a “blunder” made by the apostles, and that the real heir to Judas’ spot was Saul of Tarsus.5 In the face of the biblical evidence, however, it’s impossible to take such a view seriously.  (1) Peter properly applied biblical prophecy to say Judas needed to be replaced.  (2) They prayed for the Lord to make the selection, and there is no indication that the Lord ignored the prayer.  (3) God approved of the choice, for Peter stood up “with the eleven” (which would include Matthias) as ones who were speaking in tongues by the power of God.6 (4) Paul never once classed himself as one of the twelve—in fact, he showed that he was not one of them in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

After Matthias disappears from the biblical stage, there are traditions that say he spent time evangelizing Ethiopia with Rufus and Alexander, the sons of Simon of Cyrene, who bore the cross of Jesus in Mark 15:21.7  A work entitled “The Acts of Andrew and Matthew” is, in a significant number of manuscripts, titled “The Acts of Andrew and Matthias.”8  Because of the similarity in their names, the traditions tend to overlap, with no real certainty about which apostle is supposed to be under consideration.9  In one version of this work, Matthias, Rufus, and Alexander all go to Ethiopia to a city of cannibals, where Matthias is captured, blinded, and thrown into prison before he is healed by God and rescued by Andrew.  After they were both captured and thrown back into prison, they caused a flood to come on the inhabitants of the city, and then as they walked out of the prison, the waters divided in front of them like the Red Sea.  Though many died in the flood, the apostles prayed and all those who died were raised up.  Afterwards, many were baptized.10

The Preaching of Thomas in India claims that Matthias was taken by Peter to Persia.11

The Martyrdom of Matthias12 says that he preached in Damascus, where the people rose up against him, fastened him to a bedstead of iron, and tried to burn him alive on it for 24 days straight, but like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the flames didn’t harm him.  Thus, the people in Damascus began to follow Christ.  After some more time working among the people, he moved to Judea and there died.13

Though it is now lost to time, a heretical gospel account was written by someone who attached Matthias’ name to it.  Meanwhile, a second-century Gnostic sect falsely claimed that they got all of their doctrines from Matthias.  Some traditions say he worked in Jerusalem and died there,14 while others say he was martyred in Ethiopia,15 and still others believe he was martyred in Colchis.16

People have been tempted to identify Matthias as someone else in the biblical narrative.   At least one writer has suggested that Matthias is the same as Nathanael.17 Clement of Alexandria was of the opinion that Matthias was another name for Zacchaeus, the tax collector mentioned in Luke 19.18

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, chapter 12.

2 The Greek word for “sent” in Luke 10:1 is the verb form of “apostle.”  Thus, Jesus “apostled” these men, and they were, in a very real sense, apostles of Jesus Christ—just not counted among “the twelve.”

3 Compare the words of Jesus in Luke 10:1-16 with Matthew 10:1-16.

4 See the commentaries of Adam Clarke; Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown; Henrich Meyer; and John Wesley.  If this is the case, then it fits together with the requirement that the nominees for Judas’ vacant spot was to be one who had seen the risen Lord.

5 See David Smith’s article in James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, “Matthias.”

6 See Acts 2:1-14.

7 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 163-164.

8 Unfortunately, there is confusion on whether it is Matthias or Matthew that is under consideration in some of ancient Apocryphal Acts.  In the stories about the cannibals, some manuscripts say Matthew, while others say Matthias.  As such, many of the traditions about Matthias are also said to be traditions about Matthew, simply because no one knows for certain which one is under consideration.  See the section “Matthew, According to Tradition” in the chapter on that apostle for more details.

9 The Ethiopian traditions, which were translated by Budge in Contendings of the Apostles say that it was Matthias who went to the city of cannibals, which is what is described in “The Acts of Andrew and Matthew/Matthias.”

10 This version of the story is contained in Budge’s Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 267-288.  Pages 370-403 give a fuller version of the story, called The Preaching of Matthias.

11 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 320.  This work appears to be a slightly enlarged edition of the Acts of Thomas, at least of the opening sequence.

12 The title for this work is rather ironic, considering that it records Matthias dying a natural death.

13 Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 289-294.

14 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthias.”

15 See Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Matthias.”

16 See Richard Watson’s Biblical and Theological Dictionary.

17 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthias.”

18 This according to John Gill, in his notes on Acts 1:23.

What Happened to the Other Judas?

Traditions about Thaddaeus (aka “Judas, not Iscariot”)

The apocryphal Genealogies of the Apostles says that Thaddaeus was of the house of Joseph (thus of Ephraim or Manasseh),1 while a 13th century collection of biblical legends, called The Book of the Bee, says he was from the tribe of Judah.2

There was once a work entitled The Gospel of Thaddaeus, but no surviving copies exist.  A third or fourth century work, called the Constitutions of the Apostles, which falsely claims to be a joint-effort of the twelve, has Thaddaeus teaching that a widow who recently lost her mate is not to be taken in by the church until she had proven that she was going to stay godly.  The same writing claims that Thaddaeus said exorcists were not ordained (given that role by the church), but anyone who could prove they were truly an exorcist was to be ordained as a bishop, presbyter, or deacon.3

The Acts of Thaddaeus says that the apostle was born in Edessa, northwest of Asia Minor, and that he returned there after the ascension of Jesus to teach the king, Abgar, and the other inhabitants of the city, about the Lord.  He had a very successful mission trip, and the king helped to destroy the idol temples in the area.  Afterwards, it is said that he went south into Syria and preached there for five years before dying a natural death.4

Other traditions, however, include Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Persia among Thaddaeus’ mission fields.  One early church historian says that Thaddaeus was martyred in Syria.5

Assadour Antreassian, in his book Jerusalem and the Armenians, states:

[A]ll Christian Churches accept the tradition that Christianity was preached in Armenia by the Apostles Thaddaeus and Bartholomew in the first half of the first century… Armenia was among the first to respond to the call of Christ so early.  Thus, the above mentioned Apostles became the first illuminators of Armenia.  The generally accepted chronology gives a period of eight years to the mission of St. Thaddaeus (35-43 AD) and sixteen years to that to St. Bartholomew (44-60 AD), both of whom suffered martyrdom in Armenia (Thaddaeus at Ardaze in 50 AD and Bartholomew at [Derbend] in 68 AD).6

Roman Catholic tradition says that in Persia, Thaddaeus was “martyred with a javelin or with arrows or by being tied to a cross.”7  Some claim that traditions have him murdered and buried in Egypt or Beirut.8 The most specific record of his death says that he was killed with arrows on Mt. Ararat.9

1 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 50.

2 See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Thaddaeus.”

3 Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, chapters 25-26.  The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7, page 493.  Since the Bible describes bishops and presbyters (elders) as the same people, this later work cannot be considered authoritative at all.

4 The Acts of the Holy Apostle Thaddaeus, One of the Twelve.  See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, pages 558-559.  The legend regarding King Abgar (or Abgarus) is fascinating.  Abgar wrote to Jesus after hearing about the miracles He had done, inviting Him to come to Edessa to escape the horrible Jews.  Jesus sent word back that after He ascended, He would send Thaddaeus to Edessa to preach.  There are some documents which have a variation on this legend, making Thomas the missionary instead of Thaddaeus, or which have Thomas sending Thaddaeus.  Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, chapter 13) claims to have seen the original documents and translated them himself, including a response from Jesus.

5 See McBirnie, The Search for the Twelve Apostles, page 198.  The church historian is Nicephorus Callistus.

6 Assadour Antreassian, Jerusalem and the Armenians, page 20, as quoted in McBirnie, The Search for the Twelve Apostles, page 199.  McBirnie goes on to relate that other traditions date Thaddaeus’ missionary work in Armenia from 43-66.

7 Mary Sharp, Traveler’s Guide to Saints in Europe, as quoted by McBirnie, The Search for the Twelve Apostles, page 202.

8 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Thaddaeus.”  McBirnie, however, investigated these supposed traditions and discovered that the various religious groups in those areas had never heard of those traditions.  See his The Search for the Twelve Apostles, pages 202-203.

9 McBirnie, The Search for the Twelve Apostles, page 204.