Tag Archives: James

From Murderer to Missionary – The Life of the Apostle Paul (Part Ten)


Paul’s Defense of His Gentile Ministry

While Paul was in Antioch, working with a congregation made up of both Jew and Gentile Christians, some men came from Judea, and began to teach the brethren than unless they were circumcised, in accordance with the Law of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.1  This threatened to destroy not only the congregation in Antioch—which had a great number of Gentile Christians—but also all the work Paul had accomplished in his first missionary journey.  The teaching those men were bringing undermined (1) the Holy Spirit, who sent Paul and Barnabas on the mission; (2) the validity of the prophets—including Paul and Barnabas—in Antioch, who received and delivered the message from the Holy Spirit; (3) the confidence of the congregation in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, since they had sent these men and most likely financed a good part of their journey; (4) the good name of the congregation in Antioch, who had sent Paul and Barnabas as “apostles,” representatives of the church at Antioch; (5) God Himself, who had confirmed the apostolic message by miracles; (6) the salvation of a vast number of people, both in Antioch and across Asia Minor.

With so much at stake, it is no wonder that Paul and Barnabas’ argument and debate with these Jews was “not small.”  Paul no doubt showed from the Old Testament Scriptures that salvation was open to the Gentiles as Gentiles—not as proselytes to Judaism, but still these Judean teachers would not back down.  The disturbance was so great that the church sent Paul and Barnabas, as well as some of the other brethren, to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to get an authoritative answer to the question2—even though Paul knew what the answer would be before they ever left.

As they made their way from Antioch to Jerusalem, financed in their journey by the church at Antioch, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, and Paul declared to the Christians they met about the conversion of the Gentiles—in other words, he was sharing the good news about the salvation of Gentiles in Christ while he was on his way to a big event whose purpose was to determine if these Gentile converts were really saved.  Paul knew what the decision would be, and shared the joy with others before the apostles and elders gave their decision on the matter.  This news which he proudly spread to the churches in Samaria brought great joy—the Samaritan Christians wouldn’t have had the same prejudices against Gentiles as the Jews.3

Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed warmly by the church, the apostles, and the elders.  They shared the good news of how God used them as missionaries, but instead of bringing joy to all the people like it did in Samaria, it got some people upset.  Some of the Christians who were also Pharisees stood up and basically denied that the Gentile converts had ever really be saved, because they hadn’t been circumcised, nor did they follow the Law of Moses.4  This caused the apostles and elders to convene a public hearing on the matter.5

After much discussion (or questioning, ASV) on the matter, in which the Pharisees would have been able to present their case, Paul watched as Peter stood and affirmed that the Gentiles had no obligation to follow the Law of Moses to be saved.  Then Barnabas and Paul6 stood, “declaring the miracles and wonders that God had worked by them among the Gentiles,” re-affirming what Peter had said: that God showed His approval of Gentiles coming into the kingdom without the Law of Moses.7  After James gave the verdict, and a letter was written to send to the Gentile Christians, Paul and Barnabas (along with Judas and Silas) went back to Antioch to share the good news—their salvation was secure, and sealed with apostolic approval.

Bradley S. Cobb

1 Acts 15:1.  Several questions arise when considering this event—first and foremost among them How/why did these teachers from Judea get access to the church?  We cannot doubt that they were sincere in their belief, and it is not likely that they attempted to be stealthy about it.  However, this shows the wisdom of not letting someone teach without first knowing them.  This responsibility falls on the elders.  Secondly, these men were teaching that unless one was circumcised after the manner of Moses, they couldn’t be saved.  Yet the covenant involving circumcision pre-dates the Law of Moses, going back to Abraham (Genesis 17:13).  Additionally, Moses wasn’t too good at remembering to circumcise (Exodus 4:24-26).

2 Acts 15:2.  Paul was inspired, as was Barnabas and the other prophets in Antioch.  As such, their answer should have been sufficient to put the matter to rest.  However, Paul’s status as an apostle was not as well-established among the Judean Christians at this point, so it was decided to appeal to a universally-recognized authority among the Christians—the apostles.  It’s interesting that the apostles and elders were mentioned as authoritative in the matter.  It is quite likely that the elders there included many of the 70 men that Jesus sent forth during His earthly ministry.  These were leaders among the first church of Christ (in Jerusalem since Pentecost), and were given great respect by those in Antioch.

3 Acts 15:3.  This final point was brought out by J.W. McGarvey in his original commentary on Acts.

4 Acts 15:4-5.  Some have questioned why it is that this argument was even brought up in the first place.  After all, didn’t they know that the Law of Moses was nailed to the cross and fulfilled in Jesus Christ?  Did they not know that God’s New Covenant was in force?  What were the apostles teaching them anyway, if they didn’t know this extremely basic concept?  Part—perhaps even most—of the answer can be found in understanding that the Law of Moses was not just a religious law, but also a civil or national one.  At the death of Jesus, as the perfect sacrifice, the Law of Moses ceased to have any religious power.  But at the same time, it was the law of the land, and so faithful Jewish Christians would be obliged to follow the Law of Moses as the national law, except in instances where it could have violated the law of God.  This is why the Jewish Christians would celebrate the Passover, observe the Sabbath, keep the Jewish dietary laws—because it was the law of the land, which is to be obeyed unless it causes one to violate the law of God.  So Jewish Christians, especially in Jerusalem, would have never stopped observing the Law of Moses, even after becoming a Christian.  So, since they never stopped observing the Law of Moses, it was very difficult for them to comprehend being right with God without the Law of Moses.

5 Public as far as the church is concerned, at least.  Verse 12 says that there was a “multitude” in attendance, which would have been more than just the apostles and elders.

6 This reverses the order used throughout their missionary journeys, probably showing that Barnabas took the lead in speaking.

7 Acts 15:6-12.

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.”

Jesus’ Inner Circle: James (Part 3)

James of the “Inner Circle”

The idea of an “inner circle,” a group closer to Jesus than the rest of the apostles, first appears the next time James shows up in the biblical record.  There are three times where Jesus specifically separated James, Peter, and John from the rest of the apostles and had them join Him for an important event.

Jairus’ Daughter Raised

Jesus returned to Galilee where a crowd of people had been waiting for Him,1 and a man named Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, fell to Jesus’ feet and begged Him, “My little daughter lies at the point of death; come and lay your hands on her so that she might be healed; and she will live.”2  Jesus, along with His disciples and a mob of people, followed Jairus towards his house; but then Jesus stopped, turned around, and said, “Who touched me?”3  James looked around at the massive crowd that was “thronging” Jesus, and in effect said, “What do you mean?  Everyone’s touching you!”4  But Jesus saw the woman who had touched the hem of His garment, and told her “Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace, and be whole of your plague.”5

Then someone from Jairus’ house came and said, “Your daughter is dead, why trouble the Teacher anymore?”  Jesus responded by telling Jairus, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”6 It is at that point that Jesus hand-picks James, his brother John, and Peter to be the only ones who are permitted to follow Him to the house.  And when they got to the house, finding people weeping and mourning, Jesus told them “Why are you making this noise and weeping?  The damsel didn’t die, but is sleeping.”  When the people mockingly laughed at Jesus, He sent them all out, only allowing James, Peter, John, and the girl’s parents to come into the room and see what He would do.  Then He took the girl by the hand and said, “Maid, arise.”  And she came back to life.  This was followed by a command not to tell anyone what happened.7

The Transfiguration

Some time later, Jesus took James (along with Peter and John) up to a mountain where He prayed.  Then something happened.  Jesus’ face began to shine like the sun,8 and His clothing was white as the light.9  But James, John, and Peter were extremely tired and had fallen asleep while Jesus was praying.  When they woke up, they “saw His glory” and they saw Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus, talking to Him.10  James was silent, but he watched as Peter said to Jesus, “It’s good for us to be here.  If you want, let us make here three tabernacles; one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”11

Then a [bright] cloud overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.  And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, [in whom I am well-pleased]. Listen to Him.”12

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were very afraid.  And Jesus came and touched them, and said, “Arise, and don’t be afraid.”  And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man except Jesus only.13

And as they came down from the mountain, He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen until the Son of man was risen from the dead.  And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.14

On the way down the mountain, James and the other two asked Jesus about the scribes’ contention that Elijah must come first.  After hearing the Lord explain that the scribes were right, but that Elijah had already come, understanding washed over the “inner circle” and they understood that Jesus had reference to John the Immerser.15

Inquiring About the Temple

After Jesus tells His disciples that “There shall not be one stone left upon another that shall not be thrown down,” James (along with Peter, Andrew, and John) ask Him privately, “Tell us, when shall these things be?  And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?”16  Jesus proceeds to give them, in some detail, information about the destruction of Jerusalem, including the events leading up to it.17

The Garden of Gethsemane

After the Last Supper, Jesus took the apostles with Him to Gethsemane, and instructed eight of them to “Sit here, while I go and pray [over] there.”  But He took with Him Peter, James, and John, and told just these three men, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.  You wait here and watch with me.”  After going a bit further and praying, Jesus returned to find the inner circle sleeping, and woke them up, saying (primarily to Peter, but also to James and John),18 “What?  Couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?  Watch and pray, that you do not enter into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”19

Jesus again went off to pray, and when He returned, they had fallen asleep again.  He said something to them, but then He went back to pray some more.20  After this third time, He told them (perhaps sarcastically), “Sleep on now, and take rest.  Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let’s be going.  Look, He who betrays me is at hand.”21

The Inner Circle

Each time Jesus specifically called Peter, James, and John to come with Him, He had something important in mind.  First was to show His power to raise the dead.  Second was to His transfiguration where His superiority to Moses and Elijah was spoken from heaven.  Third was to watch with Him (apparently to keep an eye out for Judas and the soldiers) while He was deep in prayer. But just moments after this last event, the entire inner circle ran in fear as Jesus was taken prisoner by the band of soldiers led by Judas.

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Luke 8:40.

2 Mark 5:21-23.

3 Mark 5:30 shows Jesus turning around and asking this question, but there the quotation is “Who touched my clothes?”  Luke 8:45 gives the quotation as “Who touched me?”  There is no contradiction here, for it is very possible that Jesus said, “Who touched me?  Who touched my clothes?”  Or it could also be that Luke records the exact quote while Mark gives the more exact meaning—since the woman didn’t actually touch Jesus, but touched His clothing.  In both accounts, the disciples asked why Jesus said “Who touched me?”

4 Mark 5:31.  This statement was made by all the disciples, and as is seen a little further in the narrative, James was indeed there.

5 Mark 5:32-34.

6 Mark 5:35-36.  Most translations render it “only believe,” which is a legitimate rendering, but “just believe” carries with it the same meaning and is more in keeping with modern speech.

7 This paragraph is an amalgamation of the accounts given by Luke (8:49-56) and Mark (5:35-43).  Matthew adds that Jesus’ fame spread because of this event (Matthew 9:23-26), probably from the people who had mocked Him just minutes before.

8 Matthew 17:2 is the only account where this description is given.  Luke simply says “His countenance was changed,” which is quite the understatement!

9 Mark 9:3 adds “like as no laundryman on earth can bleach them.”

10 Luke 9:32 is the only place where this information is given to us.  We aren’t told how exactly the three apostles knew that the two additional figures were Moses and Elijah.  Most likely it was due to overhearing part of the conversation that they were having with Jesus.  Perhaps they called each other by name as they talked.

11 It is interesting that with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, God Himself was responsible for their deaths.  God killed Moses on Mt. Nebo, and buried him in Moab (Deuteronomy 34:5-7); God took Elijah in the whirlwind, ending his physical existence (2 Kings 2:11); and God was the one who caused the death of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-23).  Moses was buried, Elijah ascended, and Jesus Christ did both.

12 Luke 9:34-36.  The bracketed material is found in Matthew’s account, Matthew 17:5.

13 Matthew 17-6-8.  Matthew is the only writer to include this information.

14 Mark 9:9-10.  The other writers do not give us the information about Peter, James, and John’s conversation.

15 Mark’s account reveals for us that it was Peter, James, and John who asked this question (see Mark 9:2-13, and put with Matthew 17:9-13), and it wasn’t until after Jesus answered that they came to the other disciples (Mark 9:14, Matthew 17:14).

16 Mark 13:1-4.  That Andrew was part of this company is not surprising, since he was (1) Peter’s brother, and (2) is always joined with the other three in the listings of the apostles.

17 See Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13.

18 Matthew 26:40 shows that Jesus spoke to Peter, but he uses the plural “you” (“ye” in KJV) to show He is referencing the three of them.  It appears that even at this point, Peter was viewed somewhat as a leader among the apostles, for Jesus said this to Him.

19 Matthew 26:36-41.

20 When Mark records this incident, He says that the three men “did not know what to answer Him” the second time He came back (Mark 14:40).

21 Matthew 26:42-46.  That this is possibly sarcasm is seen in that Jesus tells them to “sleep on,” and almost immediately says “rise up.”

Jesus’ Inner Circle: James (Part 2)

The Correction of James

There are two specific incidents in the life of James (and his brother John) where he has to be corrected in his thinking.  The first is found in Luke 9.  Jesus determined to go to Jerusalem, because His time was nearing, and sent messengers1 to go before Him into a village of Samaria.  But the Samaritans would not receive Jesus because His plan was to go to Jerusalem.2 As a result, James and his brother (living up to their name, Boanerges, or “Sons of Thunder”) came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, like Elijah did?”  But Jesus stopped, turned around, and rebuked them both, and said “You don’t know what manner of spirit you are, for the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save.”3

The second incident occurs in Mark 10:35-45.  James, along with John, approached Jesus (Matthew 20:20-21 tells us that they had their mother ask for them):

Saying, “Master, we desire that you should do for us whatever we shall ask.”  And He said to them, “What do you desire me to do for you?”  They said to Him, “Grant to us that we might sit, one on your right hand, and the other on your left hand, in your glory.”

But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink of the cup which I am drinking?  [Can you] be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

And they said to Him, “We can.”  And Jesus said to them, “Indeed the cup I am drinking, you shall drink; and the baptism with which I am being baptized with, you shall be baptized.  But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but for whom it shall be prepared.”

Of course, as a result, the rest of the apostles were very upset with James and John for asking for superiority over the rest of them.4  In this statement is a prophecy of the martyrdom of James and John, for Jesus was enduring the baptism of suffering, the cup of sorrow, the rejection that would lead to His death.5

Then, Jesus told them (and the rest of the apostles), “Whoever shall be great among you shall be your servant; and whoever among you shall be the greatest shall be the servant of all.”6

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 The Greek phrase is απεστειλεν αγγελους (apesteilen angelous), which is the verb form of “apostle” followed by the plural for “messengers” (or “angels”).

2 It must be remembered that the Samaritans rejected the idea of worshiping in Jerusalem (see John 4:5-20, especially the first and last verses of that section).  So it shouldn’t be surprising that they weren’t very interested in preparing to welcome a religious leader whose practice contradicted their own.

3 Luke 9:54-56.  The quotation from Jesus is missing in some corrupted manuscripts, and because of that, most modern translations leave it out.  However, it is in the majority of Greek manuscripts, and was providentially preserved by God through the ages.  The same is true for the phrase “like Elijah did” in verse 54.

4 Perhaps, as part of the inner circle, and having known Jesus the longest (they were cousins after all), they thought they were entitled to it.  But they showed their cowardice (not a good trait in your right-hand man) by having their mother ask Jesus for them, while they stood there with her.

5 It is understood that most Bible scholars claim John died a natural death around 100 years old.  However, it is almost universally agreed that when James was beheaded in Acts 12, it was a fulfillment of what Jesus said to him in Mark 10 and Matthew 20.  If the death of James fulfilled that passage, then John had to die as well, otherwise Jesus was only half-right, and was therefore a false prophet.  We will deal more with it in the chapter on John, but James’ brother was murdered prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

6 Mark 10:43-44.

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.

That Other Guy Named “Jacob” (part 2)

False Ideas about James, the Son of Alphaeus

Because of the insistence that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, the Catholic Church goes through some crazy hermeneutical gymnastics that include this James.  Their argument goes like this:

  1. Mary remained a virgin her entire life, with Jesus being her only child.
  2. Therefore, the “brothers” of Jesus (James, Joses, Simon, and Judas) weren’t really His “brothers,” but cousins.
  3. The woman named “Mary” who was the mother of James and Joses1 was not the mother of Jesus, but the sister of the Virgin Mary. 2
  4. The mother of James and Joses is the wife of Cleopas.
  5. Therefore, Cleopas (who is to be identified with Alphaeus) was the Virgin Mary’s brother-in-law, and the father of four of the apostles: James the less, Judas [the brother] of James, Simon the zealot, and Matthew.3

This whole line of argumentation starts with a false premise, and continues to make false claims and assumptions to try to back it up.  This whole idea is proven false by the following:

  1. Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph didn’t “know” (have sexual relations with) Mary until after Jesus was born. This means that after Jesus was born, they did.  Thus, she was not a perpetual virgin.
  2. The “brethren” of the Lord are mentioned repeatedly as being with Mary, the mother of Jesus.4 So, instead of these adult males being with their own mother (who was still alive), they went everywhere with their aunt?!?  Such an idea is ridiculous.
  3. Those who knew Jesus said that He was the “son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and Judah, and Simon” and that his sisters also lived there.5
  4. No rational parent would name two daughters with the same name—Mary did not have a sister named Mary.
  5. There were four women mentioned in John 19:25, not three: Mary, her sister (Salome), Mary the mother of Cleopas’ children, and Mary Magdalene.
  6. After Jesus selected the twelve apostles, his “brethren” still did not believe in Him.6 Therefore, neither James, nor Judas, nor Joses, nor Simon (all named as “brethren” of the Lord) could have been among the apostles.7  Nor could Matthew have been a brother of the Lord, for he was one of the twelve that had already been chosen.

In short, James, the son of Alphaeus, was not the brother of the Lord, nor were any others among the twelve.

Traditions About James, the Son of Alphaeus

The Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles claims that James was of the tribe of Gad.8

One tradition says that James was preaching in Jerusalem, which angered the Jews greatly, and they drug him before Claudius,9 making accusations against him, and Claudius commanded him to be stoned to death.10

Most of the traditions surrounding James come from the Catholic Church, which wrongfully identifies him as James, the brother of the Lord.11

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40.

2 This is based on a misreading of John 19:25, which lists four women.  The Catholic Church claims there is only three: Mary, her sister (also named Mary), and Mary Magdalene.

3 Bishop Lightfoot argues this, though it goes against the evidence given in John 7:5, and the fact that Matthew is never mentioned in the listing of Jesus’ “brothers.”

4 Matthew 12:46-50; 13:55.

5 Mark 6:3.

6 John 6:70-71 shows that Jesus had already selected the twelve apostles; and just five verses later, John informs us that His brethren still didn’t believe in Him.  Thus, James the son of Alphaeus cannot be one of the “brethren” of the Lord.

7 See also John 7:3, where the brethren of Jesus distinguish between themselves and the disciples of Jesus; showing that they did not consider themselves to be among that group.

8 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, vol. 2, page 50.

9 Whether this is supposed to be the Roman Emperor, or some local ruler (like Herod), isn’t stated in the text from which this legend comes.

10 See “the Martyrdom of Saint James,” in Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 264-266.

11 See the chapter on that James for more information regarding the traditions surrounding him.

That Other Guy Named “Jacob” (Part 1)

Welcome back to our twice-weekly  installment of our still-in-progress book on the apostles.  Starting today, we look at James, the Son of Alphaeus.

Our information regarding this James (whose name, in Greek and Hebrew, is actually “Jacob”) is very scant indeed.  Most of what we know for certain comes from general statements about the apostles in the gospels and Acts.  There is little more than this.

James, the Brother of a Tax Collector

As seen in the last chapter, Matthew (Levi) was also called “the son of Alphaeus.”  Mark is the only one who mentions this fact, and within one chapter, mentions someone else who is “the son of Alphaeus.”1  There is no reason at all to mention Matthew’s father if it wasn’t the same Alphaeus.2  It is possible that James, too, worked with his brother and that they were both tax collectors.  If this is the case, then James may have become a disciple of Jesus the same day.3

Regardless of his occupation, James, like his brother Matthew, was a man from Galilee, like the rest of the apostles4 (except, perhaps, for Judas Iscariot).5

James, the Wee Little Man?

Most writers identify James, the son of Alphaeus, with a man known as “James the less” in Mark 15:40.  The word translated “less” is the Greek word mikro (where we get “micro”).  It’s the same word that was used to describe Zacchaeus, the “wee little man” who was “short of stature.”6  This word can also mean younger, as in the younger brother.  The main reasons given for connecting these two are:

  1. There are three men named “James” who Mark mentions prior to this point, and it would make very little sense to mention—near the end of the gospel—someone being related to a “James” who has nothing to do with the story, and who hasn’t been mention at all. Thus, it must be one of the three men mentioned previously in the book.
  2. James, the son of Zebedee, is always described as such, and is almost always connected with John. Since neither John nor Zebedee are mentioned in Mark 15:40, it cannot be that James.7
  3. James, the brother of the Lord is mentioned only in passing by Mark, so (it is claimed) it cannot be him.8
  4. Therefore (the conclusion goes), it must be James, the son of Alphaeus.9

This sounds good on the surface, but it is based on guesswork.  The evidence is actually more in favor of “James the less” being the brother of Jesus instead of one of the apostles.10

James, the son of Alphaeus

The man known as Alphaeus is said by many to be the same man as Cleophas,11 Cleopas,12 or Clopas,13 due to a similarity in the pronunciation in Hebrew,14 though this is a matter of speculation.15  If indeed Alphaeus is to be identified with one of these men (or both, if Cleophas and Cleopas are the same man), then that would make for quite an impressive family: two apostles, whose parents were both disciples of Jesus—the mother being at the cross, and the father meeting with Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Compare Mark 2:14 with 3:18.

2 Most Bible dictionaries seem to ignore this common sense explanation and say that there were two different men named “Alphaeus.”  The question then arises: If this is the case, why did Mark mention Matthew’s father at all?  Certainly the Roman readers would have had no idea who this Alphaeus was, so it wasn’t as though Mark was appealing to their existing knowledge.  Alphaeus doesn’t appear in the gospel narratives at all, so it wasn’t because Mark was introducing a new character that would appear later.  The only reasonable conclusion is that Matthew (the son of Alphaeus) is the brother of James (the son of Alphaeus).

3 This possibility is mentioned by David Smith in James’ Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, “James, the son of Alphaeus.”

4 Acts 1:11, 2:7.

5 Judas was probably from a small town in Judah.  See the chapter on Judas for more details.

6 Luke 19:2-3.  The phrase “wee little man” is not in the text, but is found in a children’s song about Zacchaeus the tax collector.

7 Matthew 27:56 also confirms this, by identifying the mother of Zebedee’s children as a different woman from “Mary, the mother of James and Joses.”

8 The same thing can be said about James, the son of Alphaeus, as well.  Both he and the brother of the Lord are mentioned just once in Mark’s gospel account.

9 This is compelling to an extent, but it must be pointed out that Mark mentions that the “Mary” who was the mother of “James the less” is also the mother of “Joses.”  The only “Joses” mentioned in Mark is the brother of Jesus (and the brother of James), whose mother is named “Mary” (see Mark 6:3).  So, if we accept this argument, then instead of proving this to be James, the son of Alphaeus, the evidence would actually prove it to be James, the brother of the Lord.

10 See the previous footnote, as well as the section “James the Less” in the chapter on James, the Brother of Jesus.

11 John 19:25

12 Luke 24:18

13 John 19:25, ASV

14 The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Clopas; Cleophas”) says “Upon the philological ground of a variety in pronunciation of the Hebrew root, [Clopas is] sometimes identified with Alpheus, the father of James the Less.”

15 James Hastings’, Dictionary of the Bible (“Cleopas”) says it is “a matter of dispute.”  Hastings’ Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels (“Clopas,” “Cleophas,” and “Cleopas”) shows that there’s not even agreement on whether Cleophas and Cleopas are the same individual, let alone that Alphaeus is another name for one or both of them.  Smith’s Bible Dictionary (“Cleopas”) says “Some think that this [Cleopas] is the same Cleophas as in John 19:25. But, they are probably two different persons. Cleopas is a Greek name, contracted from Cleopater, while Cleophas, or Clopas as in the Revised Version, is an Aramaic name.”

A Brief Biography of Jesus’ Brother (Part Four)

The Death of James, According to Tradition

Hegesippus, a Jew who was converted to Christ in the second century, said that James lived a life of strict adherence to the Law of Moses, and was “held in the highest veneration by the Jews”*[1] earning him the nicknamed “James the Just.”*[2] Eusebius, quoting him, said that James’ knees were like those of a camel because he spent so much time on them in prayer.*[3]  He also said that James undertook the “government of the Church [universal] along with the apostles”*[4]  It appears that some outlandish legends grew up around James by the third and fourth centuries, with some writers suggesting that James dressed like the Jewish high priest, and was the only one allowed in the Holy of Holies in the temple.* [5]

Both religious and secular history confirms that James died as a martyr.  According to Josephus, the same Annas who tried Jesus*[6] had a son named Annas who served as the high priest after the death of Festus.  Annas was a strict Sadducee, and was “very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews.”  When he gained the high priesthood, he decided he had the opportunity to exercise his authority (Festus’ replacement, Albinus, had not yet arrived).  He “assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others.  And when he [Annas] had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the Law, he delivered them to be stoned.”  Many of the Jews were very upset, and contacted Agrippa for help, and appealed to Albinus for aid to stop the dictatorial acts of lawlessness.  As a result of Annas’ actions, Albinus promised to “bring him to punishment for what he had done,” and removed him from the office of high priest after just three months.*[7]

Eusebius, quoting Hegesippus, gives a slightly different story:

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 time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James.  He was holy from his mother’s womb; and 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 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 signifies in Greek, ‘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 he 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 one’s coming 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 are 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 do not respect persons.

Therefore, persuade 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 may be clearly seen, and that your words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, are 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: ‘You 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 is the gate of Jesus.’

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 doings.’[8]

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, ‘Stop. What are you doing? The just one prays for you.’

And one of them, who was a fuller, 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.*[9]

So ends the life of a man who was regarded by some ancient writers as one of the fourteen apostles.*[10]

[1] *Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2:23.  See McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, Vol. 4, page 755.

[2] *Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.1.2

[3] *Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.6

[4] *McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia.

[5] *Epiphanius, who claims Eusebius and Clement as evidence, stated that James wore the petalon, which some argue is the ephod of the high priest, and others state is the golden plate which says JHVH, worn on his turban.  See his Haeres. 29:4, 78:13.  Hegesippius (as quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.6) said that he always wore linen clothing (like the high priests) which permitted him access into the “holy place.”

[6] *John 18:12-23.

[7] *Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1.

[8] *Isaiah 3:10, LXX.

[9] *Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, 23:4-18

[10] *Apostolic Constitutions 6.14, says “On whose account also we, who are now assembled in one place, — Peter and Andrew; James and John, sons of Zebedee; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus who is surnamed Thaddaeus; and Simon the Canaanite, and Matthias, who instead of Judas was numbered with us; and James the brother of the Lord and bishop of Jerusalem, and Paul the teacher of the Gentiles, the chosen vessel, having all met together, have written to you this Catholic doctrine for the confirmation of you, to whom the oversight of the universal Church is committed…” See also Eusebius’ commentary on Isaiah which states explicitly his belief that James was one of the “official” apostles.

A Brief Biography of Jesus’ Brother (Part Three)

[Okay, admittedly, today’s post is short (other than the footnotes), but we thought the last part (coming Wednesday) deserved its own post].

James the Writer

Though there is dispute about when exactly James (whose name is actually Jacob*[1]) took up his pen and wrote the letter that bears his name, the fact remains that he did indeed write.*[2]  In accordance with his status as a leader within the Jewish congregations and his acknowledgement that his mission was to the circumcision, he wrote his letter to Jewish Christians.*[3]

Throughout the Scriptures, James appears as a man who was interested in putting his religion into action.  He understood the truth of the gospel, but his focus was on “how do we make this practical?”  This is seen in the letter that he wrote in Acts 15, in his request of Paul in Acts 21, and in almost every verse of his epistle.  And since judgment from God is based on one’s works,*[4] James focuses on teaching his readers about the works to do and works to avoid, emphasizing that “faith without works is dead,” and that “by works a man is justified.”*[5]

[1] *In Greek, the name is Iacobus, which is the Hebrew name Jacob spelled in Greek letters.  Some have suggested that the name “James” was used because of King James, but Miles Coverdale, in his translation of 1535, used Iames—before King James was even born.

[2] *This letter was written near the end of James’ life, sometime between AD 62-67.  For a more detailed discussion of the dating of this epistle, see the introduction in Justified by Works: A Study of the Letter from James by this author.

[3] *There are those, such as Guy N. Woods (A Commentary on the Epistle of James, pages 16-17, 31-32), who claim it was written to all Christians—Jew and Gentile—but such a view doesn’t match up with the fact that James called their meeting place a “synagogue” (James 2:2), or that he wrote to the twelve tribes of the diaspora (James 1:1).  When these facts are considered along with his Jew-only mission (Galatians 2:9) and his insistence upon keeping the Law of Moses (Acts 21:17-26), it demands that his letter was written to Jews.  For more information, see this author’s commentary on James.

[4] *See all instances of judgment throughout both testaments, and also consider 2 Corinthians 5:10.

[5] *James 2:20, 24.  Since judgment is made by God on the basis of our works, one must be very cautious before rejecting brethren based exclusively on their beliefs, especially when those beliefs do not affect (1) the plan of salvation, (2) their works [including worship], or (3) anything the Bible connects to salvation.  There are those who reject brethren over such things as their interpretation of the book of Revelation, or of their belief regarding how the Holy Spirit indwells a Christian.  The Scriptures never state that we will be judged based on our level of theological understanding, but on our works.

A Brief Biography of Jesus’ Brother (Part Two)

James the Elder

God did not deem it necessary for us to know when James was made an elder in the church at Jerusalem,*[1] but by the time fourteen years had passed from James’ meeting with Saul of Tarsus, he was one.*[2]  He was extremely influential in the church at Jerusalem, being called a “pillar” of equal standing with Peter and John (Galatians 2:9).  In fact, after Peter’s angelic rescue from prison, he instructed the disciples to go “tell James” about what happened.*[3]  Some trouble had erupted with some Jewish Christians teaching that Gentiles could not be saved without first being circumcised.  Saul (now called “Paul”), along with Barnabas, came to Jerusalem and had a meeting with the “apostles and elders” to discuss the matter.*[4]  James was one of the “apostles and elders” who was present,*[5] and in fact appears to be the one who was supervising the whole proceeding, issuing his “sentence” or “judgment” after hearing Peter, Paul, and Barnabas give their testimony.*[6]

James’ judgment was that the Gentiles were not to be troubled with keeping any part of the Law of Moses.  In accordance with this judgment, James wrote a letter to be sent to the Gentile Christians in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.*[7]  It is also at this time that James (along with Peter and John) gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, acknowledging that Jesus had commissioned them to go to the Gentiles, while James’ (and Peter and John’s) commission was to the Jews.*[8]

Some time afterwards, some men came “from James” to Antioch; and though the circumstances causing this journey is not given,*[9] it does point to James’ status as a leader in the Jerusalem church.*[10]  The apostle Paul even appealed to James as a person of authority when writing to the Christians in Corinth: first, as an approved example of a married man being supported by the church;*[11] second, as a reputable person who was a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.*[12]

Several years later, James received a visit from Paul, Timothy, Luke, and several others*[13] in order to receive financial aid sent by predominantly Gentile churches for the poor Jewish saints in Jerusalem.  James, along with the other elders in Jerusalem, met with them and rejoiced at the great work God was doing through Paul’s missionary efforts.  However, there was something that James and the other elders needed to talk to Paul about.*[14]  They had heard rumors—as had the other Christians in Jerusalem—that Paul was teaching Jews to forsake the customs of the Law of Moses, specifically circumcision.  James and the elders knew that this wasn’t truly the case, but they also knew that something needed to be done to prove to the Jewish Christians that the rumors were false.  So, James and the rest of the elders (potentially hundreds of men) asked Paul to purify himself and pay the temple offering for himself and four other Jewish Christians who had taken a vow.  This, they were confident, would be sufficient proof to the Christians that Paul still respected the Law of Moses. Unfortunately, some of the Jews who had caused Paul such problems in Asia had come to Jerusalem as well and stirred up the multitude, almost causing Paul’s death, and rendering James’ suggestion moot.

Many people want to condemn James’ actions here, but the evidence doesn’t warrant condemnation.  The idea that one inspired man (James) and potentially hundreds of other leaders in the church (most of whom probably had miraculous gifts) would ask another inspired man (Paul) to sin—and then that inspired man agreed to sin—is despicable and unworthy of serious consideration.*[15]  The fact that, just a few days after these events, Paul testified that he had lived “in all good conscience” up to that point shows that the inspired apostle didn’t see anything wrong with the request made by James and the elders in Jerusalem—or else he was lying (Acts 23:1).  James and the elders were not asking Paul to reject the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and return to the Old Law; they were asking him to show that he still had respect for the customs of the Jews contained in the Law of Moses (see Acts 21:21).*[16]  In short, James was asking Paul to do something expedient to assist in keeping peace and unity within the Jerusalem church.*[17]

[1] *Epiphanius (Haeres., 78), Chroysostom (Homilies xi in 1 Corinthians 7), as well as others, state that James was made an elder by the Lord Jesus Himself.  Eusebius agrees in one place, but elsewhere states that he was ordained an elder by the apostles (Ecclesiastical History, 2:23).  Clement of Alexandria places James at a higher level in the Jerusalem church than even the apostles, suggesting that Peter, James [son of Zebedee], and John “might well have been ambitious” for it (McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 4, page755).

[2] *The Scriptures do not describe how or when elders were first installed in the church.  The first mention of elders in the church is in Acts 11:30, and they are portrayed as men who were already seen as the leaders of the church [most likely in Jerusalem].  Since Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in every congregation (Acts 14:23), it would be logical to assume that all the other established congregations (such as Antioch and those congregations outside of Jerusalem) also already had elders at that time as well.

[3] *Acts 12:17.  James, the son of Zebedee, had been murdered before Peter’s arrest, eliminating him from possible consideration in this passage.

[4] *Acts 15:1-6.

[5] *If one were to argue that James was not an elder, this phrase requires that they place James among the apostles—which very few would be willing to do.  He is either one or the other (or both, see 1 Peter 5:1-3).

[6] *Acts 19:13-21.  It is difficult to see how James could have authority in this meeting without being an apostle of Jesus Christ.  There are arguments given that there were only twelve full-fledged apostles of Jesus Christ, yet Matthias was a thirteenth (though admittedly, he replaced Judas) and Paul was definitely not one of the twelve.  Paul categorizes James with Peter and John (who were both apostles), and even appears to call James an apostle in Galatians 1:18-19.  If the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ to Paul was enough to commission him to be a full-fledged apostle, why could not the same thing be said of James?  The office of apostle was a miraculous one (2 Corinthians 12:12), and regardless of how many people filled that role, it was one which ended with the age of miracles—that is, when the Scriptures were completed and Jerusalem was overthrown.  See the Appendix in the author’s book The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts for more information regarding the end of miracles.

[7] *Though the text does not explicitly state James as the author, there are multiple phrases in that short letter which only appear in one other place in Scripture: the letter known as “James,” which was written by the brother of the Lord.   For most commentators, this is sufficient proof that the same man wrote both letters.  See the introduction to this author’s book: Justified by Works: A Study of the Letter from James.

[8] *Galatians 2:7-9.

[9] *There is speculation on almost every aspect of Galatians 2:12.  Commentators dispute among themselves over whether these “certain men” were really sent by James, or if they were simply men who were in agreement with him, or they just claimed to be in agreement with him.  They argue over why James sent these men (if indeed he actually sent them): was it to make sure Peter was behaving according to the Jewish customs, or to tell the Jewish Christians that they were still obliged to follow the Law of Moses, or any number of other things?  They argue over why Peter was scared of them: was it because he was scared of James, or scared of these men who would be upset with him for not following Jewish customs regarding eating with Gentiles, or scared that he—as a Jew—was somehow keeping his national brethren from coming to the truth?

[10] *Whether these men were actually sent by James or simply claimed to be sent by James, the fact remains that the name of James carried such weight that Peter was scared of doing something that would upset him or his emissaries.

[11] *1 Corinthians 9:1-6.Paul’s argument is that he could have demanded that they support him financially, but he didn’t.  He didn’t take advantage of what was proper.  He could have commanded them to provide his food and drink; he could have taken a wife and had the church support both of them like the other apostles, the brethren of the Lord [including James], and Peter himself.  Thus, Paul appeals to James as one of the many examples of a person who was supported by the church full-time because of his work with the congregation.  This matches with 1 Timothy 5:17, where elders have the right to be financially supported.

[12] *1 Corinthians 15:4-7.  There was no reason to mention James by name unless his name held some level of importance within the church.  The fact that his name was well-known to Gentile Christians hundreds of miles from Jerusalem speaks to his importance.

[13] *These others are mentioned by name in Acts 20:4.  The visit itself is recorded in Acts 21:17-ff,

[14] *This speech is most often attributed to James alone by commentary writers, but the text attributes it to the entirety of the elders in Jerusalem—potentially hundreds of men.  See Acts 21:20-25.

[15] *Lipscomb states:

They were not under obligations to observe the law; but as they had been accustomed to its observance, they did not at once see that it was incompatible with faith in Christ Jesus. So they continued to observe it. It is probable that they gradually learned that Jesus was the end of the law, and turned from it by degrees, the destruction of Jerusalem likely enforcing the final truth upon them.

[16] *McGarvey, after noting that this is a “most difficult” section of Acts to explain, said the following:

The truth is, that, up to this time, Paul had written nothing which directly conflicted with the service of the altar, and he did not yet understand the subject correctly. His mind, and those of all the brethren, were as yet in much the same condition on this subject that they were before the conversion of Cornelius, in reference to the reception of the uncircumcised into the Church. If we admit that the proposition above quoted from Galatians, affirming that “we are no longer under the law,” was, when fully understood, inconsistent with the continuance of the sacrifice, we make his case only the more likely like Peter’s in regard to the Gentiles; for he announced propositions, on Pentecost, which were inconsistent with his subsequent course, until he was made to better understand the force of his own words. Peter finally discovered that he was wrong in that matter, and Paul at length discovered that he was wrong, in his connection with the offerings of these Nazarites. Some years later, the whole question concerning the Aaronic priesthood and animal sacrifices was thrust more distinctly upon his mind, and the Holy Spirit made to him a more distinct revelation of the truth upon the subject, and caused him to develop it to the Churches, in Ephesians, Colossians, and especially in Hebrews. In the last-named Epistle, written during his imprisonment in Rome, he exhibited the utter inefficiency of animal sacrifices; the sacrifice of Christ, once for all, as the only sufficient sin-offering; and the abrogation of the Aaronic priesthood by that of Christ, who was now the only high priest and mediator between God and man. After these developments, he could not, for any earthly consideration, have repeated the transaction with the Nazarites; for it would have been to insult the great High Priest over the house of God, by presenting, before a human priest, an offering which could not take away sin, and which would proclaim the insufficiency of the blood of the atonement. We conclude, therefore, that the procedure described in the text was inconsistent with the truth as finally developed by the apostles, but not with so much of it as was then understood by Paul. This conclusion presents but another proof that the Holy Spirit, in leading the apostles “into the truth,” did so by a gradual development running through a series of years. (Commentary on Acts, notes on 21:18-26).

[17] *The same ones who wish to condemn Paul and James for this act of expedience have no problem with Paul’s circumcision of Timothy, which was also an act of expedience.