James The Just – What Was He To Jesus?

While it seems characteristic for the people in Jesus’ inner circle to be mired in controversy, it is James the brother of Jesus who is by far the most mysterious. James is probably the key to resolving the Talpiot conundrum. This is the story of James including the puzzles that were part of the life of one of the most important leaders of the early church.

James the Just was first mentioned in the gospels of Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 where he was listed together with three other brothers and two sisters. All the brothers and sisters are older than Jesus and may not have been his full siblings. Although he is described in the New Testament as the “brother of Jesus”, and in spite of much debate, not everyone agrees about his actual relationship to Jesus.

Because of his strict ascetic way of life, his godliness and his sincerity he is also known as James the Righteous.

In the Liturgy of James he is described as “the brother of God” (Adelphotheos). James is also referred to as the first bishop of Jerusalem, the author of the Epistle of James, the first of the Seventy Apostles of Luke 10:1-20. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia which bases its conclusion on the accounts of Hegesippus it is quite likely that James the Just is the same as James the Less. He is thought of as one of the three pillars of the early church (1).

Hegesippus – early chronicler

The Epistle Of James May Not Have Been Written By James

As regards the Epistle of James, not all scholars agree that it was indeed written by the purported author. For instance author Raymond E. Brown suggests that the Greek in which this epistle was written was so effortless that it is unlikely that James whose mother tongue was Aramaic could have authored it. It has been suggested that while the epistles may reflect the ideas of James they were probably written by a scribe or one of the followers of James. However other scholars Luke Timothy Johnson and James Adamson argue that James could have been sufficiently fluent in Greek to have authored the epistle himself (2). In fact James the Just is particularly remembered for this epistle.

If indeed the Epistle of James was in fact written by him or even if someone else had helped him to write it, it would be one of the earliest New Testament documents (3). Some scholars believe that the authoritative tone in which it has been written would indicate that the author is indeed James – someone who actually knew Jesus.

James Lived An Ascetic Life

Some insight into the life of James the brother of Jesus is found in the canonical writing of the New Testament as well as in some of the written sources of the early church. While the synoptic gospels mention the name of James, there is nothing said about him in the Gospel of John and in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. It was not for nothing that James was called “the Just”. He was a teetotaler and a vegetarian (4).

Besides this, James the brother of Jesus did not shave, bathe or anoint himself. He did not wear woolen clothes. His vestments were made of linen. He went into the temple alone so often and knelt as he prayed for others that his knees became as hard as a camel’s. The fact that he went into “Holy of Holies” where it was unlawful for anyone other than high priests to enter, Jerome suggests that James was considered a high priest based on the writing of Hegesippus (5). This was also suggested in the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions. However in 1 Corinthians, Paul insinuates that James was a married man (6).

James the Just is sometimes confused with other important biblical characters bearing the name James, especially three who were important for their ministry of Jesus during the early church. These were James the son of Zebedee and brother of John and an apostle (Matthew 4:21; 10:2; Mark 1:19; Luke 5:10), James the Less, son of Alphaeus and also an apostle (Matthew 10:3; Acts 1:13). There is a James mentioned in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. According to Paul, an inspired apostle, Jesus appeared to James following his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Based on the Gospel of the Hebrews, we learn that James was the first to see the resurrected Jesus (7). It is generally understood that this James is James the Just.

James Became The Leader Of The Christian Movement After The Crucifixion Of Jesus

James the Just was the leader of the Christian movement in Jerusalem for many years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In fact he was said to have been at the helm of the Jerusalem church for thirty years (till the seventh year of Nero). However there is not much information about him and what little is available is vague (8).

The principal sources of information relating to James are Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of Saint Paul, the historian Josephus, and the early Christian author Hegesippus. Some Pauline Epistles contain information about James relating to the period 35 – 55 AD. The first-hand source of information relating to James the Just is contained in the letters by the apostle Paul. While according to some sources James is referred to as the brother of Jesus, scholars are of the opinion that he was only a brother in a spiritual way. However others claim that he was a full brother of Jesus or perhaps his stepbrother or maybe just a cousin or an otherwise close relative (9).

James Was Not Sympathetic To The Early Ministry Of Jesus

James like his other three brothers was not sympathetic to the early ministry of Jesus. This was borne out in John 7:5. But this was said to have changed after the resurrection of Jesus. After the resurrection of Jesus some or all of his brothers were said to have joined the company of the apostles (Acts 1:14). In fact after the supposed resurrection of Jesus, James became such a staunch believer that Jerome, quoting from the non-canonical Gospel according to the Hebrews said that James decided that he would neither eat nor drink till the risen Jesus appeared to him. And supposedly Jesus appeared to James and said “My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from the dead” (F. W. Farrar, The Pulpit Commentary, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950, Vol. 19, p. 484). Even according to Paul, James was one of the few people that Jesus appears to following his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7) (10).

In the closing portion of Acts 1: 14, Luke presents the family of Jesus that includes Mary his mother and the brothers and identifies only James by name. Here Luke explains that after the Ascension, the apostles return from the Mount of Olives and gather in an upper room in a house in Jerusalem to pray. Together with the apostles were Mary the mother of Jesus and the brothers. From Luke’s explanation it is plain that the piety of the brothers was not because of some radical change of heart as a consequence of “some resurrection appearance” (11).

From the Gospel of Thomas we learn that James the Just was appointed as the head of the church in Jerusalem by Jesus himself. According to this gospel the disciples asked Jesus “We know that you will depart from us; who is it who will lead us?” Jesus said to them, “Wherever you have come from, go to James the Just, for whom heaven and earth came to be.” In Galatians Paul showcases James as one of the three pillars of the early church together with Cephas (more commonly referred to as Peter) and John (12).

James Becomes The First Bishop Or Patriarch Of Jerusalem

However though the scriptures tend to show that James the brother of Jesus was the first bishop or patriarch of Jerusalem this did not seem to undermine the importance of Peter. The Roman Catholic Church insists that while James was the bishop of Jerusalem, he was by no means the head of the church and that this distinction belonged to Peter by virtue of being the “Rock” and the “Chief Shepherd”. According to the historian Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria had this to say about the appointment of James to the episcopacy of Jerusalem “For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem”. James was chosen the first bishop of Jerusalem because of his special relationship to Jesus and his devoutness (13).

The fact that James was the leader of the Jerusalem church from its inception lends credence to the argument that the family of Jesus was among his followers during the time of his ministry itself and not after the resurrection. The evangelist Mark was critical of Jesus’ family and of the twelve apostles because of the struggle that was going on for the leadership of the church of his time. The role of James has been marginalized by the authors of the New Testament because they did not want to promote the Jamesian point of view of the early church. The reason for this was that James represented a sectarian church that primarily targeted Jews whereas the Pauline form was meant for “the mission of the nations” that did differentiate between Jews and Gentiles (14).

Please also read my other blogs:

James – full Brother of Jesus, his step brother or cousin? at

When Did James The Brother Of Jesus Become A Disciple? at

Death Of James The Brother Of Jesus at

Consequence Of The Death Of The Brother Of Jesus at
A Better Understanding Of What We Believe at


(1) James the Just. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

(2) James the Just. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

(3) Waggoner, Robert L. (2003).An Overview of Matthew’s Gospel[1]. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.thebible1.net/biblicaltheism/0402overmatthew.htm

(4) James the Just. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

(5) James the Just. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just.

(6) James the Just. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

(7) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 186)

(8) James the Just. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

(9) James the Just. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

(10) Rush, Roger A. (1999). James, Brother of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gospelgazette.com/gazette/1999/jun/page5.shtml

(11) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 42.

(12) James the Just (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

(13) James, the brother of Jesus. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.churchhistory101.com/century1-p6.php

(14) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 97.

Picture Credits: (Fig 1) Hegesippus – early chronicler https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1024&bih=635&q=Saint+Hegesippus&oq=Saint+Hegesippus&gs_l=img.12…4068.4068.0.11755.….0…1ac..64.img..1.0.0.QEVoVcKe3kM#q=Saint+Hegesippus&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbas=0&imgrc=goVphXnKMmahrM%3A


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