Whatever may be the familial relationship between James and Jesus, the association between the two has been a concern for a long time. But this concern has not been given the attention it deserves in order to better understand the importance of James the brother of Jesus to the embryonic church. From his study of the Encyclopedia Britannica one of the three points that John Painter drew attention to was that “James and the brothers and sisters of Jesus were not believers during the ministry of Jesus.” (John 7:3-5; Mark 3:21, 31-35). (1)
Nazareth as we have seen was at best a little village with just a sprinkling of houses and all its inhabitants were somehow related to one another. In spite of this it seems that all or most of them neither accepted the purported miraculous conception of Jesus or his divinity. This is apparent from the Gospels of Luke and Mark. Luke wrote:
“Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” (Luke 4:24).
Mark 6:4 quotes Jesus as saying “prophets are not without honor…except among their own kin.” From these two verses it would appear that not only was Jesus not accepted by the other people in Nazareth, he was not accepted by his “brothers”. John confirmed this in John 7:5 “for not even his brothers believed in him.”
We learn from other sources that the brothers of Jesus were unbelievers before his crucifixion. However, the resurrection of Jesus “brought them to faith.” (2)
Even more specifically we learn that James was “at first unwilling to accept Jesus as the Son of God”. However he became a fervent believer and a cherished leader of the incipient church. (3)
These statements contradict the Gospel of Thomas where he mentions “The disciples said to 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.” (4)
In fact a reading of the First Apocalypse challenged the notion that James was at first an unbeliever by showing the special relationship between James and Jesus. This reading (31.4 – 5; 32.7 – 8) showed that James embraced and kissed the risen Jesus. And the Second Apocalypse explained how Jesus embraced James and kissed him on the mouth.
It also showed that it is because of this affection between the two that Jesus told James: “My beloved! Behold, I shall reveal to you those (things) that (neither) [the] heavens nor their archons have known…. Behold I shall reveal to you everything, my beloved.” (56.14 – 57.5). The First and Second Apocalypse, the Ascents of James (Rec 1.43.3) and the Kerygma Petrou (Cont 5.4) showed that what Jesus revealed to James he does not make known to any of the other Apostles. This showed that the succession of authority passed from Jesus to James through this revelation as also the “authority of leadership.” (5)
Why would Jesus have asked his disciples to follow someone who did not believe in him? Why would Jesus have kissed James and called him “my beloved”? And why would he have appeared to him after his resurrection?
It is more likely that James followed Jesus to Jerusalem at the beginning of his ministry. However whether all his other brothers followed him is debatable. Whether or not James believed that Jesus was the son of God is debatable. But what is almost certain is that the relationship between the two was dear, and that he was so totally supportive of Jesus that James was the first choice of Jesus to lead his ministry after his crucifixion. This choice was made by Jesus himself before his crucifixion.
It can be gleaned from Acts, Galatians, and I Corinthians that James was a loving follower of Jesus and that he did not become a believer only after the resurrection. The fact that Jesus reposed trust in James to carry on his ministry with the necessary authority only showed that James was one who believed in the teachings of Jesus and shared his principles.
In the later chapters of the Acts of the Apostle James is described as an important leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. James the brother of Jesus was also the central authority to whom the apostles were required to turn to no matter where they traveled. In the codices of text found at Nag Hammadi, specifically The Apocryphon of James (“secret book of James”), there was an “account of James and Peter receiving knowledge”. In this account James was always shown at a higher plane than Peter. (6)
Even if as suggested by some scholars, The First Apocalypse of James was written by someone other than James but only used James’ name, it is evident from the reported conversations between Jesus and James that it referred to the days relating to Jesus foretelling his death, his crucifixion and his resurrection. The author quotes Jesus telling James “For not without reason have I called you my brother, although you are not my brother materially.” The author used this quote to show the special relationship between Jesus and James. The author again quoted Jesus as telling James “For they will seize me the day after tomorrow.” This proves that not only did this conversation take place just before the crucifixion, but also that James was a follower of Jesus and believed in his teachings before the crucifixion and resurrection. (7)
In The First Apocalypse of James, Jesus told James that on his death war will be waged against Jerusalem. This was also brought out by Eusebius who based his writing on Josephus about how Jerusalem will be destroyed because of the death of James. These two sources show that James is in fact more important than later literature had made him out. (8)
The Church of James
James and his followers in Jerusalem thought of themselves as Jews and continued to worship in the Jewish Temple and followed traditional Jewish laws. Outsiders considered them to be a different Jewish sect and described them as Nazarenes. (9)
The brand of Christianity advocated by James the brother of Jesus was unique and differed from the Christianity preached by Paul. James was more concerned with the here and now rather than the life after. It was also believed that had the James type of Christianity survived, the cross may not have had the significance it now does and that the disharmony between the major religions of the world would have been far less. (10)
Was James The Righteous Teacher Of The Essenes?
A group of Jewish Christians was the first followers of James. Some think that a section of these followers later became the secluded sect that confined itself to Qumran. (11)
The Qumran caves
Based on the fact that James was a zealous guardian of the Law and the sacrificial practices of the Temple, some scholars were of the opinion that it was he who was referred to as the Righteous Teacher of the Essenes. (12)
Some believed that James was the leader and perhaps even the nasi or high priest of a Hebrew community that lived in groups that shared their belongings somewhat similar to the life style of the Essenes. In addition to this James was also considered as a high priest who confronted the “priestly hierarchy of the Sadducees.” (13)
The Rivalry Between James And Paul
According to some scholars although James was the unanimous choice as the first bishop of Jerusalem he had a rival in Paul. This rivalry stemmed from a basic difference in their beliefs about Jesus. James who like Jesus was a Jew, believed that Jesus was an ordinary man who was appointed by God to lead his people. On the other hand Paul taught the idea that Jesus was divine and was God’s son. James chose to spread his brand of Christianity among the Jews to whom it was less difficult to sell his beliefs about Jesus. On the other hand, Paul whose audience was the gentiles, was not too averse to accept Jesus as the son of God. Paul based his teachings on “a series of mystical visions.” (14)
This was the principal difference but by no means the only difference. Contemporary historians are of the opinion that James preached a brand of Christianity that was complacent with Jewish tradition. Paul on the other hand considered it cumbersome to follow the Mosaic Law. James advocated adherence to the Mosaic Law and because of this his position in this regard was considered Judaizing. The Recognitions and Homilies of Clement are cited as proof of James’ thoughts on the subject. This source which is in the form of a novel dating back to the 2nd Century also shows James as a virtuous character who was assaulted by unnamed foes who some think could have been Paul. (15)
Another bone of contention between James and Paul was regarding the circumcision of Gentiles. The Pharisees were of the view that the Gentiles must be circumcised. However Paul was opposed to this condition. But after Peter, Paul and Barnabas had deliberated on this issue, James resolved this issue by deciding that while the Gentiles could be taught the word, they should abide by the Law of Moses, but need not be circumcised. (16)
Paul stressed the importance of faith. In contrast to this James emphasized the importance of works. He taught that they are not the ‘works of the law’, but instead they are works fulfilling ‘the royal law of love’ which make known the presence of genuine faith. (17) Further, Pauline Christianity was an amalgam of Jewish, Greek and pagan beliefs. As compared to this James was a typical Jew of that time: conscientious and particular about the observance of rituals and venerating the Temple.
The conspiracies of James and Paul
Whatever their differences, and in spite of the fact that some of them may have been reconciled between the two, James and Paul distinctly belonged to two different “power blocks”. Paul belonged to the group of “rulers” that included the Romans and those who collaborated with them. And there was the James group: “the populists” that comprised of demagogues that railed against Roman occupation, early Jewish Christians, the communities of Qumran and others. (18)
In time however the control of the church steadily shifted from James to Paul. The primary reason for this was that Paul’s converts far outnumbered the followers of James. Besides this Paul was also responsible for setting up several churches and kept in contact with all the new churches while James was stuck in Jerusalem and had little or no contact with the outside world. (19)
Some scholars think that the differences between James and Paul may have arisen because of the fact that Paul was not a Jew in the true sense. Both Hyam Maccoby and Professor Robert Eisenman of California State University, Long Beach, think that the Ebionite charge questioning whether Paul was indeed a Jew is reasonable. Maccoby illustrates clearly in his Paul and Hellenism that it is unlikely that the epistles of Paul was written by a Jew because of the “anti-Semitic outbursts, their Mystery Religion affinities, their Gnosticizing exegesis, and their utterly non-Jewish view of the Torah as a burden”. Eisenman bases his conclusion alluding to the Herodian roots of Paul, his Roman citizenship and his relationship to a Herodian of the household of Aristobulus. The fact that he was also a Roman citizen made him eligible for special privileges when it came to a question of laws, property and governance. The Ebionite accusation implied that Paul was a sort of Greek pagan entering Judaism surreptitiously. Eisenman further notes that Paul disputes saying that he is “a Hebrew, an Israelite, even a Benjaminite, but he avoids calling himself a Jew!” (20)
The writers of the Ascent of Jacob (another name for James) say that Paul in his youth was impetuous and was in fact guilty of discrimination against Hebrew Ecclesia in Jerusalem. They also accused Paul of trying to kill James during a debate in the Temple against the leading rabbinic scholar in Jerusalem and the Ab Beth-Din, the Chief Officer of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel. (21)
It was also said that when the disciple Paul was Rabbi Shaul he personally accosted James the Just and attempted to destroy him. Paul was different from James and the other apostles in many fundamental respects. He was born a Gentile into a rich family in an urban center which was the capital of a Roman province and raised in a predominantly Hellenistic setting where paganism was everywhere. When he came to Jerusalem he already had certain fixed notions of religion.
Paul never met Jesus during his lifetime nor was he acquainted with the Galilean way of life of Jesus or his followers. Paul spent most of his time in Jerusalem and in Judea but he did not develop any sort of relationship with anyone close to Jesus who at that time constituted the Jerusalem Council. As a consequence Paul was not familiar with the teachings of Jesus and formed religious ideas of his own that were often contrary with that of the teachings of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. In fact Paul held Judaism in such low esteem that in Phil. 3 he referred to his earlier beliefs as worthless. (22)
It should therefore not come as a surprise that the disciples of Jesus were unable to identify with Paul nor reconcile to his version of the teachings of Jesus with whom they were closely associated. Unlike Paul, the associates of Jesus did not feel the need to disregard the requirements of the Torah as they believed that Jesus was a messiah. Paul concocted his own version of traditions and beliefs that were fundamentally different from the traditions and beliefs of the early founders of the church. (23)
James was for his part not altogether innocent. Some scholars believe that the differences between Paul on the one hand and James and Peter on the other were not just factional. It appears that the duo was instrumental in getting Paul arrested while at the Temple fulfilling his Nazarene vows. This is probably apparent from Paul’s angry outburst in Galatians against James and his followers accusing them of showing disregard for “Yeshuan love.” (24)
Even though the Judeo-Christian sect which considered itself as the true disciples of Jesus, rejected Paul as a false follower of Christ and a traitor to Judaism that was governed by the Torah. In spite of the schism that the Pauline brand of Christianity created it eventually prevailed. And from indications from the New Testament, it is apparent that much of what is basic to modern Christianity were propagated by him setting aside the objections of James and his followers. The form of Christianity that was promulgated by Paul and the one that survived to eventually evolve into what is the basis of the Christianity of today is a break-away from the teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus. Some scholars are of the opinion that Paul even attempted to position himself alongside God and Jesus “by beginning all his letters with words to the effect, ‘Greetings from Paul, God and Jesus,’ as if they were a triumvirate.” (25)
On one occasion Paul was arrested for following the course recommended by James and the Jerusalem church relating to circumcision and the Mosaic Law as they should apply to the Gentiles and his participation in a purification ritual in the Temple. On this occasion neither James nor the Jerusalem Church came to Paul’s rescue. Acts 23:12-22 refer to this as the plot to kill Paul. It was only because of the intervention of Paul’s nephew that he was saved (Acts 23:16). (26)
Please also read my other blogs:
James The Just – What Was He To Jesus? at 99
James – full Brother of Jesus, his step brother or cousin? 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) Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 12-13.)
(2) Rush, Roger. A. James, Brother of Jesus. (1999). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gospelgazette.com/gazette/1999/jun/page5.shtml)
(3) Rush, Roger. A. James, Brother of Jesus. (1999). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gospelgazette.com/gazette/1999/jun/page5.shtml
(4) New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings, By Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Robert McLachlan Wilson, Westminster John Knox Press, 1991, pg 119.
(5) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 176
(6) Tabor, James. D. (1999). Essays on James the Brother of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/jamesessay.html
(7) Tabor, James. D. (1999). Essays on James the Brother of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/jamesessay.html
(8) Tabor, James. D. (1999). Essays on James the Brother of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/jamesessay.html
(9) The Council of Jerusalem and other developments. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Christian#The_Council_of_Jerusalem_and_other_developments
(10) Justification by Faith and Justification by Works, Did James Contradict Paul? (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/doctrine/JamesPau.htm
(11) Nag Hammadi Library hilites. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://sites.google.com/site/jesusgnosisorg/nag-hammadi-library-hilites
(12) Alford, Mark. (1998). James the brother of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://alford.fastmail.us/james.html
(13) Mock, Robert D. (1999). Crisis in the Nazarene Ecclesia – The Sanhedrin and Rabbi Shaul are Coming. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.biblesearchers.com/hebrewchurch/primitive/primitive4.shtml
(14) Cromarty, Edward. (2010). Jonestown: The Search for Early Christianity. Retrieved 2011, from http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/AboutJonestown/JonestownReport/Volume11/Cromarty.htm
(15) Circumcision controversy in early Christianity. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision_controversy_in_early_Christianity
(16) Tabor, James.D. (1999). Essays on James the Brother of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/jamesessay.html
(17) Nag Hammadi Library hilites. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://sites.google.com/site/jesusgnosisorg/nag-hammadi-library-hilites
(18) Alford, Mark. (1998). James the brother of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://alford.fastmail.us/james.html
(19) James the Just. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gospel-mysteries.net/james-the-just.html
(20) Price, Robert M. (1998). Robert Eisenman’s JAMES THE BROTHER OF JESUS:
A Higher-Critical Evaluation. Retrieved 2011, from http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/RPeisenman.html
(21) Price, Robert M. (1998). Robert Eisenman’s JAMES THE BROTHER OF JESUS:
A Higher-Critical Evaluation. Retrieved 2011, from http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/RPeisenman.html
(22) Conversion of Paul the Apostle. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_of_Paul_the_Apostle
(23) Infighting Between Paul And The Jerusalem Church (Peter And James). (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, http://paulproblem.faithweb.com/infighting_paul_james_peter.htm
(24) Paul’s Office. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.voiceofjesus.org/pb2chapter3.html
(25) Paul’s Office. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.voiceofjesus.org/pb2chapter3.html
(26) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 57.
(Fig 1) Qumran
“Kumeran4” by Tamarah – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kumeran4.jpg#/media/File:Kumeran4.jpg