Among the names that not only identified James, but also characterized him was James the Just, because he lived righteously in deep devotion to the Lord. He was also known as James Adelphotheos, which means the brother of God, James, the Brother of the Lord, and James of Jerusalem. Roman Catholics know him as James, son of Alphaeus and James the Less. 1 These names help to distinguish James from James the Son of Zebedee, who was one of Jesus’ 12 original disciples. As the flesh and blood brother of Jesus, James did not come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and Savior of the world until after His resurrection.
Author of the Apostolic Decree
Accredited with authoring the Book of James, he was also the originator of the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15. James as the leader of the church in Jerusalem held to the belief that the Gentiles should practice the rules of traditional Judaism. After James and the Apostles heard the matter out, James made what is known as the Apostolic Decree:
“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For Moses has many people who preach him in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” (Acts 15:19–21)
The Brother of Jesus
When Paul traveled to Jerusalem to meet Peter (Cephas) three years after his conversion, Paul writes, “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother Josephus, noted Jewish historian living during the first century, described James as being “the brother of Jesus.” 2 So does the New Testament.
Both the gospels of Matthew and Mark list James as one of Jesus’ brothers. When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, the people asked, “ ‘Where did he get all his wisdom and the power to perform such miracles? He’s just the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.’ (Mark 6:2-3) They were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him. “
Leader of the Church in Jerusalem
Paul speaks of James, along with Peter and John as “esteemed pillars” of the church, who gave him the “right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.” He writes, “ They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” Historically James was known as the bishop of Jerusalem.
Jesus Appeared to Him After His Resurrection
James is again mentioned in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians as one to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. Since Paul only mentioned James and Peter specifically among the disciples who saw Jesus after His resurrection, it is certain that they gave Paul their own first hand account of the experience:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”(1 Cor. 15:3-5)
Martyr of the Early Church
According to a passage in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities, James met his death in 62. AD. James was accused by the Sanhedrin of ” breaking the law,” then had him executed by stoning. Eusebius, while quoting Josephus’ account, also records otherwise lost passages from Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria about James’ death. Hegesippus’ account varies somewhat from what Josephus reports, and may have been an attempt to reconcile the various accounts by combining them.
According to Hegesippus, the scribes and Pharisees came to James for help in putting down Christian beliefs. They came to James because they knew he was a just and righteous man, observant of Jewish law and asked him to try to persuade those who had come to the Passover from believing in Jesus. They asked him to stand on the summit of the temple so that every one could cleary see and hear him. James took his stand on the Pinnacle and instead of denouncing Jesus, James boldly testified that “Christ Himself sits in the heaven at the right hand of the Great Power and shall come on the clouds of heaven.”
The Jewish leaders were so angry, they threw him down from the pinnacle, and when the fall did not kill him, they stoned him with stones. James, knelt down and prayed, “Lord God, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord, from Book 5. 3
1 Catholic Encyclopedia: Saint James the Less
2 Philip Schaff: History of the Christian Church, chapter 4, & 27.
3 James the Just, Wickipedia < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just>