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The Brother of the Lord.

I James, the Servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, i : 1a

It will be well to put together the bits of information about James, or Jacob, as he is called in the Greek. They are not very numerous, and yet it is possible to form a reasonably clear picture of his personality.

It is here assumed that the James the author of the Epistle is the James the brother of the Lord (Gal. 1:19). It is hardly conceivable that James the brother of John could have written the Epistle, since he was put to death as early as A. D. 44 by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2). The matters presented in the Epistle were hardly acute in the Jewish Christian world by that date, and there is no evidence that this James had attained a special position of leadership that justified a general appeal to Jewish Christians.

The Epistle belongs to the five "disputed" Epistles (James, Jude, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter) and circulated in the east before it did in the west. It occurs in the Peshitta Syriac Version. Origen (In Johan. xix. 6) knows it as "the Epistle current as that of James", and Eusebius (H. E. III. xxv. 3) describes it with the other four as "nevertheless well-known to most people".

Our "James" comes through the Italian "Giacomo." The name is common enough in the first century A. D.

There are many proofs that the Epistle was written by the author of the speech in Acts 15: 13-21, delicate similarities of thought and style too subtle for mere imitation or copying. The same likeness appears between the Epistle of James and the Letter to Antioch, probably written also by James (Acts 15:23-29). There are, besides, apparent reminiscences of the Sermon on the Mount, which James may have heard or; at any rate, the substance of it. There is the same vividness of imagery in the Epistle that is so prominent a characteristic of the teaching of Jesus.

If it be urged that the author of the Epistle, if kin to Jesus, would have said so, one may reply that a delicate sense of propriety may have had precisely the opposite effect. Jesus had himself laid emphasis on the fact of his spiritual kinship with all believers as more important (Matt. 12:48-50). The fact that James during the ministry of Jesus was not sympathetic with his work would also act as a restraining force upon him. The brother of Jesus (cf. also Jude 1) would naturally wish to make his appeal on the same plane as the other teachers of the gospel. He rejoices in the title of "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" just as Paul did later (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1:1), and as Jude, the brother of James, also did (Jude 1). Paul, however, added the term "apostle" in Rom. 1 : 1 and Tit. 1:1, which James and Jude do not employ. They were none of them members of the Twelve, though Paul claimed apostleship on a par with the Twelve (1 Cor. 9: if.; 15:8; 2 Cor. 12: 1 if.). And yet Paul implies (Gal. 1:19) that James also is an apostle in a true sense of that term. (Barnabas is also called an apostle in Acts 14:4, 14.) Like Paul, he had seen the risen Lord (1 Cor. 15: 7). But James, though one of the "pillars" at Jerusalem, with Peter and John (Gal. 2:9), is content with the humbler word "slave". He is the bondsman of the Lord Jesus Christ as well as of God, and so is a Christian in the full sense of the term. He places Jesus on a par with God and uses Christ as a part of the name.

There is no "Jesus or Christ" controversy for James. He identifies his brother Jesus with the Messiah of the Old Testament and the fulfilment of the hopes and aspirations of true Judaism. One must perceive that the term "Christ" in the mouth of James carries its full content and is used deliberately. He adds also "Lord", which has here the Old Testament atmosphere of worship. It is not a mere polite term for station or courtesy. The use of "Lord" by the side of "God" places James unquestionably in the ranks of worshipers of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. See also James 2:1, "faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."

I consider it settled that James was not the "cousin" of Jesus, the son of the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus. There is no doubt that the Greek word for brother is used for members of a brotherhood in the current Greek of the first century A. D., just as we find it so frequently in the New Testament. This usage does not apply to the "brothers of Jesus" in the Gospels (John 2: 12; Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:55; John 7:3). In Matt. 12: 46, 49 we find the literal and figurative use of "brother" side by side. In this looser sense anyone may be called "brother." To-day, in some sections of the United States, it is a common term between strangers who accost each other on trains. In Lev. 10:4 the first cousins of Aaron are termed "brethren", but this instance does not justify the constant use of the word in the Gospels for a definite group of persons as "brothers" of Jesus if they were only "cousins." Besides, they appear constantly with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as members of her family. The use of "sisters" increases the argument for the common use of the word (Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:5-6). There are many other difficulties in the way of this position of Jerome (Hieronymian Theory), like the fact of two sisters with the same name of Mary and the identification of Alphaeus and Clopas.

The Epiphanian Theory, that James and the other brothers and sisters are all children of Joseph by a former marriage (step-brother theory), is free from the difficulty about the word "brother" and is not inconceivable in itself, if there were no critical objections to it. Unfortunately there are, for Jesus is not called "only-begotten" of Mary, but "first-born" in Luke 2:7: "She brought forth her firstborn son."

Jesus is "only-begotten" of God (John 1: 18), as the widow of Nain had an "only-begotten" son (Luke 7 : 12) and Jairus an "only-begotten" daughter (Luke 8:42). But "first-born" occurs in the true sense all through the Septuagint (cf. Gen. 27:19, 32; 43:33; Deut. 21:15), where there were other children. The inscriptions1 show it in the true sense. The New Testament instances of "firstborn" are all strictly correct from this standpoint, even Col. 1:15 and Rom. 8:29.2 "Firstborn" implies other children. Besides, the natural meaning of Matt. 1:25 leads to the same conclusion.

The Helvidean Theory (brother or half-brother theory) that Jesus and James were sons of the same mother, Mary, may be said to hold the field against the others. In fact, it is most likely that both of the other theories grew out of the desire to secure a greater imaginary sanctity for Mary under the impression that she was more holy if she bore only Jesus and did not live as wife with Joseph. But this is contrary to all Jewish sentiment, and certainly there is nothing in the Gospels to countenance this notion, but much to contradict it. We conclude, therefore, that James, the author of the Epistle, is the brother of Jesus.

From Practical and Social Aspects of Christianity - The Wisdom of James by A.T. Robertson, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012. The update is not complete.

Insights of the past for the present

Wisdom of James - A.T. Robertson

The Wisdom That Is From Above

The Brother of the Lord.

In the Family Circle at Nazareth.

A Scoffer of Jesus.

Seeing the Risen Christ.

In the Upper Room at Pentecost

Leadership in the Jerusalem Church.

The Writing of the Epistle.

Champion of Paul at the Conference.

Misuse of the Name of James.

Befriending Paul on His Last Visit.


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