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In the Family Circle at Nazareth.

In spite of Origen's opinion (Origen on Matt. 13: 55) that the sons and daughters of Joseph were children of a former marriage, an opinion more than offset by the position of Tertullian {de Monog. 8, de Virg. Vel. 6), we must think of the familycircle at Nazareth as composed of five brothers (Jesus, James, Joses, Judas, Simon, in Mark 6:3, but Jesus, James, Joseph, Simon, Judas in Matt. 13 : 55) and the "sisters." Every implication is that they all passed as sons and daughters of Joseph and Mary in the usual sense.

The order implies also that, while Jesus is the eldest, James comes next among the brothers. Unfortunately the names of the sisters are not given. We are to think therefore of a large home circle in the humble carpenter's house in Nazareth. Jesus, the eldest, followed the trade of Joseph, the father of the family, and came to be known as "the carpenter" (Mark 6:3). Certainly all the children must have learned to work with their hands, though we do not know whether James adopted that trade or some other. He would soon be called upon to help in the support of the family, as Joseph seems to be dead when Jesus enters upon his ministry, since he is not mentioned with Mary and the children in Matt. 13 155 and Mark 6:3. Joseph was probably older than Mary. The family were not peasants and probably had all the necessary comforts of the simple primitive life of a workman in a small town in Galilee.

Jewish boys usually started to school when six years old, but before that the education of James had begun in the home. "James, together with his brothers and sisters, was brought up in an atmosphere charged with reverence for God and love for man, with tenderness, freedom, and joy." The Jewish parents did not shirk parental responsibility for the religious training of the children, and a large family was regarded as a blessing from God. The love of God was the first of all lessons taught at home and this was followed by the simple elements of truth, uprightness, mercy, and beneficence. The Jewish mother rejoiced in her children, and James was fortunate in having such a mother as Mary and such a father as Joseph.

At school, while religion was the main theme and portions of the Old Testament the text-book, there was abundant intellectual stimulus. The quickwitted boy would be all alive to the great problems of faith and duty. The teacher would probably use the Aramaic dialect of Galilee even if he had the Old Testament in Hebrew. But the boy would soon learn to speak the Koine also, the current Greek of the world, the language of commerce and of common dialog everywhere. Simon Peter, the fisherman, knew and used Greek, as did John, the apostle. languages. It was common for people to know two languages. Paul probably knew Aramaic and Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Jesus knew and spoke both Aramaic and Greek and probably knew the Hebrew also.

James came to write Greek with a great deal of ease and skill. He was in no sense a litterateur. He was no Atticist in his style and did not try to imitate the classical Greek writers, whom he probably never read. Deissmann does call the Epistle of James "a little piece of literature," but he means "a product of popular literature." Certainly there is nothing artificial in content and style. Is it mere fancy to think that the same poetic beauty shown in Mary's Magnificat (Luke i : 46-55) appears in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Epistle of James? At least, the rich acquaintance with the Old Testament exists in all three. The author of the Epistle is gifted with imagination and shows knowledge of the Apocryphal books, especially the wisdom literature of the Jews, but he is a thorough Jew in his outlook and literary method, so much so indeed that it is contended by some that James wrote the Epistle originally in Aramaic, an unlikely supposition. The widespread diffusion of Greek in Palestine amply accounts for the author's grasp of the language. The epigrammatic and picturesque style is due to the writer's individuality, his environment, and his reading. His vocabulary is rich in words about fishing, husbandry, and domestic life, as one would expect. A man of the force and position of James could easily broaden his acquaintance with the Greek tongue as the years went by. The Greek is pure Koine, with few Hebraisms, though the tone is distinctly that of the Old Testament. He speaks like a prophet of old in the service of Christ. There is no doubt that James came to be a man of culture in a real sense.

He probably married early, as it was the custom of the Jews for men to marry at the age of eighteen. Paul expressly states that "the brothers of the Lord" were married (1 Cor. 9:5). We do not know, of course, the age of James when Jesus began his ministry. In all probability he had already married and had a home of his own in Nazareth. The sisters probably married and settled in Nazareth also (Mark 6:3).

We have no mention of the rest of the children going to Jerusalem when the Boy Jesus was taken (Luke 2:41-52). Indeed, it is rather implied that they were not in the company, but this does not mean that James did not have his turn to go when he was twelve years old and afterwards.

There is no reason to believe that James grew up to be a Nazirite, as Hegesippus as quoted by Eusebius (H. E. ii. 23) alleges: "He is distinguished from others of the same name by the title 'Just, ' which has been applied to him from the first. He was holy from his mother's womb, drank no wine or strong drink, nor ate animal food; no razor came on his head, nor did he anoint himself with oil nor use the bath. To him only was it permitted to enter the Holy of Holies." The evident legendary details here deprive the statement of real value except as witness to his genuine piety and to the esteem in which he was held by the people generally. Hegesippus adds: "His knees became hard like a camel's, because he was always kneeling in the temple, asking forgiveness for the people," a description of his life in Jerusalem after he became a Christian. At any rate, like Joseph, his father, he grew up to be a just man and came to be known as James the Just.

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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