Our next study is through the book of James, an epistle (letter) written to the church in general.
There are four “James” mentioned in Scriptures. By understanding which one wrote the letter, we gain great insight into the context and mindset of the author, and thus meaning and application to our lives.
If this was a TV game show, we might call it “Will the Real James Please Identify Yourself?” Obviously, since this letter was written over two thousand years ago, we can’t interview these men. The good news, however, is that the best commentary on God’s Word is, in fact, God’s Word. As we don our Sherlock Holmes hat, we see that all the clues we need to unravel this mystery are in plain sight. Sometimes you just have to collect the dots before you can connect them.
Who are these “James”? Let’s meet them.
- James, the father of Judas (not Judas Iscariot)
- This James is only mentioned twice in Scripture.
- The context of this James is always as the father of the person mentioned (Judas) We don’t know if Jesus and Judas’ father James ever met on earth – Scripture does not tell us.
- This James is highly unlikely as the letter’s author
- James, the son of Alphaeus
- This James is mentioned three times in Scripture.
- He was one of the Twelve, chosen by Jesus to carry the good news everywhere
- He was possibly Matthew’s brother, as Mark 2:14 tells us they each had a father by the same name.
- As he was an obscure apostle, it is unlikely that he was the letter’s author
- James, the son of Zebedee
- This James is mentioned 22 times in Scripture
- This James has a brother named John. They were called “The Sons of Thunder”.
- Most of the time, whenever James is mentioned, his brother John is mentioned also.
- He was one of the Twelve, and the most-mentioned James of the four.
- While he could possibly be the letter’s author, it is highly unlikely, as James the son of Zebedee was martyred in Acts 12:2, before the letter was written.
- James, the brother (half-brother) of Jesus
- This James is mentioned 12 times in Scripture.
- He is not one of the Twelve; in fact, he is one of Jesus’ skeptics:
- Jesus’ family thought Jesus was insane (Mark 3:21)
- Jesus’ family even unsuccessfully tried an intervention (Mark 3:20-34)
- Even late in Jesus’ ministry, his own brothers still did not believe Him (John 7:1-9, especially v. 5)
- Later, after Jesus’ death, we see James have a change in heart about Jesus:
- James is with the Twelve (now eleven) in the Upper Room (Acts 1:13)
- Paul tells us that Jesus met with James one-on-one after His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7)
- Luke records that Peter considered James a leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17)
- Luke records that James was the spokesperson for the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13-21)
- Paul tells us that James was a “pillar” in the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9)
- This James is most likely the author’s letter.
I know this has been a lot of facts, but it’s important to see that God directed the hand of these different people to record different pieces of the story of Jesus, including Jesus’ brother James.
The important take-away from today’s study is that if God can change the heart and mind of Jesus’ toughest critics and skeptics (Jesus’ own family), he can change the heart of others like you and me as well. We just need to give Him a chance.