We celebrate James day on Tues Oct. 23. He is known as St. James of Jerusalem (or “James the Just”). James was so respected by all, including even unbelieving Jews, that he was nicknamed “the Just”.
He is referred to by Paul as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19) and the equal of the other disciples. Matthew provides some clues in Matthew 13:55 on his identity. “Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” with the story of Jesus less than enthusiastic reaction in Nazareth.
Some have written that he was a half brother of Jesus, a son of Joseph and Mary and, therefore, a biological brother of Jesus. But others in the church think Paul’s term “brother” is understood as “cousin” or “kinsman,” and James is thought to be the son of a sister of Joseph or Mary who was widowed and had come to live with them.
James was not an instant believer in Jesus just because he was in his family. In Mark 3:20–21 we are told that people crowded around Him so densely that He and His disciples could not even eat. Seeing this, His family members, probably also including James, thought that He was out of His mind. On another occasion we are told plainly that His brother did not believe in Him. However, Jesus did not give up on James.
Along with other relatives of our Lord (except His mother), James did not believe in Jesus until after his resurrection (John 7:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7). Paul reports that Jesus miraculously appeared to James after his crucifixion and before his ascension, and this is the act which leads to James’ conversion. Once that happened he soon rose to distinction in the Church and became the Bishop of Jerusalem, even staying in Jerusalem ministering to his people during a period of intense Christian persecution.
He is known for his role in accepting the Gentiles. James was thrilled that members of the early Church were willing to welcome Gentiles into their flock, but he boldly proclaimed that they would be welcome as they are without any restrictions.
In Acts chapter 15, James was open to the radical idea that there are not limitations when it comes to God’s love. As presider over the First Council of Jerusalem, the decision was made Christians would no longer be considered as a sect of Judaism.
James decided that Gentiles should be able to join the Church just as they are. Some Pharisees insisted that all new converts needed to be circumcised. James believed there’s no need to place restrictions on their diet or acts of mercy shown on the Sabbath. There’s no need to be circumcised or become Jewish before converting to Christianity. James claimed that Jesus came to earth not only to give eternal life to him and those like him, but the entire world.
We have the decision of James. (Act 15:13-21). “What those Pharisees had demanded was not necessary.” They could cite their roots in the laws of Moses but not be bound by them.
James’ decision contradicted the accepted interpretation of Scripture at the time as well as centuries of accepted practice, teaching and tradition. In fact, James’ entire post-conversion lifestyle can be described as both radical and unpopular. God’s love is not limited to a particular group of people.
According to the historian Josephus, James was martyred in AD 62 by being stoned to death by the Sadducees.
James is considered to have authored the Epistle in the New Testament that bears his name. In it, he exhorts his readers to remain steadfast in the one true faith, even in the face of suffering and temptation, and to live by faith the life that is in Christ Jesus. Faith is active with the need to confess the Gospel by words and actions, and to stake one’s life, both now and forever, in the cross.