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Bible Commentaries

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament
James

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5

Book Overview - James

by John & Jacob Abbott

INTRODUCTION

THE Epistle to the Hebrews closes the series of writings attributed to Paul. It is succeeded, in our arrangement, by another series, comprising the Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, which have usually been classed together, and designated, from the earliest times, as the catholic Epistles. The word catholic means universal; but the origin of its application to these Epistles is not known. Some have supposed that they have received this appellation because, in most cases, they are not addressed to particular churches or individuals, as is the case in general with the Epistles of Paul.

The first of these Epistles is that of James. In the catalogues of the apostles, Mark 3:16-19. Luke 6:14-16. Acts 1:13,) James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, are named immediately after Peter. In regard to this James, there is little uncertainty. He is repeatedly named, with Peter and John, as very prominent among the disciples during our Savior's ministry. These three were also foremost among their brethren in the events which took place immediately after the resurrection, and they continued to occupy conspicuous positions in the scenes described in the early chapters of the Acts, until James was beheaded by Herod, as stated Acts 12:1,2. At the death of James, they all disappear from view, as, after that event, the others are scarcely alluded to in the sacred history. This James is designated as "James the son of Zebedee," or as "James the brother of John," or as "James the Greater." It is generally suppose that he was not the author of this Epistle.

Besides this James, there is another, mentioned as "the son of Alpheus," in the catalogues of the apostles above referred to. In Mark 15:40, it is said that the name of the mother of this second James was Mary, and that he had a brother named Joses; and John (John 19:25) states that this Mary was the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus. The word sister, however, may mean any very near collateral relative; as the terms brother, sister, son, daughter, &c., were used with much latitude by the Jews. That the word is not used strictly, in this case, is the more probable, as two daughters, of the same parents, we may suppose, would not both be named Mary. Mary, the mother of this James, is said, in the passage last referred to, (John 19:25,) to be the wife of Cleophas, which name may be only another form of the name Alpheus, mentioned as James's father in the catalogues. This James, the son of Alpheus or Cleophas, is usually designated as "James the Less"--a title given to him by Mark in the passage above referred to. (Mark 15:40.) James the Less and his brother Joses were of course near relatives of the Savior, their mother being spoken of as the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

This second James, or James the Less, survived James the Greater, and evidently attained a position of high eminence in the church at Jerusalem. The allusions to him in the book of the Acts, subsequent to the death of his namesake, which is recorded in the Acts 12:1,2, seem to imply that he held a high official station. (See Acts 12:17,21:17,18.) According to tradition, coming down from very early times, he held the office of bishop of Jerusalem. But whether the influence which he obviously exercised was official power, or the deference and consideration paid to his apostleship, his age, or his personal character, is not rendered certain by the sacred narrative. This James the Less is usually supposed to have been the author of this Epistle.

But, besides the allusions above referred to, mention is repeatedly made, in the Gospels and in the Epistles, of James, a brother of our Lord. In Matthew 13:55, and in Mark 6:3, the Pharisees are represented as asking, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses, and of Simon and Judas?" James, the Lord's brother, is also spoken of, in Galatians 1:19, as one of the apostles, namely, the one with whom Paul conferred on his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion; and in 1 Corinthians 9:5, brethren of the Lord are named in connection with Peter, as apostles.

Now, it is perhaps the prevailing opinion among commentators that this James, the Lord's brother, is the same with James the Less, the word brother being used to designate near relation, as was not unusual among the Jews. This supposition is not, however, free from difficulty; for in John 7:5, it is stated that the brethren of Jesus did not believe on him. This seems to militate against the supposition that one of them was already one of his twelve apostles. A great many hypotheses have been framed in the attempts to disentangle this subject of its difficulties, but they are in a great measure conjectural; and in fact they must necessarily be so, for the sacred narrative does not furnish the data for determining the questions which arise. The more prevailing opinion is, that James the Less was James the Lord's brother, and the author of the Epistle before us.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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