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Holman Bible Dictionary
1. James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Matthew 4:21; Matthew 10:2; Mark 1:19; Mark 3:17; Luke 5:10 ). As one of the twelve disciples (Acts 1:13 ), he, with Peter and John, formed Jesus' innermost circle of associates. These three were present when Jesus raised Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51 ), witnessed the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28 ), and were summoned by Christ for support during His agony in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37; Mark 14:32-34 ).
Perhaps because of James' and John's fiery fanaticism, evidenced as they sought to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan village refusing to receive Jesus and the disciples (Luke 9:52-54 ), Jesus called the brothers “Boanerges” or “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17 ). James' zeal was revealed in a more selfish manner as he and John (their mother, on their behalf, in Matthew 20:20-21 ) sought special positions of honor for the time of Christ's glory (Mark 10:35-40 ). They were promised, however, only a share in His suffering.
Indeed, James was the first of the twelve to be martyred (Acts 12:2 ). His execution (about A.D. 44), by order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, was part of a larger persecution in which Peter was arrested (Acts 12:1-3 ).
2. James, the son of Alphaeus, one of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 ). He is not distinguished by name in any occasion reported in the Gospels or Acts.
He may be “James the younger,” whose mother, Mary, was among the women at Jesus' crucifixion and tomb (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10 ). In John 19:25 , this Mary is called the wife of Cleophas, perhaps to be identified with Alphaeus. See Cleophas; Mary .
3. James, the brother of Jesus. Bible students debate the precise meaning of “the Lord's brother” (Galatians 1:19 ). Possibilities are the literal brother or stepbrother, a cousin, or intimate friend and associate. The literal meaning is to be preferred.
During the Lord's ministry, the brothers of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; 1 Corinthians 9:5 ) were not believers (John 7:3-5; compare Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21 ). Paul specifically mentioned a resurrection appearance by Jesus to James (1 Corinthians 15:7 ). After the resurrection and ascension, the brothers are said to have been with the twelve and the other believers in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14 ).
Paul, seeking out Peter in Jerusalem after his conversion, reported “other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother” (Galatians 1:19 ). In time, James assumed the leadership of the Jerusalem church, originally held by Peter. Evidently, such was achieved not through a power struggle but by James' constancy with the church while Peter and other apostles traveled.
In a Jerusalem conference called regarding Paul's Gentile mission, James presided as spokesman for the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:1 ). See Apostolic Council.
James perceived his calling as to the “circumcised,” that is, the Jews (Galatians 2:9 ), and is portrayed as loyal to Jewish tradition. He was, however, unwilling to make the law normative for all responding to God's new action in Christ.
The death of James reportedly was at the order of the high priest Ananus, and was either by stoning (according to Flavius Josephus, first century historian of the Jews) or by being cast down from the Temple tower (after Hegesippus, early Christian writer, quoted by the third-century Christian historian Eusebius). These accounts of James's death (about A.D. 66), are not confirmed in the New Testament.
James E. Glaze
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'James'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/j/james.html. 1991.