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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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‘Ιακωβος , of the same import as Jacob. James, surnamed the greater, or the elder, to distinguish him from James the younger, was brother to John the evangelist, and son to Zebedee and Salome, Matthew 4:21 . He was of Bethsaida, in Galilee, and left all to follow Christ. Salome requested our Saviour, that her two sons, James and John, might sit at his right hand, when he should be in possession of his kingdom. Our Saviour answered, that it belonged to his heavenly Father alone to dispose of these places of honour, Matthew 20:21 . Before their vocation, James and John followed the trade of fishermen with their father Zebedee; and they did not quit their profession till our Saviour called them, Mark 1:18-19 . They were witnesses of our Lord's transfiguration, Matthew 17:2 . When certain Samaritans refused to admit Jesus Christ, James and John wished for fire from heaven to consume them, Luke 9:54; and for this reason, it is thought, the name of Boanerges, or sons of thunder, was given them. Some days after the resurrection of our Saviour, James and John went to fish in the sea of Tiberias, where they saw Jesus. They were present at the ascension of our Lord. St. James is said to have preached to all the dispersed tribes of Israel; but for this there is only report. His martyrdom is related, Acts 12:1-2 , about A.D. 42, or 44, for the date is not well ascertained. Herod Agrippa, king of the Jews, and grandson of Herod the Great, caused him to be seized and executed at Jerusalem. Clemens Alexandrinus informs us, that he who brought St. James before the judges was so much affected with his constancy in confessing Jesus Christ, that he also declared himself a Christian, and was condemned, as well as the Apostle, to be beheaded.

JAMES THE LESS, surnamed the brother of our Lord, Galatians 1:19 , was the son of Cleopas, otherwise called Alpheus, and Mary, sister to the blessed virgin; consequently, he was cousin-german to Jesus Christ. He was surnamed the Just, on account of the admirable holiness and purity of his life. He is said to have been a priest, and to have observed the laws of the Nazarites from his birth. Our Saviour appeared to James the less, eight days after his resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:7 . He was at Jerusalem, and was considered as a pillar of the church, when St. Paul first came thither after his conversion, Galatians 1:19 , A.D. 37. In the council of Jerusalem, held in the year 61, St. James gave his vote last; and the result of the council was principally formed from what St. James said, who, though he observed the ceremonies of the law, and was careful that others should observe them, was of opinion, that such a yoke was not to be imposed on the faithful converted from among the Heathens, Acts 15:13 , &c.

James the less was a person of great prudence and discretion, and was highly esteemed by the Apostles and other Christians. Such, indeed, was his general reputation for piety and virtue, that, as we learn from Origen, Eusebius, and Jerom, Josephus thought, and declared it to be the common opinion, that the sufferings of the Jews, and the destruction of their city and temple, were owing to the anger of God, excited by the murder of James. This must be considered as a strong and remarkable testimony to the character of this Apostle, as it is given by a person who did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. The passages of Josephus, referred to by those fathers upon this subject, are not found in his works now extant.

JAMES, GENERAL EPISTLE OF. Clement of Rome and Hermas allude to this epistle; and it is quoted by Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, Jerom, Chrysostom, Augustine, and many other fathers. But though the antiquity of this epistle had been always undisputed, some few formerly doubted its right to be admitted into the canon. Eusebius says, that in his time it was generally, though not universally, received as canonical; and publicly read in most, but not in all, churches; and Estius affirms, that after the fourth century, no church or ecclesiastical writer is found who ever doubted its authenticity; but that, on the contrary, it is included in all subsequent catalogues of canonical Scripture, whether published by councils, churches, or individuals. It has, indeed, been the uniform tradition of the church, that this epistle was written by James the Just; but it was not universally admitted till after the fourth century, that James the Just was the same person as James the less, one of the twelve Apostles; that point being ascertained, the canonical authority of this epistle was no longer doubted.

It is evident that this epistle could not have been written by James the elder, for he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in the year 44, and the errors and vices reproved in this epistle show it to be of a much later date; and the destruction of Jerusalem is also here spoken of as being very near at hand, James 5:8-9 . It has always been considered as a circumstance very much in favour of this epistle, that it was found in the Syriac version, which was made as early as the end of the first century, and for the particular use of converted Jews,—the very description of persons to whom it was originally addressed. Hence we infer, that it was from the first acknowledged by those for whose instruction it was intended; and "I

think," says Dr. Doddridge, "it can hardly be doubted but they were better judges of the question of its authenticity than the Gentiles, to whom it was not written; among whom, therefore, it was not likely to be propagated so early; and who at first might be prejudiced against it, because it was inscribed to the Jews."

The immediate design of this epistle was to animate the Jewish Christians to support with fortitude and patience any sufferings to which they might be exposed, and to enforce the genuine doctrine and practice of the Gospel, in opposition to the errors and vices which then prevailed among them. St. James begins by showing the benefits of trials and afflictions, and by assuring the Jewish Christians that God would listen to their sincere prayers for assistance and support; he reminds them of their being the distinguished objects of divine favour, and exhorts them to practical religion; to a just and impartial regard for the poor, and to a uniform obedience to all the commands of God, without any distinction or exception; he shows the inefficacy of faith without works, that is, unless followed by moral duties; he inculcates the necessity of a strict government of the tongue, and cautions them against censoriousness, strife, malevolence, pride, indulgence of their sensual passions, and rash judgment; he denounces threats against those who make an improper use of riches; he intimates the approaching destruction of Jerusalem; and concludes with exhortations to patience, devotion, and a solicitous concern for the salvation of others. This epistle is written with great perspicuity and energy, and it contains an excellent summary of those practical duties and moral virtues which are required of Christians. Although the author wrote to the Jews dispersed throughout the world, yet the state of his native land passed more immediately before his eyes. Its final overthrow was approaching; and oppressions, factions, and violent scenes troubled all ranks, and involved some professing Christians in suffering, others in guilt.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'James'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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