The Apple Of God's Eye

April 5, 2010

Who Was The Apostle James?

Mark and Matthew indicate that James was one of several children born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus’ birth. He, like the Lord’s other siblings, was not supportive of Jesus during his early ministry (John 7:5). Mark records an incident in Jesus’ ministry where his fellow townsmen derided Him as merely a local: “‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3; see also Matthew 13:55–56). At one point, they actually thought Him mad (Mark 3:21). However, that was to change.

By the opening of the book of Acts, however, James had become one of the disciples. He was converted after his Brother, Jesus Christ, had died and been resurrected. James was the leader of the Church headquarters congregation in Jerusalem. He was martyred around A.D. 62. This was roughly during the beginning of the revolt in the Jerusalem area that resulted in its siege and eventual destruction in A.D. 70.

The canonical writings of the New Testament, as well as other written sources from the Early Church, provide some insights into James’ life and his role in the Early Church. There is mention of him in the Gospel of John and the early portions of the Acts of the Apostles. The Synoptics mention his name, but no further information. However, the later chapters of the Acts of the Apostles provide evidence that James was an important figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem.

Secular proof of life

The International Critical Commentary says this: “That James the brother of the Lord did, in fact, hold an important place in the Jerusalem Church of the first decade of the messianic movement is confirmed by the account of his death in the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 20:200)….Josephus is describing events that took place in the interregnum between the procurators Festus and Albinus. The ‘rash and daring’ (20:199) high priest Ananus took advantage of the absence of Roman oversight to convene ‘the council of judges’ and bring before it a  man named ‘James” the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, along with certain others.”Josephus lived at the time these events unfolded, so his writings are an authoritative source from the world.

Paul further describes James as being one of the persons to whom the risen Christ showed himself (1 Corinthians 15:3–8); later in 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions James in a way that suggests James had been married (9:5); and in Galatians, Paul lists James with Cephas (better known as Peter) and John as the three “pillars” of the Church (2:9).

Epistle of James

It is for the New Testament epistle which bears his name that James is most remembered.When James wrote his epistle, many of God’s people were falling away, or preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:6). Martin Luther called it an “epistle of straw,” and as you study it, you will find why he said this: It’s because James speaks very highly of the law of God, which Luther (and most of this world) hated.

This epistle offers such a devastating blow to the doctrine of salvation by faith only or alone that Martin Luther refused to accept it as canonical, believing it had no value.  Paul had written that Abraham was justified by faith (Romans 3:28).  James asserted that Abraham was justified by works (James 2:23-24).  But, the passages were not contradictory as Luther believed. Rather, they were complementary.  Together they underscored the necessity of a living faith which always produces active obedience.  This idea is plainly set forth in Hebrews 11 where believers were commended for demonstrating faith through action or deeds.  Abel’s faith produced an acceptable sacrifice.  Enoch’s faith led to a walk with God.  Noah’s faith built an ark.  Abraham’s faith caused him to pack up and move at God’s bidding, and, ultimately led him to the point where, at God’s command, he was prepared to offer his son, Isaac.  Both Paul and James understood the relationship between faith and works (obedience) in regard to man’s relationship with God.  Luther, like so many Christian denominations today, did not!

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