Almighty God, who gave to your apostles Philip and James grace and strength to bear witness to the truth: Grant that we, being mindful of their victory of faith, may glorify in life and death the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(from the Book of Common Prayer)
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
(by James Kiefer)
Today we commemorate two of the Twelve Apostles.
The New Testament mentions at least two persons named James, probably at least three, and perhaps as many as eight. This is as good a place as any to sort them out.
1. James the Greater: James the son of Zebedee, called James the Greater or James Major or James the Elder, was one of the Twelve Apostles, and also, along with his brother John and with Peter, belonged to what seems to have been an inner circle of Three. He was killed by order of King Herod, as reported in Acts 12:2. (See Matthew 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; Mark 1:19, 29; 3:17; 5:37; 9:2; 10:35, 41; 13:3; 14:33; Luke 5:10; 6:14; 8:51; 9:28; 54; Acts 1:13; 12:2)
2. James the Less: James the son of Alphaeus (Alpheus) appears on lists of the Twelve Apostles (usually in the ninth place), but is never mentioned otherwise. He is called James the Less, or James Minor, or James the Younger. (See Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 )
3. James the Just: James called “the brother of the Lord” appears in Acts 12:17 and thereafter (Acts 15:13; 21:18; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19; 2:9, 12) as the leader of the Jerusalem congregation. He is counted by later Church historians as the first bishop of Jerusalem, with Simeon (described as also a kinsman, something like a great-nephew of Joseph) as the second. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, James was put to death by order of the high priest during an interval between Roman governors, over the protests of the Pharisees, who thought him an upright man. He is known as James the Just or James of Jerusalem or James Protepiscopus (first bishop).
4. James the Writer: One of the New Testament Epistles is written by a James. (See James 1:1 )
5. James the Son of Cleopas: John (19:25) lists the women standing by the cross of Jesus as “his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” If this list mentions only three women, then Mary the wife of Clopas is presumably a sister-in-law to the Virgin Mary. The Synoptists give lists of women apparently at a distance. Matthew (27:55f) lists as “looking on from afar” some Galilean women “among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” Mark (15:40f) lists “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the Younger and of Joses, and Salome… and also many other women.” Luke (24:10) lists “Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them.” By “mother of James…” do the Synoptists denote the mother of Jesus? It seems odd that they would omit to mention her if she were there, but odder yet that they would identify her as the mother of James and Joseph (Joses), but not as the mother of Jesus. Besides, we note that Matthew and Mark are speaking of women who stood at a distance, while the Virgin was close enough to hear her Son speak. I therefore assume that Mary the mother of James etc is not the same as the Virgin Mary, and is either not mentioned by John at all or is identical with his “Mary the wife of Clopas,” who is probably the sister-in-law of the Virgin Mary. Conclusion: James the son of Clopas was perhaps the nephew of either Mary or Joseph, and so would have been known as the first cousin of Jesus.
7. James the Kinsman of Jude the Apostle: When Luke lists the Apostles (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), he has, in places 9 thru 11, “James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas of James.” [This is not Judas Iscariot.] Now, “Judas of James” would ordinarily mean “Judas son of James,” and so the RSV translates it. However, the KJV renders is as “Judas the brother of James,” and some suppose him to be the brother of James the son of Alphaeus, so that we have no fewer than three pairs of brothers among the disciples: Peter and Andrew, sons of Jonas; James and John, sons of Zebedee; James and Jude, sons of Alphaeus. This seems unlikely, since (a) if Luke had intended us to understand that the two were brothers, he would have written them together instead of separating them by Simon the Zealot (but note Mark 3:16-18); and (b) if he had meant us to understand “brother of” rather than the more usual “son of”, he would have said “brother.”
8. James the Brother of Jude the Writer: The author of the Epistle of Jude calls himself the brother of James. Presumably this James would be someone well-known to his readers, otherwise why bother to mention him?
Is any of these the same person as one or more of the others?
It is natural to suppose that James the Just (3) and James the Nazarene (6), being both called brothers of Jesus, must be the same person. However, the Hebrew word for “brother” is used more elastically than its English equivalent, often referring (for example) to cousins or even more distant relatives (see Leviticus 10:1-4, where Moses speaks to Mishael and Elphazan about their brothers, meaning the sons of their cousin). If early Christians for whom Aramaic was the primary language, and Greek secondary, retained this usage when they spoke Greek, then there is room for doubt on the point. Perhaps one of them was a cousin of Jesus rather than a brother. Perhaps both were cousins, in which case they could be the same person but need not have been.
The sons of Cleopas would have been nephews of either Joseph or Mary, and therefore may have been the “brothers” mentioned elsewhere. Thus James the son of Cleopas (5) may be identical with James the Just (3) or James the Nazarene (6) or both.
It is tempting to identify James the son of Alphaeus (2) with James the son of Cleopas (5) by supposing that “Cleopas” and “Alphaeus” are two different attempts to reproduce the same Semitic name (probably beginning with an Ayin) in Greek, but linguists mostly think this very doubtful. James son of Cleopas is called James the Less (Minor, Younger) in Mark 15:40, and James Son of Alphaeus is also called James the Less in popular usage, partly because the two are assumed to be the same, and partly because of the need to distinguish the two Apostles both named James.
The Epistle of James is addressed to Jewish readers, and James the Just (3) seems to have been particularly concerned with the Jewish Christian community. It is accordingly plausible, and customary, to identify James the Just (3) with James the Writer (4).
Many writers identify James the Less (2) with James the Just (3). A difficulty with that identification is that we are told that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in him (J 7:5), which would mean that they could not have been numbered among the Twelve. (It is commonly supposed that James (3) came to believe only after the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7).) On the other hand, John does not name the unbelieving brothers, and they may not have included James.
It is tempting to suppose that a pair of brothers named James and Jude are the same as another pair of brothers named James and Jude, if there is no obvious objection to identifying them. (This is not necessarily a valid inference, since the selection of names can be influenced by fashion. I have no difficulty, for example, in thinking of six families I know with brothers named David and Michael.) Accordingly, it has been customary to identify the two Apostles “James the son of Alphaeus” and “Judas (the brother) of James” with the two brothers mentioned in the Nazareth account, and also with the Jude who wrote the Epistle and his brother James, taken to be the same James who wrote the Epistle of James. On our list, this identifies James the Less (2), James the Nazarene (6), James the Kinsman of Jude the Apostle (7), and James the Brother of Jude the Writer (8), and probably James the Son of Cleopas (5). However, it should be noted that the most natural understanding of “Judas of James” is “Judas son of James,” and that there is therefore no reason to suppose that James the son of Alphaeus has a brother named Jude.
Currently, most Western Christians commemorate:
1. James the Greater on 25 July,
2. James the Less on 1 May, and
3. James the Just on 25 October.
They identify the others with (3) or ignore them. It will be generally conceded concerning (5), (6), (7), and (8) that if they are not the same as one of the others then there is no reason to remember them, so that the most one could reasonably do is add a fourth date for James the Writer. However, it is standard (and, I think, reasonable) to identify (4) with (3), and that leaves three commemorations, which is the current standard in the West, and also (I think) in the East. (Formerly the West identified (2) and (3).)
Thus, of James the Less, the son of Alphaeus (2), whom we commemorate today, we know very little from the New Testament, except that his name appears on lists of the Twelve.
Why is the name “James” so popular among Jews in New Testament times? Because it is the name of the ancestor of the people of Israel. The English name “James” is a variant of the name “Jacob.” We tend to think of them as two separate, unrelated names. But the distinction between them is post-Biblical and not found in Hebrew or Greek. In Hebrew, the name is Ya’akov. In Greek, it is Iakwbos (W=Omega), with accent on the second syllable from the end. In Latin, it developed two forms, Jacobus and Jacomus, both accented on the first syllable. From the former, we have the English Jacob and the Spanish Diego and Iago. From the latter, we have the English James, the Scottish Hamish, the Spanish Jaime, and so on. But in many languages, there is only one name, given to the Old Testament Jacob and the New Testament James alike. Even in English, our present distinction has not always been observed. In Shakespeare’s play Measure For Measure (III,ii,204), a child’s age is given as “a year and a quarter old, come Philip and Jacob,” meaning, “a year and a quarter old on the first of next May, the feast of Philip and James.”
Philip the Apostle appears in the Synoptic Gospels and in Acts only as a name on the list of the Twelve, but he appears in several incidents in the Gospel according to John.
He was called early in the ministry of Our Lord (John 1:44), and promptly brought his friend Nathanael to Jesus as well.
When some Greeks (or Greek-speaking Jews) wished to speak with Jesus, they began by approaching Philip (John 12:20-22).
At the Last Supper (John 4:8f), he said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” To this Jesus answered, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Before feeding the Five Thousand (John 6:5), Jesus turned to Philip and asked him, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” Philip answered, “It would take more than a year’s wages to buy each of them a mouthful.”
Some scholars have thought it significant that Jesus asked Philip rather than one of the others. Luke (9:10) tells us that the Feeding of the Five Thousand took place near Bethsaida, and John (1:44) tells us that Philip is from Bethsaida. If they were in Philip’s home neighborhood, he would be a natural one to ask for directions. (Peter and Andrew were also from Bethsaida, but seem to have moved to Capernaum.) It seems that John named Philip here for one of three reasons:
1. He was making up the details, and he said to himself: “I will name Philip here, and hope that my readers have read Luke and will remember that this is all happening near Bethsaida, and I will point out at the beginning of my work that Philip is from Bethsaida, and I will hope that the readers are clever enough to put this together and see that Philip is a logical person to ask. But I won’t mention Bethsaida in this episode, since that would make it too obvious what I am doing.”
2. He chose one of the disciples at random, and by good luck made an appropriate choice.
3. He was an eyewitness, or for some other reason well informed, and mentioned Philip by name because that was whom Jesus asked.
But I digress. That is the limit of what we hear of Philip and James in the New Testament, nor do other sources help much. One story says that Philip preached in Phrygia and died in Hierapolis, and that his remains were brought to Rome and buried in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles (an ancient inscription shows that this church was formerly dedicated to Philip and James)
* on most of the prayer sites I found, this was the most widely used “biography” of these apostles. I do not necessarily agree with all of the theological, historical, or interpretative ideas written here. I post it here to be more in concert with the wider church, not to make any precise theological statement.