There are three chief men called James in the New Testament. They are sometimes hard to distinguish, and even the best expositors do not all agree on who is who. After studying these men, here are my conclusions.
- James the Great. This is James the son of Zebedee. He was part of the favored trio (Peter, James, and John) who were specially permitted to witness; (1) the raising of Jairus’ daughter, (2) the Lord’s transfiguration, and (3) the Lord’s agony in Gethsemane. He was “killed with the sword” by Herod in A.D. 44 (Acts 12).1
- James the Less. This is James the son of Alphaeus. He had a brother named Judas, sometimes called “Thaddeus”. He is called “James the Less” in Mark 15:40 to distinguish him from James the Great.2
- James the Just. He was the brother of Our Lord, and the author of the Epistle of James. Initially, along with the other siblings – Joses, and Simon, and Judas (Matt. 13:55) – he didn’t believe on the Lord Jesus (John 7:5). He must have been converted around the time of the cross, for we find in 1 Cor. 15:7 that the Lord had a personal interview with James before His ascension. He was found “continuing” with the apostles and brethren before the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Very quickly he rose to prominence (Gal. 1:18-19; Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18). He was killed by the Jews in A.D. 69. Josephus says that almost immediately after his martyrdom, Titus commenced the siege of Jerusalem.3
See the closely connected subject of the three Judases.
- References for James the Great. Matt. 4:21; Matt. 10:2; Matt. 17:1; Mark 1:19; Mark 1:29; Mark 3:17; Mark 5:37; Mark 9:2; Mark 10:35; Mark 10:41; Mark 13:3; Mark 14:33; Luke 5:10; Luke 6:14; Luke 8:51; Luke 9:28; Luke 9:54; Acts 1:13; Acts 12:2
- References for James the Less. Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13
- References for James the Just. Matt. 13:55; Matt. 27:56; Mark 6:3; Mark 15:40; Luke 24:10; Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; Gal. 2:9; Gal. 2:12; James 1:1; Jude 1