The Book of James, Part 3:
James in the Family of Jesus
Last lesson, we concluded that the book of James was written by James, the brother of Jesus.
If this James was the brother of Jesus, then why didn't he identify himself that way?
(We're not told, but what are your thoughts?)
The final answer to this question is simply that we don't know. But I think
there is a quality we can see here in James that we can learn and do well to
Was he a Disciple?
- Identifying himself as Jesus' brother would subtly shift the focus from
Jesus to James, and James didn't want that to happen.
- Identifying himself as the Lord's brother would elevate him above
others. It would be a claim in some ways even more impressive than being a disciple.
The two Disciples by the name of James were James, the son of Alphaeus, and
James the son of Zebedee. Neither was the son of Joseph and Mary. James the
brother of Jesus was not one of the Disciples.
Today -- James in the Family of Jesus:
Instead of describing himself as a brother of Jesus, how does James
As a servant. That's a
pretty Christ-like response, isn't it?
In fact, that's exactly how Jesus described Himself on many occasions?
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give
His life a ransom for many. --Mark 10:45
James' motivation was very different than what ours tends to be. Instead of
exalting himself, he humbles himself. Instead of drawing attention to himself,
he turns attention to Jesus.
For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one
who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as
the one who serves. --Luke 22:27
If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also
ought to wash one another's feet. --John 13:14
Let's look at James, the brother of Jesus as he appears in the New
Testament. There is a surprising amount of information about Jesus' family
and James in particular.
Let's see ... What can we learn about Jesus' family and James in these passages?
This first passage is after Jesus and the Disciples were walking through a
grain field on the Sabbath and since they were hungry, they picked some grain
and ate it. Of course the Pharisees, wanting to get them for something,
accused them of breaking the Sabbath.
Then Jesus healed a demon possessed man who was deaf and blind, and the man could
then see and hear. Of course this also upset the Pharisees and they accused
him of being from Satan.
Them some of the people asked him for a sign. Matthew tells us:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, "Teacher, we
want to see a sign from You." But He answered and said to them, "An evil
and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to
it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as
Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster,
so will the Son of Man be
three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. --Matthew 12:38-40
Then, we finally get to the verses I want to look at.
While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and
brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said
to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking
to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and
said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And stretching out His
hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! For
whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister
and mother." --Matthew 12:46-50
What do you learn from this Scripture?
Jesus is careful not to place a special distinction on his "biological" family. He
wanted people to understand that He was equally available to anyone who chose to
be His disciple. You have to wonder how His family thought about these words of Jesus.
Did they understand what He was saying?
Were they hurt or resentful?
We looked at the next Scripture earlier in this study. It is after Jesus
started preaching and performing miracles. He had just returned to Nazareth.
See what you can glean from this Scripture?
He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they
were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these
miraculous powers? "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is
not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and
Judas? "And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then
did this man get all these things?" --Matthew 13:54-56
We used this Scripture to support that Jesus had at least four brothers and
at least two sisters.
But what else can we discover?
Notice that there is no mention of Mary's husband, Joseph. Apparently, he died
at some point before Jesus began His earthly ministry.
Also notice that James' name is mentioned first in the list of Jesus'
brothers. This probably means that, after Jesus, He was the next oldest child
in the family.
In the book of John, Jesus is about to teach in the Temple during the Jewish
Feast of the Booths.
After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling
to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Now the feast
of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. Therefore His brothers said to
Him, "Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your
works which You are doing. "For no one does anything in secret when he
himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to
the world." For not even His brothers were believing in Him. --John 7:1-5
Jesus then taught in the Temple and upset a lot of folks by what he said. Then
the Pharisees sent people to arrest him. He said to them:
The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, and the chief
priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him. Therefore Jesus
said, "For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me.
"You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come."--John
This led to verse 35.
What new can we pick up from this Scripture?
The Jews then said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go
that we will not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the
Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He? --John 7:35
Jesus' brothers did not initially accept Jesus' claim of being the Messiah. In
fact, in Mark 3:21, we're told that his own family thought that Jesus was "out of
This is when he had started his ministry and first returned to Nazareth and started
teaching there. The reference in the verse to His own people appears to refer to
Immediately after Jesus selected the Twelve Disciples, Mark tells us they came to
Jesus' home and there was such a crowd around them that they could not even eat. At that
point Mark tells us:
When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him;
for they were saying, "He has lost His senses." --Mark 3:21
This must have been painful for Jesus but it can be comforting to us. For those of
us who have family members who are not believers, this passage reminds us that
Jesus knows what this is like.
In First Corinthians, Paul was reiterating to them the Gospel he had taught to them.
What do you learn from this Scripture?
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried,
and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that
He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than
five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have
fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. --1 Corinthians15:3-7
This passage is a list of some of the appearances of Jesus to people after His
resurrection. Notice that verse seven mentions that Jesus appeared especially to James,
one on one.
What does this suggest to you?
Maybe it means that Jesus was especially close, relationally, to James (the
brother closest to His age). Maybe Jesus wanted to talk to James about the
important role James must play in the expansion of God's kingdom.
After the Ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives, when they returned to
the upper room, we are told:
These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer,
along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. --Acts 1:14
What do you learn from this Scripture?
Somewhere along the line, the brothers of Jesus became believers, didn't they? They
no longer thought that Jesus was out of His mind. Now they truly believed that He
was the Son of God and Savior of the world. We aren't told when this happened. But
here we see them praying with the apostles and other believers and waiting for the
coming of the Spirit as Jesus had commanded them all (Acts 1:4).
Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to
wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me... --Acts 1:4
When Paul was telling the Corinthians about their freedom as Christians, he told
them that any meat was OK to eat, but it still might not be good to eat it. In First
Corinthians 8:8 he says:
But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not
eat, nor the better if we do eat. --1 Corinthians 8:8
And then in 8:13 he says
Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat
again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. --1 Corinthians 8:13
Then he continues to explain the freedom that he has. See what do you learn from
Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of
the Apostles and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? --1 Corinthians 9:5
Another frequent misconception about the Apostles and others is that they were all
single. But notice that Paul points out that the Apostles, the Lord's brothers (which
would include James) and even Peter (Cephas) were all married, or at least could be! He
also says that he (Paul) and Barnabas have this right. Jesus never prohibited marriage
for those who were devoted to serving Him.
The last reference to James in the Bible is found in the book of Jude.
See what do you learn from this Scripture.
Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who
are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ... --Jude 1:1
Jude identifies himself as James' brother. If you look back at the list of Jesus'
brothers in Matthew 13:54-56, you'll see one is named "Judas". Most likely, this Judas
is the same person as Jude. Jude, following the example of his older brother, does
not identify himself as a brother of the Lord.
Homework for the next lesson: -
- When do you think the book of James was written? Why do you think that? What
difference does the date it was written make?
- Who is the audience to whom James is writing? What difference does that make?
- What purpose did James have in writing it?