May 3, 2018
I see there a number of Jameses mentioned in the New Testament. How do we tell them apart?
This past Tuesday, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Philip and St. James. This feast is a combined feast because on an early May date in the sixth century, the bones of St. Philip and St. James, son of Alpheus, had their ostension in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Rome, a church still in use today. Therefore, the Church has held their feast day as a combined one since that time. But this begs the question, who is James?
Philip, as a separate matter, was with a disciples from early in Jesus' public ministry and he is portrayed as having contributed key insights for the disciples (John 1:43-45, 6:7, 12:20-22, and 14:8). After Jesus' resurrection, Philip had a ministry to the Sythians, a people along the Black Sea, east of the Carpathian Mountains. The means of his death are disputed, either dying of natural causes or being crucified upside down and beheaded.
On to the Jameses. The premier James of the New Testament is James the Greater, Son of Zebedee and elder brother of John, who with his brother is called boanerges (Mark 3:17), or "sons of thunder" by Jesus. He is often identified with his brother John. He is included in the inner circle of Jesus with Simon Peter and John, his brother. They are the three disciples who accompany Jesus to the mountain for the Transfiguration.
The other Jameses get confused and include James the Less, whose bones are interred with those of Philip as relics in the Church of the Holy Apostles. But there are also James, the brother of our Lord, and James the son of Alpheus. Who are these James?
The answer is it depends on whether or not you hold to the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If you are a Protestant and are not required to hold to her perpetual virginity, then Mary can have children by Joseph, after Jesus. That means that James, brother of Jesus (Mat. 13:55-56, Mark 6:3 Acts 12:17, Galatians 1:19) is Jesus' real brother, with a simple and unconflated identity.
In this scenario, James, son of Alpheus (also identified as Cleopas—Gospel of Matthew), is in Jesus' close circle because his wife was with Mary Magdalene and Salome at the cross in the accounts of Matthew and John. James, in this structure, is both James, the less and James, son of Alpheus. This would be the best identification for a simple, but clear, reading of the Biblical text.
To hold to Mary's perpetual virginity would mean that James the son of Alpheus can also be James, the brother of Jesus, and cousin of Jesus, and James, the less (the Greek for brother, at this point in the text of Matthew can also be applied to cousins). So, one's dogmatic stance has a lot to do with who the Jameses of the Bible are. I am, in this case, a low church Anglican and hold that Jesus had half brothers and sisters, and that James the less/Alpheus is a separate person.