The Jerusalem Council: the Second Serious Error of the Apostles

Who was the ‘James’ of the Council in Jerusalem?

In dealing with the matter of the Council in Jerusalem, the question of “which James?” presided over the meeting must be discussed.

There are three men known as James in the NT:

James (Son of Zebedee)
James (Son of Alphaeus)
James (Brother of the Lord)

The first two were chosen by the Lord Christ as Apostles: Mat 10.2-3, Mar 3.16-19 and Luk 6.14-15.

The third is one of the sons of Mary with her husband Joseph and therefore a (half-) brother of the Lord Christ:

Mar 6.3a
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?”

Act 1.14
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.

To fully understand the place of “James the brother of the Lord” in NT history, we need to get a sense of how many times the Apostles are mentioned, along with other significant men.

The following table presents the counts of the mentions of the Apostles, including James the brother of the Lord, Judas the son of James, Judas the son of Mary and Judas Barsabbas.

I tabulated these counts to demonstrate the primary leadership position given to Simon Peter; the tables also aid us in the decision of the which “James” is meant in Act 12.7 (the only ambiguous reference to a “James” in the NT).

The Apostle Peter:

 
Gospels
Acts
Rest of NT
Totals
Peter
92
54
(Act 15.7 last!)
4
150
Simon
27
5
1
33
Simon Peter
17
(15 by John)
0
1
18
Cephas
1
0
8
9
 
 
 
 
210

 

All others (the James are highlighted):

 
Gospels
Acts
Rest of NT
Totals
Andrew
12
1
0
13
James
the son of Zebedee
17
2
0
19
John
the son of Zebedee
20
9
(Act 12.2 last)
5
34
Philip
17
1
0
18
Philip (deacon)
0
15
0
15
Bartholomew
3
1
0
4
Matthew
4
1
0
5
James
the son of Alpheus
5
1
0
6
James
the brother of the Lord
4
7
?
11?
Thaddaeus*
2
0
0
2
Judas (son of James)*
2
1
0
3
Judas (son of Mary)
2
0
0
3
Judas (Barsabbas)
0
3
0
2
Thomas
10
1
0
3
Simon the Zealot
3
1
0
11
Judas Iscariot
22
2
0
24
Total Mentions
(other than Peter)
 
 
 
173
Apostles only
(other than Peter)
 
 
 
142

 

[* Thaddaeus and Judas the son of James are the same person; cf., Mat 10.3, Mar 3.18 and Luk 6.16.]

As the tables above show, Peter is mentioned far more frequently than all other Apostles combined! But, that is only until the conclusion of the Council in Jerusalem; after that he is not mentioned in the remainder of the book of Acts. (This is a curious observation, to say the least.)

There are 7 mentions in the NT (not including the calling of the Apostles) of the triad of “Peter, James and John”.

Act 12.2 records that Herod murdered James (son of Zebedee), so of course there is no later mention of him in the NT.

The table above shows 34 mentions of John, though most of those occur in the gospels. And, after Act 12.2, John is mentioned merely as present at the Council in Galatians chapter 2, with no other information.

[Interestingly, the name “John” is not mentioned in the epistles that bear his name.]

But, it is significant that John, mentioned more than any Apostle other than Peter still has less than one-sixth the mentions of Peter.

[The significance of this will be seen when I detail the leadership of James the brother of the Lord’ in another chapter.]

Getting back to the matter of “which James presided over the Council?”: we are left with exactly two choices: James the son of Alphaeus and James the brother of the Lord.

Regarding the former, James the son of Alphaeus, there are only 5 mentions in the gospels and only a single unambiguous mention in Act 1.13 (within the list of the attendees at the selection of Matthias as the replacement for Judas). James the son of Alphaeus, along with most of the Apostles, has only a single mention in the book of Acts and none in the remainder of the NT.

Interestingly, James the brother of the Lord was at that same meeting, as shown here:

Act 1.14
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.

[As I demonstrated from the Scripture here and here, no lost person ever observed the person of the risen Lord Christ; that privilege is reserved for believers only.

Peter makes this stunning point when preaching the gospel to the household of Cornelius (the first presentation of the gospel to the Gentiles):

Act 10.39-41
We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

During the crucifixion, John mentions a unique and very beautiful event. Mary (the Lord’s mother), along with others, was present at the cross. Because of what took place (and the conspicuous absence of any mention of them!), it is a safe assumption that Mary’s other children, including James, were not present. As a result, the Lord Christ commits Mary’s care to his disciple John! (We can also assume that Joseph was not present; whether from his death or another reason we simply don't know.)

This is an extraordinary action unless Mary’s other sons—still at that time—were openly hostile to the Lord Christ (as Joh 7.5 corroborates).

Given Act 1.14 above, and this:

1 Cor 15.7a
then He appeared to James …

we can safely infer that James' brothers (there is no mention of his sisters one way or the other) became believers sometime in the interval between the Lord’s resurrection and His ascension. The reference to James in Cor 15.7a implies that only James, of the Lord’s half-brothers, witnessed the risen Lord and was therefore already a true believer by that point.]

There is a single ambiguous mention of “James” in the NT:

Act 12.17
But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place.

[This is the account of Peter’s divine deliverance from Herod the night before his scheduled execution. I tend to believe that this is James the brother of the Lord rather than James the son of Alphaeus for the following reasons:

  1. James the son of Alphaeus virtually disappears from the NT after his mention in the gospels. The single mention above (Act 12.7) would seem out-of-place if this James was intended; there is no context anywhere that would corroborate him.
  2. James the brother of the Lord appears to be moving into a leadership position. This is corroborated in Galatians chapters 1 and 2 and Acts chapter 15.

There is an interesting speculation here: Acts chapter 12 records the fact that James the son of Zebedee was murdered by King Herod; logically, Peter was next in line for execution. It is no stretch to assume that the remaining disciples were actively wondering and/or planning “Who would replace Peter?”; after all, Peter was, up to that point, the clear leader of the Apostles. That fact that James the brother of the Lord did, in fact, end up as the de facto leader of the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem would tend to favor option #2.

For the same reasons I tend to believe that the author of the Epistle of James is James the brother of the Lord.]

The following table is a complete list of the mention of “James” in the NT along with the one most likely to be the correct () one. Note that Act 12.17 is ambiguous () as presented above:

Reference
James the son of Zebedee
James the son of Alphaeus
James the brother of the Lord
Mat 4.21
Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.
 
 
Mat 10.2-3
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these. The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
 
Mat 13.55
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
 
 
Mat 17.1
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves.
 
 
Mat 27.56
Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
 
 
Mar 1.19
Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets.
 
 
Mar 1.29
And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
 
 
Mar 3.17-18
and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot;
 
Mar 5.37
And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James.
 
 
Mar 6.3
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.
 
 
Mar 9.2
Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them;
 
 
Mar 10.35
James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.”
 
 
Mar 10.41
Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John.
 
 
Mar 13.3
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,
 
 
Mar 14.33
And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled.
 
 
Mar 15.40
There were also some women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome.
 
 
Mar 16.1
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.
 
 
Luk 5.10
and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”
 
 
Luk 6.14-16
Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
 
Luk 8.51
When He came to the house, He did not allow anyone to enter with Him, except Peter and John and James, and the girl’s father and mother.
 
 
Luk 9.28
Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James,and went up on the mountain to pray.
 
 
Luk 9.54
When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
 
 
Luk 24.10
Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles.
 
 
Act 1.13
When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.
 
Act 12.2
And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.
 
 
Act 12.17
But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place.
 
Act 15.13
After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. …
 
 
Act 21.18
And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
 
 
1 Cor 15.7
then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;
 
 
Gal 1.19
But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
 
 
Gal 2.9
and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
 
 
Gal 2.12
For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
 
 
Jas 1.1
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad. Greetings.
 
 
Jde 1.1
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.
 
 

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