The Conversion of James, the Brother of Jesus

The Conversion of James, the Brother of Jesus

Article by Rob VandeWeghe

After the miraculous conception of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph had other children as well. The gospels report that Jesus had at least four brothers and some sisters: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” (Matthew 13:55, also Mark 6:3). And the gospels also record, that while Jesus was alive, his brothers did not believe in Him: “For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5). The Scriptures do not sugarcoat this. The lack of belief by James and the other brothers is corroborated by the absolute silence about them in the gospels. None of the accounts of Jesus’ ministry mentions them in any role.

However, after the resurrection, in the earliest years of Christianity, James, the brother of Jesus, became a significant player in the movement. In Galatians 1:19, Paul explicitly identified him as one of the only two individuals he met with during his 37 AD trip to Jerusalem: “I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother.” So, there cannot be any doubt that James, Jesus’ brother, had within four years of the resurrection not only converted to Christianity; he had become a recognized leader in the early church.

Later on Paul also gives an important clue as to why James became a Christian. In the early resurrection creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul writes that Jesus also appeared to James: “Then he appeared to James”(1 Corinthians 15:7). One can argue which James this is (lack of surnames in Bible times can occasionally be quite confusing). However, the context makes it clear, that this is not James the son of Zebedee (the brother of John) or the other apostle James, James the son of Alphaeus (as they are mentioned as part of the apostle group before). Therefore this must be James, the Lord’s brother. Subsequently, in Acts 12:17 and 15:13 this same James is recognized after the resurrection as a leader of the church in Jerusalem. And he also wrote the New Testament book by that name.

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