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James the less

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JAMES, THE LESS

Lesson Text: Mark 15 40

1.  His Name.

In each of the apostolic lists the name of James appears in the ninth position. No one knows why, but some speculate he was the leader of the last four apostles named. They also speculate Peter was the leader of the first four apostles on the list, since his name always appears first. Further, the speculation is Philip was in charge of the second group of four apostles. His name always appears fifth on the list. Although the Scriptures do not substantiate or deny such a position, one could ask, “Why do those three names always appear in the same position, and why do the same names appear in the three groups?”

In each instance on the apostolic lists James is referred to as “James the son of Alphaeus” (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Naming his father distinguished him from “James the son of Zebedee” (Mali. 10:2) and “James the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19).

Outside of the apostolic lists this apostle is called “James the less” one time (Mark 15:40). This designation was probably to distinguish him from the other two James’s, also. “The less” did not mean he was inferior to the other Apostle James. It probably meant he was younger than John’s brother. Or, it could have meant he was smaller physically than the son of Zebedee. At any rate, the term keeps him from being confused with the other Apostle James.

In three passages this apostle is referred to as simply “James” (Matt. 27:56; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10). So it would seem he never had to suffer the distinction of being called

“the other Apostle James.”
2.   His Family.                                                 

Were it not for James’ family, his name would not have appeared outside the lists of the apostles. In other words, the Bible says more about his family than about him personally.

Because Mark’s account of the call of the Apostle Matthew calls him “Levi the son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14), one could easily conclude he was a brother of James the Less. If that be true, there were three brothers who were apostles, because Luke’s accounts of the apostles’ list refers to “Judas the brother of James” (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). Many insist Matthew’s father was a different Alphaeus, but the Bible makes no such denial. Anyway, that Judas was James’ brother, there can be no doubt.

James’ mother was Mary, one of the women who watched the crucifixion (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40). She had followed the Lord from Galilee (Luke 23:55). Also, she was one of the women who went to the tomb of Jesus early on the resurrection morning (Mark 16:1). Furthermore, she was one of the women who carried the news of Christ’s resurrection to the apostles (Luke 24:10). John 19:25 seems to call her the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, some Greek scholars maintain “his mother’s sister” refers to Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s children (Mali. 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1). Those scholars believe the conjunction “and” should appear before “Mary the wife of Cleophas” in John 19:25. Besides, there would be the problem of two sisters having the same name.

James’ father was Alphaeus, but his mother was “the wife of Cleophas” (John 19:25). Alphaeus was his Greek name. Cleophas was his Hebrew name. He may have been the same man who talked with the Lord on the road to Emmaus (Luke

24:18).
3.   His Obscurity.                                            

In the New Testament there is absolutely nothing said of the individual achievements or failures of this apostle. However, the Lord did choose James as an apostle, and he was still with the church on Pentecost (Acts 1:13); therefore there is no reason to doubt he rendered a faithful service to the Lord.

The fact this apostle’s service was unheralded brings out the aim of ihis lesson. A servant of God should be happy to serve Christ in any capacity. God’s people are not in this world to gain the acclaim of men. They are not supposed to be publicity hounds. Nevertheless, every Baptist church has a few members who stay puffed up if their every effort does not get recognition publicly. Others want to be considered as church “bigwigs” whether they ever do anything or not. Faithful servants do not mind if their names remain in the background. They serve God, not man. Through the years many dedicated Baptists have worshiped and served God without fanfare. With their insight, wisdom, and love they are the true “backbones” of a church. “A man of un­derstanding holdeth his peace” (Prov. 11:12).

God is the One Who selects the place of service for His people. When a person serves in that place, he is doing God’s will. There is no higher station in life. Consequently, believers need to determine God’s will for their lives, serve Him faithfully in His will, and be happy there (John 13:16, 17). Those who serve only to be recognized now have their

reward (Mali. 6:2, 5, 16).
4.   His Ministry.                                              

Although the specifically faithful, patient, humble service of James is not recorded, his ministry is recorded in a general way where the work of the apostles is mentioned in the New Testament.

“And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida” (Luke 9:10). The apostles happily reported the results of their mission to the Lord. The Lord received that report and took them into seclusion for rest (Mark 6:30). James was one of those happy apostles who needed rest and refreshment with the Lord.

James was with the Lord for the passover. “And in the evening he cometh with the twelve” (Mark 14:17). He continued with the Lord through the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s arrest in the garden.

James was one of the “eleven” to whom the Lord ap­peared after His resurrection to deliver the Commission (Mark 16:14-16).

Also, James was one of the apostles at whose feet the price of possessions was laid (Acts 4:35). He helped the other apostles to distribute to those who were in need.


One thing is sure. God saw every work of James the Less. And, He will reward him accordingly. “Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor” (I Cor. 3:8).

5.   HIs Traditions.

Catholicism complicates matters concerning this apostle by making him identical to “James the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19). They say Joseph is his father, but Mary. the mother of Jesus, is not his mother. Resultantly, they make Joseph less than a moral man to promote their teaching of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Such claims are not only complicated, but contradictory and indefensible by the Word of God.

Traditional writings of men allot the work of James the Less to Palestine, Spain, Britain, Ireland, and Egypt. Many traditions surround the manner and the place of his death.

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