James, the Brother of Jesus, Part 1

By Phillip G. Kayser · Acts 15:13-21 · 2013-8-4

In April of 2002, an ancient ossuary came to light that has sparked enormous interest and controversy all over the world. Here is a picture of what is now called the James Ossuary.

Back in the first century, the custom was that you would first of all bury your dead in a cave or sepulcher. Once the body had decayed sufficiently, and there were only bones left, they would put the bones into a box like this one. It seems like kind of strange custom, and there was only a tiny window of history when these ossuaries were used. During that period (beginning in the first century), this was the way they honored their loved ones.

There are many ossuaries that have been found, but what set this apart from all the others was the phrase carved onto its side. Here is a close-up picture of the inscription, with the text alone appearing below it.

Let me translate that for you. It said, "James [Jacob] son of Joseph, brother of Jesus [Joshua]." It went through a litany of scientific tests and was declared to be authentic by both international and Jewish Antiquities experts. Then another scholar claimed that it was a forgery because the patina (little marks of aging) that were inside the letters were different for the second part than for the first part of that phrase. Several other scholars have joined the fray, both pro and con. And it has been a very interesting debate to follow.

The man who sold the ossuary has been accused of selling of forgeries in the past, and he has been since arrested. So that settled it for many people. But there are others who say that all the evidence points to its authenticity. Hershel Shanks, the editor of Biblical Archeology Society has interviewed numerous people and he is one of numerous scholars who believe it is authentic. For example, the world's leading expert on stone chemistry did a huge study in 2006 and explained the differences in the patina rather convincingly, and showed that the patina could not have formed in less than 100 years. So if it was a forgery, the forgery had to have sat in a damp climate (like a cave) for at least 100 years. Microbiologists who have also tested the bacterial effects have come to a similar conclusion. And many others have joined the fray, and articles have been flying back and forth in heated exchanges. What is at stake? One Roman Catholic said that if this is authentic, then the Roman Catholic view that the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus were actually cousins would be blown out of the water. So Roman Catholic archeologists have a vested interest in disproving, though several Roman Catholics have been convinced by the evidence that it is authentic. There are others who hate anything that confirms the New Testament. There is pride at stake because of previously published articles. And I have not made up my own mind, though I lean in the direction that it may be authentic – especially since reading some of the 2006 studies. But I bring that all up to say that you can never prove anything with archaeology. I have studied archaeology journals for years, and for every interpretation of an archeological find, you will find one two or three opposing interpretations. There is only one infallible thing in life – and it is the Bible. All of the rest can be interesting illustrations (and I will be bringing up some of those today), but our faith must be anchored in the Word of God.

Today I am going to do something I have never done before: I want to preach a biographical sermon. And I have no idea how this will come off. We were introduced to this remarkable man, James, in my last sermon on Acts. And I thought this would be an appropriate time to dig a bit more deeply into his life. Many liberals have tried to make a contradiction between James and Paul. They have placed them as competing antagonists. Well, I've included an outline of the relevant portion of James that deals with justification, and I think that outline shows that the two are in total agreement. And though I have shown in previous sermons that there was probably some tension between James and Paul for a short period, that these two were friends who were both passionate about God and about His Gospel.

And I want you to somewhat relax: Unless you are a master Bible flipper, you will find it very difficult to keep up with all of the Bible verses I will read. But that's OK. We will post it on the web. For now, just try to get a feel for what this man was like, and then we will chew on the applications we can make from His life.

James was a remarkable man

Leader of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18;Gal. 1:19; 2:9; James 1:1; Jude 1)

Since we are starting our study in Acts 15, I have decided to make my first point that James was a very remarkable man. That much is clear from Acts 15 alone. The Roman Church often says that Peter was the first pope. But when you look at the early church references to James, they all say that Jesus appointed James to be the leader. And He did so by special revelation. Let me just give you some hints as to why scholars say that James was the leader in Jerusalem. And there is more than one James in the New Testament, so it can be confusing. For example, in Acts 12:2, James, the brother of John was killed. But in verse 17, after Peter escapes from prison, he says to the gathered prayer meeting: "Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren." Commentators point out that the only James that this could be would be James, the brother of Jesus, and James is the one who is recognized as the leader.

In Galatians 2:9 Paul lists the order as James, Cephas [which is another name of Peter] and John, and then he calls them all pillars of the church in Jerusalem. So it's not as if Peter and John were not leaders as well. But if those three were pillars of the church, James was the leading one. In Galatians 2:12 Paul says that James sent the delegates to "help" Paul's churches in Antioch. That was a reference to the men in Acts 15:1 who came and caused all kinds of trouble. That's what set up the tension for awhile between Paul and James. But in Acts 15:24 James makes clear that he had not authorized those people to teach circumcision of the Gentiles. In fact, three years earlier (about the time of Acts 12:25) James, Peter and John had all agreed with Paul's position on circumcision. Galatians 2 makes that clear. In Acts 15:3, James sums up the General Assembly by giving the deciding speech, by writing the decision of the Assembly and by sending out representatives to help Paul. He is clearly the dominant leader at this point in the church's history. I won't go so far as to say that he was "the bishop of the church" as many early church fathers did. I don't really think there was a bishop. But he clearly had enormous influence. He was a man of character and powerful personality that everyone looked up to. In chapter 21:18 James is the one who leads the Assembly at that point, and when Paul goes to the Assembly it says, "On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present." It doesn't just say that he went in to the General Assembly. He went in to James, and all the elders were present. He is the presiding officer. When we look at all the evidence, both Biblical, and from the early church, it becomes clear that James had enormous respect, and his positions usually carried the day.

The writer of the epistle, "James"

Though he did not write as much Scripture as Paul did, He was an inspired prophet. He wrote the book of James. And as a prophet, there was a special authority that he carried.

Brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3)

He was the brother of Jesus, according to Matthew 13:55-56. And since he was the oldest brother next to Jesus (and both Matthew and Mark make clear that he was the oldest younger brother), that means that he had lived with Jesus longer than any other person, other than Mary. That carries some clout.

A man of prayer ("camel's knees"; cf. Acts 1:14; James 5:13-18)

He was a man of prayer. I will talk about that next week – especially Acts 1:14 and the book of James. But early church writings from the second century and on say that his prayers had incredible power – the kind of power that the last chapter of James talks about. He was such a man of prayer that wherever he walked, people superstitiously (and probably to his irritation) tried to touch the fringes of his garments (see Jerome, Commentary on Galatians 1:19, p. 396). I just got a new book this past week – it is a dictionary of ancient Jewish rabbis. And interestingly, this Jewish book mentions James. I was shocked. I wouldn't have thought that Judaism would have said anything about him because they tend to ignore Christianity in their oral traditions. But the book says that James had an enormous reputation for prevailing prayer and healing with other rabbis, two of whom had been healed by his prayers, even though they were not Christians. He prayed on his knees in the temple so much that Hegesippus (the second century writer) said that the skin on his knees became calloused and thick and looked like camel's knees. He was incredibly respected as a man of prayer, by both believer and unbeliever.

Christians and non-Christians both saw James as a remarkably holy man and highly respected him (see Josephus, Hegesippus; Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, etc)

Let me give some quotes from ancient authors who saw James as an amazingly holy and upright man. The Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived during the days of James, said this (and keep in mind, Josephus was not a Christian): "These things [and he is referring there to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans] happened to the Jews in requital [that means retaliation or punishment] for James the Righteous, who was a brother of Jesus known as Christ, for though he was the most Righteous of men, the Jews put him to death." Josephus identifies him as "James the Righteous," as if people would immediately recognize who he was talking about. That's all the identifier that Josephus needed to give to his audience, showing that he was famous. Sometimes you will see this rendered as "James the Just." And then Josephus says that this James was the most righteous of men. Not perfect, but the most righteous. I think that quote gives you a little bit of a feel for the stature that James had achieved outside the church. It's amazing.

The early church historian, Eusebius (who was born around 275 AD), said "So remarkable a person must James have been, so universally esteemed for Righteousness, that even the most intelligent of Jews felt this was why his martyrdom was immediately followed by the siege of Jerusalem," (E.H. 2.23). Obviously they were wrong. The Bible says that Jerusalem was destroyed because of their rejection of Jesus. But still, it shows that no one could ignore James. Even the leaders of Israel tried to get him to change the minds of the Jews before they killed him, because they recognized his enormous influence. Jerome says much the same about the respect that James had in the community. One author summed up the esteem with which he was held in these words: "'Holy' ‘the Righteous One,' ‘Bulwark of the People,' Jerusalem falling ‘on account of his death'... These are strong words, and not to be lightly dismissed, and are consistent with what all sources say about him. It is important to point out that our sources are not presenting James as just the Head of ‘Christianity', but the popular Jewish leader of his day, the Zaddik, par excellence, whose death brought the downfall of Jerusalem…" I'm just trying to convey to you some of the sense of enormous respect that he had from the people. This is why any messengers from James would be automatically respected, and why it was so important for James to say in verse 24 that he and the other apostles had in no way authorized those men to enforce circumcision on Gentiles.

A man of miracles (see early histories)

He was a man of miracles.

Ossuary shows the respect people had for him.

If the ossuary is truly the ossuary of James (which is still in doubt), then it too shows the respect that people had for him.

Yet, he shows humility

Let's Peter, Paul and Barnabas go first (Acts 15:7-13)

But here's the punch line. Despite all of this popularity, James shows tremendous humility. None of this acclaim goes to his head. In his book of James, James calls upon people to humble themselves before God and says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." And he certainly modeled that. He did not get bent out of shape about the misunderstandings of his position. In Acts 15, James let's many others talk before he speaks. In verses 7-13 Peter, Paul and Barnabas are all given the floor before James speaks. To me that is an enormous sign of humility. Jonathan and I were just talking yesterday about the conference he went to. And Jonathan said that Jerry Bridges gave a wonderful speech. But anyway, Bridges makes pride the opposite of faith. Faith is having total trust in another, whereas pride is a total trust in self. Faith is confidence in another, whereas pride is confidence in self. And so this humility also explains the great faith that James had.

Appeals to a revelation given to Peter (v. 14) and to Scripture (v. 15) for his authority (also see the Scriptural basis for his arguments in James)

Though he has authority as a prophet, what does James appeal to? He appeals to a revelation given by Peter in Acts 15:14. He then appeals to Scripture in verse 15. And in his book of James, it is clear that He is a man under the authority of God's Word.

Neither here nor in James does he appeal to his relationship to Jesus, but calls himself "a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Never once does he pull out the power card of – "I was a brother of Jesus. I ought to know." Never once. Instead, in the book of James he calls himself "a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." Literally, it is a slave of Jesus. That's how low he saw himself as being.

In James he calls his fellow-Christians "my brethren."

In that same book he appeals to his readers as "my brethren." There is no hint that he is lording it over them. There is no hint that he is a pope.

Application: no matter what our station, we must have a servant's heart.

And the application that I make from this first point is that no matter what our station in life might be, we must have a servant's heart. What is a servant? A servant's job is to do everything he can to make life better for others. Servants free others up to be all they can be. A servant's interest is not for himself, but for advancing the cause of his master. That should be our goal in life. It was certainly James' goal in life. Mark Moss used to say that you can tell whether you have a servant's heart by how you react when they treat you like a servant.

His humble beginnings

For those of you who have the opposite problem – who feel like you are nothing, and you can't contribute anything, let's move to point II. James wasn't used by God because he was something. God made him something by His grace, and it was by His grace alone. When you look at his humble beginnings, there was no reason to think that his background would have made this man respected by the world. In fact, it is amazing that he became almost universally respected.

He grew up in Nazareth (John 7:1-9 with Luke 2:39,51; 4:16; see also Matt 2:23; 21:11; Mk. 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; etc.). This was the most despised town (John 1:46) from the most despised province (John 7:52)

First of all, there was the town he was from. You couldn't get more disrespect in Israel than to be a citizen of Nazareth. And I'm not exaggerating here. The title "Nazarene" was proverbial for off-scouring. That's why the Pharisees loved to call Jesus, "Jesus of Nazareth." It was a put down. And by the way, the words Nazarene and Nazareth have no relationship to the word "Nazarite." They sound similar, but Nazarite is a totally different word. Just like the word "Sodomite" became a synonym for homosexual and just as to the term "to Corinthianize" meant to fornicate because of how much immorality there was in Corinth, the NIV study Bible points out, the term "Nazarene was virtually a synonym for despised." That's why Nathaniel in John 1 says, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" It would be like asking, "Can any good thing come out of Sodom?" The implication is, "No." That wasn't a place that had a good reputation.

And the province, Galilee, was not much better. Among many Jews, Galileans were disdained. They didn't talk right. Their thick accent was different than the one used by CNN, ABC, NBC and anybody else that had any clout. The Pharisees denied that any teacher could come out of Galilee. They said that certainly no prophet could come out of Galilee (John 7:52). And so James had an upbringing that would have made it difficult for him to achieve the kind of respect that he had received the world.

Application: geography need not dictate calling

The application that I would make is that geography and background need not dictate calling. Unfortunately, people do this all the time. In elections they say, "There has never been a successful bid for president from such and such a state." Or, "No presidential candidate who has been a Congressman or has had xyz has won the election in the last 50 years, and he cannot win it now." In India, your Nazareth that might make you think you will never have influence might be the caste that you have been born into, or the province you come from. When my father immigrated to Canada from Germany when he was 16, he felt called by the Lord to go into missions. But that meant that he had to go to Bible School. The problem is, he only spoke a few words of English and he didn't have any money to his name, and he faced discrimination because it was during World War I. People advised him against it. But God not only provided the money, and my dad not only finished first in his class, he served in Ethiopia for 30 years. Your Nazareth or Galilee may be a speech impediment, an inability to read as well as you would like, a poor high school education or something else. Don't let that stop your calling. Jesus, James and Jude all had the same disadvantages of geography, and speech impediment and reputation, and yet they were part of the revolution which turned the world upside down.

The son of a carpenter, Joseph (Matt 13:55)

Of course, that immediately answers the humble beginnings of James being the son of a carpenter. It was an honest trade, but hardly a lucrative one. The dictionary points out that most of the references to carpentry in the bible are to foreigners. Some of the foreigners were very skilled craftsmen, such as those hired by David and Solomon. But the Gibeonites, who were put into forced labor, were made water carriers and wood cutters (Josh 9:21). The point is, that Jesus elevated the status of this particular trade to a high level. So did James and Jude.

Application - All of life can be service to God

And there are several applications that could be made. The first is obviously that God values working with our hands. He values trades. He assigned such labor to Adam, and Jesus spent thirty years of His life as a carpenter. We must never make the ministry as the only way to serve God. All of life must be seen as service to God. All of life must be seen as sacred and a ministry. That's why Romans 13 calls civil magistrates ministers of God. They are every bit as much a minister as I am. Don't buy into the sacred/secular dichotomy.

Application - Manual labor is a great means of preparing for ministry.

A second application is that manual labor is a great means of preparing people for pastoral ministry. It wasn't just Jesus, James and Jude who took this route to ministry. Paul did too. He was a tent-maker by trade. So was the famous preacher, Apollos. Peter and several of his buddies were fishermen. They had learned what it meant to have to make a living the ordinary way. Unfortunately, many pastors nowadays don't know one side of a hammer from another. They have never learned skills of life that they can pass on to their children. It is not a good practice to thrust people into church ministry as soon as they graduate from College. In fact, I believe that you shouldn't enter into the office of elder until you are 30 years old. People say, "Well, what about Spurgeon? He started preaching as a teenager." Well, that doesn't make it right. And secondly, notice that I didn't say you can't preach or minister before 30. At the age of 12, Jesus engaged the leaders of Jerusalem in a stunning Scriptural dialogue. Anyone can minister the Word at any time of life. But I am talking about preparation for taking on the office. There are many things that those called to ministry can learn by working with their hands. Though I worked for years as a janitor, in a sawmill, in a factory and as a painter, I think some of the best preparation I received for ministry was being an orderly in a nursing home. It was back breaking work getting 30 patients cleaned up, out of bed, dressed and into wheel chairs, feeding them, changing them again, and getting them back into bed before your shift was over. That was the tough part.. There just didn't seem to be enough hours in the day. You had to really move, and yet still treat them with dignity. And taking care of those incontinent and senile geriatrics was a precious time of humble service that I think prepared me for ministry more than anything else.

Application – Don't be prejudiced for your sons and daughters.

A third application is that you shouldn't be prejudiced against certain types of employment for your sons and daughters. I have known people who felt pushed by their parents into careers that they hated, but they have stayed there because their parents didn't want them doing what they really loved to do. Their parents wanted them to have a more prestigious job, or to follow in their footsteps. Their longing though, was to be involved in something else. We need to be sensitive to the whole issue of calling. God calls us to a variety of callings in life. And some people are prejudiced against trades.

Did you know that two soon-to-be presidents of the United States were turned down as husbands by parents who thought they were too poor and lowly. What is remarkable is that both of those girls came from the same small town of Bedford, twelve miles from Cleveland. President Hayes had become an ardent suitor of one of the girls, and the parents opposed the idea of marriage on the grounds that "Hayes was poor, and gave evidence of hardly sufficient ability to warrant risking their daughter's future." The other girl had a suitor who later became President Garfield. The parents turned him down because he was too poor and did not have "bright prospects of his future." What is most remarkable is that the village where both of these future presidents were rejected had less than 500 inhabitants. Here were shortsighted parents. Their focus was simply on the background that didn't look that great. We must avoid such prejudices against trades for our children. And by the way, just because Joseph trained his children in a trade does not mean that he neglected academics. When you read James and Jude it is obvious they had a good education. So this admonition cuts both ways. Don't neglect the academics.

Application – don't allow your lowly background to limit your faith of what can be done. Seek God's leading.

The last application is that you must not limit what God might do through you even if you have a lowly background. Maybe you are one of those suitors. Did you know that Napoleon was number 42 in his class. Sir Isaac Newton was next to the lowest in his class. He failed in geometry because he didn't do his problems according to the book. Of course, he was the one who wrote the next textbook. A six year old came home from school one day with a note from his teacher that he should be taken out of school because he was too stupid to learn. His name was Albert Einstein. But frequently we begin to believe the statements that others make of us and don't try to do what we can.

Think of what the little slave girl in Syria was able to do with her little comment to Naaman's wife. Naaman got converted, and through Naaman, Syria became more friendly to Israel. I think of the story of Bobby Hill in World War I. He was just a little kid when he read about the medical hospital that missionary, Albert Schweitzer, had established in Africa. Schweitzer had endured great difficulties in getting the hospital going, and maintaining supplies, and Bobby wanted to help. So he sent a bottle of aspirin to Lieut. Gen. Richard C. Lindsay, Commander of Allied air forces in Southern Europe, and he asked him if "any of your airplanes" could parachute it to Dr. Schweitzer's jungle hospital in Africa. Hearing about the letter, an Italian radio station issued an appeal which brought in $400,000 worth of medical supplies and the French and Italian governments each supplied a plane to fly the medicines and the young boy to Dr. Schweitzer. And his response was, "I never thought a child could do so much for my hospital, [Tan, p. 1308].

When James was a carpenter, he might have questioned whether he had what it took to do what God had called him to do. "Who's going to listen to me?" But God always pays for what He orders, and He gifted James in remarkable ways. And the reason I bring this up is because when I was younger I limited my horizons by what my present abilities were back then. I was clearly called to the ministry back then, but I did not want to go. I was scared to death to be a pastor. You may think poorly of yourself. But don't limit what can be achieved if God has called you to do something beyond your abilities. God's grace is always magnified the most when he does that.

The brother of Jesus, "the carpenter" (Mark 6:3). James had to play "second fiddle" to Jesus on two accounts: 1) he did not inherit the business from dad and 2) Jesus was always in the limelight.

Point C highlights another aspect of James' life that may have formed some of his negative opinions of Jesus. Next week, Lord willing, t we will examine his unbelief, which is the root from where his early sins came. But James' bitterness against Jesus (which can be seen in John 7 and Mark 3) may have stemmed from the fact that Jesus inherited the business from dad. In Mark 6, with his relatives and former neighbors all around him, it is only Jesus who is called "the carpenter." So James doesn't even have the honor of owning the business. He is an employee. And throughout Christ's ministry, it is Jesus who is in the limelight, not James. We will see next week that this led James to dishonor Jesus (Mark 6:4), to try to commit Him to an insane ward (Mark 3:21) and to reject his ministry in unbelief (John 7). I won't try to read between the lines on what all of that could mean, but two things are clear from the Biblical text. John 7 makes clear that James' doesn't appreciate being second fiddle. He is frustrated with Jesus. Secondly, Jesus has more success outwardly than James does. And this can lead to all of the jealousy and strife that we will look at under Roman numeral III next week.

Application – rejoice in the success of your siblings.

But let me make two quick applications. The first is that we ought to rejoice over the success of our siblings. Jealousy does not befit the Christian life and it will rob you of joy and give you the kind of misjudgments that Mark 3 and John 7 talk about. One person said that if the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, just be thankful that you are still above ground to see it.

Application: Callings can change

The second application that I would like to make is that callings can change. I'm sure that Jesus, James and Jude were all good carpenters. They were obviously called to it by God if they had to spend that many years in that field. But all three brothers were later called to pastoral work. There are seasons of life, and just because you are good at something does not mean you can ignore God's call upon your life.

Had three brothers and at least two sisters (Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3)

But let's move on to one more circumstance from James' early life. He came from a large family. And we will end with this point today. We aren't told how many sisters he had, but with the plural used in Matthew 13 and Mark 6, it is clear that he had at least two sisters – possibly more. Let me read Matthew 13:55-56:

Matthew 13:55 Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?
Matthew 13:56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?

So it appears that Mary and Joseph had at least seven children, and possibly more, since the sisters are not listed. And this passage has raised great controversy down through history among those who believe that marital relations are sinful, and that Mary was without sin. You may not have realized it, but a number of church fathers believed all marital relations were sinful, and that they were a necessary evil to raise children, and as soon as you were successful in a pregnancy you stopped and asked forgiveness from God. It was a very twisted view of marriage that does not reflect the Biblical view at all. But anyway, two theories came up as to how Mary could remain a perpetual virgin. The first theory is held by the Greek Orthodox Church, who teach that Joseph had children by a previous marriage, and brought them in as step children to Mary. The other theory (held by the Roman Catholics) is that these brothers and sisters are cousins or uncles, and that the term "brothers" and "sisters" can loosely refer to any relative. Nice try, but it simply doesn't fit. And we don't need the James Ossuary to know that. If the ossuary is not a fake, John Meier, professor at Notre Dame University, said, the ossuary puts "the nail in the coffin of the 'cousin' argument," But let me try to build a quick case from the Bible without the ossuary.

That these children were all from Mary and Joseph (and therefore the doctrine of the "perpetual virginity of Mary" is a false doctrine) can be seen from the following evidence:

They are called his "brothers" and "sisters," not cousins or "step-brothers" (Matt. 12:46; 13:55-6; Mark 3:31; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19-21; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19). The non-Christian, Josephus, also calls James the brother of Jesus: "James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ/Messiah."

My first argument is that the New Testament calls them brothers and sisters seven times - in Matthew 12:46; 13:55-56; Mark 3:31; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19-21; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19. That's seven passages and five different authors. That would be an odd way to proceed if every author had intended to convey the idea that James was an uncle or a cousin. Maybe one author might have been that unclear, but all five authors!? There were clear ways of expressing that relationship. I have heard Roman Catholics say that there is no Greek word for cousin. But look up Colossians 4:10 where Mark is called the cousin of Barnabas. It uses a different word. Others claim that James was an uncle and there is no New Testament word to convey that. But Liddel and Scott give three Greek words for uncle. Of course, even if there wasn't a word for these relations in the Greek language, they could have said, "Mary's brother's son," or "Mary's brother." To say "brothers" and "sisters" when you mean something else would have been deliberately confusing.

So it is my view that we should take the Bible at face value, and (based on these words) we should (at a minimum) accept either the Greek Orthodox view (which itself has problems – but at least they say that they were step brothers from Joseph and a previous marriage) or we should accept the Protestant view that they were brothers from Mary. I think the words "brothers and sisters" is all we need. And by the way, the non-Christian historian, Josephus refers to James as being the brother of Jesus. He was a contemporary of them. So based on the language itself, I think the answer is obvious.

Perpetual virginity would be contrary to God's law. This can be seen from the fact that:

Mary is Joseph's "wife" (Matt. 1:20), and Scripture is quite clear that "there is a difference between a wife and a virgin" (1 Cor. 7:34). In Hebrew thought, a wife who was a perpetual virgin is a contradiction in terms.

A second argument is that perpetual virginity would be contrary to the law, and inconceivable in a first century context. And there are several arguments you can give your Roman Catholic friends. First, Matthew 1:20 calls Mary Joseph's wife, and Scripture is quite clear that (as Paul words it in 1 Corinthians 7:34), "there is a difference between a wife and a virgin." If Scripture had wanted to communicate perpetual virginity, it would not have used the term "wife." As many scholars have pointed out, a wife who took a vow of perpetual virginity would be a contradiction in terms. It is contrary to the vows of marriage.

The Bible does not say that Joseph "did not know her [at all]." It says that he "did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son." (Matt. 1:25). Likewise Matthew 1:18 says, "before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit," implying that they did come together.
Jesus is called "her firstborn Son," not her only Son (Matt. 1:25)

Second, turn to Matthew 1:25. This is speaking of Joseph. It says, "and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus." Two things to note there. First, Jesus is called the "firstborn," not the only born. That by itself would not be strong, but in context it is. The context is that Joseph did not know her until after a point in time – and that point in time was the birth of firstborn. Taken in context, the clear implication is that he did know her after that and that were more born than the firstborn. Look at verse 18. "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit." "Before they came together," implies that there was a time that they did come together. Only the three false Roman Catholic doctrines of 1) the sinlessness of Mary, 2) the sinfulness of sex and 3) the perpetual virginity of Mary would make anyone read these two verses in a different way. Scripture is quite clear that God blesses marriage relations in many passages. Secondly, God makes clear that Mary was not sinless. She herself says that she needed a Savior in Luke 1:47. Thirdly, the word "virgin" is only connected with Mary prior to her birth of Jesus. After the birth, she is never called the virgin Mary. In John 2:4 Jesus does not call her a virgin. He calls her "woman." That is quite a different word.

Once marriage is consummated, Scripture only allows abstinence from marriage relations for a short time – no more than you would fast from food (1 Cor. 7:3-5).

Fourth, ordinarily, Scripture only allows abstinence from marriage relations for a short time. Let me read 1 Corinthians 7:3-5:

Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self control.

While this does not preclude God from doing something unusual in the case of Mary (after all, Joseph did abstain for 9 months), one would expect that this law would have been kept if they were truly husband and wife. And there is no evidence that it was not kept – none whatsoever. I have run across Roman Catholic wives who have told me that they have taken a perpetual vow of abstinence, even though they are married. That is a violation of their marriage vows. I had one man tell me he had taken the same vow though he was married. That is a false view of marriage and holiness. Hebrews 13:4 tells us, "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled…" but this theology turns something honorable into something to be avoided if possible. It does not square with Scripture.

Marriage relations are spoken of as a debt that is owed to the spouse (1 Cor. 7:3 - opheilen, "that which is owed"), each partner's body belongs to the spouse (vv. 4-5) and they are specifically commanded, "do not deprive one another" (1 Cor. 7:5; also see next point).

The other thing to notice from that passage is that marriage relations are spoken of as a debt that is owed to the spouse in verse 3. The Greek word for "due to" is opheilen, "that which is owed," and verse 5 says, "do not deprive one another." Again, in Jewish thought, it is not conceivable that Mary would have taken a vow of perpetual virginity as the wife of Joseph.

God's mandate for marriage is given in Gen. 1:24, 28; Ex. 21:9-11; Prov. 5:15-20; etc). To remain a perpetual virgin would be a violation of God's law.

And some time you can read the explicit commands for marriage relations that are given in your outlines (under point 6). I've read some Roman Catholic apologists who have said that while marital relations are allowed, there is no command for marital relations. That is false. These are not just Old Testament commands to be fruitful and multiply, but to satisfy each other, to be ravished by each other and to love each other. I think even apart from the James' Ossuary, these are reasons enough to reject the idea that James was not really the brother of Jesus, but rather a cousin.

For those who say that the onlookers in Matt 13:55-56 were mistaken, God Himself speaks of "His mother and brothers" (Matt 12:46; cf. Acts 1:14; 1 Cor 9:5)

Application – We must avoid unrealistic hero worship.

But let's look at some applications of these Scriptures. First, there are no sinless people other than Jesus. Mary was not sinless. James was not sinless. In fact, next week we will be looking at some rather embarrassing things that James did in his early life. And he overcame them by God's grace. That is the point. There is this constant tendency for the church to elevate people and put them on a pedestal. The same people who invented the doctrine of Mary's being conceived sinlessly and remaining sinless also said that James was "holy from his birth." We don't like our heroes spotted, do we? We like to present their good side. I've seen this in politics. Christians are quick to point out the errors in the opposite party, but if you get a Democrat pointing out the sins of your hero, it is easy to get testy and go into denial. That is hero worship. When our children are our heroes, we don't like to hear about their bad deeds. This hero worship does not help the church, it hinders it. In contrast to Roman Catholic concepts of sainthood, the Bible portrays all heroes of the faith as fallen men and women, who have character flaws that we can identify with. Many of them become great, yes, but they become great through God's grace working through their weakness. We need less hero worship and more God-worship; less confidence in man and more confidence in God. James was a hero of the faith. But he became a hero through faith in God's grace.

Application: We must not dishonor what God calls honorable. God honors marital relations.

A second obvious application is that God honors marital relations. Even Mary had them. Certainly James had them. There are Roman Catholics who have tried to perpetuate the myth that James was celibate his whole life. It is simply not true. In 1 Corinthians 9:5 Paul asks the Corinthians, "Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right…" Paul knew that James enjoyed the rights of a husband, and in several places God upholds the marital rights of the wife. They are to be submitted to God and enjoyed before God.

James experienced what a large family is like.

Next week I want to look at the early unbelief of James, his conversion and his subsequent ministry and death. I think there is so much that can be learned from that, that I am saving it for another Sunday. But let me end by mentioning the large family that James grew up in. Seven children. And actually, it may have been more, because there may have been more than two daughters. But I am giving the minimum figure here. Having children is a blessing from the Lord. It is also a responsibility because the dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply has never been revoked. Instead, we find Paul saying in 1 Timothy 5, "Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully." But His command is to "bear children." Think of the difference the church could make if we would average seven children per family. I know it is not always possible. But we would quickly outnumber the Egyptians and take back this great land that God gave to our forbearers. Statistics show that pagans are having fewer and fewer children in America. Many are becoming sterile from STDs and cannot have children. Others are killing themselves off through abortion, homosexuality and AIDS. The only way they can grow is through recruitment in the schools. And it is strange to me that Christians are letting them recruit our children by sending our children to government schools. We are giving them their only means of success. It is a tragedy that more than 80% of Christian kids who go to College quit attending church. That statistic correlates rather tightly with the number of children that Christians send to government schools to be discipled by the pagans. So large families alone will not solve the problem. We must seek to win their hearts for Christ.

We will finish this study on James next week. But I would encourage you to do your own studies on Biblical characters. 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that these Biblical characters are great illustrations of what to avoid and what to follow. First of all, what to avoid. 1 Corinthians 10:6 says, "Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did." Second, what things to imitate. Verse 11 says, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." Amen. Let's pray.

(The following three points to be continued next week)

His earlier unbelief (Mark 3:21; John 7:3-5; Psalm 69:8)

His ministry and life in Christ

His death

Appendix A: James and Paul are Agreed on Justification

Four Aspects of Our Justification: James 2:14-26

Intro: Many have claimed that there is a blatant contradiction between Paul and James. When Scriptures are taken out of context, it may appear so. For example:

Paul says, "…God imputes righteousness apart from works…" (Rom. 4:6); and "we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified." (Gal. 2:16)

James says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?" (2:21) "You see that a man is justified by works…" (2:24) "Was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works…?" (2:25)

However, James makes clear that there is more than one kind of justification:

The word "only" in verse 24 is an adverb, not an adjective (as many English readers mistake it to be). It modifies "justified" rather than "faith." He is distinguishing between a by-faith justification and a by-works justification. By using the word only to modify "justified" he is saying that justification by faith is not the only kind of justification a believer has.

In making this distinction, he is simply affirming well-known distinctions found in the Old Testament.[2] Scripture speaks of four aspects of justification, and all four aspects are always present wherever true salvation has come in an individual's life:

There are three aspects of justification that are purely judicial (they occur in the court room before a judge).

There is one aspect of justification that takes place when one leaves the court room.

Though James (like Paul) acknowledges other aspects to justification, his emphasis is on "evidential justification" (sometimes called "demonstrative justification") by which saved people can demonstrate or evidence their living and saving faith.

He is talking to people in the church ("my brethren" - 1:2; 2:1,14; "my beloved brethren" – 1:16,19; 2:5) who are already professing believers (1:3,12,18; 2:1) but who are living inconsistently with their profession (2:1-13)

He is talking about claims to faith ("hold the faith… says he has faith… says… will say…")

He is talking about demonstrating faith, and demonstrating a justified status ("shown… show… speak… do…shown…show me… I will show you")

Notice the contrast between two aspects of justification in Abraham's life:

In verse 21 James alludes to a justification that took place in Genesis 22. There God said "because you have done this… because you have obeyed My voice" (v. 16,18). Abraham's works were necessary to demonstrate to his son, to the angel of the Lord, and (by revelation) to the whole world, that He was indeed a man of saving faith. It was an evidential justification.

The Greek word for "accounted" or "credited" (margin) is logizomai which means "imputed." It was not a righteousness that Abraham had in himself. It was an alien righteousness which was imputed to Him.

There were no witnesses to "show" his faith to. This was simply a declaration of God from His court room as to His acceptance of Abraham as a saved man.

From that moment on He became the friend of God. He didn't earn this friendship. It was given to him.

All of this James says came because "Abraham believed God."

James says that Genesis 22 "fulfilled" the truth of a justification that occurred 40 years before (Gen 15). The profession of Genesis 15 was being lived out in Genesis 22. Genesis 22 was a test of a faith that Abraham had for the past 40 years. His faith and His justified state were demonstrated by works.

James is seeking to show that a genuinely saving faith is a faith that is not alone; it is a faith that works.

Verse 14 – "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that (hJ) faith save him?"

Verses 15-16 – words are empty without action.

Verse 17 – faith by itself is a dead faith.

Verse 18 – to those who claim that faith and works can be separated, James insists that it is impossible to show faith apart from works, and secondly, that works demonstrate the presence of faith.

Verse 19 - Mere doctrinal belief is not saving faith, since demons have good doctrine but no salvation.

Verse 20 – faith without works is a dead faith.

Verses 21-23 – Proof of what has been said can be seen in that Abraham demonstrated the saving faith that he started his Christian life with 40 years earlier. His faith simply grew as it expressed itself in works.

Verse 21 – Justification evidentially when Abraham was 125 years old. (He died at 175) He was living out the experience of what had already been his position.

Verse 22 – faith works together with works. Works is simply the perfection or natural outgrowth of faith.

Verse 23 – Justification by faith alone when Abraham was 85 years old.

Verse 24 – the word "only" implies two different aspects to justification. There is a justification by faith, but there is also a justification by faith working.

Rahab illustrates the truth that faith and works cannot be separated because all four aspects of justification took place on the same day. No person who is justified by faith can ever escape being justified by works. Two times from Abraham's life are used to prevent confusing justification by faith with justification by works (which occurs later and flows out of the former). But Rahab is also picked to show that there is also an immediate demonstration of the genuineness of faith anytime faith is present.

Just as body and spirit need each other, so faith and works need each other.

Paul and James are in harmony

Whereas Paul calls for "repentance from dead works" (Heb. 6:1; Gal. 3:1-9; etc) that are devoid of Spirit-given faith, James calls for repentance from "dead" faith which is devoid of Spirit engendered works (2:17,26). Both agree that what God has joined together, we must not separate.

James - "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (James 2:23). Note that nothing additional was needed to have righteousness legally credited. Faith received it.

Paul - "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Gal. 3:6) "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." (Rom. 4:5)

Both agree that saving faith produces works.

James – "faith was working" (2:22)

Paul – "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6); "those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works" (Tit. 3:8); "the work of faith with power" (2 Thes. 1:11); "your work of faith" (1 Thes. 1:3); "the just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11).

Both affirm that justification by faith is for the sinner (not the saint) and that justification by works is for the saint who is already saved (not the sinner).

James – Abraham in verse 23 was an uncircumcised pagan, and all that was required for God to credit to him righteousness was that he "believed." Abraham in verse 21 had been a saint for 40 years, and his justified state was shown by his works.

Paul – "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness (Rom. 4:5)

Conclusion: Our justification before God rests in Christ's righteousness alone and is received by faith alone. Our justification before others is demonstrated by a faith working in the power of the Holy Spirit and showing forth sanctification. You cannot claim to be saved if you have no faith in Christ's righteousness. But neither can you claim to be saved if you have no works, since works is always the fruit of true saving faith.


  1. The Greek for "accounted" is logizomai which is a legal or forensic term related to justification by faith in Paul's writings.

  2. See for example, John Murray, "Justification," in ::asin|0802843417|The Epistle to the Romans, vol. I, pp. 336-362. Murray shows how the Hebrew verb for justified has "a variety of significations" including, "Stative… Causative… Demonstrative… [and] Forensic." His essay gives the Scriptural examples for each.


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