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Summer Bible Study on the Apostles: St. James son of Zebedee

posted Aug 5, 2017, 6:01 AM by Jason Stegman   [ updated Aug 5, 2017, 6:01 AM ]

The Apostles

James, son of Zebedee; aka “James the greater”



Name: The English name "James" comes from Italian "Giacomo", a variant of "Giacobo" derived from Iacobus (Jacob) in Latin, itself from the Greek Ἰάκωβος. Jacob was a common name among the men of his day. There are four men named James in the NT. All four are closely associated with Jesus. The first a younger son of Joseph and Mary, became an important leader in the early church, two are apostles, and the fourth the father of an apostle. He is often called “James the greater” or “James the great” to distinguish him from James the son of Alphaeus (James the less).


Who was he?

Luke 5:10 Mark 1:20 .

James was the eldest son of an apparently influential man named Zebedee, whose hometown was likely Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee. It is known that James and his brother John were partners with Simon Peter in a fishing business. Typical of the era and culture it was a multigenerational business that was large enough to have hired men.

Luke 6:12-14. It was from fishing that Jesus called James to be his disciple. Later after praying all night Christ chose James to be numbered among his twelve apostles

Mark 3:17. In the list of the apostles in Mark 3 a nickname that Jesus gave to James and John is explained. They were called “boanerges” which means ‘sons of thunder.’

Luke 9:54. The nickname ‘sons of thunder’ is reflected in how James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village.

John 18:15-16 It is apparent that Zebedee’s family had enough status that John was ‘known to the high priest’


The character of James.

Matt 20:20-24 Along with being hot heads James and John were also ambitious and overconfident. Matthew recounts how they enlisted their mother to speak for them to ask for a high position. James wanted a crown of glory. James never appears as a solitary character in the gospels but is always paired with his younger brother John. He is an intense man who is zealous for the Lord, but this zeal is at times mixed with anger. Zeal is a virtue when it is for righteousness sake. Zeal divorced from knowledge is damning, zeal without wisdom is dangerous, zeal without sensitivity can be cruel.


James as a disciple under Jesus.

Mark 5:37 He is one of only three who are allowed to see the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter.

Matthew 17:1 He is one of three disciples to witness the Transfiguration.

Mark 13:3 He was one of four disciples who questions Jesus on the Mt. of Olives.

Mark 14:33 He is one of the disciples the Lord urged to ‘watch and pray.’

James saw Jesus’ power to raise the dead. He saw the Lord’s glory in the transfiguration. He saw Jesus’ sovereignty when He prophesied the future. And He saw Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.


Is there a place in the church for men and women like James?

James is quite a contrast to disciples like Andrew who were quietly bringing people to Jesus, while he wanted to call down God’s wrath. Despite all of his seeming flaws we must remember that he was also one of the Lord’s closest friends. James’ temperament is like that of Elijah, and indeed it is Elijah whom James is modeling himself after when he and his brother ask to punish the Samaritans. Unlike Elijah the motives of the sons of Zebedee are misguided.

James is ambitious but God tempers his ambition and turns it to himself.


After the disciples are sent.

Acts 12:1-2 James is the first of the apostles to die. The final mention of James in the New Testament is in regard to his death at the hands of King Herod Agrippa in AD 44. The only place James is mentioned alone is in his execution His is the only death of an apostle recorded in the Bible.

James wanted a crown of glory, Jesus gave him a cup of suffering. He wanted power, Jesus gave him servanthood. He wanted prominence and Jesus gave him a martyr’s grave. He wanted to rule but the sword would be the means of his execution. In his death he is still a man of passion, now under the Holy Spirit’s control. Ultimately his passions were tempered by love and grace, he learned to control his temper bridle his tongue and redirect his zeal, eliminate his thirst for revenge and completely lose his selfish ambition.


Lore/Church tradition.

Clement of Alexandria tells us that when the one who led James to the judgment seat heard his testimony and the manner James bore himself, he was moved to confess himself also as a Christian. They were both led away together and on the way he begged James to forgive him. James thought for a time, and then said ‘Peace be with thee,’ and kissed him. They were both beheaded at the same time.

Tradition has it that St. James preached the gospel to the Celts in the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain, Portugal and Andorra). According to ancient local tradition, on 2 January AD 40, the Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Iberia. She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated within the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. Following that apparition, James allegedly returned to Jerusalem where he was martyred. However it is likely most of his evangelistic and apostolic efforts were in the region around Jerusalem. The connection to Spain is due to some of his relics ending up there.

His head allegedly is buried in the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem. It is also reputed that St. James is buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. St. James the greater is the patron of laborers, Pharmacists, Pilgrims and rheumatism sufferers.

The feast of St. James the Elder is July 25th, the theme of the feast is ‘sharing Christ’s sufferings.’ His shield depicts three scalloped shells (or "cockle shell"), which symbolize the considerable amount of travelling he accomplished. There is a lesser used symbol/shield which has a scalloped shell and a sword. Pilgrims to his shrine often wore that symbol on their hats or clothes. The French for a scallop is coquille St. Jacques, which means "cockle of St James". The German word for a scallop is Jakobsmuschel, which means "mussel (or clam) of St. James"; the Dutch word is Jacobsschelp, meaning "shell of St James".

False teachings: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) teaches that James has been resurrected and that in 1829 he—along with the resurrected Peter and the translated John—visited Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and restored the priesthood authority with Apostolic succession to earth.


Prayer: O gracious God, Your servant and apostle James was the first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ. Pour out upon the leaders of Your Church that spirit of self-denying service that they may forsake all false and passing allurements and follow Christ alone, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.



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Jason Stegman,
Aug 5, 2017, 6:01 AM
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