200px-Saint_James_the_JustMark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 give us the names of the brothers of Jesus –  James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. The word used in the original is adelphos. Galatians 1:19 calls James ‘the brother of the Lord’. It has been translated as ‘brother’, but the fact is that the word does not necessarily mean full brother. There are many examples from the Old Testament of the word being used to describe a wider kinship group. Helvidius, who flourished in the late fourth century, maintained the line since taken by certain Protestants (proving there are no new errors under the sun) that the word meant that James and company were full uterine brothers of the Lord. This contradicated the tradition inherited by the Church from the beginning that Our Blessed Lady was a Virgin.

St Jerome demolished these claims in a book written in 383 on the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. Those unconvinced by Jerome will not be convinced by me, and the purpose of this piece is not to argue a case which has already been so ably presented; those who wish not to believe will do that; here the point is to say something about James.

Our sources here are Acts and the episltes of Paul, both of which confirm that whatever his attitude before the resurrection, James was a believer; indeed, more than that, given his place in all the name-lists (first) he was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; Galatians 1:17; 2:7-79) It is clear from the descriptions of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29; Galatians 2:1-10) that James held a position of considerable authority. We know from Galatians that the point at issue was observation of Jewish diatary laws and circumcision, so it is plain that James held that the Jesus movement should stick to Jewish practice.

We can see from the account Luke gives in Acts that James interprets the Gentile conversions in the light of Amos 9:11-12. Luke uses the text of Amos in the Septuagint, and he sees the conversion of the Gentiles as the fulfilment of the prophecy of Amos. James sees his mission as the restoration of Israel – not the founding of a new religion. He hopes that his Brother’s mission of bringing all to God can be redeemed through the covenant God has made with Israel.

The account in Acts makes James’ leadership role obvious. He takes the decision, but he does so with due acknowledgement of the special position of Peter; indeed, he refers to Peter’s experience to justify the decision taken. Peter is the leader of the mission to the Gentiles, and he and James work well together in leading both Israel and the Gentiles where the need to be led if salvation is to be found.

We shall follow James’ career and that of the early church in the next few posts.