Was James really the brother of Jesus?

The Bible tells us that James, Jesus' half-brother, was a pillar in the early church.Ben White/Unsplash

The Bible plainly tells us that Jesus wasn't the only child of Mary and Joseph. While Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, it's true that He was not the only begotten child of Mary. He had brothers and sisters, and one of them was a man named James.

In this article we will take a quick look at who James is.

Jesus half-brother

The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Contrary to the Catholic belief that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus was born, however, the Bible tells us that Jesus had siblings - which means that Mary and Joseph had normal family relations and had children other than Jesus.

Mark 6:3 tells us that Jesus had four brothers and some sisters too:

"Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?"

We'll talk about the first one that was mentioned there: James.

James the unbelieving brother

Many of us probably think that if we were Jesus' own siblings, we'd probably have believed in Him and be His followers. Well, the Gospels tell us that His very own siblings didn't; in fact, they did not believe in Him and even ridiculed Him. John 7:3-5 tells us,

"His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world." For even His brothers did not believe in Him."

Jesus' own words give us an idea that His very own siblings did not honor Him, despite having lived with Him and seen Him live a righteous and sinless life all those years:

"But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house."" (Mark 6:4)

James, along with Jesus' other siblings, remained unbelieving of Him. We get this idea from the fact that they were nowhere to be found during His suffering and crucifixion; while Mary was there, James and the others weren't. And if Jesus was Mary's firstborn who took care of Mary, His siblings, particularly James (who is believed to be Mary's second child), would have had to have taken responsibility for their mother, who was by this time believed to be a widow.

Yet, Jesus entrusted Mary to John, for His siblings were nowhere to be found.

"When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!"" (John 19:26)

James the pillar of the church

So, how did James become a "pillar in the church," according to Galatians 2:9, if he didn't believe in His own brother who was actually the Messiah?

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 tells us just how he came to believe in Christ:

"For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles."

The James that Paul mentioned in this passage is not the James who followed Christ during the Lord's earthly ministry. This James is the same James who did not believe in Christ until He appeared to him after His resurrection.

Paul also makes a reference to James, "the Lord's brother," when He came to Jerusalem:

"Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother." (Galatians 1:18-19)

This James, the Lord Jesus' brother, is the same James who wrote the book of James, became a key leader in the early church, and helped to safeguard the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith (see Acts 15:1-29).