[ Written by James Kiefer. ]

Philip and James, Apostles
1 May NT
Today we commemorate two of the Twelve Apostles.

The New Testament mentions at least two persons named James, probably at least three, and perhaps as many as eight. This is as good a place as any to sort them out.

(1) James the son of Zebedee, called James the Greater or James Major or James the Elder, was one of the Twelve Apostles, and also, along with his brother John and with Peter, belonged to what seems to have been an inner circle of Three. He was killed by order of King Herod, as reported in Acts 12:2. (See M 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; P 1:19,29; 3:17; 5:37; 9:2; 10:35,41; 13:3; 14:33; L 5:10; 6:14; 8:51; 9:28,54; A 11:13; 12:2)

(2) James the son of Alphaeus (Alpheus) appears on lists of the Twelve Apostles (usually in the eighth place), but is never mentioned otherwise. He is called James the Less, or James Minor, or James the Younger. (See M 10:3; P 3:18; L 6:15; a 1:13)

(3) James called "the brother of the Lord" appears in Acts 12:17 and thereafter (A 15:13; 21:18; 1C 15:17; Ga 1:19; 2:9,12) as the leader of the Jerusalem congregation. He is counted by later Church historians as the first bishop of Jerusalem, with Simeon (described as also a kinsman, something like a great-nephew of Joseph) as the second. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, James was put to death by order of the high priest during an interval between Roman governors, over the protests of the Pharisees, who thought him an upright man. He is known as James the Just or James of Jerusalem or James Protepiscopus (first bishop).

(4) One of the New Testament Epistles is written by a James. (See Jas 1:1) Let us call him James the Author.

(5) One of the women present at the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary is called Mary the mother of James and Joses; and she appears to be the wife of Cleopas, and a sister (sister-in-law?) of the Virgin Mary. (See M 27:56; P 15:40; L 24:10; J 19:25.)

(6) The residents of Nazareth speak of brothers of Jesus, including one named James (M 4:55 = P 6:3).

(7) The apostle Jude (not Iscariot) is called "Judas of James", which would normally be understood to mean "Judas the son of James," but is sometimes understood to mean "Judas the brother of James." (See L 6:16; a 1:13)

(8) The author of the Epistle of Jude calls himself the brother of James.

Is any of these the same person as one or more of the others?

It is natural to suppose that (3) and (6), being both called brothers of Jesus, must be the same person. However, the Hebrew word for "brother" is used more elastically than its English equivalent, often referring (for example) to cousins, and if early Christians for whom Aramaic was the primary language and Greek secondary retained this usage when they spoke Greek, then there is room for doubt on the point.

The sons of Cleopas would have been cousins of Jesus (for convenience I speak of Joseph the foster father of Jesus and his family as if they were blood relatives), and therefore may have been the "brothers" mentioned elsewhere. Thus (5) may be identical with (3) or (6) or both.

It is tempting to identify (2) with (5) by supposing that "Cleopas" and "Alphaeus" are two different attempts to reproduce the same Semitic name (probably beginning with an Ayin) in Greek, but linguists mostly think this very doubtful.

The Epistle of James is addressed to Jewish readers, and James (3) seems to have been particularly concerned with the Jewish Christian community. It is accordingly plausible, and customary, to identify (3) with (4).

Many writers identify (2) with (3). A difficulty is that we are told that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in him (J 7:5), which would mean that they could not have been numbered among the Twelve. (It is commonly supposed that James (3) came to believe only after the Resurrection (1C 15:7).) On the other hand, John does not name the unbelieving brothers, and they may not have included James.

It is tempting to suppose that a pair of brothers named James and Jude are the same as another pair of brothers named James and Jude, if there is no obvious objection to identifying them. (This is not necessarily a valid inference, since the selection of names can be influenced by fashion. I have no difficulty, for example, in thinking of six families I know with brothers named David and Michael.) Accordingly, it has been customary to identify the two Apostles "James the son of Alphaeus" and "Judas (the brother) of James" with the two brothers mentioned in the Nazareth account, and with the Jude who wrote the Epistle and his brother James, taken to be the same James who wrote the Epistle of James. On our list, this identifies (2), (6), (7), and (8), and probably (5). However, it should be noted that the most natural understanding of "Judas of James" is "Judas son of James," and that there is therefore no reason to suppose that James the son of Alphaeus has a brother named Jude.

Currently, most Western Christians commemorate:

(1) James the Greater on 25 July,

(2) James the Less on 1 May, and

(3) James the Just on 25 October.

They identify the others with (3) or ignore them. It will be generally conceded concerning (5), (6), (7), and (8) that if they are not the same as one of the others then there is no reason to remember them, so that the most one could reasonably do is add a fourth date for James the Author. However, it is standard (and, I think, reasonable) to identify (4) with (3), and that leaves three commemorations, which is the current standard in the West, and also (I think) in the East. (Formerly the West identified (2) and (3).)

Thus, of James the Less, whom we commemorate today, we know very little from the New Testament, except that his name appears on lists of the Twelve.

Philip the Apostle is frequently confused with Philip the Deacon, whom we read of in the Book of Acts (A 6:7; 8:5-40; 21:8f).

Philip the Apostle appears in the Synoptic Gospels and in Acts only as a name on the list of the Twelve, but he appears in several incidents in the Gospel according to John.

He was called early in the ministry of Our Lord (J 1:44), and promptly brought his friend Nathanael to Jesus as well.

When some Greeks (or Greek-speaking Jews) wished to speak with Jesus, they began by approaching Philip (J 12:20ff).

At the Last Supper (J 14:8f), he said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." To this Jesus answered, "He who has seen me has seen the Father."

Before feeding the Five Thousand (J 6:5), Jesus turned to Philip and asked him, "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" Philip answered, "It would take more than three hundred days' wages to buy each of them a sandwich."

Some scholars have thought it significant that Jesus asked Philip rather than one of the others. Luke (9:10) tells us that the Feeding of the Five Thousand took place near Bethsaida, and John (1:44) tells us that Philip is from Bethsaida. If they were in Philip's home neighborhood, he would be a natural one to ask for directions. (Peter and Andrew were also from Bethsaida, but seem to have moved to Capernaum.) It seems that John named Philip here for one of three reasons:

(1) He was making up the details, and he said to himself: "I will name Philip here, and hope that my readers have read Luke and will remember that this is all happening near Bethsaida, and I will point out at the beginning of my work that Philip is from Bethsaida, and I will hope that the readers are clever enough to put this together and see that Philip is a logical person to ask. But I won't mention Bethsaida in this episode, since that would make it too obvious what I am doing."

(2) He chose one of the disciples at random, and by good luck made an appropriate choice.

(3) He was an eyewitness, or for some other reason well informed, and mentioned Philip by name because that was whom Jesus asked.

This is one reason (not the only one) for regarding the Gospel of John as the testimony of an eyewitness. For an elaboration, send the messages

Get John Part1
Get John Part2
   to the address

But I digress. That is the limit of what we hear of Philip and James in the New Testament, nor do other sources help much. One story says that Philip preached in Phrygia and died in Hierapolis, and that his remains were brought to Rome and buried in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles (an ancient inscription shows that this church was formerly dedicated to Philip and James).

PRAYER (traditional language)

Almighty God, who didst give to thine apostles Philip and James Grace and strength to bear witness to the truth: Grant that we, being mindful of their victory of faith, may glorify in life and death the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

PRAYER (contemporary language)

Almighty God, who gave to your apostles Philip and James grace And strength to bear witness to the truth: Grant that we, being mindful of their victory of faith, may glorify in life and death the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Unless otherwise indicated, this biographical sketch was written by James E. Kiefer and any comments about its content should be directed to him. The Biographical Sketches home page has more information.