James the Son of Alphaeus

The only thing Scripture tells us about James is that he was the son of Alpheaus ((Matthew 10:3; Mark 3: 18; Luke 6: 15; Acts 1:13). If he ever wrote anything, it is lost to history. If he ever asked Jesus any questions or did anything to stand out from the group, Scripture does not record it. He was not the kind of person who stands out.

There are several men with the name James in the New Testament. We have already met James the son of Zebedee. There was another James, who was the son of Mary and Joseph and therefore a half-brother of Christ (Galatians 1:19). The James who was Jesus’ half-brother apparently became a leader in the Jerusalem church. He was the spokesman who delivered the ruling at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15: 13-21. He is also thought to be the same James who penned the New Testament epistle that bears his name. He is not the same James named as one of the apostles in the third band of four.

James the son of Alphaeus’ lack of prominence is even reflected in his nickname. In Mark 15:40 he is referred to as “James the Less.”  It could refer to his physical features. Perhaps he was a short or small-framed man.  He might have been younger than James the son of Zebedee, so that his title would distinguish him as the younger of the two. But the name most likely refers to his influence. As we have already seen, James the son of Zebedee was a man of prominence. Therefore, James the son of Alphaeus was known as “James the Less.” It may well be that all these things were true of James, so that he was a small, young, quiet person who stayed mostly in the background. But he was one of the Twelve. The Lord selected him for a reason, trained and empowered him like the others, and sent him out as a witness—carry the gospel to the world of their day. 

Scripture always keeps the focus on the power of Christ and the power of the Word, not the men who were merely instruments of that power. No one epitomizes that truth better than James the Less, son of Alphaeus. He went quietly unnoticed through the entire Gospel narrative. This world remembers next to nothing about him, But in eternity, his name will be inscribed on one of the gates of the heavenly city.

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