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St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr

As we remember St. James today, we read an excerpt from LifeLight: James and Jude—Leaders Guide about his upbringing and his authorship of the biblical book that carries his name.

Scripture Readings

Acts 15:12–22a
Psalm 133
James 1:1–12
Matthew 13:54–58

Read the propers for today on lutherancalendar.org.


In our devotion today, we read about St. James, the half-brother of Jesus, and how he changed throughout his lifetime from an unbeliever to one who died for his Christian faith.

Devotional Reading

The author of the Letter of James introduces himself simply as “James, a servant [or slave] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” So, his name is James, but which James? Three are mentioned in the New Testament. The most prominent is James the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, but he could not be the author of this letter because he was martyred (Acts 12:2) too early to have written it. James the son of Alphaeus, sometimes called “James the Less,” plays only a minor role in the Jerusalem congregation and for that reason it does not seem likely that he would have written it.

The third possibility is the most promising—James the brother of Jesus. He was probably the first son conceived and born to Mary and Joseph and, consequently, grew up as the younger half-brother of Jesus. (See Matthew 13:53–58.) Imagine what it was like to have Jesus as your big brother. We have no record of his feelings toward Jesus during his early life, but it would have been natural for him to look up to such a brother and be very close to Him. There might also have been some jealousy, if Mary and Joseph treated Jesus as the very special child that He was.

Apparently, James did not come to faith until after Jesus rose from the dead. During the height of Jesus’ ministry people were in a frenzy of excitement about His preaching and healing. In Mark 3:20–21 we are told that they crowded around Him so densely that He and His disciples could not even eat. Seeing this, His family members, probably also including James, thought that He was out of His mind. On another occasion we are told plainly that His brother did not believe in Him. However, Jesus did not give up on James. Sometime after the first Easter Jesus appeared to James, and James’s heart was changed. He came to realize that His brother was also His Lord and master and he, James, His slave. (The word servant in the opening verse may also be translated slave.) In this text James may also be acknowledging his brother as his God. The opening verse can also be translated “servant (or slave) of Jesus Christ, who is both God and Lord.”

James grew tremendously during the first decade after Pentecost both as a believer and as a leader. Galatians 1:19 indicates that, like Paul, he was soon recognized as the equal of the original apostles and, in time, became the chief authority in the Jerusalem congregation. When he identified himself as James everyone knew which James he was.

Devotional reading is from LifeLight: James and Jude—Leaders Guide, pages 9–10 © 2003 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.


Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church. Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Prayer is from Pastoral Care Companion, page 612 © 2007 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.


Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.


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