James the Lord’s Brother

James the Lord’s Brother November 9, 2013

I’ve been having a long and extremely repetitive conversation with a Jesus-agnostic over the past several years, including most recently in the comments section on my post “The Quest for the Historical Nazareth”, on the subject of James, the brother of Jesus as evidence for there having been a historical Jesus.

Here’s what I wrote, trying to sum up the evidence:

  • Paul refers to Jesus in a way that indicates that he believes he was a human figure descended from David.
  • Paul refers to “James the Lord’s brother” and to “the Lord’s brothers.”
  • We have no evidence for the use of the phrase “the Lord’s brother(s)” as denoting anything other than biological brothers of Jesus.
  • Even if we were to allow (despite the lack of evidence) that the phrase in the plural could denote Christians, since Paul is writing of meetings with Christian leaders, there is no way that he could have been using it in that sense in Galatians, since it would not have served to distinguish this James from others.
  • Other sources refer to Jesus having a brother named James. Some attribute to him a leadership role in the early Church in Jerusalem parallel to what Paul indicates in his letters, and some also look back to him as having opposed Paul, again in agreement with Paul’s own letters.

What exactly is it that you still need in order to be convinced that Paul was most likely referring to James as the literal biological brother of the Lord?

What would you add, if anything? Obviously this is a summary of points that I have discussed here countless times before, as regular readers will remember (with one possible exception).


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