The namesake of our church can lead to some confusion, especially for Christians who are less familiar with the litany of thousands of saints who are honored in our traditions. Traditionally, “Saint” James refers primarily to James the Apostle, called by Jesus. He was one of the sons of Zebedee, the brother of John the Apostle. He and his brother were called “sons of thunder” by Mark, which might mean they had fiery tempers! James is one of only three Apostles who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop. He is the only Apostle whose death is recorded in the Bible (executed by sword at Herod’s order). This is “our” St. James, whose symbol is the scallop shell, and who is venerated for travels and legends to numerous to recount here. In most languages other than English, his name is a variation of Jacob, rather than James.
But there is also another James! This is James, the writer of the letter that is recorded in the New Testament. About this James, we know even less. He seems to have been an important leader in the early church, and may even have been a Jewish priest during Jesus’ lifetime. A few references call him “the brother of Jesus,” though theologians have argued for centuries about what this means. In the letter (or epistle) traditionally attributed to him, James is concerned that the Christian life of faith cannot be complete without a thorough understanding of the “Law,” meaning the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Perhaps his study of the law was the reason for his nickname, “James the Just,” or perhaps his style of leadership earned him this title of respect. In any case, our 9am Bible Study for the month of September will be a great opportunity to uncover some of the mystery of this “other” James, as we also discuss and learn from the wisdom of his writings.