Evidences of Faith

A Man Named James


Those who do not believe in Jesus will sometimes claim that there is no historical evidence that He ever existed. This is a most amazing claim, which is very easily proven false, and yet it is often taught in high school classrooms and on college campuses as though it were a matter of fact. It is true that there is no credible record of His actual teachings, and no reliable history of His life, apart from the New Testament. However, it is also true that Jesus is mentioned by name by non-Christian writers in the first century. Furthermore, there are abundant references to His disciples in the writings of ancient secular historians. That Jesus existed is a matter of undeniable fact.

One particularly interesting mention of Jesus and one of His disciples is made by the Jewish historian, Josephus, who was born in 37 AD. Josephus was a Jew, but not a Christian; the only complimentary mention of Jesus in his writings is widely regarded by scholars to have been fraudulently inserted after the historian's death. However, there is a reference to Jesus, and a disciple named James, that is generally accepted as genuine. This reference has to do with a certain high priest named Ananus. According to Josephus, this Ananus "assembled the sanhedrim [or high council, often spelled "sanhedrin"] of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned" (Antiquities of the Jews, book XX, chapter 9, section 1). According to Josephus, then, Jesus had a brother named James who was stoned to death by order of the high priest. This is an event which occurred after the period which is chronicled by the New Testament writers. However, we may test it against what the New Testament does say, and see if the accounts are consistent with each other.

The first thing we may point out is that the New Testament has numerous accounts of Christians being persecuted by the high priest and the sanhedrim. For example, in the fourth chapter of Acts we find the account of Peter and John being arrested and threatened by them. Then, in the fifth chapter of the same book there is the account of all the apostles being arrested, threatened, and beaten by the sanhedrim. In this instance, the sanhedrim nearly killed them, but were stopped by a man named Gamaliel (Acts 5:29-42). At the end of the sixth chapter of Acts, the disciple Stephen is arrested on trumped-up charges and falsely accused before the sanhedrim. The result of this was that Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60). There are more examples of the sanhedrim persecuting Christians, but these are sufficient to make the point. In this regard, Josephus' account is completely and unquestionably consistent with what the New Testament teaches us.

The next point we will observe is that the New Testament teaches that Jesus did have a brother named James:

When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, "Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get these things?" (Matthew 13:54-56)

Jesus' countrymen knew Jesus' family, including His brother, James. Because they knew Him and His family, and that they were ordinary people, Jesus' countrymen found it difficult to accept that Jesus was truly the Messiah. Sadly, His brothers had the same problem. The apostle John tells us that during Jesus' life as a man, even His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:1-5). This is likely the reason that Jesus, when on the cross, entrusted the care of His mother to the apostle whom He loved (John 19:26-27). However, this is also an apparent disagreement with Josephus' account of James' death: if James was not a disciple, why did the sanhedrim kill him?

Many individuals did not believe in Jesus during His earthly life, but came to believe after His resurrection (e.g. Acts 2:22-41; 9:1-20). This makes sense; the fact of His resurrection gives us powerful reason to believe He is the Son of God. We should not be surprised, then, if some or all of His own brothers came to believe in Him after He rose from the dead. And, in fact, the apostle Paul names James, the Lord's brother as having been among the apostles in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18-19). So then, Jesus' brother James not only became a disciple, but a prominent one. That being the case, it is not surprising if, when recording his execution, Josephus mentions James by name. Thus, the account of James' death as recorded by Josephus is perfectly consistent with the account of James - and the relationship between the early Christians and the sanhedrim - recorded in the New Testament.

In closing, it is important to remember that the New Testament books that are cited above were written before Josephus wrote his Antiquities, so the writers could not have borrowed anything from him. For his part, Josephus was not a Christian, so it is unlikely that he would have consulted any of the New Testament books as sources for his research. In any case, the specific story which Josephus relates is one that occurred after the events of the New Testament, so he really could not have used it as a resource even if he had been inclined to do so. With these points in mind, we can see that Josephus' account provides us with corroborating testimony not only of Jesus' existence, but also of the fact that He was called Christ. It also harmonizes with the New Testament claim that Jesus had a brother named James who became a prominent disciple, and that the early disciples were persecuted by the sanhedrim. These things being so, we have yet one more piece of evidence to suggest that the biblical account is accurate and reliable.


e-mail this author at jimrobson@tp.net

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