James the Less – Obscure Apostle
Profile of James the Less, Son of Alphaeus
The Apostle James, son of Alphaeus, was also known as James the Less. He is not to be confused with James the son of Zebedee, brother of the Apostle John.
A third James appears in the New Testament. He was the brother of the Lord, a leader in the Jerusalem church, and writer of the book of James.
James of Alphaeus is named in each listing of the 12 disciples, always appearing ninth in order. The Apostle Matthew (called Levi, the tax collector before becoming a follower of Christ), is also identified in Mark 2:14 as the son of Alphaeus, yet scholars doubt he and James were brothers.
Never in the Gospels are the two disciples connected.
The title “James the Less” or “the Little,” helps to distinguish him from the Apostle James, son of Zebedee, who was part of Jesus’ inner circle of three and the first disciple to be martyred. James the Less may have been younger or smaller in stature than Zebedee’s son, as the Greek word for “the less”, mikros, conveys both meanings.
Although it’s argued by scholars, some believe James the Less was the disciple who first witnessed the risen Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:7:
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (ESV)
Beyond this, Scripture reveals nothing more about James the Less.
Accomplishments of James the Less:
James was hand-picked by Jesus Christ to be a disciple. He was present with the 11 apostles in the upper room of Jerusalem after Christ ascended to heaven. He may have been the first disciple to see the risen Savior.
Although his accomplishments remain unknown to us today, James may simply have been overshadowed by the more prominent apostles.
Even still, being named among the twelve was no small achievement.
Weaknesses of James the Less:
Like the other disciples, James deserted the Lord during his trial and crucifixion.
Life Lessons from James the Less:
While James the Less is one of the least known of the 12 apostles, we can’t overlook the fact that each of these men sacrificed everything to follow the Lord. In Luke 18:28, their spokesman Peter said, “We have left all we had to follow you!” (NIV)
They gave up family, friends, homes, jobs, and all things familiar to answer Christ’s call.
These ordinary men who did extraordinary things for God, set the example for us. They formed the foundation of the Christian church, initiating a movement that steadily spread across the face of the earth. And we are part of that movement–the body of Christ–today.
For all we know, “Little James” was an unsung hero of faith. Evidently, he did not seek recognition or fame, for he received no glory or credit for his service to Christ. Perhaps the nugget of truth we can take from the altogether obscure life of James is reflected in this Psalm:
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory …
(Psalm 115:1, ESV)
Referenced in the Bible:
Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13.
Disciple of Jesus Christ.
Father – Alphaeus
Brother – Possibly Matthew
The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (ESV)
He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (ESV)
And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (ESV)
And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. (ESV)