Who is James in Acts 15? What authority if any did he have in this ad hoc consultation with the apostles?

[Act 15:13 NASB] (13) After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, "Brethren, listen to me.

Whom did he represent?

  • Whom did he represent ? - People living within Israel had less challenges or hurdles in keeping the (literal) demands of the Torah, so James, as a lifelong dweller of the Holy Land, represented the religious(ly) right(eous), fulfilling the Mosaic Law; as such, his subscription to and support for a certain moderate position meant quite a lot for the budding Pauline position.
    – Lucian
    Aug 9 '19 at 19:41
  • Believers or unbelievers?
    – Ruminator
    Aug 9 '19 at 19:45
  • Primarily believers (Acts 15:5).
    – Lucian
    Aug 9 '19 at 19:52
  • Why do you say that he needed to be convinced? It was James who concluded with the final word that became the communique of the council. It is possible that he always had this view but waited until all others had expressed theirs.
    – user25930
    Aug 9 '19 at 20:03

The James of Acts 15:13 was clearly the same prominent church leader that is mentioned in other places such as Acts 12;17, 21;18, 1 Cor 15:7, Gal 2:9, 12. In commenting on Acts 15:13, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary observes:

James answered, saying, &c.—Whoever this James was (see on [2022]Ga 1:19), he was the acknowledged head of the church at Jerusalem, and here, as president of the assembly, speaks last, winding up the debate.

The Pulpit commentary also observes:

Brethren for men and brethren, A.V., as ver. 7. James answered. James's place as presiding bishop is here distinctly marked by his summing up the debate. "This (James)was bishop, as they say, and, therefore, he speaks last" (Chrysost., ' Hem.,' 33.). And again, "No word speaks John here, no word the other apostles, but held their peace, for James was invested with the chief rule." "He says well with authority, 'My sentence is" (ibid.).

Thus, James appears not to "represent" anyone, but rather appears to be a leader or president of the early council of elders (whatever that means) in Jerusalem. It was to this authority that Paul submitted as recorded in Gal 2:9, 12.

Of course, there were several people named James in the NT but one of the most prominent in Acts was James the brother of Jesus, Matt 13:55, Mark 6:3, Gal 1:19. See also Matt 12:46, 47, Luke 8:19, John 2:12, etc. It is presumably on this basis of a simple comparison of Gal 1:19 with Gal 2:2:9, 12 that most have assumed that James the church leader in Jerusalem was James the brother of Jesus.

See on Acts 15:13 in Ellicott, Meyer, Cambridge Bible, Matthew Poole, Gill, Geneva commentary, etc. I quote only one here, Ellicott:

James answered.—The position which James the brother of the Lord (see Notes on Acts 12:17; and Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55) occupies in the Council is clearly that of pre-eminence, justifying the title of Bishop of Jerusalem, which later writers give him. No one speaks after him; he sum up the whole debate; he proposes the decree which is to be submitted to the Council for approval.


Another answer quoting the Ellicott and Pulpit commentaries accords with the eastern understanding of James: he was the Brother of the Lord mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament and the episkopos of Jerusalem. As well, he is understood to be the author of the Epistle of James.

In the Eastern and Western Churches his life is commemorated on October 23rd. The Eastern Orthodox traditions regarding his life can be found in various Synaxaria. The 20th century Prologue of Ohrid, compiled by the Serbian bishop Nikolai Velimirovič, reads as follows:

James is called the Lord’s brother because he was the son of the righteous Joseph, the betrothed of the Most-holy Theotokos. When the righteous Joseph was near death, he divided his estate among his sons, and wanted to leave a portion to the Lord Jesus, the son of the Most-holy Virgin, but all the other brothers opposed this, not regarding Jesus as their brother. James greatly loved Jesus and declared that he would include Jesus in his share. That is why he is called the Lord’s brother. From the beginning, James was devoted to the Lord Jesus. According to tradition, he traveled to Egypt with the Most-holy Virgin and Joseph, when Herod sought to slay the newborn King. Later, as soon as he heard Christ’s teaching, James lived by it. It is said of him that he never ate fat or oil, but lived on just among His Seventy Apostles. Following His glorious Resurrection, the Lord appeared to him especially, as the Apostle Paul testifies (I Corinthians 15:7). He was Bishop of Jerusalem for thirty years and zealously governed the Church of God. At the instruction of the Lord, James compiled the first Liturgy, which seemed very long for later Christians, and St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom shortened it. He converted many Jews and Greeks to the Christian Faith, and even the unbelieving Jews were amazed at his righteousness, referring to him as “James the Just.” When Ananias became High Priest, he and other Jewish elders determined to kill James for being a preacher of Christ. Once, during the feast of Passover, when many people had gathered in Jerusalem, the elders forced James to climb onto the roof of the Temple, and tried to make him speak against Christ. He climbed up and spoke to the people of Christ as the Son of God and the true Messiah, of His Resurrection and His eternal glory in the heavens. The infuriated priests and elders pushed him off the roof; he fell and was severely injured, but was still alive. Then, one man ran up and struck him on the head with a fuller’s club with such force that his brains spilled out. Thus, this most glorious apostle of Christ died a martyr’s death, and went to live eternally in the Kingdom of his Lord. James was sixty-six years old when he suffered for Christ.

Regarding the specific passage in question, John Chrysostom (c.349-407), whose 4th century commentaries served as prototypes for most modern ones, wrote:

This James was bishop, as they say, and therefore he speaks last, and herein is fulfilled that saying, In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established (Deut 17:6; Matt 18:16). But observe the discretion shown by him also, in making his argument good from the prophets, both new and old. For he had no acts of his own to declare, as Peter had and Paul. And indeed it is wisely ordered that this the active part is assigned to those, as not intended. to be locally fixed in Jerusalem, whereas James here, who performs the part of teacher, is no way responsible for what has been done, while however he is not divided from them in opinion. Men and brethren, he says, hearken unto me.

Then all the multitude kept silence. There was no arrogance in the Church. After Peter, Paul speaks and none silences him. James waits patiently, not interrupting. Great is the orderliness of the proceedings. No word speaks John here, no word the other Apostles. Rather they held their peace, for James was invested with the chief rule, and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. And after that they had held their peace, James answered1

1. The NASB translators chose to render μετὰ δὲ τὸ σιγῆσαι as after they had stopped speaking, but Chrysostom, a Greek in antiquity, seemed to have understood σιγάω as meaning keep silent and not stop speaking. Cf. KJV: And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me

  • Wasn't the Lord's brother killed in Acts 10?
    – Ruminator
    Dec 9 '19 at 1:04
  • I think you mean Acts 12 (1-3). No, that James, as Scripture states, is the brother of John - i.e. the other son of Zebedee (e.g. Matthew 4:21)
    – user33515
    Dec 9 '19 at 2:02

Peter is the highest authority in Jerusalem, for in the face of the great strife among all, he rises up among them and without hindrance, he begins to tell the revelations of God. Already, James, only begins his speech after the silence of Paul and Barnabas, moreover, is said the expression that he "took" the Word, that in Greek is an act that refers to a speech already in its end and still, asks the brothers to be heard, because of his age, and when he begins to speak, instead of his opinion, he invokes authority and recalls the opinion of the chief Apostle: Simon reported... Thus, the Apostle James' frailty before the Sovereignty of the Apostle Peter is very evident.

The word adelphos has a broad definition of use, not only according to the etymological definition "of the same uterus", comprising brothers, half brothers by the father or mother, cousins and relatives.

A) How many to be James?

A1) James, the minor, son of Mary, wife of Cleophiles/Alphaeus is one of the twelve apostles: Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15-16; John 14:22; Acts 1:13 is being the same as James, brother of Joseph, son of Mary: Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10. By Galatians 1:19, the same James, prominent in the early church, cousin/kinsman of the Lord, who is distinct from the apostles and prominent. Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18; 1 Cor 15:7 Galatians 1:19; 2:9; 2:12; and Jude 1:1.

A2) A James, the father of the apostle Judas, "Judas of James" in Luke 6:16 is translated " Judas, Son of James," according to Message No 108, John 14:22, Acts 1:13, and in a manuscript of the ancient Syriac translation.

Mary of Cleophiles is cited as the "mother of James and Joseph" (Matthew 27:55-56), the "mother of James' (Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:10) and also the "mother of James, the least and of Joseph" ( Mark 15:40-47)Cleophas' wife" ( John 19:25), Mary of Cleophiles is also the "sister/cousin/relative"; of Jesus' mother" (John 19:25), she is also the wife of Alpheus, since Alpheus and Cleophas are Greek forms derived from a single name, in Aramaic Claphai and in Hebrew Halphai, hence the term “calipha”, observe possibility of the term/name in context.

The apostles became elders/elders as time passed: The apostles in the Church in Jerusalem: Acts Chapter 8; the transition: Acts 11, 12, and 15.

Eusebius of Cezareia did not err in interpreting the account of the examination made by Hegesypus, quoted in Ecclesiastical History - Book III Cap X, because really, the Simeon, brother of the Apostle James, the smallest, sons of Alpheus Cleophas, are first cousins of Jesus.

The so-called cousins or relatives of Jesus (the apostle James, the lesser), did not believe in him and his followers thought at some point that Jesus was out of his mind and went out to hold him tightly. Mark 3:21, John 7:5. included the apostle James, the minor, cousin - relative of Jesus.

The cousins or relatives (apostle James, the lesser) of Jesus use imperative verbs in John 7:3 in relation to Jesus, usually, from elder brothers to younger brothers in Jewish patriarchal society and wish him to go to a trap in Judea.

Considering the law of the Levirate, Cleophiles (Alpheus), being brother of Joseph, father of Jesus, (considering Eusebius of Cezarea), was not obliged to marry Mary, Jesus' mother, this further confirms the fact that Jesus passed on the care of his mother, to the beloved disciple in John 19:26-27. The beloved disciple is James the smallest, called the adelphos of Jesus.


I posed the original question because Acts 15 has been the bane of my existence for a long time. That is, it appeared to be an unprecedented, unexplained and meritless anecdote that I would gladly remove from my "Bible". The answers so far provided were, to my mind, unsatisfying. After much reflection, and over a series of insights that worked together towards an understanding of the actual context and raison d'etre of the passage, I feel I have come to understand the passage in a way that makes good sense. I look forward to the down votes!

The dispute between Peter and Paul was not about justification but rather about what should be required of the gentile believers in order to make it permissible for the Jewish believers to eat meals in together.

The question was posed to "James" as a Jewish question, not a gentile question. In other words, James was answering a question that Jewish saints had about proper Torah behavior, not "What Would Jesus Do" (though that would apply as well):

[Deu 17:8-13 NASB] (8) "If any case is too difficult for you to decide, between one kind of homicide or another, between one kind of lawsuit or another, and between one kind of assault or another, being cases of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses. (9) "So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is [in office] in those days, and you shall inquire [of them] and they will declare to you the verdict in the case. (10) "You shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the LORD chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. (11) "According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. (12) "The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. (13) "Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.

So we must understand James to be either a Levitical priest (and hence, not the Lord's brother, because Jesus was not a Levite) or a member of the Sanhedrin who addresses such cases. He may or may not have been a believer in Jesus but that is somewhat irrelevant.

Since the destruction of the temple the whole matter is moot for the Christian.

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