Saint James the Greater was one of Jesus’ first disciples and one of the apostles who was killed because of his faith. (The life of Christ and his ministry with the twelve apostles is listed on the Bible Timeline after 1 AD). Jesus had first called Simon and his brother Andrew to follow him. He then found the other brothers, James, and John. They were in a boat with their father, Zebedee. Jesus found the fishermen repairing their nets and told them to follow him. They got up, and they left their father behind. (Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19; Luke 5:10)
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James was the son of Zebedee and Salome (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40, 16:1). He was the elder brother of John the Beloved and probably called “the Greater” because he was older or taller than James the Less. As he was one of the first disciples of Jesus, the description (epithet) “the Greater” would also make sense.
An introduction of all twelve apostles can be found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:17-18; Luke 6:14). The list included both James, son of Zebedee and James, son of Alphaeus. He and his brother John were called “sons of thunder” (Boanerges) because they were easily angered. Jesus rebuked them when the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus as he passed through their village. The brothers had asked him if they should “call down fire from heaven to burn them up” (Luke 9:54).
Jesus was with James and John when he taught in the synagogue of Capernaum and cast out an evil spirit from a man. The brothers were also present when Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law and saw him heal the sick people of the town (Mark 1:21-34). James, along with Peter and John, were among the apostles who were close to Jesus as they witnessed his transfiguration (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28) as well as the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40, 51-56).
Jesus gave both James, John, their mother Salome, and the other apostles present a lesson in serving others in Matt. 20:20-24 and Mark 10:35-41. Their mother asked Jesus if her two sons could “sit in places of honor next to Jesus” and he rebuked them. Jesus would later bring James, John, and Peter with him in the garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion (Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:33). He was also present during and after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:6-13).
According to the Historia Compostelana, which was published in the 12th century, James preached first in Judea and Samaria and sailed later to Spain. He came back to Judea but was sentenced to death by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-3). After his death, his body was transported by boat to the shores of Iberia (Spain) and was buried in Santiago de Compostela, a city which now bears his name. The city’s cathedral houses the relics of Saint James and has become the center of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The relics were authenticated by Pope Leo XIII on November 1, 1884.
Orr, James. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1939
Maddrell, Avril, Alan Terry, and Tim Gale. Sacred Mobilities: Journeys of Belief and Belonging
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