The Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, June 28, 2020
The 12 Apostles of Jesus, Part III
James son of Alpheus
(continued from last week…)
There’s no conclusive evidence proving that the men the Bible calls Jesus’ brothers were actually Mary’s children. Neither is there conclusive evidence that they were not her children. But if we go strictly by Scripture, and not by human speculation however attractive, there are no grounds to assert that Mary did not have other children after giving birth to Jesus. And the constant repetition of the phrase “the brothers of Jesus” points to their being his brothers rather than cousins, or simply fellow Jews. No other disciples were given the title. The doctrines of Mary arose from the practice of promulgating doctrine on the whims of church leaders rather than on Scriptural mandate. There are four doctrines claimed of Mary: her perpetual virginity, her Immaculate Conception ((conceived de fide, that is, without original sin), her being the Mother of God, and her Assumption, that is, at the end of her life she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Anyway, James the Lesser, son of Alpheus, took the gospel to present day Iran where he was martyred.
Thaddeus was the son of Alpheus and brother to James the Lesser. This disciple is identified with three names, Lebbaeus (Matthew 10:3), Thaddaeus (Mark 3:18), and Judas (Acts 1:13). The church father Jerome referred to him as “the Trimonious,” meaning “the man with three names.” Thaddeus taught in Turkey where he was murdered. Tradition says he was either clubbed or axed to death or crucified.
Simon is one of the obscure apostles of Jesus. His name appears in all four listings of the apostles in the New Testament, namely, Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:14-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13-16. The King James Bible calls him “the Canaanite” in Matthew 10:4, but that is a mistranslation. The correct term is “Cananaean,” that is, perhaps, hailing from Cana a town in Galilee. Simon was a zealot.
The zealots were one of the smaller parties of the Jews. The main ones were the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes. The zealots took patriotism to the extreme. They were radical and ruthless and would kill to protect the country. They were in sync with the Pharisees in the passion to obey the Law exactly as written. They loathed the Romans to the uttermost and wanted them out of Judea by force of arms. Because they hated Rome, they also hated tax collectors who were loading it over God’s people to collect taxes to fund the activities of the uncircumcised occupiers. Their tactic was to mingle among crowds where there were large gatherings of people like at festivals, stealthily slip up behind a target, and kill using a short curved knife known as the sicari and then melt into the crowd. They actively hunted down traitors and capitulators. They caused a reign of terror and the Roman government was wary of them. It is curious that Jesus selected zealots as well as a tax collector among his disciples. Meeting in other circumstances, Simon would not hesitate to drive a dagger through Matthew’s stomach or back. But now they are colleagues hanging out together in the company of Jesus. It is unbelievable. To the zealots no human deserved the title of king. That title belonged only to God. Violence was their way of life to protest the rule of the Romans. It was the zealots who spearheaded the rebellion of 66 AD, giving no ear to contrary voices that condemned antagonizing the brutal Romans. That rebellion led to the eventual sad fall and sack of Jerusalem four years later. On his part Simon the zealot took the gospel to Egypt where he was violently murdered.
After Jesus had prayed all night, he chose 12 men to be his disciples and later to become apostles to take his message to the ends of the earth. One of those men was Judas whose epithet “Iscariot” is unclear in meaning. Some scholars think it means Judas was from the village named Kerioth in Judah, but others object to this explanation. Others think that Judas was a zealot like Simon, and that Iscariot is a form of the title sicarii, meaning “dagger-men” who the zealots were. Judas betrayed Jesus to the Jewish supreme council, the Sanhedrin, where Jesus was eventually condemned to death. Judas was given 30 pieces of silver for his cooperation in the arrest of Jesus. Later Judas attempted to refund the money when he realized that Jesus was actually apprehended and condemned to death. There are Bible readers who believe that Judas did not intend to betray Jesus and put him in any kind of trouble. Judas believed Jesus to be the Messiah but, in Judas’ opinion, Jesus was acting too slowly and too out of fashion in bringing about the end of the old order. He was mingling mainly with folks on the periphery of life who had zero clout to affect the reins of power to overthrow the Romans. Judas wanted Jesus to come into a direct conflict, face to face, with the Jewish leadership for a final showdown. Judas and his fellow zealots must have been hiding in the shadows, daggers in hand, waiting to pounce into action and attack the Romans when Jesus gave the order, or if there was any kind of physical commotion. But it was not to be. Jesus didn’t give any orders, and there was no violent commotion. Worst of all, Jesus didn’t put up a fight. Instead he was quietly led away, was brutally flogged, and eventually killed by crucifixion. Judas’ world fell apart, and he could not live with himself. The Bible says he later hanged himself. The grave mistake he had made was to try to push Jesus’ hand to move at Judas’ speed and in Judas’ way. That is always a foolish thing to do.
James and Jude the brothers of Jesus
These two men were not among the 12 disciples of Jesus while he was on earth. But something needs to be said about them. This is because there’s a concerted effort by some scholars, especially Roman Catholic ones, to assert that James the son of Alpheus is the same James the brother of Jesus. But this cannot be true because Jesus chose his disciples early in his ministry, and the Bible says that his brothers did not believe in him. John 7:5 says, “For not even his brothers believed in him” (ESV). They were embarrassed by his actions and teaching, and one time they went to where he was teaching to take him home thinking he had lost his senses (Mark 3:20-21). To them he was a scandal to the family.
The push to conflate James the Lesser with James the brother of Jesus arises out of the attempt to make both these men the sons of another Mary, not Mary the mother of Jesus. Over the years of history, popes came up with the four doctrines of Mary mentioned above. One of them was that Mary remained a virgin all her life which doctrine has no biblical support. Texts such as the above appear to contradict that doctrine, therefore ways must be found to explain away the passages even if by twisting Scripture, and history itself, every way possible. That is exactly the kind of practice the rules of hermeneutics speak against. We don’t come to the Bible with a doctrine already formulated and then spin the Scriptures around to make allowance for our doctrine. We come to the text of Holy Scripture with as blank a mind as humanly possible, exegete it, and follow where it leads. James who came to gain the epithet “the Just” and Jude his brother, the writer of the Letter of Jude in the New Testament, were both brothers of Jesus and very likely children of Joseph and Mary after Jesus was born. They believed in Jesus after he rose from the dead, and they became prominent leaders in the church likely because of them being blood kins of Jesus and perhaps also possessing excellent character and leadership demeanor. They rose to the rank of an apostle. Other later apostles were Barnabas, Silas, Paul, and others.
Have a great week, and have a happy new month! Remember, Saturday is July 4th, Independence Day.