Luke makes a clear distinction between the brothers of Jesus and the apostles of Jesus (Acts 1:13-14). Who, then, was the James whom Paul seems to include among the apostles and identifies as the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:19)? Before this question can be answered, at least three more questions need to be considered: (1) Is adelphos (“brother”) used here in its literal sense, or is a more general usage intended? (2) What is meant by the term apostoloi (“apostles”) in this context? (3) Does ei mê (“except”) necessarily include James among the apostles?
1. If adelphos is used here in a more general sense, it is possible that the Lord’s “cousin” is intended and thus Paul may be referring to the apostle James, son of Alphaeus (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). The word adelphos, according to H. K. Moulton, may be used in the broader sense of “near kinsman or relative” (Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 6). There was a Mary (not Jesus’ mother) who was the wife of Cleopas and mother of James and Jose[s/ph] (Matt. 27:56; John 19:25). If “Cleopas” is the Graecized form of the name “Alphaeus,” as some suggest, it is possible that James, son of Mary and Cleopas, is the same as the apostle James, son of Alphaeus. Furthermore, the wording of John 19:25 may suggest that Mary, the wife of Cleopas, was the sister of Jesus’ mother, which would then make Jesus and the apostle James first cousins.
This view, however, is considerably weakened by the number of unprovable suppositions upon which it is based, plus other information that argues strongly against it. First of all, there is no evidence in the New Testament that the word adelphos (“brother”) is used in a broad sense to include near relations. Paul was familiar with the word “cousin” (anepsios), as we see in Col. 4:10, and could have used that word in Gal. 1:19 if that is what he intended. While the Hebrew ach (“brother”) is used loosely in isolated cases to designate male relatives of various degrees (cf. Gen. 13:8; 14:14; etc.) and is translated into Greek as adelphos, the New Testament usage does not appear to be as general (cf. BAGD 16). Even in the Old Testament, the context makes it clear whenever the word “brother” is used in any but its normal sense, which we do not find in Gal. 1:19. The word adelphos simply means “a brother (whether born of the same two parents, or only of the same father or the same mother)” (J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon 10).
Furthermore, the idea that James was the cousin of Jesus depends on the assumption that three rather than four women are mentioned in John 19:25. If it is concluded that Mary is the sister of the Lord’s mother, the problem is the unlikelihood that two sisters would have the same name! Since Salome was also present on this occasion (Mark 15:40), could she not be the sister of Jesus’ mother (making the sons of Zebedee [James and John] the Lord’s cousins)? Another difficulty is the uncertainty that the names Cleopas and Alphaeus are identical, and even if these appellations are derived from the same source, there is no evidence that they belonged to the same person. Finally, if James and his brothers were merely the Lord’s cousins, it is hard to account for the fact that they were regularly in the company of Jesus’ mother (Matt. 12:46-47; 13:55; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12) rather than their own mother, who was still living at the time (Mark 15:40-41). When Paul speaks of the Lord’s “brother,” he is apparently referring to James, the literal half-brother of Jesus.
2. The next question is how the word apostolos (“apostle”) is used by Paul in Gal. 1:19. If it is used in a generic sense, then it is possible for James to be called an “apostle” without being included among the twelve. In the New Testament the word apostolos generally refers to one who is sent and thus can be used in the sense of a delegate, envoy, or messenger (BAGD 99). Epaphroditus, having been sent by the Philippi church, was their apostolos or “messenger” (Phil. 2:25). Brethren who were sent to distribute relief aid were called apostoloi (“messengers”) of the churches (2 Cor. 8:23). Barnabas and Saul are called apostoloi (“apostles”) after being sent out by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:3; 14:4, 14). Jesus Christ, having been sent by the Father (John 17:3), is described as the apostolos (“apostle”) and high priest of our confession (Heb. 3:1).
While it is plausible that James is referred to as an apostolos in the broad sense, it is not likely. For one thing, James does not appear to have been sent out anywhere, but remained in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12), although it seems he did “take along” a believing wife (1 Cor. 9:5) and may have gone out to the areas surrounding Jerusalem (cf. Acts 8:14, 25; 9:28). But Paul appears to be consistent with his use of the word apostolos in his epistle to the Galatians (1:1, 17, 19; 2:8), the most obvious sense of which is not generic. Therefore apostolos in this passage evidently means “apostle” in its official, customarily understood sense.
3. The final consideration is the meaning of ei mê in Galatians 1:19. The combination of ei (if) and mê (not) is used in a negative statement to mean “except” or “but.” In Galatians 1:19 the footnote of the ASV suggests “but only” as an alternate translation, and Hugo McCord renders this verse: “I saw no other apostle, but I did see James (the Lord’s brother).” If this is what Paul had in mind, then James is not included among the apostles and the problem is solved.
Bear in mind that the easy answers are not always the right answers, but the integrity of scripture is not impugned when alleged discrepancies are more carefully investigated. It is reasonably clear that when the accounts of Paul and Luke are interwoven, the harmony of events may be summarized as follows. Paul went to Jerusalem about three years after his conversion. He was briefly introduced to the apostles, but spent most of his time with Peter and preached to unbelievers in Judea. He did not get to know the other apostles during this visit, but he did become acquainted with James, the Lord’s brother. Luke and Paul highlight different aspects of the same historical events, but they complement rather than contradict each other.
--Kevin L. Moore
Image credit: Franz Mayer’s St. Luke and St. Paul, <http://www.oakbrookesser.com/images/restoration/trinity/th_lukeandpaul.jpg>.