James the Less
The apostle James—also known in the Catholic Church as St. James the Less and in The Chosen as Little James—was a follower of Jesus during his ministry on earth. James was given the nickname of “the Less” to help distinguish him from the other apostle named James (often referred to as James the Greater). Some scholars believe that “the Less” means that James the Less was younger than James the Greater. That’s why sometimes he’s referred to as James the Younger.
Others believe that it means James the Less was called as an apostle later than the first James. There are even some who believe “the Less” meant that this James was the shorter of the two apostles. While historians may not know the details of his nickname, it isn't a sign of lack of faith in Jesus. James the Lesser was known to be a firm and faithful follower of Jesus, and he dedicated his life to the gospel.
Who Was James the Less before He Was an Apostle?
Little is confirmed about James the Lesser’s life before he became an apostle. Most people believe that he was from Galilee, Israel, and he lived there before becoming an apostle. In Matthew 9:9, the scriptures indicate that James may have been a tax collector. Many also think he was a fisherman and net-mender, especially since he lived in Galilee. James may have been both a fisherman and a tax collector. Either way, he put both professions aside to follow Jesus and to spread His message.
Many biblical scholars are divided on who James’s family was. There are many mentions of men named James in the Bible, and no one is entirely sure just how many were separate individuals and how many were actually the same person. This has led to speculation about who James’s family was. Some scholars believe that James the Less and James the Just are the same person. If that were the case, James would be Jesus’ brother. There is evidence that they could be the same person, but it’s more commonly accepted that he was the son of Alphaeus, and James the Just was another person.
Some speculate that his mother was Mary’s sister, and James was Jesus’ cousin. This is possible, but others believe his mother’s name was just also Mary. Some scholars believe she was Mary of Clopas, and she was one of the three Marys at Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection. Most are sure that James was related to Jude or Judas (not Iscariot). Some versions of the Bible refer to James as Judas’s father while others call them brothers. Other scholars believe that James’s brother was actually Matthew the Apostle. Matthew’s father was also called Alphaeus, so it’s possible that it was the name Alphaeus that may have been James’ father.
Significant Events Involving James the Less
We first see Little James in Season 1 Episode 2 of The Chosen where he meets Jesus at a Shabbat dinner. At some point in his life, James accepted the call to be an apostle of Jesus. As an apostle he bore witness to many of Jesus’s miracles, and he learned the gospel first hand from Him. Most likely James witnessed most of the miracles we read about in the Bible. At the end of Jesus’s life, James the Less was most likely present at the crucifixion. If James was Jesus’ brother or cousin, many say that he was one of the apostles instructed to comfort Mary the mother of Jesus. It’s also possible that he was there with Mary of Clopas, who may be his mother, and was known to be at the crucifixion. After Jesus’s death, she brought materials for the burial. If James was her son, he may have aided in this.
One significant event involving James the Less happened right after Jesus’ resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:7, the scriptures state that James the Lesser was one of the first people to witness and help Jesus after His resurrection. From this scripture, many people believe that James the Less was actually the first apostle to see the risen Jesus after the resurrection. This belief is also why many believe his mother was one of the women at the tomb. She may have gone to tell her son James, and he was able to come see the resurrected Jesus. Regardless of how it happened, James bore witness of the resurrection and joined the other apostles in spreading the good news.
After Jesus ascended into heaven after the resurrection, James the Lesser was considered a pillar in the early church. The apostles were learning how to run a church without Jesus physically present among them, and the early church members needed strong examples like James the Less to follow. Most likely James led a meeting after the Ascension where the apostles discussed whether or not Gentiles could become followers of Jesus. The decision to preach to the Gentiles led to many apostolic missionary efforts and expanded Jesus’ gospel across continents.
Was James the Less a Missionary?
James the Less was a missionary for the last part of his life. Acts 15:13 states that James the Less became a chief spokesman for the Jerusalem Church, so he may have spent a lot of his time in the city and teaching the people there. Most likely, the majority of his missionary work was done in Jerusalem, and he helped strengthen the church there and provided valuable leadership. Some also believe he did leave Israel to spread the gospel to other parts of the world for some time. The most commonly accepted story is that he traveled to Egypt or Persia, but no one is entirely sure where he may have taught the gospel.
There is a lot of uncertainty with James’ death, but the most prominent story is that he died a martyr in Jerusalem. Most likely he was stoned to death by Jews in 62 AD.
While there is some speculation about who James was, we do know he was a close follower of Jesus. As an apostle, he was a close confidant of Jesus; he witnessed many miracles, and he bore witness of the resurrected Jesus. With this testimony, James the Lesser preached the gospel to those around him—whether in Jerusalem or in Egypt.
If you haven’t already, check out Angel Studios’ The Chosen to view the first-ever multi-season show about the life of Jesus. This historical drama set in Judaea and Galilee in the first century CE follows Jesus and those whom He met and ministered to.