Saint James the Less

Apostle Saint James the Less

Birth/Early Life

St. James the Less, also called James, son of Alphaeus, or James the Younger, (1st century BC Galilee, Judaea, Roman Empire), one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus.

Life With Jesus

Jesus called James, son of Zebedee, to be a disciple sometime after the call of James, son of Zebedee, which led to his identification as James “the Lesser.” He, along with John and Peter, was regarded as early Church pillars, and St. Paul met with him to discuss how best to carry on the Church’s mission. He was among the first to witness the risen Christ. According to one legend, James declared after the Crucifixion that he would fast until Christ returned. The risen Jesus appeared to him and prepared a meal for him.

the Apostle James the Lesser
Saint James the Less

Life Facts

To avoid confusion with the other Apostle named James, whose feast we celebrate on July 25, James was given the nickname “the Less.” We believe this means he was younger than the other St. James, known as “the Greater.” Alphaeus’ son was James the Less. On the day Jesus was crucified, his mother stood alongside Mary at the Cross.

Two apostles named James

Interested in learning more about the remarkable lives of the two Apostles named James? We invite you to explore the shared names and distinct paths of these influential figures who played pivotal roles in the early Christian Church.

James the Less became an important part of the Church’s growth in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. According to tradition, he presided over an important meeting of the early Church, the Council of Jerusalem, in the year 50 AD. St. Paul, St. Peter, and other Church leaders met at this time to discuss whether Gentiles or people who were not Jewish, could become followers of Jesus. James carefully listened to the discussion and assisted the group in deciding that the Church was open to all and that all people could be saved by living as Jesus’ followers.


Jesus Christ chose James to be a disciple by hand. He was present in Jerusalem’s upper room with the 11 disciples after Christ ascended to heaven. He could have been the first disciple to see the risen Christ. Even though his achievements are unknown to us today, James may simply have been overshadowed by the more prominent disciples.

Even so, being named one of the twelve was no small feat. His most significant act was his intervention in the contentious relationship between Christians of Jewish origin and those of pagan origin. In this regard, he worked with Peter to overcome, or rather integrate, the original Jewish dimension of Christianity with the need not to impose on converted pagans the obligation to submit to all the norms of the Law of Moses.

The Book of Acts has preserved for us the compromise solution proposed precisely by James and accepted by all the Apostles present, according to which pagans who believed in Jesus Christ were only to be asked to abstain from the idolatrous practice of eating the meat of animals sacrificed to the gods, as well as from “impropriety,” a term that probably alluded to irregular matrimonial unions, it was a question of adhering to only a few prohibitions of Mosaic Law held to be very important.

In the Bible

James the Lesser was the son of Alphaeus, while James the Greater was the son of Zebedee (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:8; Luke 6:15). According to 5th-century theologian Jerome and 1st-century bishop Papias of Hierapolis, his mother was Mary of Cleophas (sister of Jesus’ mother). He was also identified as Jude Thaddeus’ brother and possibly one of Jesus’ brothers (according to Galatians 1:19 and again according to Jerome).

Only a few verses in the Bible mention James the Lesser and what he did for the early church. He was one of the disciples who witnessed Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7), a confidante of Peter when he was on the run from Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:17), and later rose to prominence in the church along with the other apostles. He was also credited as the writer of the Epistle of James. Like the other disciples, James deserted the Lord during his trial and crucifixion.

Life Lessons

While James the Lesser is one of the least known of the 12, we can’t overlook the fact that each of these men sacrificed everything to follow the Lord. In Luke 18:28, their spokesman Peter said, “We have left all we had to follow you!

The Death of Saint James the Less

If we connect James son of Alphaeus to James the Just (Jesus’ brother), we learn that he was pushed from the pinnacle of a temple where he was preaching, beaten with a fuller’s club, and stoned to death. In art, James son of Alphaeus is commonly depicted with a fuller’s club, reflecting the church’s belief that he was the same person as James the Just. However, according to the tradition that James son of Alphaeus preached in Egypt, he was crucified in the city of Ostrakine. “On the Twelve Apostles of Christ”, Hippolytus, a theologian who lived in the second and third centuries, allegedly recorded James’ death:

“And James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem, was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there beside the temple.”

This is the same death that tradition attributes to James, Jesus’ brother, but scholars have little reason to believe “On the Twelve Apostles of Christ”. The text was discovered in the nineteenth century, and most scholars believe it is pseudepigrapha (writing that falsely claims to be written by someone). As a result, the ambiguities and unknowns surrounding James son of Alphaeus prevent us from knowing how or where he died.

However, since the majority of the Twelve were martyred, it would be surprising if one of the lesser-known disciples, like John, died of old age. They gave up family, friends, homes, jobs, and everything they knew to follow Christ’s call. These ordinary men who did extraordinary things for God served as role models for us. They laid the groundwork for the Christian church, launching a movement that quickly spread across the globe. Today, we are a part of that movement.

Key Takeaway

The Apostle James, the son of Alphaeus, was also referred to as James the Less or James the Lesser. He is not to be confused with James the Apostle, the first Apostle, and John’s brother. In the New Testament, there is the third James. He was Jesus’ brother, a leader in the Jerusalem church, and the author of the book of James.

Every listing of the 12 disciples includes James of Alphaeus, who is always listed ninth in the order. Although the Apostle Matthew (known as Levi, the tax collector before becoming a follower of Christ) is identified as the son of Alphaeus in Mark 2:14, scholars doubt he and James were brothers. The two disciples are never mentioned in the Gospels.

Characteristics of Apostle James the Lesser

The characteristics of Saint James the Less or James the Younger made us believe he was one of the later disciples called by Jesus. St. James the Less, the author of the first Catholic Epistle, was the son of Alphaeus of Cleophas. His mother, Mary, was either a sister or a close relative of the Blessed Virgin, and for that reason, according to Jewish custom, he was sometimes called the brother of the Lord. James the Less is one of the most obscure apostles in the Bible.

The only things we know for certain are his name and that he was present in the upper room of Jerusalem after Christ ascended to heaven. In Twelve Ordinary Men, John MacArthur suggests that his obscurity may have been the distinguishing mark of his life.

James the Less’ complete anonymity may reveal something profound about his character among the characteristics of the 12 apostles.


There’s not much we can say about James, son of Alphaeus, without assuming he was also the brother of Jesus. But the Bible doesn’t tell us he was. It doesn’t tell us anything about him as an individual.

The most distinguishing mark about James, the son of Alphaeus, is that there is no distinguishing mark! None of his actions is ever recorded. And there is not one recorded statement ever made in any of the gospels.

Even as the apostles’ story is continued in the Book of Acts, we still read nothing of James, the son of Alphaeus. It was his lot to be a background disciple. And yet, he still saw and experienced the miracles, the healings, the teachings, and the fellowship of Christ.

He may have been unknown, but obscurity is not an indicator of the condition of a man’s relationship with God.

Weak Faith

Despite everything James experienced as a disciple of Jesus, his faith remained weak until after the resurrection. Once, when he and his brother asked Jesus for the privilege of sitting beside him in glory, Jesus promised them only a share in his suffering.

They were learning that the greatest calling of a servant of Jesus is to serve others. James discovered that following Jesus Christ can lead to hardship, persecution, and even death, but the reward is eternal life with him in heaven.


Three times James, John, and Peter were invited by Jesus to witness events no one else saw: the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead, the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1Matthew 17:2Matthew 17:3), and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36Matthew 26:37).

But James was not above making mistakes. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the place. This earned them the nickname “Boanerges,” or “sons of thunder.”

The mother of James and John also overstepped her bounds, asking Jesus to grant her sons special positions in his kingdom.


According to tradition, he wrote the Epistle of James, preached in Palestine and Egypt, and was crucified in Egypt. James was one of the little-known disciples. Some scholars believe he was the brother of Matthew, the tax collector. James was a man of strong character and one of the fieriest types.

His book shows the difficulties that were troubling the early church people, such as pride, discrimination, greed, lust, hypocrisy, worldliness, and backbiting. James writes to correct these evils by showing that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26); that is, the mere profession of faith is not enough.

He rebukes the rich in (James 5:1-6), tells us to be patient and take courage (James 5:7James 5:8James 5:9James 5:10James 5:11), not to swear (James 5:12), the effectiveness of prayer (James 5:13James 5:14James 5:15James 5:16James 5:17James 5:18), and turns a fallen Christian back to Christ (James 5:19James 5:20).


James was a loyal disciple of Jesus. He had outstanding personal qualities that are not detailed in Scripture because his character made him one of Jesus’ favorites.


James “the Less” and Judas were assigned to the management of the multitudes. It was their task to deputize a sufficient number of assistant ushers to maintain order among the crowds during the preaching.

Key Takeaway

James, the apostle, was one of the 12 original apostles. He was the son of a man named Zebedee and the older brother of John the Apostle. James was a fisherman, as were his father and brother.

He was one of the first apostles to be called by Jesus. Jesus gave John and James the surname of Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder.” Together with Peter and John, James was a close confidant of Jesus, being present at many important events, including the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and the agony in Gethsemane.

Having been beaten to death, a club almost immediately became his symbol. This led to his patronage of fullers and pharmacists, both of whom use clubs in their professions. He is reported to have spent so much time in prayer that his knees thickened and looked like a camel’s.

Soon after the Crucifixion, James said he would fast until Christ returned; the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and fixed a meal for James Himself.

Summary Characteristics of Saint James the Less

This James is generally identified with James the Little or the Less, the brother of Joseph and son of Mary, Matthew 27:56Mark 15:40. In each list of the apostles, he is mentioned in the ninth position. He is said to be the brother of Jude, Jude 1:1. We know very little of his background except that some teach that he was known for his quietness and humility.

He lived in Galilee with his brother Jude. Jude was also called to be a disciple by Jesus. Not much is known about James; little is mentioned in the Bible about him. However, he was known to be quite a fiery, boisterous person, the passion aiding him in spreading the Gospel. James preached all across Egypt and Palestine.

James, the son of Alphaeus, is not to be confused with James, the son of Zebedee. The two James are distinguished from each other by the name of their fathers. The four times that he appeared in the New Testament were in a list of the 12. He was eventually put in charge of the church of Jerusalem.

Resources Characteristics of Saint James the Less

Facts of Apostle James the Lesser

St James the Less Facts tell us that James is the son of Alphaeus (Luke 6:15). His mother’s name is Mary (Mark 15:40) and he has a brother named Joseph (Matthew 27:56). Except for a few details about his family, there is nothing more mentioned about him in Scripture. Maybe this is why he has been referred to as James the Less in Mark 15:40.

What is important to remember is although James was somewhat in the background, he was chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve disciples. He was trained and used by Christ in a powerful way to further the Kingdom of God. He was a valuable team member. Tradition says he was crucified in Sinai or possibly stoned to death in Jerusalem.

James the Lesser Facts and Symbol

St James the Less Facts writes that James the Less is also called James the son of Alphaeus in the gospels. Because there are so many named James in the Bible, sources argue about their identities, so he may be associated with other people in the book of Acts or the gospels.

His name, James the Less, doesn’t mean that James had a lower status than James the Greater. It just meant that he was younger than the other James.

Tradition has it that James was one of the oldest of the apostles when he was martyred. Some traditions state that he was crucified in Egypt where he preached the gospel.

The most common story, the one represented in his symbol, is that he was stoned or beaten and then sawed in half. His symbol, the saw, reflects the method of his death, and artists sometimes depict the saw with a club or stones.

The symbols for these apostles help us to remember these great stories. Each one reminds us of their lives and also their deaths. They faithfully preached the gospel and often died for their savior.

The symbols help us consider their lives and their deaths. Christians throughout history have used the stories of martyrs and apostles to encourage each of us to be faithful like they were. We remember their deaths and follow their example.

His Obscurity

In the New Testament, there is nothing said of the individual achievements or failures of this apostle. However, the Lord did choose James as an apostle, and he was still with the church on Pentecost (Acts 1:13); therefore, there is no reason to doubt he rendered faithful service to the Lord.

St James the Less Facts that he is a servant of God and should be happy to serve Christ in any capacity. God’s people are not in this world to gain the acclaim of men. They are not supposed to be publicity hounds.

Nevertheless, every Baptist church has a few members who stay puffed up if their every effort does not get recognition publicly. Others want to be considered as church “bigwigs” whether they ever do anything or not. Faithful servants do not mind if their names remain in the background.

They serve God, not man. Through the years many dedicated Baptists have worshipped and served God without fanfare. With their insight, wisdom, and love they are the true “backbones” of a church. “A man of un­derstanding holdeth his peace” (Proverbs 11:12).

God is the One Who selects the place of service for His people. When a person serves in that place, he is doing God’s will. There is no higher station in life. Consequently, believers need to determine God’s will for their lives, serve Him faithfully in His will, and be happy there (John 13:16John 13:17). Those who serve only to be recognized now have their reward.

How Saint James is Represented in Christian Art

It is helpful to be able to recognize Saint James in paintings, stained glass windows, illuminated manuscripts, architecture, and other forms of Christian art. The artistic representations reflect the life or death of saints or an aspect of life with which the person is most closely associated. Saint James is represented in Christian Art with a fuller’s club, the instrument with which Simeon the fuller dashed out his brains.

His Traditions

Catholicism complicates matters concerning this apostle by making him identical to “James the Lord’s brother”. They say Joseph is his father, but Mary the mother of Jesus is not his mother.

Resultantly, they make Joseph less than a moral man to promote their teaching of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Such claims are not only complicated but contradictory and indefensible by the Word of God.

Traditional writings of men allot the work of James the Less to Palestine, Spain, Britain, Ireland, and Egypt. Many traditions surround the manner and the place of his death.

Who or what is Saint James the patron saint of?

Saint James is the patron of Hatmakers. Meanings, definitions, and origins – a patron is considered to be a defender of a specific group of people or a nation. There is a patron for virtually every cause, profession, or special interest. Prayers are considered more likely to be answered by asking a patron for intercession on their behalf.

Feast Day of Saint James

The Feast Day of Saint James the Less is May 3rd. The origin of Feast Days: most saints have specially designated feast days and are associated with a specific day of the year and these are referred to as the saint’s feast day. The feast days first arose from the very early Christian custom of the annual commemoration of martyrs on the dates of their deaths at the same time celebrating their birth into heaven.

Conclusion St James the Less Facts

James (son of Alphaeus) (also known as Saint James the Less by the Catholic church) is one of the disciples that very little is known about. James’ father shared his name with the father of Matthew and it is possible that they were brothers;

however, this cannot be known for certain because there was much reuse of names at this time. James the Less facts prove James the son of Alphaeus is thought to be the same man as referred to as “James the Less” as a way for the disciples to distinguish between the two James’ however this is not known for certain and should not be assumed.

Resources St James the Less Facts

Summary Saint James the Less

Saint James the Less, the author of the first Catholic Epistle, was the son of Alphaeus of Cleophas. His mother Mary was either a sister or a close relative of the Blessed Virgin, and for that reason, according to Jewish custom, he was sometimes called the brother of the Lord.

The Apostle held a distinguished position in the early Christian community of Jerusalem. St. Paul tells us he was a witness of the Resurrection of Christ; he is also a “pillar” of the Church, whom St. Paul consulted about the Gospel. According to legend, he was the first Bishop of Jerusalem and attended the Jerusalem Council around the year 50.

The historians Eusebius and Hegesippus wrote, that St. James, was martyred for the Faith by the Jews in the Spring of the year 62, although they greatly admired his person and had given him the surname “James the Just.” He has always been regarded as the author of the Epistle that bears his name. Internal evidence based on the Epistle’s language, style, and teaching reveals its author as a Jew familiar with the Old Testament and a Christian thoroughly grounded in Gospel teachings. External evidence from the Church’s early Fathers and Councils confirmed its authenticity and canonicity.


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