God’s People, part 173: Bar Alphaeus

Read Mark 3:13-21

“When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the zealot), and Judas (son of James).”  (Acts 1:13, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

james-son-of-alphaeusPart 173: Bar Alphaeus. The identity of the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus, is a bit of a mystery. There has been a lot of speculation around who he actually was and what sort of role he might have played in the spreading of the Christian faith. With that said, there is no doubt that he is listed as among the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:15).

Aside from being listed in the Gospels as one of the twelve, nothing else is mentioned of him, making him an elusive character both in historical terms as well as in trying to sit and write a devotion about him. Early Christian tradition equates him with James the Younger (aka James the Less). Thus, this particular James is also the son of one of the women (also named Mary) who was a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:40).

This James is not to be confused with James, son of Zebedee (aka James the Greater), nor is he to be confused with James the Just, half-brother of Jesus Christ. Whoever this James was, he was traditionally understood to be distinct from those two apostles. There is a possibility that he was the brother of Levi, son of Alphaeus (see Mark 2:14), the tax collector who became more commonly known as Matthew.

Again, not a lot is known about James, son of Alphaeus, as he is only listed in the Gospels as one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. All we have to go on, outside of the Gospels, are the traditions of the early Church Fathers. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-235 AD), for instance, claimed that James, son of Alphaeus, was stoned to death while preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem in two of his works, On the Twelve Apostles of Christ and On the Seventy Apostles of Christ.

The documents alone do not prove that James, son of Alphaeus truly died in the place or the manner that Hippolytus claims, and it is uncertain whether the aforementioned writings were actually written by him. Still, as to James the Lesser’s ministry and martyrdom, they are all we really have to go on. Regardless, what it shows is that James, son of Alphaeus may have been proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Jews in Jerusalem, just as James, son of Zebedee and James the Just (Jesus’ half-brother) were doing.

While all this can ever be is speculation, what is not speculation is that Jesus’ teachings and miraculous deeds lived on through his disciples. After he resurrected and ascended to the Father, Jesus’ disciples went on to carry the Jesus movement further. Despite their flaws, that faith would eventually overtake the very empire that sought to snuff it out by crucifying our Lord and Savior.

That movement is still very much alive today and, like the earliest disciples, the church is not without its flaws. The challenge for us is to evaluate our own faith and our own relationship with our Lord Jesus. Do you believe he is Lord? Do you believe that redemption and salvation rests solely in Jesus Christ and has been given to you? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent to us, is transforming you and leading you out to boldly witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ? If so, then be challenged to further God’s Kingdom on earth just as it is in heaven.

“If you really want to experience God, go and make disciples.” – Francis Chan

Lord, thank you for your sacrifice for me. Use me as a holy and living sacrifice for your glory, so that more may come to know and serve you. Amen.

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