Richard Carrier argues that the James who is described as the brother of Jesus, is not really his brother. Why is this important to Carrier? Unlike Catholic apologists who want Mary to be a perpetual virgin (although they do not deny they are related), Carrier needs to break this relationship because he denies that Jesus existed and yet James is definitely a historical figure.
We seem to be on firm historical ground when Paul writes:
When James, Cephas, and John, recognized as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:9, HCSB)
If James really existed, who was this James?
Richard Carrier claims that this is the James who was one of the twelve apostles. But which one?
It cannot be James the brother of Zebedeee. Luke describes the death of this James in Acts 12:2 and yet describes another James, the head of the Jerusalem church in the rest of Acts.
The only other James is the son of Alphaeus. This would be possible except for the fact that the other James is described as the brother of Jesus or the brother of the Lord.
Carrier has a ready response to this. James is called the brother of the Lord as another way to say he was a Christian. He observes that the Christians called each other brothers and this is exactly what we have going on here.
It is true that early Christians did call each other brother and sister. This led to accusations of incest by the Roman authorities. But I cannot find anyone else in the New Testament being described as “the brother of the Lord.”
It could be argued that James the son of Alphaeus could be called the brother of the Lord because he was especially close to Jesus. The problem with this is that James son of Alphaeus only appears in lists of the twelve and does not play an important role. If anyone, we would expect Peter and the sons of Zebedee to be called brothers of Jesus. However, the only one called this is this James, who is not the son of Zebedee.
An important passage to take into account is Acts 1:12-14.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying:
James the son of Alphaeus,
Simon the Zealot,
and Judas the son of James.
All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.
First, there is no indication that James the son of Alphaeus will become the James who is in charge of the Jerusalem church. Once again, he is simply a name on a list.
But notice that there is a mention of brothers of Jesus. These brothers are paired with Mary, the mother of Jesus. A plain reading of this in context would suggest that brothers means exactly what we normally mean: male siblings.
There are numerous mentions of Mary and the brothers in the Gospels, and they do not seem to be disciples but rather are skeptical of Jesus’ claims. One important verse is:
Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t His sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3, HCSB)
This passage indicates that not only did Jesus have brothers (siblings), but one was named James.
There is another passage we need to look at.
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.
Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time;
most of them are still alive,
but some have fallen asleep.
Then He appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,
He also appeared to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, HCSB)
Carrier suggests that the latter part of this early creed is an addition, “since everyone who saw Jesus was already an apostle and James the pillar was already one of the twelve.” It is not that there is textual evidence that part of this creed is a later addition. Rather, Carrier needs James to be one of the twelve and so he simply asserts his claim. This is not the only time that Carrier does this.
There is a passage in Josephus that describes the death of James. James is described as “the brother of Jesus (who was called the Christ).” Carrier claims that this was a copyist’s error and that it originally said “the brother of Jesus ben Damneus.” Again, there is no textual evidence for this. Carrier needs to break the relationship between James and Jesus and so he asserts an alternative theory.
Did Jesus have a brother? Yes he did. Several actually. One of them was named James. He was called “the brother of the Lord,” not because he was a Christian but because he was Jesus’ half-brother.