The Word

Vol. 8 No 13

April 19, 2009


Meet the Apostles

James the son of Alphaeus









James the son of Alphaeus


His Name:

James is the English translation of the Greek name IAKOBOS from IAKOB or Jacob, which means “supplanter”. The Hebrew equivalent is YAAQOB.


His father is Alphaeus, Mat 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13, meaning “changing”.  If James the son of Alphaeus is also “James the Less”, then it is thought that his father was also known as Clopas or Cleophas (KJV) meaning “my exchanges” from the Hebrew CHELEPH meaning “exchange”, John 19:25. This is further linked in that the name Alphaeus is of Hebrew origin from CHELEPH. CHELEPH was also a city in the Naphtali region of Israel. Another thought is that Clopas could have been his grandfather, but this is not known.


So James the son of Alphaeus means “supplanter, changing”.


James the Less is better translated James the Little, as the Greek HO MIKROS means “the small or little” in Mark 15:40. Unger equates him with James the less and notes: “James the Less was given that title either because he was younger than James the son of Zebedee or on account of his short stature.”


His Background:

The James’ of the Bible get highly confused. Some lump them together or combine them in various ways. Nelson’s Dictionary does a good job of defining each separately. As such James “the son of Alphaeus” is always mentioned as such in the apostolic lists. Where “James the Less” is only mentioned to identify one of the Mary’s at the Cross of our Lord, Mark 15:40; Mat 27:56, and the resurrection, Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10. Nevertheless, many throughout church history make James the son of Alphaeus and James the Less, (son of Mary who is the wife of Clopas), one and the same. This is probable in light of his father’s name as noted above.


Others equate James the Less with James the brother of our Lord which is very unlikely.


Some have applied the phrase “his mother’s sister” in John 19:25 to Mary the wife of Clopas, instead of to Salome as we identified above in the discussion regarding the sons of Zebedee, John and James. As such, this would make James the Less the cousin of our Lord. But this is note likely.


Given His father’s name Alphaeus from the Hebrew Celeph a region in the land of Naphtali, he may have been from the tribe of Naphtali. But according to the Genealogies of the Apostles (compare Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, II, 50), James was of the house of Gad.


If this James is also called “the less”, then from the accounting of his mother Mary, we know that James had a brother, Joses or Joseph, Mat 27:56.  Of interest our Lord also had brothers named James, Jose and Judas, Mark 6:3; 15:40, 47 along with Simon, but these were common names of the day and are not the same persons.


As we noted above, Matthew (Levi), is also a son of Alphaeus (compare Mat 9:9; Mark 2:14), therefore it is possible but not probable that he and James were brothers.


The King James translation has added further confusion where in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13, they translate the title of Thaddaeus as “Judas brother of James” when it should read “Judas son of James”. As a result James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus are considered brothers.


In addition, there is evidence in apocryphal literature of a Simon, a son of Clopas, who was also one of the disciples. If this be the same as Simon Zelotes, it would explain why he and James, (assuming them to be brothers), were coupled together in the apostolic lists of Luke and Acts. Again we have no conclusive evidence of this.


His Personality:

We know nothing about him. Some say he was a tax collector but this is not verified.


His Role Among the Apostles:

He is listed as one of the twelve disciples, Mat 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13. He heads the last group of four which includes Thaddeus, Simon the Zelotes and Judas Isacriot. He is not distinguished by name in any occasion reported in the Gospels or Acts. By Matthew and Mark he is coupled with Thaddaeus and by Luke and Acts with Simon Zelotes.

His Legacy:

As stated above, his legacy is highly confused: Foxes book of Martyrs states “Is supposed by some to have been the brother of our Lord, by a former wife of Joseph. This is very doubtful, and accords too much with the Catholic superstition, that Mary never had any other children except our Savior.”


Foxes has that point right but then confuses James the Less with our Lord’s true half brother James who was not an Apostle by stating, “He was elected to the oversight of the churches of Jerusalem and was the author of the Epistle ascribed to James in the sacred canon.”   But the James that headed the Church in Jerusalem and wrote the epistle is the ˝ brother of our Lord from Mary and Joseph.


We have no real information about this apostle.


Foxes Book of Martyrs:

At the age of ninety-four he was beat and stoned by the Jews; and finally had his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club.


In addition, The Martyrdom of James, the son of Alphaeus (compare Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, 264-66) records that James was stoned by the Jews for preaching Christ, and was “buried by the Sanctuary In Jerusalem.” But this sounds similar to, the brother of our Lord, James’ account.


Some also say he was martyred by crucifixion at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt, where he was preaching the Gospel.




His Name:

Thaddaeus, a.k.a. Lebbaeus a.k.a. Judas son of James, was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples that included two named Judas. John 14:22, referring to the same person, speaks of “Judas, not Iscariot.”


The surname Thaddaeus is used in Mat 10:3 and Mark 3:18, where the KJV uses Lebbaeus in Mat 10:3.


The name by which Luke calls the Apostle, "Judas of James", in Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13, is somewhat ambiguous as to the relationship of Jude to this James. Such a construction usually connotes a relationship of father and son, but the KJV has interpreted it as “brother”, trying to connect James the son of Alphaeus and Jude/Thaddaeus together as brothers, (who he follows in the Matthew and Mark lists).


In addition, others have supposed the reason for the change to “Judas of James” was that sometime during the ministry of our Lord Thaddaeus had died and “Judas of James” replaced him. But this can not be verified.


Continuing in the use of Judas, the Gospel of John once mentions this same Judas as “not Iscariot", John 14:22. The use of Judas has led many to confuse him with the ˝ brother of our Lord. When comparing the listings of the apostles between Matthew and Mark with Luke (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13) it seems impossible to doubt that Judas and Thaddaeus were the same person.


Easton’s Dictionary states, “Lebbaeus is a surname of Judas (Jude), one of the twelve (Matthew 10:3), called also Thaddaeus, not to be confounded with the Judas who was the brother of our Lord.”


Easton’s makes this statement because opinion is divided on whether Jude the apostle is the same as Jude, brother of Jesus, who is mentioned in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-57, and is the traditional author of the Epistle of Jude. Generally Catholics believe the two Judes are the same person, while Protestants do not.


Some say that because the name "Judas" was so tarnished by Judas Iscariot, it was natural for Mark and Matthew to refer to him by his alternate name.


Finally, it is noted that some even called him Judas the Zealot, either confusing him with Simon or that he may have been from the same sect as Simon that sought to overthrow Roman occupation.


Meaning of the names:

Thaddaeus means “gift of God” in Greek but derived from Hebrew and Aramaic meaning, “breast.” Lebbaeus also taken from “breast” means “heart or courageous”. Judas is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew personal name Judah meaning, “Praise Yahweh.” Interestingly, Iscariot means “men of the city”. So Judas not Iscariot would mean, “Praise Yahweh but not from the men of the city”.


His Background:

Many scholars say, as we saw with James the son of Alphaeus, that there is no information on this apostle. Yet some talk about him. Much seems to be confused with either a Thaddaeus of Edessa or Jude the Lord’s half brother. Nevertheless we have the following.


Some say that Thaddaues/Jude was born into a Jewish family in Paneas, a town in Galilee later rebuilt by the Romans and renamed Caesarea Philippi. In all probability he spoke both Greek and Aramaic, like almost all of his contemporaries in that area, and was a farmer by trade.


Thaddaeus a.k.a. Jude, is clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed our Lord Jesus.


The “Gospel of the Ebionites,” or “Gospel of the Twelve Apostles,” of the 2nd century and mentioned by Origen, narrates that Thaddaeus was also among those who received their call to follow Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias (compare Mat 4:18-22).


According to the “Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles” (compare Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, II, 50), Thaddaeus was of the house of Joseph; according to the “Book of the Bee” he was of the tribe of Judah.


The 14th century writer Nicephorus Callistus makes Thaddaeus/Jude the bridegroom at the wedding at Cana.


Of the various identifications of Thaddaeus with other Biblical personages which might be inferred from him, that with “Judas of James” is the only one that has received wide acceptance.


His Personality:

We can not say much about his personality other than that if he were bi-lingual and a farmer he would have been a hard worker and had tremendous patience. From the question he asks our Lord in John 14:22, he seems to be a very caring individual, “what then has happened”.


His Role Among the Apostles:

One of the Twelve Apostles, Mat 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:16; Act 1:13. In Matthew and Mark he is listed 10th before Simon and in Luke’s accounts (Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13), he is listed 11th after Simon.


His only recorded words are found in John 14:22. He was the last of the four questioners (Peter, Thomas, Philip, Judas not Iscariot) of our Lord in John 13:36-14:23.


He was perplexed at our Lord’s statements in verse 1-21, but specifically verse 19. Having been in a very public ministry for 3.5 years he now understands the Lord to be saying “I am going to disclose myself to you all only, and not to the world”. He too did not understand the Lord’s statements in regards to His death, resurrection and ascension, as well as the sending of the Holy Spirit. His understanding of our Lord to be removing himself from the public eye and going into recluse, gave our Lord the opportunity to expand on the relationship of the believer with the Lord during the Church Age by means of the Word and the Holy Spirit in verses 23-26.


His Legacy:

Most scholars say we know nothing about Thaddaeus either Biblically or extra-Biblically. Many of the accounts associated with him seem to be of another Thaddaeus, Thaddeus of Edessa, one of the Seventy Disciples.


Though Saint Gregory the Illuminator is credited as the "Apostle to the Armenians," when he baptized King Tiridates III of Armenia in 301, converting the Armenians, the Apostles Thaddaeus, Jude and Bartholomew are traditionally believed to have been the first to bring Christianity to Armenia, and are therefore venerated as the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Linked to this tradition is the Thaddeus Monastery.


There is abundant testimony in apocryphal literature of the missionary activity of a certain Thaddaeus in Syria, but doubt exists as to whether this was the apostle. Thus:

1) According to the “Acts of Peter” (compare Budge, II, 466 ff) Peter appointed Thaddaeus over the island of Syria and Edessa. 

2) The “Preaching of the blessed Judas, the brother of our Lord, who was surnamed Thaddaeus” (Budge, 357 ff), describes his mission in Syria and in Dacia, and indicates him as one of the Twelve.

3) The “Acta Thaddaei” (compare Tischendorf, Acta Apostolorum  Apocrypha, 1851, 261 ff) refers to this Thaddaeus in the text as one of the Twelve, but in the heading as one of the Seventy.

4) The Abgar legend, dealing with a supposed correspondence between Abgar, (king of Syria in the Osroene kingdom holding his capital at Edessa), and Christ, states in its Syriac form, as translated by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, I, xiii, 6-22), that “after the ascension of Christ, Judas, who was also called Thomas, sent to Abgar the apostle Thaddaeus, one of the Seventy” (compare Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, 76 ff). Jerome, however, identifies this same Thaddaeus with Lebbaeus and “Judas of James” of Luke (Lk 6:16). Hennecks (op. cit., 473, 474) surmises that in the original form of the Abgar legend Thomas was the central figure, but that through the influence of the later “Acts of Thomas”, which required room to be made for Thomas’ activity in India, a later Syriac recension was made, in which Thomas became merely the sender of Thaddaeus to Edessa, and that this was the form which Eusebius made use of in his translation. According to Phillips (compare Phillips, The Doctrine of Addai the Apostle), who quotes Zahn in support; the confusion may be due to the substitution of the Greek name Thaddaeus for the name Addai of the Syriac manuscripts.


The general consensus seems to indicate, however, that both Thomas and Thaddaeus the apostle had some connection with Edessa.


So he may have preached in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopo-tamia and Libya, or in Assyria and Persia. He is also said to have visited Beirut and Edessa, though the latter mission is also identified with Thaddeus of Edessa, one of the Seventy.


Finally, a “Gospel of Thaddaeus” is mentioned in the Decree of Gelasius.


Foxes Book of Martyrs:


He was crucified at Edessa, A.D. 72.


According to the Armenian tradition, Thaddaues/Jude suffered martyrdom about AD 65 in Beirut, Lebanon together with the apostle Simon the Zealot, with whom he is usually connected. Their acts and martyrdom were recorded in an Acts of Simon and Jude.


Occasionally he is represented holding an axe or halberd, as he was brought to death by one of these weapons. The burial place of Thaddaeus is variously placed at Beirut and in Egypt.


Catholic tradition (probably confusing Jude the writer of the Epistle) states that sometime after his death, Saint Jude's body was brought from Beirut, Lebanon to Rome and placed in a crypt in St. Peter's Basilica which is visited by many devotees. According to popular tradition, the remains of St. Jude were preserved in an Armenian monastery on an island in the northern part of Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan at least until mid-15th century. Later legend either denounces remains as being preserved there or moved to yet more desolate stronghold in the Pamir Mountains. Recent discovery of the ruins of what could be that monastery may put an end to the dispute.



If you would like more information on this subject,

you may listen to lessons 09-022 and 09-023





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