Tomorrow, October 23rd, is the major feast day commemorating Saint James of Jerusalem.  This is a “new feast”, in that it was introduced in the mid- or late-20th century, not being found in the classical prayer books.  The reason for this is, in part, a shift in scholarly understanding of who is who in the New Testament.

Saint James of Jerusalem, or “James the Just”, is the man we read about in Acts 15 who presided over a council concerning the status of the Gentiles in the Christian Church – a landmark event both in the confirmation of the Gospel being for everyone, and in the practical working life of Church leadership.  James functioned essentially as the diocesan bishop in Jerusalem, other apostles and elders were gathered, they heard arguments and agreed upon a final ruling – it’s literally the first Synod in Church history.

Many scholars today identify this James also as the author of the New Testament Epistle of James, who self-identifies as “brother of the Lord.”  In the Protestant world this goes with the assumption that this James is one of Jesus’ brothers, though the force of historical interpretation of Scripture would suggest that this James is at most simply a relative of Jesus, perhaps a cousin or a half-brother.  In the past, though, James the Just (or, of Jerusalem) has sometimes been identified as one of the twelve apostles, especially James the Less, whom we commemorate with St. Philip on May 1st.  Wikipedia has a handy list with references.

So, as you begin his commemoration tonight at Evening Prayer with his Collect of the Day, keep the James of Acts 15 in mind.

3 thoughts on “Which James do we celebrate tomorrow?

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