After Peter, who led the Church?

In the Book of Acts, you find an accurate account of the early Christian Church.

Initially the church was centered in Jerusalem, and the Apostles were the Leaders. Peter, and James the son of Zebedee, are mentioned a couple of times, in Acts chapter four.

Peter had to give account of himself to the leaders in Jerusalem for his preaching to Gentiles, so he was not the 'Chief' Acts 11:1-4.  

In the mention of Peter in Gal 2:11 we find Paul rebuking Peter! In vs 12, Paul says that the deputation was sent by James! Peter spent his final years traveling in Iraq, and then went to Rome, and according to tradition was crucified there. He was not 'at the helm' of the Jerusalem Church for very long after the Ascension of Jesus.

As the Congregation of Christians in Jerusalem grew, the leadership was targeted for persecution by the Jewish Authorities. Herod had James, the brother of John, a son of Zebedee, put to death in AD 41. Peter escaped with  the help of an angel. Peter, after the death of James the son of Zebedee, tells the people in the home of Mary, to inform James of his escape from prison. James, son of Zebedee was dead, so this has to be James, son of Alphaeus, the apostle named James Acts 12:1-12, 17.

James, son of Alphaeus, is listed as an Apostle (Luke 6:13-15), he is also known as James the Less, a cousin of Jesus. Jesus ordained the original twelve apostles.

After Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, Peter stood up and enumerated the qualifications for a replacement, Acts 1:13, 20-22, which were:

  • A man who had been a disciple all the time Jesus taught them.
  • He must have been one of the followers of Jesus, from the time of Jesus baptism until Jesus' ascension.
  • And be ordained as a withness of Jesus resurrection.

Many people have been confused by the reference Paul makes in Galatians 1:19, "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." Albert Barnes, commenting on this verse, states:'That the James here referred to was an apostle is clear. The whole construction of the sentence demands this supposition.'

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:7 "Next he was seen by James, then by all the apostles". Here again Paul includes James as an apostle. Paul states that the Church was led by Peter and James the Lord's brother i.e. 'cousin'. (Galatians 1:18-19).

Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, a fanatical Pharisee who persecuted the Christians, became a Christian, and after a couple of years he went to Jerusalem to meet with the leadership there. He met with Peter and James. Paul must have related his testimony of having seen Jesus on the Damascus road. It would be natural for James to tell how he too had seen Jesus after the resurrection. Only Paul relates this special appearance of Jesus to James, the son of Alphaeus. Fourteen years later Paul and Barnabas again visit Jerusalem and find the main leaders are still, James, [mentioned first], Peter, and John the son of Zebedee. (Gal. 2:1,9)

The James who Paul met, could not have been Jesus' half-brother, born of Mary and Joseph, for the following reasons:

  • James, the half-brother to Jesus, was not a believer. "When his family heard about it, they went to restrain him, because they kept saying, "He's out of his mind!"" Mark 3:21.
  • This James is never listed as a disciple. If he had been, there would have been references to the fact in the history of the early church.
  • No other persons were appointed as Apostles, by the church, to witness the resurrection of Jesus, after the replacement of Judas.
  • James, the half-brother of Jesus, was not ever shown to be ordained by the Church as an apostle.

James, the son of Alphaeus, was the one who took the leadership of the Local Church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:2, 17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Gal 1:19).

His father Alphaeus, was by tradition a brother of Joseph, the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus.

James the son of Alphaeus, was murdered in the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 62, and his brother, Simon the son of Alphaeus, became the Nasi, or President of the Jerusalem Church. Simon lived to age 120, when he was hunted down and tortured and finally crucified by the Romans.

© 2013 Jim Cole-Rous

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