A close-up photo of an ancient handwritten Bible page, revealing the passage about Little James, capturing the beauty and significance of this biblical figure.

Who Is Little James In The Bible?

The identity of ‘little James’ in the Bible has long fascinated readers and scholars alike. If you’re pressed for time, here’s the quick answer: Little James is believed to be James, the younger brother of Jesus Christ.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine the brief biblical references to Jesus’s brother James, analyze the possible identities of ‘little James’, and explore scholarly theories about his role and writings in the early Church.

References to James as Jesus’s Younger Brother

Gospel References

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) contain several references to Jesus’s brothers, including one named James. For example, Mark 6:3 mentions Jesus’s brothers James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon.

These passages indicate that James and the other brothers were born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus’s birth, implying they were his younger siblings.

There is debate among scholars about the exact nature of this familial relationship. Catholic tradition holds that these “brothers” were actually cousins or other relatives. But many Protestant interpreters take the references to brothers literally as younger biological siblings from Mary and Joseph.

References in Paul’s Letters

Paul’s letter to the Galatians also references James as the brother of Jesus. In Galatians 1:19, Paul writes, “But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” This strongly implies that James and Jesus had the same mother, even if Paul doesn’t explain the exact details of the relationship.

References in Apocryphal Texts

Some extra-biblical apocryphal writings also refer to James as Jesus’s younger brother. For example, the Protoevangelium of James claims that James was one of Joseph’s children from a previous marriage who then became a son legally to Jesus as Joseph’s heir.

So while not a biological brother, he was considered Jesus’s brother legally within the family structure.

The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas also references James as Jesus’s brother. So there was early widespread recognition of this familial relationship outside of biblical texts.

Debates Over the Identity of ‘Little James’

James the Just

James the Just is one of the proposed identities for the “Little James” mentioned briefly in the Bible. He was the brother of Jesus and a leader in the early Christian church. According to ancient sources, James had a reputation for being righteous and was sometimes called “James the Righteous.”

He is thought to be the author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament.

Some scholars believe James the Just might be the “Little James” referred to in Mark 15:40, Matthew 27:56, and Mark 16:1 as the son of Mary and brother of Joses. He is also mentioned in Galatians 1:19 when Paul says he visited James, the Lord’s brother, in Jerusalem.

The evidence suggests James the Just held a prominent position in the early church and could have been the “Little James” accompanying Jesus’ mother Mary.

James the Less

Another possibility for the identity of “Little James” is James the Less. He is mentioned in Mark 15:40 as the “little” son of Mary and brother of Joses. The epithet “the Less” may refer to his young age, short stature, or lower standing compared to the other apostle named James.

He is also listed along with “Little James” as one of the brothers of Jesus in Matthew 13:55.

James the Less is not mentioned frequently in the Bible or other ancient sources. But some scholars propose he was part of Jesus’ inner circle and the brother mentioned in the Gospels. The fact that he shares the same parents as the “Little James” in Mark 15 supports this view.

Overall, there is a reasonable possibility James the Less was the youthful “Little James.”

James the Younger

The third option is that “Little James” was James the Younger, also known as James the Lesser. He was one of the Twelve Apostles and is traditionally considered the author of the Epistle of James. James the Younger is listed as an apostle in Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13.

Some contend James the Younger was the brother or cousin of Jesus who became an apostle. The description “little” or “lesser” may point to his youth compared to the elder apostle James, son of Zebedee.

While possible, there is less evidence connecting James the Younger to Mary’s son than for James the Just or James the Less. But he remains another potential figure behind the brief biblical mention of “Little James.”

Theories on James’s Leadership Role and Writings

James as Leader of the Jerusalem Church

Many scholars believe that “Little James” became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem after the apostle James (the brother of John) was martyred in 44 AD (Acts 12:2). According to church tradition, Little James led the Jerusalem church for 30 years until his death in 62 AD.

The Bible describes a prominent James who spoke at the Council of Jerusalem around 50 AD (Acts 15:13–21). This was likely Little James, who emphasized unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. His leadership brought consensus between the early church factions.

Authorship of the Epistle of James

Most biblical scholars believe the Epistle of James was written by Little James, the brother of Jesus, who led the Jerusalem church for three decades. Linguistic analysis shows the Greek language used in the epistle matches the linguistic capability expected of Little James.

The epistle focuses much on practical Christian living, similar to the teaching Little James provided at the Council of Jerusalem. The author of the epistle also emphasizes caring for the poor, a priority Little James seemed to have in his leadership.

References in Early Church History

Several early church writings confirm that Little James had great authority in the Jerusalem church. The historian Josephus (37–100 AD) recorded that Little James was stoned and killed in 62 AD due to tensions with local religious leaders who rejected his teachings.

According to the early church father Hegesippus (110–180 AD), the Pharisees asked Little James to rebuke the early Christians, but he instead confessed faith in Christ as Messiah. Later Jewish historian Josippon (10th century AD) echoed these accounts of Little James’s martyrdom.


This exhaustive look at every reference to James, the brother of Jesus, helps shed light on the possible identity of the enigmatic ‘little James’ mentioned briefly in the Bible. Most scholars connect him to James the Just, leader of the early Jerusalem church.

While some mystery remains, it’s clear James played a vital leadership role and his teachings continued to influence early Christianity long after his death.

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