Firstly, ‘Judas son of James’ is always distinguished from Judas Iscariot – this is understandable since Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Mark call ‘Judas son of James’ by his nickname Thaddeus. This is because the name Judas became tarnished by its association to betrayal. The gospel writers do not want us to get confused about which Judas is which.
So, if his father was James, which James does this refer to?
- Is the apostle James son of Zebedee and brother of John the father of Judas?
The mother of James and John, and wife of Zebedee went round helping provide for Jesus and his disciples, and she was present at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:55-56). For her to be active in this way she could not have been aged more than 45 to 50.
Her son John was the youngest apostle. He may have still been under age at the time of the crucifixion. James son of Zebedee could have been aged 26 to 32 maximum if she had her first child aged 18.
If this James had been married – of which there is no evidence – any son of his could not be aged more than 6 to 12 years old. None of the apostles were children, therefore, James son of Zebedee was not the father of Judas.
2. Was James son of Alphaeus the father of Judas?
In Mark 15:40-41 speaking of Mary the mother of James, James is described as ‘James the younger’. This text indicates that this apostle James son of Alphaeus was younger than James son of Zebedee. This makes it even more unlikely that he would be married or have a son, and if he did have a son, he would be only a baby.
‘James the younger’ implies that his age was only just above that of the youngest apostle John meaning that he would not be anybody’s father.
3. So we come to Jesus’ brother James.
Was Jesus’ brother James the second son of Mary his mother, or the first son of a first wife of Joseph with Jesus being the ninth child of Joseph?
If Jesus was aged 30 when he started his ministry, a younger brother could not be aged more than 28 at the time. If this were the case, and he was the father of the apostle Judas, then Judas could not be aged more than 8 years old, which he would not be.
If, however, James was the first son of Joseph and Joseph had about eight children in his first marriage before his first wife died, then when Jesus was born to Mary, James would be aged at least between 16 and 21 years old.
This would mean that brother James was aged between 46 and 51 when Jesus went to Capernaum and started calling disciples. If this were the case, it is easy to see that James would already be married and very probably have a son aged between 16 and 21 if he became a father aged 30.
What this all means is that the apostle ‘Judas son of James’ or Thaddeus was the son of Jesus’ elder brother James; Judas was Jesus’ nephew.
Analysis of the Biblical texts to trace relationships and calculating their ages shows that Jesus’ brothers were, in fact, older than him. The fact that James was very bossy with Jesus, telling him what to do, also implies that he was the elder brother and not a younger brother of Jesus.
This means that Mary could not have been their genetic mother. It means that Mary herself had only one son, Jesus. This makes her perpetual virginity possible.
4. Of course, there is still Jesus’ brother Judas.
Brother Judas is not the apostle Judas – if he were he would be identified as ‘Judas son of Joseph’, and not ‘Judas son of James’.
In the gospel of John there is a question to Jesus sounding typical of his brothers: “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22) Whether this was said by brother Judas or nephew Judas who was an apostle, it is difficult to say, but it sounds like the brother not the apostle.
As I mentioned in a previous section, brother James became prominent in running the church in Jerusalem. He was one of the elders and he addressed the Council of Jerusalem concerning the Gentiles – see Acts 15:13-23. Brother James became known as ‘James the Just’. He was martyred in AD 62 or 69. It was he who wrote the Letter of James.
There is another letter called Jude. Jude is another form of Judas. The author introduces himself as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James”. Jude is Judas the brother of Jesus since he says ‘brother of James’. If he had been Judas the apostle he would have put ‘Judas son of James’.
James, Simon and Jude, the brothers of Jesus become principle people in the early church of Jerusalem and contribute to the New Testament. When Paul went to Jerusalem he saw only Peter and James, “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-19).
Acts 1:23-26 mentions Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus. Acts 15:13-23 mentions Judas called Barsabbas. Barsabbas means ‘son of the sabbath’. I believe that these two, Joseph Barsabbas and Judas Barsabbas may have been the brothers of Jesus.
There is a high family contribution to the early church, but Jesus’ brothers never claim actual kinship with Jesus. This, I believe, is because they were Joseph’s sons and not Mary’s.
Therefore, in conclusion to this section, the Bible supports the Catholic view concerning the identity of the brothers of Jesus and not the opposing view often held by Protestants. These brothers were certainly older than Jesus, and the eldest one James was at least 20 years older.