A common name in the 1st cent. CE (‘Jakobos’ in Greek) and in the NT several men bear it: 1. A son of Zebedee and brother of John (Mark 3: 17) and one of the twelve; with Simon Peter and John he was also one of the more intimate group of three with Jesus, being present at the Transfiguration and in the garden of Gethsemane. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12: 2). 2. Son of Alphaeus, and also one of the Twelve (Mark 3: 18); he may be the ‘James the Less’ (AV; ‘James the Younger’, NRSV, REB, NJB, Mark 15: 40) whose mother Mary was present at the crucifixion and became a witness of Jesus' resurrection (Mark 15: 40; 16: 1). 3. A brother of Jesus (Gal. 1: 19). The Greek does not necessarily demand that he should be another son of Mary, younger than Jesus, and as the belief in Mary's perpetual virginity grew in the Church, it was held either that James was a son of Joseph by a former marriage—Joseph's first wife having died—or that the word could denote ‘cousin’. Jerome (c. 400 CE) took the view that James (and the other brothers, Mark 6: 3) were the sons of another Mary, a sister of the mother of Jesus (John 19: 25—the wife of Cleopas).

James, the Lord's brother, saw the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15: 7) in spite of earlier hesitations about him (Mark 3: 31–3) and became leader of the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15: 13). He sent a delegation to investigate the affairs of the Church in Antioch (Gal. 2: 12), where Paul had converted Gentiles. He had a reputation in Jerusalem for great piety and became the Church's second known martyr, Stephen being the first. In 62 CE, after the sudden death of the procurator Festus, he was stoned by order of the high priest, Ananus, according both to the Jewish historian Josephus and the Christian Hegesippus (quoted by Eusebius).