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Episode 27 - If your brother was God

Imagine for a moment your sibling tried to tell you they were the Son of God, sent from heaven, as the messiah to all of humanity. You'd definitely think they were crazy. As it turns out, that's exactly what Jesus' brother, James, thought as well! In this episode we take a look at the evidence regarding James, and how all this data plays into the argument for the resurrection.

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Hello, and welcome once again to the Ultimate Questions podcast.

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For the past few episodes we’ve been discussing what is referred to as the “Minimal Facts argument” for the resurrection of Jesus. This method evaluates the historical facts that basically every historian agrees with, and uses these facts to show the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best explanation of the data. So far we’ve look at the crucifixion of Jesus, that the disciples at least claimed to have seen Jesus risen from death, that that same people died for these claims, and that Paul went from being the Church’s worst persecutor, to one of the leaders of the Early Church, and ended up being beheaded for preaching the Gospel he once attacked. In this episode, we’re going to look at James, the brother of Jesus, who went from thinking Jesus was nuts, to converting, and even running the church in Jerusalem.

I don’t think it will be too difficult for any of you to understand why James thought his brother Jesus was crazy, especially if you yourself have siblings. Imagine for a moment your brother or sister came to you with the claim that they were the Son of God, sent from above, to save humanity. Obviously you would disbelieve them. You’d remember all the silly and embarrassing things they did as a child. There is pretty much nothing – short of the miraculous – that could convince you that your sibling is divine. With James, we find the same sort of skepticism that you and I would have about the divinity of our siblings, and yet, he did end up converting, and the reason was that he witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. While it would be hard to believe your sibling is God, watching them be publicly executed, only to rise again, would definitely give you cause to reconsider.

To evaluate the dramatic conversion of James, first we’ll take a look at how James viewed Jesus prior to Jesus’ resurrection, second we’ll look at how he viewed Jesus after the resurrection, and then lastly we’ll consider the price James had to pay for his dedication to believing his own brother was God.

So to start, we don’t have too much data in terms of James’ views before the crucifixion, but we do have some. Firstly, we can look at how the people from Jesus’ hometown treated Him, and a reference to Jesus speaking about his hometown, and His family. In Mark 6:3-4 it says that Jesus came to His hometown, Nazareth, and began teaching and doing miracles. The people questioned His authority, asking why He was able to do miracles, and where He got His wisdom from. They asked themselves, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” It then says they looked down upon Him, and Jesus made an interesting comment, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” This is interesting because we see the people He grew up with all looking down on Him, with a complete lack of faith. Even though they did see a few miracles, it says that, because of their unbelief, Jesus did very little in that area. Jesus recognized that his friends, neighbours, and even His own family didn’t appreciate who He was, or what He was doing.

We also see a clearer example of what Jesus’ family felt about Him from earlier in Mark, chapter 3. It says Jesus was teaching and doing miracles, and a great crowd started to follow Him. Jesus appointed His disciples, and then He returned home. Upon returning home, His family heard about the great crowd that was following Jesus around, and it says that “when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” Jesus continued teaching, and then we see what happens once His family comes to Him, starting in verse 31:

“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Here you can see that, not only did His family not respect or appreciate what Jesus was doing, but they actually thought He was “out of His mind”, and they came to Him, likely to shut Him up and bring Him home. Jesus’ response is sometimes questioned, because He basically dismisses His own family, but when understood in this context, you can understand why He would say what He did. His own family was disrespecting His ministry, and trying to stop Him from what He came to do. We also see further confirmation of the views of His family in John 7:5, where it says “not even His brothers believed in Him”.

Now, some may doubt what we read here, if they don’t consider the Bible to be reliable and the Word of God. To begin showing this is a reliable part of the life of Jesus, we can firstly look to the evidence we have that Jesus had a brother named James. The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, mentions a man named James, and says he was the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ. Archeologists have also found an ossuary, which is the term for a “bone box”, where the bones of the dead would be gathered, rather than burying someone in the ground. This ossuary they found has written on it, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. While those are all common names, the three of them together, with the right relations, is striking. It is also odd to name a brother on an ossuary, where it would only be done in a situation where the brother actually mattered, and helped the person be identified. We also read in Galatians 1:19 where Paul says that he met James, the brother of Jesus, during his travels, and as we discussed last episode, we have good reason to think Paul wasn’t merely fabricating the things we read in his letters. We also see very early writers of the Early Church referring to James, who was an important figure in the beginnings of Christianity, and bishop of the church in Jerusalem, and they recognize that he was the brother of Jesus. We’ll go into more detail about his work in the Early Church in a moment.

We should also remember back to when we were studying historiography, with the concept of “embarrassment”. When a historical account is embarrassing to the writer or their cause, we have more reason to believe it. This is because the writer wouldn’t invent things that are insulting or damaging to the point they’re trying to make. In these cases, we see the writers telling us that Jesus’ community and family members considered him to be at best a phoney, and at worst, insane. No one would invent this if they were fabricating a story to convince people that Jesus is God.

Now that we have established that Jesus had a brother named James, and we have reason to believe that James thought Jesus was crazy for what He was doing, now let’s look at what became of him. We find a reference to James in the book of Acts, with him being the chief representative of the church in Jerusalem. We find this in Acts 15:13 where there was a Christian council being held to decide some theological matters, and it seems like James has some degree of authority, and was representing Jerusalem. We also find James mentioned in Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem. While Scripture doesn’t explicitly say James was the bishop in Jerusalem, these verses hint at the fact, and correlate nicely to what we find in the Early Church writers. For example, Eusebius quotes Hegesippus, who wrote in the 100s ad, and mentioned that James was the brother of Jesus, he was called “the just”, that he was part of the government of the church, and that he was a very good and holy man. We also have a reference from Clement of Alexandria, which is also quoted in Eusebius, where he says that James the Just was made bishop of Jerusalem. All of the data from the New Testament books, and the writings of the Early Church, all cohere nicely to show that the brother of Jesus ended up being the bishop of the Christian church in Jerusalem.

Another important detail about how James ended up is the fact that he was martyred for being a Christian. In other words, he literally died for the belief that his own brother was the Son of God, and had been resurrected from the dead. While some of the data we have about James can be confusing or misguided, simply because James was such a popular name, we have at least one clear example of a report of James being martyred for his faith. We read in Josephus’ “Antiquities of the Jews”, Book 20, chapter 9, that a leader in Judaism “assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some of his companions; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

So to reiterate, we have good reason to believe Jesus had a brother names James, that this brother previously thought Jesus was insane, which makes sense, and that he gently tried to stop Jesus’ ministry and bring him back home. This same brother then ended up not only converting to Christianity, believing his own brother to be divine, but became a major church leader in Christianity, and ended up even being murdered for his adherence to the faith. So with these points in mind, the big question comes up, what in the world could cause someone to start believing his own brother is the Son of God who was resurrected from the dead!? Interestingly, it seems as though the resurrection is directly related to this question. We don’t have any specific details about James’ conversion, but we do have an important detail from Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15. We’ve discussed the importance of this section of Paul’s epistle before, but just to review, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives what looks like a creed that the Early Church had, which stated the foundational aspects of Christianity. At the end of the creed, Paul begins to mention all the people that were direct eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, in order to give evidence that what he’s saying is true. One of the people he mentions as being as eyewitness to the resurrected Christ is, you guessed it, Jesus’ brother, James. In other words, after Jesus was crucified, He rose again three days later, and presented Himself to His brother James. We don’t have any details about this meeting, but Paul does tell us that James was an eyewitness to the resurrection, which is definitely an important detail, and helps us make sense of how he could possibly convert.

Now remember that last time we discussed the writings of Paul, I mentioned that he is recognized as a scholar by historians today, and that his word is generally trusted. This doesn’t mean historians just believe whatever he wrote, after all, secular historians will automatically disbelieve all the supernatural elements, if for no other reason than bias. Instead, what I mean is, historians grant that Paul isn’t lying in his letters. When he writes a letter to a church, he doesn’t wish to deceive them in the details, and even if he did, there were plenty of people that could correct the misinformation. When we read these tidbits of data found in the Pauline epistles, we have no reason to doubt the details. With this in mind, it makes quite a bit more sense how James could come to believe Jesus is divine and rose again, if James himself personally witnessed the bodily resurrected Jesus standing in front of Him. If your sibling was publicly executed, where everyone watched them die, and be pronounced dead on the scene, and had them buried, and then you see this same sibling of yours, standing right in front of you, perfectly fine, that would be miraculous enough to cause you to start thinking about whether what He’s been saying all along might actually be true.

I should also mention that James being an eyewitness of the resurrection makes sense in an additional way. As I mentioned way back in episode 7 of the podcast, when the apostles needed to replace Judas, so that there would still be 12 of them, one of the things of primary importance they were looking for in the 12th apostle was that the person be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. We find this in Acts 1:22, and we find many other places that show how highly the Early Church valued eyewitness testimony. While the present discussion isn’t about finding a new apostle, we are discussing a position of extreme prominence: the first bishop of Jerusalem. When considering who to put in this position of authority, it’s quite likely they would have required that the person who would fulfil this position be a witness of the resurrected Christ. So James being an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection makes sense because it would otherwise be nearly impossible for him to convert, he was allowed a position of high authority, and we also have Paul, who at least met James, telling us that he was an eyewitness.

So again, the minimal facts argument takes the bits of historical information that nearly all historians agree upon, and when compiling the list of all the facts, it really looks like the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of the data. In this episode we have evaluated the last of the four main pieces of evidence: that James, the brother of Jesus, went from not only being a skeptic, but actually thinking Jesus was crazy, to not only converting, not only being in a position of authority within the Christian Church, but even being willing to die for his belief that his own brother was the resurrected Son of God. The best explanation for this dramatic conversion in James’ life is that he actually was an eyewitness to the resurrection. We have good reason to believe this is the case because it explains his conversion, it explains why he was an authority within the Early Church, and because Paul directly tells us so. Again, nearly all historians grant the conversion of James, because it’s so well attested.

Next time, we’ll take a look at another piece of evidence that about 70% of historians agree with, which is that the tomb of Jesus was found empty. Once we’ve looked at this last fact, we’ll compile the data into the argument for the resurrection. So I hope you’ll join me for that next time, on the Ultimate Questions podcast.


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