James the Less: The Obscure Apostle of Christ

His obscurity may have been the most remarkable detail of his life

James the Lesser
James the Lesser by El Greco.

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The Apostle James, son of Alphaeus, was also known as James the Less or James the Lesser. He's not to be confused with James the Apostle, the first Apostle and the brother of Apostle John.

A third James appears in the New Testament. He was the brother of Jesus, a leader in the Jerusalem church, and writer of the book of James.

James of Alphaeus is named in each listing of the 12 disciples, always appearing ninth in the order. The Apostle Matthew (called Levi, the tax collector before becoming a follower of Christ), is also identified in Mark 2:14 as the son of Alphaeus, yet scholars doubt he and James were brothers. Never in the Gospels are the two disciples connected.

James the Lesser

The title "James the Lesser" or "the Little," helps to distinguish him from the Apostle James, son of Zebedee, who was part of Jesus' inner circle of three and the first disciple to be martyred. James the Lesser may have been younger or smaller in stature than Zebedee's son, as the Greek word mikros conveys both meanings, less and small.

Although scholars argue this point, some believe James the Lesser was the disciple who first witnessed the risen Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:7:

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (ESV)

Beyond this, Scripture reveals nothing more about James the Lesser.

Accomplishments of James the Lesser

James was hand-picked by Jesus Christ to be a disciple. He was present with the 11 apostles in the upper room of Jerusalem after Christ ascended to heaven. He may have been the first disciple to see the risen Savior.

Although his accomplishments remain unknown to us today, James may simply have been overshadowed by the more prominent apostles. Even still, being named among the twelve was no small achievement.


Like the other disciples, James deserted the Lord during his trial and crucifixion.

Life Lessons

While James the Lesser is one of the least known of the 12, we can't overlook the fact that each of these men sacrificed everything to follow the Lord. In Luke 18:28, their spokesman Peter said, "We have left all we had to follow you!" (NIV)

They gave up family, friends, homes, jobs, and all things familiar to answer Christ's call.

These ordinary men who did extraordinary things for God set the example for us. They formed the foundation of the Christian church, initiating a movement that steadily spread across the face of the earth. We are part of that movement today.

For all we know, "Little James" was an unsung hero of faith. Evidently, he did not seek recognition or fame, for he received no glory or credit for his service to Christ. Perhaps the nugget of truth we can take from the altogether obscure life of James is reflected in this Psalm:

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory ...
(Psalm 115:1, ESV)



References in the Bible

Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13.


Disciple of Jesus Christ.

Family Tree

Father - Alphaeus
Brother - Possibly Matthew

Key Verses

Matthew 10:2-4

The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (ESV)

Mark 3:16-19

He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (ESV)

Luke 6:13-16

And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (ESV)

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Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "James the Less: The Obscure Apostle of Christ." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, learnreligions.com/james-the-less-obscure-apostle-701076. Fairchild, Mary. (2023, April 5). James the Less: The Obscure Apostle of Christ. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/james-the-less-obscure-apostle-701076 Fairchild, Mary. "James the Less: The Obscure Apostle of Christ." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/james-the-less-obscure-apostle-701076 (accessed May 30, 2023).