James the Greater & James the Less

Six of the twelve Apostles have similar names: Simon, whom Jesus later named Peter, and Simon the zealot; Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16), who was also called Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3), and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus; James the son of Zebedee (aka James the Greater) and James the son of Alphaeus (aka James the Less). 

Among these six Apostles, people have the most difficulty telling apart the two James.

Who was James the Greater?

James the Greater was the brother of John the Apostle. The Gospels mention that Jesus led Peter, James (the Greater) and John with Him up a mountain and was transfigured before them (Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2, Luke 9:29). When Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, He also brought Peter, James (the Greater) and John with Him (Mark 5:37, Luke 8:51). When Jesus began to feel sorrow and distress in Gethsemane, He also took Peter, James (the Greater) and John with Him (Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33).

James the Greater was the first Apostle to be martyred, which is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword.” (Acts 12:1-2)

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region. The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is an extensive network of ancient pilgrim routes across Europe which culminates at the tomb of St. James the Greater in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The feast day of St. James the Greater is July 25.

Who was James the Less?

James the Less was the son of Alphaeus, who later became the leader of the early Christian community in Jerusalem after Peter’s departure for Rome. He is also believed to be the James who spoke at the Council of Jerusalem regarding dietary laws (Acts 15:13-21). The Epistle of St. James in the New Testament has been attributed to James the Less.

James the Less was martyred after preaching the Gospel near the Temple. He was stoned by the crowd and was finally killed when he was struck on the head with a club.

The feast day of St. James the Less is celebrated on May 3, together with St. Philip the Apostle.