The following is taken from BRF Ministries Story of James:
James grew up by the ‘seaside’ – Lake Galilee. James was a popular name – it was also the name of Jesus’ brother and Jesus’ cousin.
James had a brother called John – It seems that they may have been known for having rows with each other. Jesus had a nickname for them: ‘the Sons of Thunder’. Maybe it was because of the difference in their ages? John was probably still a teenager whereas James may have been around 30.
James had a dad called Zebedee and a mother called Salome. Their fishing business was so successful that they could employ people to work for them. Salome was keen that James and John got on. The Bible records the story of how she was once very pushy, wanting James and John to be Jesus’ right-hand men in the new kingdom. But she (and they!) had really missed the point of what sort of kingdom Jesus was bringing.
It also seems that James and John’s family were fishermen by appointment to the temple! They were known to the high priest’s family. John used his contacts there to get close to the trial of Jesus.
James was a fisherman with his brother. Coming from Capernaum, they were probably part of a Fisherman’s Guild and so were good friends with Andrew and Peter, who were also fisherman. James will have been about the same age as Peter. Maybe Andrew, like John, was younger – it was these two who went off to hear John the Baptist and brought news back about Jesus, later introducing their brothers to Jesus, leading to James’s personal ‘seaside surprise’.
James became one of the three disciples who were very close to Jesus, along with Peter and John. He was a privileged witness to some special moments in Jesus’ ministry, including the raising of Jairus’s daughter and the transfiguration. Clearly, Jesus was preparing James to become a leader in the early church. It’s no surprise then that Herod singles out James to be executed as a way of earning favour among the Jewish authorities (see Acts 12) and, he hoped, of putting an end to the growing movement known as ‘the followers of the Way’. So it was that James became the first of the disciples to die for his faith.
There is also a tradition that says that before this happened James became the first travelling apostle. It is said that he went across the Mediterranean to Spain. Whether that is true or not, tradition does suggest that his relics were taken back to Spain, and today the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in the north of that country is a hugely popular pilgrim destination for many Christians. A number even walk the 500 miles to the shrine, which is signposted by the Apostle’s symbol – a scallop shell, which is the badge of pilgrims everywhere. This is another ‘surprise’ from the seaside that has ended up, like the story of James, being known right across the world.
St James special day is the 25 July.