top of page

The Catholic Defender: St. James the "Greater", Son of Thunder and Apostle

James along with his Brother John are identified by St. Mark as the sons of Zebedee, but with the added surname "Boanerges" that is, "sons of thunder. Mark 3:17

What does this mean? Is this a great honor being placed on Father Zebedee?

Jesus knew the Apostles very core and he gave James and John the nickname of "thunder" because of their disposition.

Consider Luke 9:54, "When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?" Luke 9:51-54

In this case, Jesus did not compliment their thought, but maintained His purpose of going to other villages on their way to Jerusalem.

A lot of the time when the New Testament reports on an event, we are getting perhaps the jest of what was taking place, but I have to imagine that in the three years the Apostles were with Jesus, there was a whole lot more. That is why the Catholic Faith makes the most sense in understanding the culture, the environment, and the people that Jesus encountered to get a more clear picture.

Who was James that Jesus would nickname "son of thunder"? Father Zebedee was a fisherman from Bathsaida of Galilee who made his mark in the fishing industry including Capernaum.

St. James Mother, Salome was a woman of great faith who later became a great supporter of Jesus Ministry. Women like Salome are special benefits to any preacher, and Jesus certainly loved her.

Matthew 20:20 has a scene when Salome asked Jesus a question: "Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."

We know that both James and John were part of Jesus close circle with Simon Peter, we see Jesus taking the three with him where He transfigured before them (Matthew 17:1-9), Jesus takes them deeper into the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37).

The social rank of St. James parents and their affluent interests built a strong foundation for the sons of thunder. They easily fit in with Jesus plans in building the Catholic faith. We see Jesus beginning his public Ministry with his baptism by St. John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17). John, Jame's brother, was an early follower of St. John, so when Jesus came on the scene, John's followers took to Jesus.

James is not noted for following messiahs or prophets in the beginning, not like John and Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, until Jesus called out to him to follow him (Matthew 4:18-22).

Jesus public Ministry lasted for three years all of which held to purposes, one was to prepare the Apostles to be the foundation of a new Covenant (Ephesians 2:19-20) and Jesus journey to Jerusalem where he would offer his life for the sins of mankind and offer all to choose him.

That is what all the signs and wonders Jesus performed was for, to build this foundation, it is a calling, an invitation to each of us. The Catholic priesthood was founded by Jesus to be priests of a kingdom (Revelation 5:10).

Was there a case of ego's between St. Peter and St. James? It was St. Peter whom Jesus gave the keys to the Kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19), but we have already seen Salome pleading for James and his brother John to sit at Jesus right and left? Luke 9:51-54

We know they were life long friends who shared the same profession in the fishing trade, there might have been a friendly sense of competition there, but they were totally unified in following Jesus. They are always listed at the front when the Apostles are mentioned. Matthew 10:2

The third Mystery of Illumination of the Rosary is a meditation that covers basically the entire public ministry of Jesus which was a proclamation of the Kingdom.

All the teaching, signs, and wonders were for that purpose.

St. James is a huge part of this story as he was there in the beginning, and he was there through the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. He was present at the Ascension (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:6-11), election of Matthias (Acts 1:12-26) and Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

Sometime after these events, St. James went to Spain to preach the Gospel well before the Council of Jerusalem, it was about 40 A.D. that St. James was present on the banks of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta baptizing new followers of Jesus.

It was here that the Mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, appeared to St. James calling for a church to be built near by at Zaragoza Spain.

Mary appeared upon a pillar which is still present and preserved at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar.

Also a statue of Mary was given to James which is also still present to this day in the same Basilica.

Coming home to Jerusalem, St. James would be greeted by a angry King in Herod Agrippa, the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great who tried to kill the Christ Child.

Herod Agrippa, in his attempt to appease the Pharisees, issued a policy to crush the Catholic Church. It was Passover, 44 A.D., and James the Greater was back in town.

This was a case when the irresistible force ran into the mountainous wall. James was zealous in follow Jesus Christ, and his success in reaching the Jews brought about an onslaught that Herod went after him.

Acts 12:1-2 states, "About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread." Jesus told St. James nearly 11 years earlier that he would drink from the Lord's cup. (Jesus was crucified on April 3, 33 A.D.)

According to tradition, St. Eusebius tells the story that the accuser who deceived and led James into a trap, James forgave the man and was moved by James confession.

The accuser was so inspired by St. James that he also accepted Christ and was beheaded there right with St. James.

Thus, St. James became the first Apostle to face martyrdom as he went down to his last breath fighting for the King of kings and earning the true meaning of "son of thunder", a son of the God of Heaven.

St. Clement of Alexandria relates that this story was given him "by those who were before him" which tells me that more people were affected who witnessed the martyrdom of James and his accuser. St. James Feast Day is July 25.

bottom of page