James the Apostle, Evangelist to Israel in Spain

This essay was originally published in the British-Israel publication called The Ensign Message, date unknown. The Ensign Message is the official journal of The Ensign Trust of London, and should not be confused with a Mormon publication called simply Ensign.

We discovered this gem in our October 1999 issue of Kingdom Digest, which is now defunct.—Dr. James W. Bruggeman

By Rev. James B. Haggart, author of Tales of Lost Israel in Folklore

Of the twelve Apostles, James the Elder has always been associated with Spain. He is the national hero and the patron saint of Spain. Unlike his brother John, who immediately followed Jesus after the Master was baptized in the river Jordan, James was called’ later when sitting in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets for the next catch.

Walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee the Master had called Peter and Andrew, who already were throwing out their nets to fish. He beckoned James and John also. At the Lord’s call they all stopped their work, except Zebedee, and went with Him. As James gained a certain amount of training he became a man of deep dedication and authority.

Of the three men who came to make up the inner ring of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, the least is known about James. We read in Scripture about his activities. He was present at the transfiguration of Christ, and witnessed the appearing of Moses and Elijah when Christ was glorified before them.

These three were definitely singled out from the rest. He was again singled out by the Master, together with Peter and John, when on the eve of His betrayal He asked them to stay awake, to watch and pray with him.”

Much is said in the Scripture about John and Peter, but we find very little said about James. We know that he lived with his father and mother at Capernaum and was quite active in the fishing trade there. He was present at the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law at Capernaum and was present with Jesus in His teaching and healing ministry there.

Though he is not mentioned as often, we know that James was very active as a member of the inner circle among the disciples. James and John were called the sons of thunder” from the time that they were first called to be followers of Jesus. There was good reason for that appellation!

The name James in Gaelic, is closely related to Hebrew and means Man of God. In English the J’ is always interchangeable with the letter I’. The first three letters of James’ name is, therefore, I AM. This was the name of God as given to Moses by the Angel of God in order to prove to the Israelites that he had been sent to them by God. James in Gaelic and in Spanish is pronounced Hamish’. Ish’ is the universal name for man. Therefore, the meaning of the name of James is Man of God.

St. James was certainly a man of God. Immediately after he had been filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost at Jerusalem he went on his assignment to Spain: to bring the Gospel to those segments of Israel who had settled there on their way to the British Isles, especially Ireland.

To England our Lord had already assigned His great-uncle and disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, to build the first church above ground at Glastonbury, in preparation for the arrival of the children of Israel already on their way to the appointed place in the Isles. James, he commissioned to Spain.

Much is said in Scripture (especially after Pentecost) about John and Peter, but little is said about James. In reading the earlier chapters of the Acts of the Apostles we find a strange absence of the name of James the Greater from among the company of his fellow Apostles, John and Peter. In fact, we read nothing of him until the very brief report of his martyrdom when Herod the king… killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1,2).

This martyrdom of James took place in the year 44 A.D. We ask the question, Where was James, and with what was he occupied during those fourteen long years of unrecorded activity? We can answer this question by turning to history books: Even though the Bible is silent on these fourteen years in the life of James, the historian has little difficulty in fixing the period of the introduction of the Christian faith into Spain.

Its uninterrupted voice has named St. James the Elder as the first herald of the Gospel to the idolatrous people of that country. That the apostle traversed the peninsula, from Lusitania to the heart of Aragon; that while he was at Zaragossa he was honoured by a visit from the Virgin, and by her express command he erected on the spot a church in her honour; that after his martyrdom at Jerusalem (in 44 A.D.) his body was brought by his disciples from Syria to Iria Flavia (now El Padron), in Galicia, and thence transferred to Compostella…

With equal assurance of faith it is believed that St. Paul, in person, continued the work of his martyred fellow-disciples, and sowed the seeds of the new doctrine in Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia, and, above all, in Andalucia.” (Historian’s History of the World, Vol. X, pp11).

It is evident that James took very seriously the words of Jesus, when, in sending forth His Apostles, He commanded them saying, Go not in the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5,6).

We remember the words of Eusebius that the inhabited world was divided into zones of influence among the apostles: Thomas in the region of Parthia and India in the east, John in Asia Minor, Peter in Babylon, Pontus and Rome, Andrew in Scythia. But nothing is said about James! We do not know why Eusebius left James out of his list, but history has proven that James went straight west to Spain!

As to the account of the Virgin Mary being in Zaragossa to instruct James, as given above, we know that Mary remained in Jerusalem all the time that James was away in Spain. She is reported to have stayed in the house of John Mark on Mount Zion, and was there in Jerusalem to greet him on his return to the city. She could not have been in two places at the same time!

We find it easier to believe that Jesus, Who had already ascended to heaven, returned to earth to greet James as he entered the Province of Zaragossa and instructed him in his mission to the lost sheep of Israel” in Spain. Fifty years later He appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos in His glorious risen body and gave him instructions on writing the Book of the Revelation.

James and John were brothers, both were cousins of the Lord, and it is reasonable to believe that the Master would give His attention to them in their work to an equal degree. Both were assigned difficult tasks. Ephesus was the centre of pagan worship and Pergamos was the city where Satan’s throne is, not an easy assignment for John. For James, Spain was an equally difficult assignment.

But Spain was where a large segment of ancient Israel lived. From the earliest times Spain was a route used by two of the tribes of Israel moving westward and northward from Egypt to the isles of Ireland and Britain, their future home. The half-tribe of Zara(h)-Judah left Egypt early in a dispute with the Pharez branch of Judah over the inheritance of the throne as bequeathed to them by their forefather, Jacob. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes.” The question was, Which of the twin sons of Judah by Tamar should have the rights of the throne?”

The descendants of Zarah-Judah decided to leave Egypt (circa 1600 B.C.) and go to some new land to live. Led by Zarah’s great grandson, Calcol, his seed then fled westward by boat to a land known today as Spain. They entered a river on its eastern coast called today the Ebro River, stopping inland at a place now called the city of Zara-gossa!

Most of these people continued on up the river to Galicia, now the northeastern province of Spain. Some stayed in Galicia, but the majority sailed by boat northwest from Galicia to Northern Ireland. They adopted as the emblem of their new country the Rampant Lion, to distinguish themselves from the Pharez branch, who adopted the Couchant Lion for their national emblem. It is from the latter branch that Jesus was descended.

It was to the descendants of Zarah-Judah that James went on mission, established there almost 1600 years before Jesus was born! They were of the lost sheep of Israel for whom Jesus had a special concern. These segments of Israel, scattered across northern Spain, received the Gospel of the Kingdom personally from James the Elder, James the missionary to Spain.

The instructions which James gave to these people are eloquently summed up in his Epistle. In it he extols faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but he also goads them on to action, reminding them that faith without works is dead.” Like Paul, who met the Christ personally on the road to Damascus, he was enthused with a zeal for the coming of the Kingdom.

For, like Paul, James believed that he would live to see the Kingdom brought in. But at the end of fourteen years of intense evangelizing he turned eagerly back toward Jerusalem to report his immense success. He was returning to keep the Passover Festival with his friends in Jerusalem in 44 A.D., and instead was seized and martyred there.

The historian has little difficulty in fixing the period of the introduction of the Christian faith in Spain, nor of identifying the person who brought it in. With an uninterrupted voice, James the Elder has been named as the first herald of the Gospel in that huge peninsula called Iberia, land of Iber (Eber).

He began his work in Zaragossa, where many of the descendants of Zarah-Judah had settled on their way to Ulster in Ireland. It is very appropriate that St. James should be patron saint of Spain, even though he worked but fourteen years to spread the Gospel there.

His work was so effective there that it roused the ire of the hierarchy of Rome, so that when he returned home to Jerusalem his life was snuffed out. His martyrdom and that of Jude are the only two which are recorded in Scripture, but each of the apostles was executed except for John, who died a natural death, his body being buried near the church at Ephesus.

Because of the immense work that James did in Spain and that of John in Asia Minor, it is safe to say that both of these apostles of Jesus will receive high positions in the Kingdom of God when it is fully established on earth. Jesus promised that each of His apostles would be regents in His coming Kingdom. We can be sure that these two brothers will stand high in the ranks of leadership.

NOTE: There is evidence that James was a first cousin to Jesus Christ, and had been acquainted with Him since boyhood; James’ and John’s mother was a sister to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was this blood relationship which probably gave her courage to request of Jesus the right of James and John to sit on His right side and His left in the Kingdom, as recorded in Mark 10:42-45.

She was also among the women who came to the tomb early Easter morning, bringing sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him” (Mark 16:1). The three women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. As Jesus’ aunt she meant to make sure of His proper anointing.


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