History, it is said, is written by the winners. Perhaps that’s why we know so little about James, the brother of Jesus. Although he was a major player in the first-century A.D., his popularity waned in the next few centuries as the followers of Peter and Paul came to dominate the church. Their views, not James’s, are now more prominently reflected in the canon. Paul is named as the author of 40 percent of the New Testament, and he’s a central character in Acts. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus singles out Peter (author of two letters) as his “rock” (petros)—the foundation stone on which the church will be built (Matthew 16:18). Jesus’ brother James remains a shadowy figure, mentioned only in passing in the Gospels and credited with one brief letter.
But if we could travel back to the first century and ask the earliest church members whom they considered their leaders, they would probably mention James first—before Peter or Paul.