Jesus’ Family and the Resurrection


People who doubt religion and the supernatural typically think believers lack skepticism. In the minds of most atheists, Christians cannot sufficiently think through a religious claim unless they begin with cynical disbelief. Atheists often assert that extraordinary claims—like the supernatural—require extraordinary evidence in order to be justifiably believable.

One central leader of the early Christian church began his journey to faith with such incredulity. This man went from having deep misgivings and suspicions about Jesus and his grand religious claims to becoming a martyred witness of the resurrection. He was a family member of Jesus of Nazareth, his once skeptical brother, James. Let’s trace James’ truly amazing transformation in terms of how he came to view Jesus.

Before the Resurrection: James the Family Skeptic

The Gospels report that prior to the resurrection, Jesus’ brothers, like his neighbors, were highly critical of Jesus’ messianic claims (see Mark 6:3–4; John 7:5). In fact, Jesus’ family thought he suffered from mental delusion and sought to take control of him (Mark 3:21, 31–35). James, along with the rest of the family, had no faith in Jesus’ religious claims and in fact thought he was desperately ill. It would be hard to find greater skepticism than that of James. Not only was he embarrassed by Jesus’ claims but he was also concerned for his brother’s well-being. It appears that James was in no way a likely candidate for becoming an enthusiastic supporter of Jesus as Messiah.


After the Resurrection: James the Courageous Witness

The early creed recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 that Paul had been given by the apostles (which included James) reported that Jesus had appeared in his resurrected state to his brother (1 Corinthians 15:7). James then became one of the most important leaders of the early Christian church along with the apostles Peter, John, and, subsequently, Paul. James authored one of the New Testament epistles and even held unique authority at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:12–21). Sources in church history report that James was later martyred for his belief in Jesus Christ.

So what accounts for James’ amazing transformation from embarrassment over his brother’s claims to church leader and eventual martyr? Christ’s resurrection seems to best account for this radical change. James saw his brother alive after his public execution and that event changed everything.

One very good reason for believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the unique transformation of his apostles.1 And James, like the apostle Paul, went from hardcore skeptic to a zealous believer in Jesus Christ. James, and his extraordinary transformation via the resurrection, is thus an excellent example to bring up to nonbelievers who think the early Christians’ faith was credulous.

Reflections: Your Turn

While skeptics sometimes accuse the apostles of being gullible, in fact, two of the central apostles (James and Paul) were initially extremely skeptical of Jesus’ claims. How does their initial tough-minded skepticism make their later faith commitments seem more viable and persuasive?


  1. For more good reasons to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, see Kenneth Richard Samples, “Easter Hope” and “Objections Examined,” in 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 15–43.

  One thought on “Jesus’ Family and the Resurrection

  1. Mal Tomlin
    March 30, 2016 at 8:18 am

    It doesn’t take a CSI team to know that dead people are supposed to stay dead….mt

    • March 30, 2016 at 9:48 am

      Hello, Mal.

      I hope you are doing well.

      Thanks for your thoughtful insight.

      Best regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  2. Jim Garth
    March 30, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t James the Apostle the brother of John, who were both the sons of Zebedee recruited together shortly after the brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew on the shores of the Sea of Galilee? And then wasn’t the first Bishop of Jerusalem James the Apostle, who was as you point out, martyred for his fervent belief in Christ the Messiah? I acknowledge that Jesus had a brother James, who as you have indicated, did not accept his brother’s claims to be the Messiah, but I thought it was the other James who was the Apostle and martyr.

    • March 30, 2016 at 11:17 am

      Hello, Jim.

      There is a lot of scholarly discussion of the various James’s mentioned in the New Testament (they are even given different names to distinguish them: James the “”). I think both of the James you mentioned were martyred and both were apostles (with apostles defined in two different ways). Here’s a brief quote from Wikipedia:

      “According to a passage found in existing manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, (xx.9) “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” met his death after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus but before Lucceius Albinus had assumed office (Antiquities 20,9) – which has been dated to 62.”

      This quote, though it lacks an appropriate reference in the Wikipedia article, corresponds with what I’ve read in other sources.

      Best regards,

      Ken Samples

  3. David Welch
    March 30, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    “then to the twelve” v 5
    “then to all the apostles” v 7

    What does Paul mean by ‘apostles’ here? Is it the 70 (or 72)who were sent in Lk10? Who would not have been in the >500 of v 6?

    Why does Paul seem to consider that Jesus appeared to him bodily, while Acts 9 portrays a light from heaven and a voice… specifying that men with Saul at the time were sure that no one appeared?

    • March 30, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      Hello, David.

      It seems with Jesus’ resurrection the word “apostle” undergoes some expansion. So “the twelve” would seemingly reflect Jesus’ original disciples–though Judas is replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:12-26). There are also the addition of leading apostles who were not part of the original twelve (James, the brother of Jesus: 1 Cor 15:7; Matt. 13:55; Acts 15:13; and Paul: 1 Cor. 15:8).

      “All the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:7) could then reflect an appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the expanded list of the apostles. Jesus may have also appeared various times to various groupings of the expanded apostolic community (Lk. 24:36-49; John 20:24-31; John 21; Acts 1:4-8).

      Paul expands upon his experience of encountering the resurrected Christ (see Acts 22:6-13) and the experience reflects being in the presence of Christ.

      See chapter 9 of my book Without a Doubt for more details.

      Best regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  4. April 7, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Early converts to Christianity no doubt were influenced by the testimony of direct witnesses to the risen Christ, and the leaders like Paul and James who had changed their initial view and did so at great personal risk certainly carried additional credibility to the converts, and God used these leaders to build His early church. But most “tough-minded” skeptics then and now will remain against belief even when presented with indisputable evidence, and will continue to mock and discount those who do believe. But contrary to their claims of intellectual superiority, such resistance further confirms the Gospel. The effects of sin and life apart from God are self-reinforcing; we are lost in a hopeless downward spiral to destruction until God intervenes by grace and opens our eyes, and frees our minds from the chains of pride and self-satisfaction.

    • April 7, 2016 at 11:23 am


      Appreciate your comments.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  5. xenova1
    November 17, 2018 at 5:54 pm

    I read your evidence for Christ’s resurrection. I have another one. Matthew and Luke mentioned that when Christ was resurrected there was an earthquake and the sun went dark although it was morning and the moon was on the other side of the planet. This latter point is written about by general historians of the time. I can’t cite this from memory. The earthquake is real. If you go to NOAA and search for historical earthquakes ( you can search Middle Easter and Israel between 30 & 35 AD. You will see one occurred in 33 AD in Palestine. Makes me wonder.

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