There is solid evidence, again both in the New Testament as well as the writings of the Church Fathers, that James was the first elected bishop of the very first church, commonly known as the "Jerusalem Church." If this is the case, than that would make James in essence the first "Pope," a title that has traditionaly gone to Peter in the Roman Catholic Church. But in fact it is actually James who is deserving of this honor. There are two key passages in the New Testament (Acts 15 & Galatians 2), as well as the attestations of several of the Church Fathers to back up this revolutionary assertion. First, the Church Fathers:
Clement of Alexandria c. 150-215
( from Outlines )
"After the ascension of the Savior, Peter, James, and John, did not claim pre-eminence . . . but chose James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem."
Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea c. 265-339
( from the History of the Church )
"James, whom the people of old called the Just because of his outstanding virtue, was the first, as the records tell us, to be elected to the Episcopal throne of the Jerusalem church."
"The Jews turned against James the brother of the Lord, to whom the throne of the bishopric in Jerusalem had been allotted by the apostles."
"After the ascension of our savior . . . they stoned Stephen to death; then James the son of Zebedee and brother of John was beheaded; and finally James, the first after our savior's ascension to be appointed to the bishop's throne there, lost his life."
"After the savior's passion . . . disaster befell the entire nation . . . most of the apostles and disciples, including James himself, the first bishop of Jerusalem, known as the Lord's brother, were still alive . . ."
There is also a fascinating statement attributed to Jesus himself, from the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, which many scholars now champion as a legitimate "fifth gospel" and which may contain authentic sayings of Jesus not found in the four canonical gospels. While the following quote is not as historically reliable as those above, it is fascinating nonetheless.
The Gospel of Thomas:
The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."
While this last quote may be legendary, in the New Testament itself there are two accounts that corroborate the testimony of the Church Fathers and clearly show that James held authority over all the apostles (including Peter and Paul!). The first is the famous "Jerusalem Conference" described in Acts 15. The other is the infamous "Incident at Antioch" described by Paul in Galatians 2.
These are described in detail on the next two
THE JERUSALEM CONFERENCE
THE INCIDENT AT ANTIOCH