James Was Not a Disciple of Yeshua
(... But Jacob Was)

by Paul Sumner

There is no linguistic basis for English Bibles to use the name "James."

In the Greek New Testament the name of the disciple "James" is Yakobos, which is a Hellenized form of the Hebrew name Ya'akov ("Jacob"). When the NT refers to the patriarch Jacob, it uses the older Septuagint Greek spelling Yakob, without the later "-os" ending (Mt 22:32; John 4:6; Rom 11:26).

The Hebrew and Greek forms of Ya'akov and Yakob(os) do not have an "m" or "e" in them. So the English "James" is not a transliteration of the originals. Thus, it is not etymologically or linguistically related at all. Translators could just as legitimately substitute "Henry" for Yakobos.


There is long history of anti-Judaism in the medieval English church. Since the man Jacob is frequently depicted negatively in Christian sermons and writings, it's easy to see why a key "Christian" apostle — brother of Jesus and author of a NT epistle — would never be allowed to bear the name "Jacob" in the pages of an English Bible.

Translators invented a solution.

In their New Testament portion, they substituted "James" (the name of several English kings) in place of "Yakobos" the apostle. Then they printed "Jacob" when it referred to the Hebrew patriarch. Contrary to urban legends, this practice did not start with the 1611 "King James Version" of the Bible.

It dates back at least to John Wycliffe (Wiclif) who translated his NT in 1380. His spelling of the name as Iames is repeated in later English translations: Tyndale (1534), Cranmer (1539), the Geneva Bible (1557), the Catholic Rheims (1582), then the King James (Authorized) Version (1611). For the patriarch Jacob, these versions all have Iacob (the diphthong "Ia" was pronounced "Ya").

The 600-year-old custom continues.

Christian Bibles published in English to this day (except for some Messianic versions) use the name "James" for the apostle and "Jacob" for the patriarch. Only one (that I know of) prints "Jacob" in the margin when "James" appears in the NT (New American Standard Bible).

This two-name OT/NT bias also occurs in major non-English Bibles: German (OT: Jakob, NT: Jakobus), French (Jacob, Jacques), Spanish (Jacob, Santiago), Italian (Giacobbe or Giudei, Giacomo), Portugese (Jacó, Tiago), etc.

The Hebrew New Testament translations of Franz Delitzsch, Isaac Salkinson, and the Bible Society of Israel (BSI) all have Ya'akov for both the patriarch and the disciple/apostle.