St James is one of three people named James mentioned in the New Testament. He was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and is referred to as James son of Alphaeus to distinguish him from James son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, who was martyred in Acts 12:2.
The New Testament only mentions James son of Alphaeus four times in the lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). He is thought to also be James the “Less” or “Lesser”, who is mentioned in the gospels in relation to his mother, Mary of Clopas (John 19:25). The third James mentioned in the New Testament is James, brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just.
Tradition implies that it was James the Less who may have taken the gospel to Persia (modern Iran) and was martyred there. But other than that possibility, James the son of Alphaeus is the picture of obscure service.
St Simon, the Patriot Apostle, is also known as Simon the Zealot because when Jesus called him, he was a member of the Zealots political movement. The Zealots were a party zealous for Jewish independence and throwing off Roman rule. In Matthew 10:4, he is called “Simon the Canaanite” being a political term rather than a reference to a region.
Like James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot is only mentioned four times in the New Testament, in places where the names of the disciples are listed. Beyond this, there is no other information given about him.
Tradition says that Simon the Zealot preached the gospel in Persia and was ultimately killed for refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.
The lack of information about James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot is a lesson in itself. They were both just as much apostles as were Peter and John. They will sit on a throne in Jesus’ earthly kingdom (Matthew 19:28) with as much authority and honour as the other apostles.
James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot are an encouragement to those of us called to lives of obscurity. Our callings are just as sure, just as God honouring, but few will ever know our names on earth. God honours Faithfulness (Luke 18:8), Love (1John 4:16), Endurance (Matthew 24:13), Obedience (Matthew 7:21), and Sacrifice (Galatians 2:20). While some apostles wrote books of the Bible and others were featured regularly in the gospels, it appears that James and Simon were quietly faithful to their Lord. For that, they will be equally honoured for all eternity.