Is James' Name Truly Jacob? And If So, Why Is Wrong Translation Employed?
The brother of Jesus is identified in the New Testament as "James." His Epistle is famous among English speakers as "the Epistle of James."
But is that truly His name? And if not, why is it rendered James?
There is no question that James is incorrect. It is Jacob. Anyone reading the Greek title to the Epistle of James itself can see it is JAKOB even in Greek...where the letter I in Greek is rendered as J in English.
Jacob -- a figure in the Original Hebrew Testament -- is rendered into English as Jacob in the King James.
There is no way that one could accidentally mistake Jacob in Greek for James in English. As Wikipedia explains regarding the name Jacob:
Jacob is derived from Late Latin Iacobus from Greek Iakobos, from Hebrew(Yaqob,Yaaqov, Yaq)... ("Jacob," Wikipedia.)
Wikipedia then explains that a "reduced" form of Jacob became in the English Bible "James." It notes:
In a Christian context, Jacob – James as reduced English form – is the name for several people in the New Testament: (1) apostle James, son of Zebedee, (2) another apostle James, son of Alphaeus, and (3) James the Just, who led the original Messianic Community in Jerusalem. Id.
The word "reduced" is a kindly term for "changed." Jacob for New Testament figures was renamed James, yet Original Testament "Jacob" figures were left alone, and rendered as Jacob. (Exod. 6:3, KJV.) For example, the identical word "Jacob" in the Greek NT when referring to the Patriarch of the Original Testament is rendered into English as Jacob (Romans 11:26 KJV), and to Jesus' paternal grandfather in Matt 1:15, but otherwise in the NT is rendered as "James." See link. Hence, this is deliberate, and no accident.
So why was James, the brother of Jesus rendered this way-- as James not Jacob? Why were all other Jacobs in the NT other than the Patriarch Jacob and Jesus' paternal grandfather rendered as James?
Some claim that Jacob in Latin was transformed over time into Jacomus, and then to James. However, even if true, this does not explain why Jacob in Greek is rendered a few times in the NT as "Jacob" and other times as "James," and always as "Jacob" in the OT. See link.
One theory is that the actual King James wanted his name in the NT, and required the English NT to render "Jacob" as his personal name of "James" in the places we see it. This is not true at the beginning of using James since at least the 1300s in Wycliffe's translation, but is arguably true for why the 1611 KJV did not fix this.
Alternatively, Paul Sumner claims James is used in honor of several English kings whom preceded King James, and this is more defensible. See link.
Sumner supports that the aim was flattering British royalty by mentioning the pattern started with Wycliff, an English translator in 1380, who first used this two-name bias:
The name "James" dates back at least to John Wycliffe (Wiclif) who translated his NT in 1380. His spelling of the name 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 have Iacob (the diphthong "Ia" was pronounced "Ya"). (Paul Sumner, "James was not a disciple of Yashua, but Jacob was.")
This two-name bias was then followed in later translations.
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. Id.
Only the New American Standard Bible tries to alert us through margin notes that the true name of James is Jacob.
Why Did Wycliff Make This Change? Why Did The Later Greek-Based Editions Not Fix This?
It is clear that Wycliff has some excuse for the inconsistency because he translated from the Latin Bible. Jacob was rendered in Latin a way that you could modify it to James. It still does not explain the two-name bias where sometimes Wycliff rendered it as Jacob and other times as James, depending upon whether the patriarch Jacob appeared or it was a NT figure, whether Jacob / James, the brother of Jesus, or the Apostle, Jacob / James.
However, when the Greek texts were used to translate -- such as the Geneva Study Bible of 1599 and then the King James of 1611 - why did they not fix this? For in Greek, it transliterates perfectly as "Jakob." There is no excuse of any proximity of Jacob to James in Greek as Wycliff had in 1380 as his excuse when translating from the Latin Vulgate of the 400s into English.
Geneva was outside England, so its continuance of this two-name bias is hard to explain. But the King James of 1611, commissioned by King James himself, would have an obvious reason to leave it alone. Hence, the conjecture that this was not repaired in the King James Bible due to an intent to not mif the king that his name was removed from the Bible is not an unreasonable one.
Regardless of what speculation that can conjure up an explanation, we truly must restore "Jacob" as James' true name to preserve consistency between New and Original Testaments. Whatever the motives of the translators who added this two-name bias, its rationale has nothing to do with a valid translation of the Greek text. The correct translation may convey an important truth that we otherwise would miss if we do not use "Jacob" in place of "James." I suggest we continue to use James but in brackets to follow we write Jacob, e.g., James [i.e., Jacob].