Tomorrow is the feast of St. James. As I don't come into the office on Fridays, I did the reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer for Friday this morning as well. It noted that some modern folks today think that James was the biological brother (or half-brother, to be technical) of Jesus. Paul calls him the brother of our Lord in Galatians 1:19 (ton adelpon - the brother).
Now, the Treasury also notes that in the Early Church there was the tradition that James was actually just a kinsman, perhaps a cousin, who was perhaps even raised with Jesus, but not a biological relative.
I am somewhat dubious of this tradition, in spite of its antiquity, and here is why.
When we think back to a tradition we can see arising in, say, the year 300, we think, "Wow, this is incredibly old." However, I would say that it is also nearly 240 years after the writing of Scripture.
To put that time span in perspective - consider how we as Americans treat the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Have not traditions about these arisen that sort of directly contradict their intention? I worry about the creation of or distortion of tradition within the Christian faith as well. . . especially as we see over and over in the Old Testament that it doesn't take long for people to start wandering off or following cleverly devised myths.
This is not to say that believing that James is a cousin is impious. . . but that isn't how the Scriptures describe him. And while there may have been wonderful, pious reasons for asserting that adelphon really meant merely cousin a few years down the road. . . is your pious story the way things are?
The changes via "interpretation and precedent" to the Constitution are not necessarily insidious - they were done not by cackling fiends but by people who thought they were doing something good. But things got changed. Likewise, I think sometimes with our own pious traditions the same things may have occurred.