For many new Christians the book of James is the first book of the Bible they gravitate towards. For one thing it is fairly small. At five chapters it only takes up about three pages in most versions of the Bible. It is also very down to earth and full of practical advice. It is the Proverbs of the New Testament. That’s why I think it is so important to examine the background of this simple yet profound epistle. In this post I’m going to go over the author, date, and the reason why this sensible book of the Bible was written.
The author of James
The first half of the opening verse of James reads, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). But who is this “James?” Traditionally the author has been identified as James the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15) and the half brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55).
Eusibius, in his History of the Church, also says that the half brother of Jesus was the author of this letter. Though he does admit that some disagree. Another reason to think that James the leader of the Jerusalem church is the author is that the language of this letter is very similar to James’ speech in Acts 15:13-21.
James’ epistle is usually dated, by conservative scholars, to have been written in the early to mid-40s. James was martyred in A.D. 62. So since he was the author, the letter must have been written before then.
What really pushes the date to the early to mid-40s is the Faith Without Works Is Dead passage of James 2:14-26. This particular passage has since the Protestant Reformation been notoriously difficult to harmonize with Paul’s teaching on justification. So James must not have been thoroughly familiar with Paul’s ideas when he wrote the letter. He must have penned the letter sometime before the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) in A.D. 48 or 49 when he would have met Paul in person.
As can be gleaned from the greeting in James 1:1 this letter was probably intended for Jewish Christians outside of ancient Palestine. Though the greeting could be interpreted as a metaphor for the church the content is heavily Jewish with references here and there to the Torah. Also it must be remembered that Paul was the first apostle to really make an effort to reach the Gentiles. So it is unlikely that a letter from anyone other than Paul during this time would have been addressed to Gentiles. Traditionally James is recognized as the bishop of the Jerusalem church before his martyrdom. Considering this it is likely that he mostly focused on evangelizing and discipling Jews during his ministry.
I know when I first started seriously reading the Bible the book of James was one of my favorite books. The teachings are simple and clear, yet also deep and profound (see James 3:1-12). But I want to here your thoughts on this book, so let me know what you think in the comments section below.