The book of James (James 1)

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There are several Christian leaders named James in the New Testament, and thus the author of this epistle could have been one of several different men. James the son of Zebedee and the brother of John is an unlikely candidate, however, since he died about A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2), almost certainly too early for this epistle. Most interpreters regard Jesus’ half brother James to have been the author of this letter. Again this, some have argued that, being an Aramaic-speaking son of a Galilean carpenter, the Lord’s half brother could not have mastered Greek. However, in light of the wide acceptance of James’ leadership in Jerusalem, it seems reasonable to assume that he was able to speak articulately to the large and diverse Jewish Christian community of the first century A.D.

Some scholars date James in the early 60s, but others think it was written earlier, perhaps before A.D. 50. The letter’s distinctive Jewish nature, the simple church order described, the use of the Greek term for synagogue and the lack of reference to the issue of Gentile circumcision all seem to point to an early date. It is probable that the letter was written from Jerusalem.

The letter lacks any personal reference or greetings to individuals and is addressed to the “twelve tribes” of the Disporas (James 1:1). While this could be read metaphorically as referring to the (Gentile) Christin church, most assume that James intended his epistle as a general, circular letter for Jewish believers throughout the Roman world.

James’ purpose was to encourage his readers, who were not only scattered (see Acts 11:19) but also largely poor and oppressed (James 2:6, 5:1-6). The letter has a strongly moral tone; it is filled with exhortations to the readers to live in a pious and upright manner.

A you read, note the diverse groups James addresses and his instructions to each. Look for his emphasis on vital Christianity that is characterized by good deeds and a faith that works. Compare James’ commands with Jesus’ teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. cf. James 2:5 with Matthew 5:3, James 3:10-12 with Matthew 7:15-20, James 3:18 with Matthew 5:9, James 5:2-3 with Matthew 6:19-20 and James 5:12 with Matthew 5:33-37). Take to heart James’ no-nonsense teaching about the tongue.

Did you know that the Greek word for “crown” was the usual term for the wreath placed round the head of a victorious athlete or military leader (James 1:12)? Did you know that “There is one God” is a declaration of monotheism that reflects the well-known Jewish creed called the Shema (2:19)? Did you know that as a common greeting or blessing, shalom expressed a wish for prosperity, physical health, salvation and harmonious relationships (3:18)? Did you know that in the ancient world, rural land holdings and their produce were the source of real wealth? A prosperous landowner in James’ culture was, by definition, an exploiter of the poor (5:1-6).


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