Summary: This is the introductory message to a series on the book of James. It explores the background of the letter, and then reviews the first 8 verses. The theme of the message involves the strive for holiness, and the wisdom available to us from God.
Today we launch our exploration through the book of James. Let’s start off with some James trivia. Bible trivia is great to play because everyone wins. If you know the answers, you get confirmation of your Biblical knowledge. If you don’t know the answers, you learn something new. It is a win-win scenario for everyone. Here we go:
Question #1 – James is located in the Old Testament or New Testament?
Question #2 – James is the what numbered book of the 27 New Testament books?
Little harder. . .okay, next question. . .
Question #3 – How many different “James”s are there in the New Testament. . .not books, but people? 4
They are James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John who you see mentioned in Matthew 4:21. This James is a disciple and apostle of Christ. Then you have James, the son of Alphaeus named in Matthew 10:3, also called “James the Less” or “James the Younger,” and also one of the apostles. The third James is James, the father of an apostle named Judas, referenced in Luke 6:16. And then finally, James, the half brother of Jesus, also known in church tradition as “James the Just”, identified in Matthew 13:55.
So, your next question. . .
Question #4 - Who is the author of the book of James, and simply saying “James” does not count. . .which James?
This one is a bit tougher. In fact, the authorship of this book is one of the more disputed ones in the New Testament, if not the entire Bible. But we can try a little process of elimination.
For instance, when you look at Acts 12, that seems to give us an indication that James, the son of Zebedee, died by about 44 A.D. That date, which will give you a hint for a future trivia question, makes it unlikely that he was the author of the book of James. Still possible, but not probable.
Then you have someone like James the son of Alphaeus. He is so unknown, and referenced so little, that it would not seem he would have been able to get away with a simple self-designation of James. Have you ever had one of those phone calls from someone? You say “Hello”, and then you ask who it is, and they say “Tim.” And maybe you know 12 “Tim”s in your life, so that doesn’t help you a whole lot. That would be the case of James the son of Alphaeus. He was so unknown, and such a non-prominent figure, that to write the letter and simply say, this is from James. . .wouldn’t have made much sense to the audience reading it back in the day.
So that brings to James, the half brother of Jesus. It appears that this James, “James the Just,” is in all likelihood the author of the book. Not only do we have the process of elimination, but we also know that this James became the leader of the Jerusalem church according to the books of Acts and Galatians.
What is interesting is that if he was the author, as you have read through the book and as we study it together, you will notice that he does not mention his relation to Jesus in this letter. That fact has been a factor that has kept the door open regarding who authored this letter. People will argue that if he was in fact the half brother of Jesus, how could he go the entire letter without making reference to that fact. But if we assume that James the half brother of Jesus wrote this letter, the next question is. . .
Question #5 – When was the book of James written? mid to late 40s
Now, again, this is not universally agreed upon. What we do know is that the evidence is strong that James is one of the oldest books in the New Testament. However, there are not only no references from James to his relationship with Jesus, but there are also no specific references to time or events that would indicate a particular date. So, about all that can be done is to compare the issues and topics of the letter with the issues and topics that would have been going on in the early church.
A number of people will give the book a date somewhere between AD 44 and AD 62. The first date, AD 44, is the time when James became the leader of the Jerusalem church, taking Peter’s place after he was released from prison in the year Herod Agrippa I died. We can find this in Acts 12. The second date is the date given by a famous first-century Jewish historian named Josephus. And he gives the date of AD 62 as the time of the martyrdom of James. So in the end, most people go with an early date of around AD 46. Which depending on your age you might argue is mid-40s, and not late 40s.