Summary: An introductory message to a study of the book of James.
THE WRITER AND READERS OF JAMES
The book of James belongs to the wisdom literature of the Bible. This sort of literature was common to the writings of the Old Testament but James is the only book of this genre or type in the New Testament. Wisdom literature is characterized by general instructions for successful or skillful living. It also contemplates the perplexities of human existence answering such questions as: Why are we here, why things are the way they are, and what are we to do about it.
This makes James the most intensely practical book in the New Testament. It rebukes sham and hypocrisy, insisting that conduct must conform to creed, that profession must be matched by performance. For what good is truth if we don’t know how to live it. What good is intention if we can’t carry it out.
With its 54 imperatives verbs, from beginning to end James is an urgent demand for reality in religion. Thus its vivid style is distinctly direct and is carried home by a beautiful craftsmanship of language and metaphors [See reference list to nature in The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Walward & Zuck, James, 817.]
James wrote to help Christians and churches obtain spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is still one of the greatest needs in churches today. Too many churches are play pens for baby Christians instead of workshops for the mature. The members are not grown enough to eat the solid spiritual food so they need to be maintained on milk. God is looking for mature men and women to carry on His great enterprise of redemption but often finding only children who have not even learned how to get along with one another.
It was the common practice of ancient letters to affix the author’s name at the beginning of the scrolled letter. James follows the customary pattern of stating the author’s name which is followed by an identification of the readers and an expression of greeting.
Let’s first look at the author James.
I. THE AUTHOR
The first verse of this epistle introduces us to the human author. James, a bond servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
All that is expressly told us about the writer of this short epistle is that his name is James which is an English rendering for the Hebrew name Jacob. He humbly thought of himself as a bond servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. James was a common name in New Testament times. This James must therefore have occupied a position of prominence in the early Christian movement which the use of a single name would distinguish him as it did with Paul from others with this name. James was assured the readers would know him.
Four men named James are recorded in the New Testament. The first is James the son of Zebedee and brother of the Apostle John. He was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom being killed by Herod Agrippa around 44 AD (Acts 12:1,2). The second James was the father of the Apostle Judas (not Iscariot) (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13). Nothing is known of him. The third was James the son of Alphaeus, also one of the Apostles (Lk. 6:15) and is usually identified as James the less (Mark 15:40). His name drops out of the apostolic record with those mentionings. (4) Finally there was James the half brother of our Lord (Mt. 13:55, Mk 6:3, Gal. 1:19) the second son of Mary, the first son of Joseph and Mary. It is generally agreed, both by tradition and modern scholarship, that he wrote this letter.
James exercised great influence among Jewish believers (Acts 12:17; 15:13ff; 21:18). Though he is not one of the original 12 apostles, Paul calls him an apostle in Galatians 1:19. He seems to have been head of the Jerusalem Congregation from 48-62AD and before that time he was one of its early pillars. Because the book of James makes no reference to the Jerusalem Counsel (~49 AD, Acts 15; 21:18; Gal 1:18; 2:9), where James had a major role, nor any other NT writings, it may have been written between AD 45-50-making it the oldest or one of the oldest NT books [The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Walward & Zuck, James, 816]. Because of His righteousness he was known as James the Just and the early church called him old camel knees because of his incredible prayer life. He was martyred in 62 AD.
Despite being Jesus’ brother and having grown up with Him (Lk 4:16-21; Mk. 3:21; Jn. 7:1-5) James appeals to his authority for writing to the fact that he was a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word servant is literally slave or bond-slave. The only claim this great pastor made was one of ownership by God in Christ. Like all believers he was bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20), and he humbly acknowledge that he was not his own. [In contrast to the andrapodon, who was made a slave, the doulos was born a slave. James had become a doulos by his new birth through faith in Jesus Christ. MacArthur]. By taking the title bond-servant James takes his place with those honored not for who they were, but for whom they served—the Living God.