James 1:1 – Introduction

Introduction to the Epistle of James

Who is the Author of James?

The half-brother of Jesus, likely from Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus.

  • We know that the author is not James the apostle because he died a martyr’s death in AD 44
    (Acts 12:2)
  • James the brother of Jesus died in AD 62 (Josephus and Eusebius).

The early church attests the author as being James the brother of Jesus.

What do we know about James?

  • He is spoken as among the sisters and brothers of Christ (e.g., Mark 6:3)
  • He was not a believer during Jesus’ life (Mark 3:33-35, John 7:5)
  • He experienced special grace when Jesus revealed Himself to James after His resurrection (1
    Cor 15:7). This is comforting to us, that Jesus did not “write James off” but pursued him. Similarly He
    continues to pursue us.
  • Became a pillar of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17 – Note that Acts 12:2 talks about James
    the apostle being killed)
  • Became called “James the Just”. Tradition says he was a Nazarite throughout his life (see Acts
  • He believed in the power of prayer. He is called “The man with the camel’s knees”, because his
    knees became calloused by the time he spent on them
  • He was cruelly martyred by the Scribes and Pharisees. This is what the church historian
    Eusebius writes about his death (referencing Hegesippus)

    • They asked him to convince the Jews that they had gone astray in their understanding of
      Jesus. by telling them loudly from the top of the temple
    • James instead said, “Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, and will come in the clouds of
    • In frustration they rushed to the top of the temple and pushed him off so that the listeners
      would be filled with fear
    • James did not die so he was stoned. He knelt and prayed “I beseech you, Lord God our
      Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”.
    • A priest tried to stop them (“Stop, stop, he is praying for us”), but another one hurled his
      staff at James’ head and killed him.

When was James written?

Likely AD 45-46:

  • It was likely before the Jerusalem Council (AD 48-49), because the letter has no reference to
    Jew-Gentile controversy, and is addressed to Jews.
  • Likely people had misunderstood Paul’s slogan “justification by faith alone”. We know that
    there was a delegation from Jerusalem to see God’s work through Paul in Antioch (Galatians
    2:11-14). They may have misunderstood what Paul was teaching, and passed that on to James.
    So this could explain why James clarifies the role that faith and works play in our salvation.

This makes the epistle of James one of the earliest New Testament epistles.

This is significant because it gives us a historical context, as we will see when we study the book.

Where was James when he wrote this Letter?

Most likely, Jerusalem.

To Whom is this Letter Addressed?

  • General letter to all Jews including those scattered (see Acts 11:19)
  • This, along with some references in the letter, give us an idea of the circumstances they were
    experiencing at that time.

James 1:1 – “James a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ”

  • James does not identify himself as Jesus’ brother (see Mk 3:33-35)
    • There was no family ministry. James preferred his spiritual rather than his physical
      relationship with Jesus
    • Jesus has taught that family ties should not compare to our love and allegiance to God.
  • James does not identify himself as an apostle (although Paul does in Gal 1:19). He calls himself
    a slave of Jesus. These were not “credentials”, in the sense someone is called a “servant of the
    Lord” today, but a statement of complete allegiance to Jesus.

    • What motives do we have when we choose to brag about our qualifications or other things that will elevate us before others?
  • James calls Jesus Lord and Christ (Messiah). This is significant because as someone who had lived with Jesus for 30+ years, it is a telling statement to call Him “Lord”.
    • This is very compelling evidence for us, 2000 years later, that Jesus is really God and that Jesus really rose from the dead. Which brother would call his sibling “Lord”, and say he is his slave? It strengthens our faith!

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