Somebody asked me a few years back what my favorite book of the bible was. At the time I had a hard time answering because I have several that I really like. Matthew, Luke, John, Revelation, Galatians, Isaiah, Ecclesiastes, and Daniel to name a few. However, as time has passed the obvious answer, for me, is James. It’s just so good! I mean I’ve had several bibles over the years and in every one of them almost every line of the book of James is highlighted, underlined, and annotated with impressions and things that God has shown me about my own life. I try to read James at least two or three times a year and I realized that I’ve never really done anything on it for the blog, and therefore figured we could go on a little journey through my favorite book together!
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion…” – James 1:1 (ESV)
Who is the author? He identifies himself as James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus. By all accounts this James is most likely the oldest of Jesus’ younger siblings* (Matthew 13:55) and who after the resurrection became a church father. He is mentioned in the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13) and later became the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Peter left for Rome. According to John’s gospel, James was likely one of Jesus’ brothers who recognized Jesus’ power, but misunderstood his mission (John 7:2-5).
According to Paul who appears to have had a close relationship with James (Acts 12:17, 21:18), Jesus appeared to his little brother after his resurrection before appearing to his other followers (1 Corinthians 15:7). After his own conversion Paul met with James in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19) and described him as a “pillar” of the church along with Peter and John (Galatians 2:9).
*[Some traditions deny the idea that Mary and Joseph would have had any biological children and therefore claim that Jesus’ “brothers” or “siblings” were likely cousins or step-siblings (Joseph’s children from a previous marriage) however there’s no real evidence to support these claims as opposed to the reasonable expectation of a young married couple to have their own biological children together as was customary in 1st century Jewish culture.]
The Life & Death of James
James was also known outside of the bible as James the Just or James the Righteous due to his virtue, faithfulness, and devotion to the Lord. He was said to have been respected by all of the Jewish sects within Judea at the time, however he died as a martyr in the year 62 AD or 69 AD (there is some debate). Though there is debate on how exactly this happened, the historian Eusebius holds that the account of early Church chronicler Hegesippus is most likely to be accurate. According to Hegesippus James was loved and respected by the people of Jerusalem, and many came to know the Lord because of his faithfulness. Just as with Jesus, however, James was soon targeted by the Scribes and pharisees and on Passover in the year 62 (or 69) AD he was asked to speak to the people from the top of the temple. When the rulers asked him about Jesus, he responded by proclaiming to the crowds, “Why do you ask me about Jesus, the Son of Man? He sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and he will soon come on the clouds of heaven!”
According to the legend, the crowds responded by praising Jesus prompting the rulers to push him from the temple in an attempt to kill him for blasphemy. Surviving the fall, it is said, James cried out in prayer, asking God to forgive his attackers to which the pharisees responded by stoning him before he was finally killed by a clubbing blow (Eusebius. Eccleiastical History, vol. II, ch. 23, AD 323).
The Roman historian Josephus tells a more direct account of the death of James being stoned to death by the Sanhedrin following false accusations of violating the Law (Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chapter 9, verse 1, c. AD 93). It may be worth noting that while Hegesippus’ telling of the story has traditionally been considered orthodox, Josephus’ account tends to be favored by modern historians.
Audience and Date
James’ letter is obviously dated before the year 62 (or 69) AD, however some scholars believe it could have been written as early as 45 AD. It is addressed to “the twelve tribes in the dispersion…” which is a common way of describing the Jews who were scattered across the various empires and countries of the time. However, it is more likely, seeing as James was a Christian leader that he was writing to Christian Jews who either lived outside of the region of Judea, or who had fled Jerusalem following the death of Stephen (Acts 7-8).
So now we have a little background on who James is and to whom he was writing. Over the next few weeks we’re going to work our way through this most excellent of books (a letter, really) and examine each passage to understand it’s interpretation as well as to find it’s application for our lives. I hope you will join me on this journey and that God uses it to speak to your heart and mind.