James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
The James who wrote this letter is traditionally understood to be the brother of Jesus. This is not because of any indicators in the text, but through deduction: James, the brother of John, was killed by Herod in Acts 12. James, the son of Alpheus, is unknown outside of being listed among Jesus’ twelve disciples. Which leaves Jesus’ brother, who presided over the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and is acknowledged as a leader in the Jerusalem church throughout the New Testament. While another James could be the possible author, none is known to have apostolic authority.
“The twelve tribes in the Dispersion” is likewise an elusive recipient. Jews had been “dispersed” throughout the Mediterranean for centuries, as you saw in Acts, but a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ would not be writing to purely Jewish audiences. However, this description of the church is unknown outside of this reference, so we’re left to simply read the letter to deduce the audience in James’s mind.
The concern that energizes this letter is the connection between faith and works. Consider the contrast in the final verses of chapter 1: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James puts this more succinctly in the next chapter, simply stating: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
A theme that lies under the interplay between faith and works is that of pride. It’s behind the discussion about distinctions in chapter 2, and it drives the caution about ambition and, later, about wisdom, in chapter 3. Late in chapter 4 there is a lengthy discussion about setting plans, again, without considering the Lord’s ultimate sovereignty; and finally, it seems to lurk behind the attitudes of the rich in chapter 5.
Though James doesn’t give us many historical markers, he is direct about his concerns all the way to the end. While you’re reading his letter, remember where he’s headed: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Our verse for this week is Luke 2:52: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.
The Epistle of James. Now let’s read it!
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.