The Epistle of James – Introduction
by John Davis
The Epistle of James
Introduction to the Epistle
Five men bearing the name James have been suggested as the author of this Epistle. The best candidate is James, the half-brother of the Lord (John 7:5; 1 Cor. 15:7; Acts 1:14). He was converted after the His death and resurrection, ascended to leadership in the church of Jerusalem, and martyred in AD 62 at the hand of the high priest Ananus II.1
It is striking that his self-designation is “a bond-slave (doulos) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
During the time of his leadership in the church (Acts 15:13), he sided with the poor in their unjust treatment, he opposed the oppression of the wealthy aristocracy (the Sadducees) and those who resorted to a violent overthrow of the oppressors (the forerunners of the Zealots).2
The writing of the Epistle of James is obviously prior to his death in AD 62 and most likely before the Jerusalem council AD 49 (Acts 15) 3, after the scattering of believers from Jerusalem in AD 44 (Acts 12), and before the great influx of Gentiles into the church through the ministry of the Apostle Paul (Acts 13ff).4
The recipients of the letter are primarily Jewish converts who have been scattered throughout the Hellenic world (Acts 8:1-4). They are more likely Greek speaking as opposed to the Aramaic of the Palestinian Jews. They would have a broader experience of acculturation and would more easily see the superiority of their belief in the midst of a pagan world. They have come from socio-political environment where the poor where oppressed by the wealthy.
The Epistle of James is focused on the practical expressions of a living faith. A key text that emphasizes the focus of the book is 2:14: What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? He proceeds to answer that genuine faith expresses itself in practical way. Faith doesn’t end with what takes place in the soul of man. Faith works its way out into everyday day.
1 Eusebius tells us that in about the year 66 AD, James the Just, the brother of our Lord, was pushed off this pinnacle by the Jews who had become angered with him for his Christian testimony. Eusebius says that the fall did not kill him, and that he managed to stumble to his knees to pray for his murderers. So they finished the job by stoning him to death, and he joined the band of martyrs.
2 See James in the Word Biblical Commentary, pages xlii – xlix for an extended historical discussion (Martin 1988, xlii – xlix).
3 It would be expected that James would refer to the council if it had already taken place.
4 “There is no reference in the epistle to the non-Jewish world” (Ross 1974, 19).
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