James, A Servant of God
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings”—(James 1:1).
In James 1:1 we read that this letter is from “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” “James” was a common name in the first century, and it is hard at first glance to determine exactly which James is in view here since the author offers no specific indication of who he is. However, this lack of specificity actually helps us to conclude that the author of this epistle is James, the brother of the Lord Jesus. The fact that James, Jesus’ brother, was well-known in the early church means that he could have written this letter without stating clearly anything biographical. The majority view of church history has been that this James is the epistle’s author, and recent challenges provide no serious reason for abandoning this position.
This James was not a disciple of Christ before the crucifixion (Mark 3:20–21); however, when Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection, he firmly believed in the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:3–9). James went on to become the leader of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15), only to be martyred around A.D. 62 by an angry mob of scribes and Pharisees outside the Temple. During his lifetime,
James was revered for his godliness and devotion to prayer. The letter is addressed “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1). Because there were 12 tribes in ancient Israel, many conclude that the original audience was composed primarily of Jewish Christians. But some Gentile Christians were likely present in the audience as well because all those who confess Jesus as Savior are members of God’s people, Israel (Rom. 11; Gal. 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9).
This audience was dispersed, which may be a reference to the scattering of Christians resulting from persecution. Certain passages of the book would seem to support this (see 1:2, for example). However, we must also note that the language of dispersal and exile commonly refers to the Christian’s present journey on earth (Heb. 11:13–16). Presently, we are exiles wandering on the earth waiting for Jesus to return and consummate His kingdom (13:14). Whatever the exact case may be, most scholars agree that James is the very first New Testament book to be written, sometime before A.D. 49.
Proper biblical interpretation requires that we understand the original circumstances surrounding a book’s composition. The meaning for the original audience sets the trajectory for how correct application is to be made today. The original audience, living in exile, needed to be reminded of how faith responds to such circumstances. As we study James, keep today’s discussion in mind so that we who are also in exile might better hear the voice of God through James.
Passages for Further Study
Mark 3:31–35; Acts 15:1–29; 21:15–26; Gal. 1:11–24
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