- that the letter was written by James before the Pauline Epistles,
- that the letter was written by James after the Pauline Epistles,
- that the letter is pseudonymous,
- that the letter comprises material originally from James but reworked by a later editor.]
The writer only refers to himself as "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ."James 1:1
There are numerous possible authors of James. There were two apostles named James:
- James, the son of Zebedee and
- James, the son of Alphaeus.,
It is unlikely that either of these wrote the letter. James, the son of Zebedee, was martyred about 44 AD.
Most evidence points to James the brother of Jesus.
Jesus made a special appearance after his resurrection described in the New Testament. The author of James identifies himself as "a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ", in much like Jude, who calling himself "a slave of Jesus Christ, but a brother of James". (James 1:1; Jude 1).
We also see a reference in Galatians 1:19 "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother."
James (can also be Anglicized as Jacob) died in martyrdom in 62 or 69 AD. He was an important figure of the Apostolic Church. His usual epithets are James, brother of the Lord and James the Just.
He was probably a later son of Mary and Joseph or at least a cousin as some speculate.
In a fourth century letter pseudographically ascribed to the first century Clement of Rome, James was called the "bishop of bishops, who rules Jerusalem, the Holy Assembly of Hebrews, and all assemblies everywhere".
This would make James the head of the Church but the term "rules" does not really apply for that is not the way Christ set up the Church. This was confirmed by Eusebius who wrote "James, the brother of the Lord, to whom the episcopal seat at Jerusalem had been entrusted by the apostles." Jerome also wrote that "James... after our Lord's passion.. ordained by the apostles bishop of Jerusalem..." and that James "ruled the church of Jerusalem thirty years". And again Clement of Alexandria wrote "For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem."
So even Peter, James (the Greater) and John elected James the Just to be their servant in Jerusalem which was the center of the Church.
James was the highest servant of servants not the ruler of anyone for ministers were servants of servants in a voluntary Network of Corban which was not like the one the Pharisees and Herod established.
Fragment X of Papias of the second century refers to "James the bishop and apostle". According to Josephus "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James" was killed by stoning for "the charge of breaking the law". This was done by the Sanhedrin after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus but before Lucceius Albinus could assume office. (Antiquities of the Jews, xx.9)
Accordingly, the scribes and Pharisees James was thrown from a wall and then stoned, "... threw down the just man... [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said: 'I beseech thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'"
Origen, writing in around 248 AD, claimed that some of the works of Josephus made James' execution as a cause of the Roman siege of Jerusalem, in 70 AD.
According to Eusebius, the Jerusalem Christians escaped to Pella during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus and later returned until the Bar Kokhba revolt in 130.
So there was a violent historical background to the time the epistle was written by James, the brother of Jesus if written before AD 62 which was the year he was killed. The decade before saw an increase in turmoil and violence in Judea with poverty increased due to political corruption. Four years before James was killed war broke out with Rome and would lead to destruction and the diaspora of the people of Jerusalem.
The epistle is gives an exhortations on caring for the poor in practical ways (James 1:26–27; James 2:1-4; James 2:14-19; James 5:1-6). There is a call for standing up for the oppressed (James 2:1-4; James 5:1-6) and not being "like the world" in the way one responds to evil in the world (James 1:26-27; James 2:11; James 3:13-18; James 4:1-10). He condemns those who look to the world for their benefits as adulterers.(James 4:4) He speaks against the ways of the world and encourages the people to follow The Way heavenly wisdom as peacemakers pursuing righteousness and justice (James 3:13-18).
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- "The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The twelve patriarchs, Excerpts and epistles, The Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac documents, Remains of the first ages", C. Scribner's Sons, pp. 218-222
- James, son of Zebedee was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Apostle. He is also called James the Greater or James the Great to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus and James the Just.
- Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord, from Book 5.
- Josephus III, "The Jewish War", Book 6, Section 10.1, describing the exact date of the siege