By: Daniel Goepfrich
James was probably the first or second (behind Matthew) New Testament writer (approximately the early- to mid-A.D. 40s). He followed the pattern of Old Testament exhortation (especially the prophets and proverbs), and his letter has been compared to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for that reason. James wrote this letter to Christian Jews who had been dispersed from Israel during the early persecution of the Church (see Acts 8) to encourage them to live out their Christian faith, especially in the face of their trials. Thus, the major theme of the letter is the active demonstration of faith through good works.
The main question of James is not about the content of the letter (although a few passages have generated quite a bit of debate) but about James himself. There are three James named in Scripture who were connected to the Early Church, yet since the writer did not attempt to give specific identification, the question of “who” has been long-debated. Only one of the three, however, has the best support.
Two of the twelve apostles were named James, which would naturally lend credibility. However, both are consistently mentioned in Scripture with descriptions. One was “James, the son of Alpheus.” The other was “James, the son of Zebedee” often connected to his brother, John (Matthew 10:2-3). Neither is mentioned even once without this type of clarification.
The third James, however, is referenced differently. He was not one of the Twelve, so he did not always need identification, yet when he was distinguished, it always was done in such a way as to elevate him. In his resurrection account, Luke called Jesus’ mother “Mary, the mother of James” with no other clarification (Luke 24:10). After “James, the brother of John” was martyred (Acts 12:2), Peter, Paul, the other apostles, the Jerusalem church elders, and many others deferred to James’ leadership on several occasions (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18). Paul told the Corinthians that James was granted a special appearance by Jesus on his resurrection day (1 Corinthians 15:7). Finally, in Galatians 1:19, Paul clarifies that this James was “the Lord’s brother,” matching Luke’s identification of his being Mary’s son (see Matthew 13:55). Thus, it seems that Jesus commissioned his half-brother (son of Joseph and Mary) to become one of the “pillars”– probably the “Lead Pastor” or “Chief Elder” – of the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9). For this reason, he would have had no need to further identify himself to those believers who had scattered from Jerusalem. This James was most likely the writer.
Each Thursday, DPH runs a Chapter-by-Chapter blog by Daniel Goepfrich, progressing readers chapter-by-chapter through the New Testament. This series is taken from New Testament Chapter-by-Chapter, published by Trust House Publishers, a division of DPH. Daniel serves as Pastor of Oak Tree Community Church in South Bend, Indiana, and blogs at www.TheologyIsForEveryone.com
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