Some Basics About the Book of James
What is the Book of James?
- The Book of James—also known as the Letter of James—is a short book in the New Testament of the Bible.
To whom was it written?
- The Letter of James opens with a uniquely vague description of its intended readers: “the twelve tribes of the dispersion.”
- It has no precise destination such as “the church of God which is at Corinth.”
- The minimalist greeting is cool and impersonal indicating a less-than-personal relationship between the author and the readers. Since this Epistle is free from specific time, persons and pace it is ironically as fresh and useful today as when it was written.
Who was the author?
- Scholars do not know for certain who wrote the book. The Letter of James was not written by James, the brother of Jesus, nor by any other James mentioned in the New Testament. Why do scholars believe that the author was not Jesus’ brother?
- No book in the New Testament says less about Jesus, which belies the suspected intimacy of the brothers.
- James, the author of the letter, uses Old Testament and Greek/stoic ethics for this authority and not the wisdom of “his brother.”
- The Epistle is written in high Greek, not Aramaic, the native tongue of James, the Lord’s brother. Nor is it written in Hebrew, nor the colloquial Jewish Greek of Palestine, which Jesus’ brother might have known.
- James, the brother of Jesus, was—according to Acts—a zealous proponent of meticulous observance of Mosaic ceremonies as a prerequisite for salvation. The Letter of James witnesses no hint of the necessities of Jewish practices as the basis for salvation.
- “James” or “Jacob” are identical names in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.
- James introduces himself in a unique way in the New Testament; he designates himself as a “bond servant” of both God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord as a title of Christ occurs in James 1:1, 2:1 and 5:14 with the name Jesus mentioned only in the first two. The word “Lord” refers to God, not Jesus, in the other eleven times it is used in this Epistle.
- James is unequivocally a Christian author, with academic Greek training but from a Hebraic religious background.
What is its form and purpose?
- The book is often listed among biblical “wisdom” literature. It has no general theme except as moral and ethical instruction made through brief statements with no logical order to their form. The style is from the Greek literary tradition but the content is Hebraic-Christian.
- Its theological statements are minimal; it is a moral/ethical guide for familiar daily problems.
When was it written?
- The best conjecture is that the Letter of James was written between 70 – 80 CPE during a time of war.
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