The book of James opens in typical fashion for the days of the early church—with a greeting. His is very succinct, giving only the most important information: His name, how he sees himself and his position, who the letter is to, and his greetings. But it leaves many of us wanting more info. Like...
James who?That's just for starters.
Not only was James a popular name, it was a variation of the name Jacob. Remember the Old Testament Jacob? His name was changed to Israel and he was the father of 12 sons. The James most people accept as the human author of the book of James was the head of the first church in Jerusalem, and he was considered the church father.
There are several men names James mentioned in the New Testament but the most likely one to have written the book of James is the brother of Jesus. Technically, he's the half-brother of Jesus, yet nowhere in the book do we see James claim their brother connection. I don't know about you, but I claim my sisters, even when they've embarrassed me to no end. But not James, and not because Jesus was an embarrassment to him. Instead he calls himself a bond-servant of God—but not just God. He said he was a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Jewish people are monotheistic. They have one God and that is something that set them apart from all the other nations (and when it didn't, they went into captivity to relearn that lesson). So when James said he was a bond-servant of God AND the Lord Jesus Christ, he was saying right from the get-go that Jesus was God—something he had been reluctant to accept.
How did James get from being the brother who didn't believe Jesus (John 7:1-9) to the brother who was one of the three pillars of the early church (Acts 15)? After Jesus rose from the grave, He appeared to people—Peter, the disciples, 500 people, “then He appeared to James...” (1 Cor. 15:7) Jesus loved His brother and made it a point to speak with him. That must have been some conversation! James finally believed.
Can you imagine growing up as the younger brother of Jesus? Jesus—the perfect boy. The who really never did anything wrong. In a culture where keeping the Law was everything, it must have driven a wedge between Jesus and his younger brothers, especially James who was closest to Him in age. The brother you love yet hate at the same time. The brother you can never be as good as, the one whose shadow you are constantly in. No wonder James struggled with who Jesus was.
But Jesus made it a point to speak with him after His resurrection, and that visit made a difference. James rose in prominence in the church, not because he was a brother of Jesus (there were oat least three other brothers—Matthew 13:55-56) but we don't hear of them, other than they were in the Upper Room, too. James rose to his position because of his personal relationship with God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and it's then that we see that, although James did not believe Jesus was God before His crucifixion, he sure did listen to what Jesus taught!
So what was his relationship with God and the Lord Jesus Christ?He considered himself a bond-servant. That means obeying another, serving them, and having your will consumed in the will of another (God's). That's not playing the brother card!
So we see who James most likely was.
Who was he writing to?“The twelve tribes dispersed abroad.” Remember Israel's captivity? Remember how persecution arose in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-4)? James wrote to Jews living outside of the land of Palestine—to Christian Jews—those still dispersed from captivity (Diaspora Jews, like Mordecai and Esther) and those who fled Jerusalem due to persecution.
Although it's not mentioned in the Bible, tradition tells us about James, including that he prayed so much, his knees were as hard as a camel's.
“Much is told about James in extrabiblical writings of the time. He was respected even among non-Christians, 'largely because of his ascetic way of life and his regular participation in the temple services of prayer where he interceded for the people and their city.' He was stoned to death in AD 62, and many of the people were gravely shocked at this. 'Some years later some ascribed the calamity which overtook the city and its inhabitants to the cessation of James' prayers on their behalf.' Bruce says that 'the church's readiness to recognize his leadership was due more to his personal character and record than to his blood relationship to the Lord.” His role in the council is evidence of this character.” ~Ajith Fernando in The NIV Application Commentary on Acts.
Paul went to the Gentiles. Peter went to the Jews. James stayed in Jerusalem and remained a law-abiding Jew to the end, but he did not push it on others and he preached salvation by grace alone.
His greetings: chairein.
In Greek this means joy to you!
Joy is our birthright in Christ. Obedience in our walk of faith brings us back to joy. It is our happy place. ~Beth Moore.
For more digging:Matthew 13:55-56
Mark 3:31-35; 6:3
1 Corinthians 9:5; 15:1-7
Acts 8; 15; 1:14; 12:17; 21:17-26
- Mull over James' view of his position as a bond-servant of God. Take a serious look at your willingness to be a bond-servant, knowing that it includes letting your will be totally consumed by God's will.
- Read through the whole book of James again. Really. The more you read through a passage you're studying, the more you see and the more will sink in.
I've been out of town and offline for over a week, but next week, for sure, I'll be tweeting tidbits about James. You can find me on Twitter at . I'd love for you to follow me or watch for the #fiaJames hashtag and join in the conversation.
Memory verse: James 1:3
- What do you think it was like for James, growing up as the younger brother of Jesus?
- What can we learn from James and how he viewed Jesus, even though he was His brother?
- Remember, the disciples would have seen James' response and interaction with Jesus over their three years with Him. How do you think this affected James and his decision to believe?
- What's your take on James' greeting of joy to you?