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Background on the letter of James (1)

I like to use the acronym ASAP in developing the background of a biblical book or letter. The letters stand for: author---style---audience---purpose. If you have a decent understanding of these four things it really helps you step into the story as opposed to being on the outside looking in.

What do we know about the letter of James in regard to these things?

We know the author was James (1:1), and that he was well known enough to his audience that he didn’t feel the need for any further identification. When you consider how common the name James was in the first century (and in the NT), this means it was someone of prominence and reputation. That would leave us with either the apostle James (brother of John and one of the sons of Zebedee), or James, the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19). The apostle James was put to death by Herod Agrippa 1 somewhere between 41-44 AD, a date which seems too early for him to have written the letter. By elimination we’re left with James, the brother of Jesus.

There’s nothing wrong with this and much in favor of it. To say that James was a leader in the church at Jerusalem is an understatement (and generally speaking, his role has been understated). He has the final word at the unity meeting of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem in regard to how they will deal with the desire of some of the believing Pharisees who want to compel Gentile Christians to follow the Law of Moses (Acts 15). When Peter is miraculously freed from his imprisonment by Herod, his first words are to "tell James and the brothers," (12:17).  When Paul arrives in Jerusalem and it is James he goes to see and it is James who presents to him the concerns of the Jewish believers there (21:17-26). He is identified by Paul as not only a pillar of the church in Jerusalem, but as having a ministry to the Jewish people (Galatians 2:9).

All of this resonates with what we find in James’ letter. It is written to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (1:1). Who better to address this group than the James under discussion? The letter is saturated with Old Testament characters (Job, Elijah, Rahab, Abraham). He speaks of the royal law found in Scripture and quotes commandments (2:8-11). He speaks of the one God (2:19). In several instances his words take on the form and character of an Old Testament prophet (1:9-11, 2:1ff, 4:4-9, 5:1ff). James, the brother of the Jesus, is the perfect match for the letter.
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