This past Sunday we began a brand new verse by verse study here at Grace Church through the book of James. This letter may just be the first New Testament book to be written. The theme of the book is “Active Faith” and it is a very practical book dealing with a wide-variety of topics including trials; wisdom; riches; temptation; favoritism; works; worldliness; the tongue; strife; resisting Satan; judging; future planning; hostility; and sickness. As a result, we have entitled this series, When Faith and Life Collide.
Though the introduction of the book states the author simply as “James,” the traditional view is that this is James, the half-brother of Jesus. All other James’ mentioned in Scripture have some identifying title (James, the son of Alpheus, James the son of Zebedee, etc.). One would have to be widely known to simply use the name “James.” Certainly, the half-brother of Jesus would be widely known in the early church.
What do we know about James, the half-brother of Jesus? We know that he was the child of Mary and Joseph (Galatians 1:19). He is mentioned first in the list of their children meaning that after Jesus, he was probably the oldest (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). We know that he remained an unbeliever during Jesus’ earthly life (John 7:3-5). After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to James (First Corinthians 15:7) which was probably when James became a believer. The fact that James became a believer is seen in his being one of those in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised (Acts 1:14).
James also became a leader in the church (Galatians 2:9; Acts 15:13-21). Paul visited him in Jerusalem shortly after his conversion (Galatians 1:18-19). Paul calls James one of the pillars of the early church along with Peter and John (Galatians 2:9). Peter, after his amazing angelic rescue from prison, asks that the news be conveyed specifically to James (Acts 12:17). James was a leader at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13-21). When Paul visited Jerusalem at the end of his 3rd missionary journey, he made a report to James and the Elders (Acts 21:18) showing him as the leader of the Jerusalem church.
There are several historical references to James as well. Hegesippus depicts James as a Nazarite whose times of prayer for his nation was so frequent and prolonged that his knees became callous like the knees of a camel. The historian Joseph puts his death as one caused by stoning. Hegesippus says that James was asked to give his view of Jesus and when he stated that He was the Son of Man, seated at the right hand of God, he was thrown down from the Temple, stoned, and then killed with a club.
James addresses his letter to the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad. These are Christian Jews that did not live in the region of Palestine but rather among the Greeks. Though he was the half-brother of Jesus, James simply identifies himself as a “bond-servant” (as did Jude, the other half-brother of Jesus in the introduction of his brief Epistle …Jude 1:1). By calling himself the bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, James puts Jesus into the same category as God the Father, a direct attestation to the deity of Christ.