01 James 1:1 Who was James?

by | Jan 11, 2012 | 01 Podcasts, James

If I could sum up James, in one verse, it would be Luke 6:46.  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”  The central question of the book of James is are you living what you claim to believe. 


  • The Epistle of James is one of the earliest New Testament epistles, probably around 45-48 AD.
  • James, the brother of the Lord, was martyed in 62 AD.
  • There are two traditions for how James died.
  • Josephus wrote in his book Antiquities that the High Priest at the time seized the opportunity of the death of Festus (the procurator of Judea) to get rid of his political enemies, including James.
  • Eusebius preserved the account of the Palestinian Christian writer Hegesippus in Ecclesiastical History. Hegesippus tells us that after refusing to deny Jesus as Lord, James was thrown from pinnacle of temple. 
  • Both accounts could be true as James could have been stoned and his body thrown from the temple.
  • Note: James the brother of John was executed very early (Acts 12:1-2).

Who was James?

  • James had a brother named James (Matthew 13:25).
  • James was probably not a believer during the earthly ministry of Jesus (Mark 3:20-21; John 7:5).
  • Jesus appeared to James after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7), probably converting James and commissioning him similar to the way he converted and commissioned Paul.
  • James was a believer after the resurrection (Acts 1:13-14).
  • Church history clearly and unambiguously teaches that James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. 
  • James is counted among the apostles and leaders of the church (Galatians 1:19; Acts 12:17).

Occasion of his letter

  • The early church wrestled with how to incorporate Gentile believers into the church (Acts 11:1-18).
  • This struggle would lead to the teaching of the Judiazers that Gentile Christians must keep the law.
  • After the martyrdom of Stephen, believing Jews left Jerusalem and traveled to other regions (Acts 8:1).
  • Largely Jewish congregations are growing in various places.  These are the congregations to whom James writes.
  • But the church in Antioch became a mixed Jewish/Gentile church and Barnabas goes looking for Saul/Paul to teach them (Acts 11:21-26).
  • Paul and James agree on the issue of whether Gentile coverts must keep the law (Galatians 2:1-9; Acts 21:18-22).
  • James settled the controversy (Acts 15:13-19).

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. – James 1:1


  • James describes himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • James doesn’t mention he is Jesus’ brother, but he may have been called to ministry by Jesus himself. 
  • James became the most important leader of the church in Jerusalem. 
  • He addresses the letter to 12 tribes of the dispersion.  The dispersion refers to the historical scattering of the Jews around the Mediterranean following the martyrdom of Stephen. 
  • James is involved in Jewish Christian ministry. 
  • All the evidence we have suggests that James and Paul agree. 
  • The evidence also suggests James and Paul were concerned with different flocks and those different flocks have different issues and struggles.
  • This letter is one of the earliest applications of the gospel we have. 

Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.

Next: 02 James 1:1-8 Why does God test our faith?

Series: James: The Gospel in Shoe Leather

Study: James Resources

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