Authorship and Audience

The author of this letter is James (vs.1), most likely James the half-brother of Jesus (for more details on this, see the observations). This letter was written "to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad" which I believe to mean Jews (likely believers based on the repeated use of "my brethren" throughout the book) who were scattered throughout the Roman empire.

Date and Context

Assuming the letter was truly written by James, the half-brother of Jesus, it must have been finished before his martyrdom in 62 AD. Also, there is no mention of the Jerusalem Council in this book so it is distinctly possible that this book was written before the Jerusalem Council which is described in Acts 15 and likely occurred around 50 AD. Thus, the book may have been written some time before 50 AD and at latest before 62 AD. If the book were indeed written before 50 A.D., it is likely chronologically the earliest book from the New Testament to have been written.


  • Christian Wisdom. In this book, James both provides and describes Christian wisdom. He is providing Christian wisdom when he talks about how to live as believers in different situations. He describes Christian wisdom itself in James 3:13-18.


  • As to the authorship of this book, there are four people named "James" in the New Testament. Two of the "James-es" are obscure and not likely the authors of this book. Therefore, the only serious considerations for authorship are James, the half-brother of Jesus, and James, the Apostle (son of Zebedee). The Apostle James was martyred by King Herod in Acts 12:1-2 (around 44 A.D.) which is generally regarded as too early to have written this book. Therefore, the author is likely Jesus's half-brother, James.
  • This book is often called the "Proverbs of the New Testament" as it sounds proverbial at times and speaks about wisdom, the tongue, and money (as do the proverbs).
  • James 2:14-25, a well known passage describing the relationship between faith and works, is, for some, a difficult passage to understand in light of other passages in the Bible the clearly teach that salvation comes through faith alone (Romans 4:1-12, for example). James is often seen as contradicting Paul or as adding works to the list of necessary requirements for salvation. Rightly understood, however, the passages in which James deals with faith and works are presenting works as the necessary result of genuine faith (see the observation below of an explanation of one of the more challenging passages in this book).
  • James 2:21-24 was. for me, a particularly challenging passage. Taken on its own, it seems to say that the statement "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" from Genesis 15:6 was fulfilled only when he was about to kill Isaac on the alter (in Genesis 22). Based on Paul's argument in Romans 4:9-12 where he states that Abraham was justified as described in Genesis 15:6 before he was circumcised, and thus before he sacrificed Isaac, we can posit that either James is indeed contradicting Paul or that the word "fulfilled" in James 2:23 does not imply that Abraham's justification by faith was previously unfulfilled. I suggest that the latter is true and that the word "fulfilled" is being used to describe the clear manifestation of that which has already been fulfilled. If you think I'm stretching things too far by saying this, consider that a similar use of the word "fulfilled" occurs in Acts 13:33. I believe the word "justified" is being used in a similar manner to describe the manifestation of that which was already accomplished. In other words, both faith and works are evidence that someone has been justified.

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