Most commentators agree that this letter was written by Jesus’ half-brother, James, and not by the Apostle with the same name. In my opinion, there are too many clues regarding this to be challenged. There’s internal evidence, things we can glean from the letter itself, external evidence, historical facts gleaned from other documents. Jesus had other half-brothers as well; Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Mark says that Jesus had some half-sisters as well. Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him initially. Mark suggests that they might have thought he was crazy or delusional. Jesus’ appearance to James after his resurrection transformed James into a dynamic believer who became a crucial leader in the Jerusalem church and even presided over the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts, chapter 15. James introduces himself to his readers as “James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He never attempts to capitalize on his physical relationship with his older brother. I expect that and his reputation for hours on his knees in prayer (creating thick-skinned knees, which resulted in some calling him “camel knees”) gave birth to his name “James the Humble.” Josephus, an early Jewish historian, tells us that James was martyred in 62 AD. If the writer is James, Jesus’ brother, this letter must have been the first of the New Testament documents ever written. Many think it was written before Paul wrote his letter to Galatians. James used language similar to that of the deliberations of the Jerusalem Council.  Martin Luther and others thought little of James’ writings because they seemed to contradict Paul’s writing. I don’t see a contradiction at all. James addresses the Jewish Christians specifically, it seems, while Paul’s letter to the Galatians is primarily to gentile believers. This might help us understand the differences in their focus. But there is nothing contradictory between Paul’s theology and James’ theology.

James’ letter is specifically addressed to “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” The twelve tribes are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph, and Benjamin. Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim received equal shares with their uncles. Levi did not receive an allotment in the Land because they were to serve as priests for the entire nation. Moo says, “The phrase ‘scattered among the nations’ translates a Greek phrase meaning, literally, ‘in the diaspora.’” This became the technical term for the Jewish people outside of Palestine. Peter addresses the same group. Peter was considered the Apostle to the Jews, picking up where James left off, whereas Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. Moo concludes, “James writes to Jewish Christians who have been ‘dispersed’ due to persecution.”[1] The Jews have had a long history of persecution. They did not occupy the land that God had promised them for millenniums. The northern tribes of Israel became the “diaspora” in 722 BC when Assyria conquered the nation and deported many to various locations. Hughes says, “Later the southern tribes suffered the same fate when the Babylonians took them captive in 586. Because of this, Jews were spread all over Mesopotamia, around the Mediterranean, and into Asia Minor and Europe. Some of the major cities of the world—Alexandria, for example—had large populations of expatriate Jews. Also, when Jewish Christians were first persecuted in Jerusalem after the death of Stephen, they fled first to Judea and Samaria and then to Jewish communities around the Mediterranean. Tragically these Jewish Christians were not taken in by their expatriate Jewish kinsmen but rather were rejected and persecuted.”[2] So, James is explicitly writing to Jewish Christians who have been rejected by both the Gentiles and the Jews and are aliens in the world.

As believers in Jesus Christ, you and I have alienated ourselves from the world and are pilgrims in a foreign land. “The people of God presently live in between grace and glory. We look back upon the finished work of Jesus Christ while also looking forward to his return, our resurrection, and the consummation of the New Heavens and New Earth. Speaking of the faithful, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes, ‘These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb 11:13). While we live in the world, we do not ultimately belong in this world. We are citizens of heaven striving to enter our final rest.”[3]

[1] Moo, Douglas J. 2000. The Letter of James. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

[2] Hughes, R. Kent. 1991. James: Faith That Works. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.