This term in our Gospel Teams we are exploring the book of James, so it’s worth stopping and asking a few questions about his great little book.
Who is James written by?
In 1:1 the letter is signed by James. But which James? There are three prominent Jameses in the New Testament:
1. James the son of Zebedee, brother of John, one of the 12 and part of Jesus’ inner circle.
2. James the son of Alphaeus, or James the younger, one of the 12.
3. James the brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just.
James the son of Zebedee is certainly prominent in the New Testament church, but he was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12, about 10 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection). So he is less likely to be the writer, given his shorter life and that many New Testament letters were written later than this.
James the son of Alphaeus is also unlikely as we know very little about him except that he was an apostle, and he probably would have had to identify himself more.
So the most likely option (and traditionally Christians have believed) that this is James the brother of Jesus writing. He was very prominent; one of the “pillars” in the Jerusalem church, who could simply state his name and people would know who was writing.
More importantly, James says he is a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. James understands that he belongs to God because he has been purchased by Jesus’ blood, and so must serve him – something all Christians must understand about themselves!
Who is James written to?
James writes to the 12 tribes in the Dispersion, meaning faithful Jewish Christians scattered across the world, but also Gentile Christians who have been grafted into God’s people Israel, and who have received all their promises and blessings in Christ. So this letter is to us as well!
What strikes me about the book of James?
1. James covers lots of very practical topics. James’ letter is different to Paul’s letters, which are rich in truth about Jesus and build an argument over many chapters. James still builds arguments and gives us truth about God, but in a more rapid- fire way, all the while teaching the practical outworkings of the Christian life.
2. How well James knows Jesus. As I’ve been reading I’ve been struck by how many things James speaks about, that Jesus also spoke about:
• James encourages prayer that is full of faith in the God who can do all things (1:6), as Jesus does (Mark 11:23-24).
• James warns about the dangers and fleeting nature of wealth (1:9-11), as Jesus does (Matt 6:19-21).
• James speaks of the blessing of undergoing trials (1:2-4, 12), as Jesus does (Matt 5:23-12).
• James speaks of God as a generous Father (1:17-18), as Jesus does (Matt 7:9-11).
• James speaks of putting Jesus’ word into action (1:22-25), as Jesus does (Matt 7:24-27).
I’m sure you can find many more examples! Clearly James is a man who knows the Lord Jesus well. He knows his words, values and desires, and aims to live and teach in light of them.
Where do we see the gospel in James?
The book of James has at times been criticised for not talking about Jesus or the gospel enough. But what is clear is that James is writing about the life that flows out of the gospel. And we see some wonderful expressions on the gospel in the following verses:
A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. (1:12)
By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures… humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. (1:18, 21)
You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. (5:8)
The Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (5:11)
Please join me in praying that as a parish we are enriched and challenged by the words of James the Just, and that God uses this letter to make us more like our amazing Lord Jesus.