The General Epistle of James

New Testament Teacher Resource Manual, (2002), 230–33


Author and Audience: The author of the book of James wrote to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” and identified himself as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). This was probably James the half brother of Jesus, not James the brother of John (see Matthew 13:55; Galatians 1:19; Bible Dictionary, (“James,” p. 709). As the son of Joseph and Mary, James would have been closely associated with the Lord and probably knew Him as intimately as anyone in mortality. In addition, James received a witness of Christ’s divinity and Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:7).

Historical Background: James is classified as a General Epistle. The General Epistles are so named because they do not address a specific audience as do many of Paul’s Epistles. The lack of specific information makes it difficult to determine the date and place of writing. Since James gave no clue as to when or where he penned his letter, we can only assume that it was written in Jerusalem, since that is where he lived.

We can determine that the Epistle of James was written prior to A.D. 62 since it was in that year, as recorded by the historian Josephus, that James the Lord’s brother and some others were taken before the Sanhedrin, sentenced to death, and delivered to be stoned (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1). Also, the fact that James does not mention the Jerusalem conference of about A.D. 50 (see Acts 15) could indicate that this letter was written even before that time. If so it would make this letter one of the earliest in the New Testament.

Theme:This letter teaches that once we have accepted the gospel and have faith in the Lord, we should demonstrate the reality of that faith in our day-to-day lives. The Epistle of James is characterized by a series of mini-sermons that counsel the Saints not to merely know the word of God but to live it.