An Introduction to the Epistle of James

Before we hop into our study of James, a little background information might help us with the rest of our study.

Authorship –

  • Identified in 1.1 as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…
  • “the epistle’s author is James the Lord’s brother, then it was written before a.d. 62, perhaps in the previous decade. James is the only likely candidate for authorship, as, indeed, Christian tradition has affirmed. – Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 39.
  • James identified in the gospels as Jesus’ brother – “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” –  Mk 6:3.
  • James awaited the Spirit at Pentecost – “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” – Ac 1:14.
  • Origen identified him as such.
  • We know him to be a leader in the early church in Jerusalem. Paul makes reference to him in Gal. 1.19. he is a major player in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15
  • “The cumulative evidence points clearly to James the brother of Jesus as the author of this epistle. It is unlikely that the letter was written in response to Paul or any other New Testament author. Anything that might be suggestive of an interdependency or even conflict of ideas is strictly speculative. Much commends the letter as a very early piece of New Testament writing: close resemblances to Jesus’ teaching, the simplicity of church organization, the simplicity with which the author identifies himself, and most of all, the lack of reference to wider church conflicts. – Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 41.

Date –

  • AD 50
  • prior to AD 62.


  • 1.1 – “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” – meaning it was meant to be circulated to Jewish christians who moved from Jerusalem in response to the stoning of Stephen. Thus it is often described as a circular letter. We also shouldn’t assume a completely Jewish audience.

Style –

  • prophetic – meaning a large use of “commands”
  • didactic – meaning it contains teaching and explanation that accompany the commands given
  • rhetorical questions –
  • analogy to illustrate – “wind-tossed waves (1.6), mist (4.4), etc.
  • Structure – disconnected sayings? well organized? Arranged topically.

Major Themes –

  • strong emphasis on ethical teaching/integrity – speech, trials, wealth, mercy, etc.
  • practical
  • relationship of faith and deeds