James: An Introduction

In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in days of old; that they may possess the remnant of E’dom and all the nations who are called by my name, says the Lord who does this. Amos 9: 11-12


Letter of St. James Authorship

The most likely author is a relative of Jesus usually called “the brother of the Lord.” (Matthew 13: 15; Mark 6: 3) He is clearly writing with recognized authority, yet he does not identify himself as an apostle.  He seems to be a figure of great importance in the early Christian community.

James was an eyewitness of the Resurrection, a leader in Jerusalem whom St. Paul identified as one of the “pillars.” (Galatians 2: 9)  He appears as leader and elder of the Jerusalem community at the Council of Jerusalem and as a peacemaker during the circumcision controversy.  According to some ancient sources, he prayed so much, he was known as “camel-knees.”  According to history, he was stoned to death by the Jews in 62 A.D.

Date and Place of Composition

The letter was likely composed in Jerusalem.  Scholars debate the date.  A majority place it toward the end of James’ life; probably late 50s or early 60s.

The Audience

The letter is addressed to “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.”  It is not unreasonable to think that James felt a particular responsibility for outreach to Israel.  Israel as a united nation was an ideal; not a reality.  And, yet, God foretold that, in Jeremiah’s words, “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

The question that occupies many of the New Testament is how in the world is God going to do this.  James sees it as his duty to explain the mystery of uniting the 12 tribes of Israel with the Gentiles under the Son of David, Jesus Christ.


James concerns itself almost exclusively with exhortation to ethical conduct.  It consists of sequences of didactic proverbs discussing responsible Christian behavior.  His letter is a very Jewish work written in very good Greek.  James, a Galilean, probably had many opportunities to learn Greek from the Gentiles there; however it’s more likely that James used a secretary as Paul frequently did.

Parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount

This fact is one of the reasons I chose the Letter of St. James as the study.  I really love the Sermon on the Mount and reread it quite frequently; especially when my confessor suggests that I do it again.  There are approximately 50 parallels between them.  We will point them out as we go along.

James the LessNext time:  Trials and Temptations (James 1: 1-8)

Meditation:  1.  Have you ever been in a situation where you needed wisdom but didn’t know where to turn?  2.  Have you ever faced a trial and didn’t think you could endure it?  3.  Have you struggled with temptations?

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Filed under Catholic, Christian, James, New Testament, Sacred Scripture

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