James the Just
Introduction to James
Introduction – The Epistle of James belongs to a group of Apostolic Epistles that scholars call the “General/Universal” Epistles because they are not addressed to any one Apostolic church, like 1&2 Corinthians, Philippians, etc. The Universal Epistles are addressed to whole Body of Christ. These epistles would be 1&2 Peter, 1,2&3 John, Jude and James. This helps us understand the purpose of James’ epistle; which was to be used as a wide reaching regional exhortation to the Church in Judea, Samaria to Antioch following the persecution of the Jerusalem Church in Acts 7 and Acts 8 following the stoning of Stephen.
There are 3 men named James Scriptures:
1- James son of Zebedee, brother of John (the Sons of Thunder); see Matthew 4:21, Matthew 10:2, Mark 3:17, Luke 5:10, Acts 1:13 and Acts 12:2. This James was put to death by the sword and martyred for the faith in Acts 12 by Herod.
2- James son of Alphaeus – Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, and Luke 6:15. There is nothing written about this James outside of the Scriptures, and we do not know anything about this man’s life or his ministry other than he was an original disciple and apostle of Christ.
3- James, the half-brother of Jesus – Matthew 13:55 – “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?”, Mark 6:3, Acts 12:17, Acts 15:13 (Jerusalem Council), Acts 21:18 (Paul’s vow), 1 Corinthians 15:7 (resurrection account), Galatians 1:19 (The Lord’s brother), Galatians 2:9 and Galatians 2:12. This is the James that wrote the Epistle of James.
James, the half-brother of Jesus became the leader of the Jerusalem Church after Peter and John had left due to persecution, eventually James rose to the position of being a preeminent Apostle that Paul and Peter both submitted to at the Acts 15 council that decided the issue of how Gentile Christians were to live morally and if they needed to receive the Law/Circumcision before being considered accepted by God.
We can be sure that this is the James that wrote this Epistle because we have the Early Church fathers, Origen, Eusebius, Hegesippus, and Clement all confirm he is the writer. We also have the extra-Biblical of Josephus who mentions James two times in his historical accounts.
Josephus – “Festus (See Acts 24:27) was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:”
Josephus – “And this seems to me to have been the reason why God, out of his hatred of these men’s wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery, as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities…To this degree did the violence of the seditious prevail over all right and justice… This… became the occasion of the … miseries that befell our nation… Ananus… assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, … whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:”
According to Early Church accounts, James was martyred in this way in approximately AD62:
1- James was accused of being a Law breaker by Ananus the High Priest, the Scribes and the Pharisees.
2- James was taken to the summit of the Temple during the Passover and told by the Pharisees to renounce Jesus as the Messiah, in the presence of the people.
3- James answered, “”Christ himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven” – Eusebius
4- After James’ declaration, he was pushed from the summit of the Temple (approx. 100 feet). He did not die after the fall, but was greatly injured. As James prayed for the forgiveness of the people who pushed him, members of the Pharisees began to stone him, and James was finally put to death by being hit on the head with a fuller’s club (laundry stick) that someone threw at him.
James was described by the Early Church fathers as being a man of prayer, a Nazirite, and he was described as having knees like camels because of the long hours James spent in prayer.
James wrote his Epistle very early on in Church History in approximately AD45-AD50, even before Paul wrote the Galatians in AD49. It may be the earliest Epistle written after the gospels of Matthew and Mark. The Epistle of James teaches us that works are the fruit of faith. Faith that saves begins in the heart and is made evident to others by our lifestyle choices. The Lord can see our hearts and knows if we have put genuine faith in His death on a cross for our sins. But the people around us cannot look into our hearts, but they can see the evidence of faith by what type of lives we lead. This is beauty of the Epistle of James; it teaches us to cling to our faith, manifest the fruit of faith and apply Christ-like character to every area of our lives. James could be classified as Christianity 101. In fact, we will see similar themes in James as in the Sermon on the Mount and Proverbs.
a) We can see the type of humility that James walked in. He does not call himself the “chief apostle”, “pillar of the church” or the “brother of Christ”. James refers to himself as servant/bondservant. Servant – Greek – doulos – a slave, bondman, man of servile condition, metaph., one who gives himself up to another’s will
those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men, devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests. When we realize the cost of our redemption, by the suffering of Christ, and love with which Christ pursues us; then we have postured our hearts to receive the grace to become bondservants, who have overcome the right to ourselves and we become Christ’s very own possession.
b) The name James means, “supplanter, or one who overthrows”. Certainly, James turned the spirit of religion in Jerusalem upside down as he revealed the message of Jesus Christ by the way he lived his life and message of Christ that he proclaimed. Josephus seems to indicate that the death of James was the breaking point that released the judgment of God on Jerusalem for breaking covenant with Him by rejecting Jesus the Messiah.
c) “To the twelve tribes” – This statement in verse one indicates that this was a regional circular epistle that written to the Jewish believers in Judea, Samaria, to Antioch. At the time James wrote this letter, Christians were considered a branch of Judaism, and were identified as Nazarenes in the First Century. The Church of Jerusalem that James led was the epicenter of Apostolic authority until AD67, when the Romans sieged Jerusalem and the Church fled to Pella. Many teachers, prophets and apostles were sent out of this apostolic-hub like Barnabas, Agabus, the original Apostles, as well as John Mark and many others in Church History.
a) James was writing to Messianic believers who were who being persecuted by the Pharisees, the Scribes and the Sadducees. See Acts 7, Acts 8, Acts 23, and Galatians 1:23. Paul was one of these persecutors of the Church, “1 Timothy 1:13 – Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Hebrews 10:34 describes the persecution that Messianic believers endured, “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”
b) James wanted to strengthen persecuted believers by looking at trials, challenges and the testing of our faith as opportunities that produce the perseverance of faith. Jesus spoke to this in the Sermon on the Mount. See Matthew 5:10-12 and the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:21-23.
a) James teaches us that there is a purpose in suffering for Christ, enduring persecution, and the trials of life. We should be clear, that suffering as the result of our sin is not righteous suffering. We should also be clear that God does not design trials and faith tests to perfect us, (that is the Holy Spirit’s ministry), but that God will redeem them and bring glory out of all things in our lives as we lean on Him. Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
b) Spiritual maturity is the fruit of perseverance of faith.
c) John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that
they may have life, and have it to the full. 1 John 3:8 – The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
d) Terrible things may happen, and tragedies may come in our lives, but the Lord is not the author of any of them. However, the Lord is the redeemer and restorer of all of them.