The book of James is unique among the books of the New Testament. While it is an epistle (a letter written to early Christians), it is also considered to be equivalent to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. Its contents are filled with instructions on how to live the Christian life.
While the author does identify himself as James, (1:1), there is a little debate over which James it could have been. It is mostly acknowledged that James the Apostle, sometimes called James the Greater, died to early for him to be the author (in A.D. 44). Although there were a few other James’, non of them were prominent enough to have written such a letter. The only other James that could be the author is the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem. There is certainly no doubt that James the brother of Jesus became a prominent member of the church:
- He was one of the individuals Christ appeared to after his resurrection (1st Cor. 15:7).
- Paul called him a “pillar” of the church (Gal. 2:9).
- Paul, on his first post-conversion visit to Jerusalem, saw James (Gal. 1:19).
- Paul did the same on his last visit ( Acts 21:18).
- When Peter was rescued from prison, he told his friends to tell James (Acts 12:17).
- James was a leader in the important council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13).
- Jude could identify himself simply as “a brother of James” (Jude 1:1), so well-known was James.
Outside of the Bible, we know a few other things. James was referred to as “James the Just”, “bishop of bishops”, “James the Righteous,” and “James of Jerusalem”. We also know that James was martyred sometime around A.D. 62.
Why is this important? James was never mentioned before the crucifixion as believing in his half-brother as the messiah, but later Jesus appeared to him specifically (1st Cor. 15:7). James saw his brother not only be crucified, but he saw the resurrected Jesus. So James identifies himself in the opening verse of his epistle by declaring himself to be the brother and slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. This experience radically changed James world view, to the point where he calls himself the slave of Jesus and is eventually martyred for his belief.
I have a sister. I love my sister. As things stand right now, there is no way that I would begin to worship her as God. However if she was publicly beaten, tortured, and executed, if she was buried in a dark, dank cave and three days later is walking around fresh as a daisy, I might just change my opinion. Just like James.
James changed his mind about Jesus. To the point where he was killed for his belief. One of the final recorded things that James said was, “Father forgive them…” echoing the words of Christ Himself on the cross of Calvary. James gives us a perfect example of a person who was wrapped up in their own idea of identity, but who changed that identity when presented with the resurrected Jesus.