James 1: 1 – 2
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
The letter of James tends to be a bit of a Marmite book. You either love it or you hate it. No less a figure than Martin Luther was in the latter group he described it as an epistle of straw and wanted it omitted from the Protestant Bible at the time of the Reformation. Fortunately wiser counsel prevailed and as we now know it was included.
Which is a good thing for the Bible would be considerably the poorer were it to have been discarded at that time. The book is great summation of the Christian faith and is of such prominence that to give it full credit it should be known who the author of it is.
There has been a lot of debate over the years as to who exactly was this who penned such a letter, perhaps more so than even the authorship of Hebrews.
One theory is it is the work of a Jewish scholar trying to reconcile the Old Faith of Judaism with this new cult of Christianity. Certainly if you take out the two references to Jesus as Messiah there is nothing that would make it unacceptable to a traditional Jew. Jewish scholars had a habit of ascribing their writings to the name of a famous person. So this theory goes that James was someone well known in both Jewish and Christian circles, hence the dedication above to the twelve tribes and the use of a well kent face.
Another theory is that it was just a convert called James of no other particular fame. That though would beg the question why would anyone keep the letter specially and why would the Patriarchs include it in the Bible when the final composition was decided upon?
The most widespread theory of course is that James was Jesus’ brother, who having grown up with his big brother writes out in his old age his impressions of Jesus’ message.
There are a couple of reasons why this might not be a true explanation. Not least the fact that it is said by those who know of these things that the Greek used is very near perfect. The use of word and phrasing is unequalled anywhere else in the Bible, even by Luke whose first language was Greek. The question therefore is if this is the work of Jesus brother how did the son of a country carpenter from Nazareth learn to use Greek so well.
It is not impossible of course, one of the best compliments I have been paid as a preacher was after I had preached at a certain church for several weeks before I was ordained, as the resident minister was ill, when I had preached my last sermon a lady came to see me in the Vestry. She was head of English at a nearby academy and was well known for being a stickler for use of correct English. I thought she was coming to tell me just how far wrong my use of language was but instead she said “We will miss your sermons, it has been a great pleasure to hear good English used so effectively these last few weeks” she then added “Please don’t tell Rev XXXX I said that”. Obviously as you will recognise my standards have slipped a great deal in the last 20 odd years. It is though unlikely that James penned the letter
The most likely explanation is that it is in fact a sermon preached by James the Brother of Jesus to a group of believers one of whom took down verbatim notes which he later translated into Greek and then sent copies off to various other groups of the faithful.
Whatever the true story of its creation and authorship is it cannot be denied that it is a most powerful epistle and worthy of any person’s diligent study, Martin Luther’s opinion notwithstanding!
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, as we read your word may we hear it in our hearts and souls, the words are important but it is the message of your love we long to hear so speak to us as you see fit.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,