Who is James?
It is sometimes asked: How do we reconcile the faith Paul explains to us in Romans(faith alone) with the faith that James imparts in his epistle(faith/works). The simple answer is they are completely compatible in that the Apostle Paul explains how we are justified before God, and James explains how we, through our faith, are justified before man by the way we live out that faith in our daily lives. Or faith that works.
Who is the author of the epistle of James?
Not “who” is James, but the question is which James wrote this letter. Before we get started explaining the answer we should point out that we know who wrote the letter based on church history, the testimony of early church fathers and the evidence before us. However it’s good for us to review how we arrived at our answer. This will give us a better understanding for ourselves, which not only can help us with future discussions, but also helps our understanding of the Bible as a whole.
From the New Testament list of possibilities there were at least four men who could have been the author of this letter. There was James the son of Zebedee, he was one of the twelve apostles along with his brother John. Together they are called the, “Sons of Thunder” because of their zealous attitudes for the Lord and the Gospel. These are the two men we read about in chapter twenty of Matthew’s Gospel. Their mother asked Jesus if her two sons (James and John) could sit in the positions of power and authority on His left and right hand when Jesus came into His kingdom.
What she was asking is if her sons could be number two and three in power when Jesus became king. Of course this angered the other apostles. However, this James could not have been the author of the epistle. We know this for certain because he died before the letter was written. James suffered a martyr’s death under Herod Agrippa I. In order to appease the Jews in Jerusalem, Herod killed James with the sword before the letter was ever written. Herod also tried to arrest Peter as well. However, as we read in Acts chapter twelve the Lord sent an angel to free Peter from prison.
Next we have James the son Alphaeus, who many think is the same person as “James the Less” or “James the Younger.” He was a brother of the apostle Matthew and the son of Mary and Alphaeus (who may also have been called Cleophas or Cleopas). James was born in Capernaum located on the northwest shores of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Some think he was from the tribe of Levi and may have lived as a Levite before coming to faith in Christ. There isn’t a whole lot known about him, he disappears from church history after the Day of Pentecost. It has also been claimed that James (son of Alphaeus) was stoned in Jerusalem for preaching Christ and buried by the Sanctuary. In addition, there is some contention that he might have been the first bishop of the Syrian church.
The third person is James, the father of Judas (not Iscariot). Judas was one of the twelve apostles and James was his father. History does not record James, the father as being active in the Jerusalem church or elsewhere in the early church. Finally, this leaves us with the last James in our list of possible authors. This is James, the half-brother of Jesus and the son of Joseph and Mary. James during his early life did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. He did not believe Jesus was the incarnate God of Heaven.
It wasn’t until after the death of Jesus when the risen Lord had appeared to James that James became a believer in the Lord. James was a leader in the early church and the leader of the Christian church at Jerusalem. In addition the style and grammar of the Greek used in the letter points to James the half-brother of Jesus as the author. Moreover, history and the testimony of the early church fathers testify to James the half-brother of Jesus as the author of the epistle which bears his name.
James had three other full brothers as well as sisters. His other brothers were Joseph (Greek for Joses), Simon, and Judas. James while growing up and during Jesus life did not believe or accept Jesus divinity, nor did he accept Jesus authority as the Son of God.
James’ conversion is recorded for us in 1st Corinthians 15:7, which states that Jesus appeared to James after His death and resurrection. After His resurrection Jesus was first seen by the woman at the tomb, Peter and the twelve apostles. Jesus was then seen by over five hundred brethren at one time, after which He appeared to James. After these events James not only became a believer in Jesus, but also became the leader of the Jerusalem church.
James leads the church at Jerusalem during difficult times including persecution. In the book of Galatians chapter one, verse nineteen we read that James was considered by many to be one of the apostles. And some suggest that he was appointed as a replacement for James the son of Zebedee. The brother of John, who had been martyred by the Romans.
Church history and the early church fathers state that James was appointed the first Bishop of Jerusalem by the Lord Himself and the other apostles. We know for certain he presided over the first Jerusalem council, which we can read about in Luke’s book of Acts. During that council it was James who was called upon to determine the final behavior for Gentile believers to adhere to as followers of Christ.
James called himself a, “slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ!” James helped to resolve a lot of Jewish-Christian issues during the development and growth of the early church. James because of his love for God and his love for Jesus and for the Jewish people continued to follow the Jewish laws and customs. He did this in order to help bridge the gap and bring his fellow countrymen to faith in Christ. Because of his pious life, austere lifestyle and his continuing study of the word of God, he was given the name, “James the just.” His love for Christ helped him to love others and treat others as the word of God gave him wisdom.
According to the historian Josephus in the year 61 A.D. there was a Jewish uprising after the death of the procurator Festus. It was during the period between the death of Festus and the appointment of his successors that the Jews rebelled and killed many of the Christians including James. Eusebius states that James was stoned, then thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple, then beaten to death with clubs. It was shortly after this in 70 A.D. that the Romans, destroyed the Temple, put down the rebellion and expelled many Jews from Jerusalem and Palestine. The destruction of the Temple was foretold by Jesus as he walked out of the city of Jerusalem and His disciples asked Jesus about the end times. (Matt. 24:1-2)