By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Jesus' Apostles

  • The author of the book of James is probably one of three men called “James” in the New Testament.
  • The first “James” was the brother of John, son of Zebedee.
  • Along with Peter and John, he was a member of Jesus’ “inner circle” and witnessed the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter and the transfiguration.
  • His mother’s name was Salome, and he and John were usually mentioned together.
  • He was put to death by Herod Agrippa, possibly as early as 44CE.
  • Most scholars think this was too early for such a letter to be written.
  • Another “James” was the son of Alpheus or Cleophas (which is actually the same word in Hebrew).
  • He was called James, the younger (or the less), to distinguish him from James, the elder (or major).
  • His mother might have been Mary, and some think his brother’s name was Joses.
  • This was Calvin’s choice for author.
  • So little is known about this “James” that it is impossible to know whether or not he could have been the author.
  • The third major contender is “James,” the brother of Jesus.
  • Tradition has it that he became a follower only after the resurrection (but see the discussion on this month’s Bible Overview – James).
  • According to Paul (I Cor 15:7), Jesus appeared to James before he appeared to the larger apostolic community.
  • According to Acts 1:14, Mary, the mother of Jesus and his brothers (which would have included James) were among those who were gathered in prayer while awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  • This James, then, remained in the city when the other apostles began to travel outside Jerusalem.
  • He attained a high level position in the Jerusalem church.
  • According to Paul’s writings (Gal 2:9), he was one of the apostles to approve Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.
  • Paul calls James an apostle in Gal 1:19.
  • In exercising his leadership and authority during the Council of Jerusalem, James made the final decision that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised. 
  • He wrote the letter that Paul and Barnabas carried back to Antioch and that would become the authoritative statement for the Gentile world.
  • The letter of James is written to the “twelve tribes of Israel” who are scattered abroad.
  • Most think this scattering would have occurred early, possibly at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom.
  • Many Jewish Christians left their homes in Palestine and faced economic hardships in the Diaspora.
  • The contents of the letter would fit such circumstances in that it addresses the poor.
  • The letter is also clearly addressed to Jewish Christians.
  • The New Testament clearly states that James’ ministry was to Jewish Christians.  (Paul ministered to Gentile Christians.)
  • The book of James is also quite primitive in its theology, which is another argument for an early dating.
  • It conforms regularly with traditional Old Testament concepts and Jewish perspectives.
  • Some scholars argue that it might have been written as early as 45-50, thus making it one of the first letters of the New Testament.
  • Some scholars question, however, whether the brother of Jesus could be the author of the book of James.
  • The Greek of this letter is very sophisticated and few scholars think “James, the brother of the Lord,” son of a carpenter, could have written it.
  • Others argue that Palestine was fully Hellenized and ordinary people would have had a good grasp of the language.
  • That argument cannot be answered conclusively.
  • Nonetheless, James, the author, was a respected and beloved figure in the Jerusalem Church.
  • He was the first “bishop” of the church.
  • He was called James, the righteous, or James, the Just because of his faithfulness to the law and devotion to prayer.
  • Legend has it that his knees were calloused like those of a camel due to his intense prayers on behalf of his people.
  • He was an ally of the Jewish Christians in the early church.
  • He would have lived long enough to attain the stature required of the author of this letter.
  • He was stoned to death in 62CE for refusing to renounce his commitment to Christ.
  • A different legend states that he was thrown off the pinnacle of the temple – for the same reason.
  • Shortly after his death, the Jewish-Christian church fled Jerusalem in anticipation of the advancing Roman armies.
  • Most recently James has emerged as an important figure in a number of Gnostic writings.
  • The Gospel of Thomas acknowledges the authority of James.
  • In that Gospel Jesus instructs his disciples to go to James, the Just after he has gone from them.
  • Several other Gnostic books attest that James was the receiver of a special revelation.
  • Studies on James are a hot topic these days.


Barclay, William. "The Letters of James and Peter." Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press. 1975.

Davids, Peter. "James." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1989.

Duling, Dennis and Norman Perrin. The New Testament. Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. Philadelphia, PA: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 1994.

Hartin, Patrick. "James." Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 2003.

Gaebelein, Frank. "James." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.

Keck, Leander, ed. "James." The New Interpreter's Bible. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1998

Martin, Ralph. "James." Word Biblical Commentary. Thomas Nelson Publishers. 1988.

Moo, Douglas. "The Letter of James." The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 2000.

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