The Book of James, Part 1:
Which James wrote the Book?


What's the biggest turnoff for people regarding Christianity?  I think, with a little discussion, we would all agree.  It's people with "fake faith".  By fake faith, I mean people whose "walk" doesn't match up with their talk.  As Paul would say from our Ephesians study, it is Christians who do not live their lives in a manner worthy of their calling as a Christian.  All of us struggle with this because all of us fall short and instinctively try to hide our shortcomings.  But we need to remember that people draw their conclusions about Jesus based on what they see in the lives of those who call themselves Christians.

The problem is that many Christians (or people who call themselves Christians) are repelling people instead of attracting them.  Lee Strobel, in his book "God's Outrageous Claims," put it this way: "The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness.  But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians -- when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths."

The book of James is to this point.  God inspired James to write a letter about faith.  But James doesn't write about faith in some abstract, theoretical sense.  James writes about faith in down-to-earth terms, how faith in Jesus is lived out in the trenches of life. We live our lives in the trenches.  Apparently James and the Holy Spirit, who inspired him, understood that.

When Christians don't live out their faith, people can easily become disillusioned with Jesus.  In fact, for some, it was this hypocrisy that steered them away from faith in Jesus in the first place.

There are two famous examples of this. The first is Gandhi, who spurned Christianity partly because of his encounters with mean spirited people who claimed they were Christians.  Remember, we have quoted him many times.  He said something like. "I might have become a Christian if I had ever met one."  The second lesser known example is Karl Marx, who became deeply disillusioned after his father suddenly abandoned his once deeply held faith and began attending the Lutheran church merely to make more contacts for his business.

You may be picking up that Wayne is really focused on this.  Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, but in our society, Christianity, the one that society sees has become a religion; it is seen as law, not grace.  Bitter, mean spirited and hypocritical.

Someone wisely observed that "genuine faith should make a genuine difference in the way we live".  That's the basic message of James. And that's what we're going to see over the next several weeks as we study this book. Paul, in Ephesians said "Live in a manner worthy of your calling."   James is going to say, "Just do it."  We are going to find that James said it first, before Paul said it, a little gentler.

One interesting piece of evidence of the practical nature of James' letter is the fact that out of its 108 verses, there are 54 commands!  That's an average of one "call to action" in every other verse.  Clearly, James' focus is on what the Lord wants us to do.

This week we'll introduce our study of James by focusing on the first of 4 topics we will cover over the next week or two:

  1. The Author
  2. The Date
  3. The Audience
  4. The Purpose
Authorship: Well, we took care of that.  The book was written by James.   That is why we call it James.  The book begins by identifying the author - James.

Of course, maybe it is not that direct.   Terry Heames sent an email to me this week with some factual questions that are just as obvious.

  1. How long did the Hundred Years War last?  *116 years
  2. Which country makes Panama hats?  *Ecuador
  3. From which animal do we get cat gut?  *Sheep and Horses
  4. In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?  *November
  5. What is a camel's hair brush made of?  *Squirrel fur
  6. The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?  *Dogs
  7. What was King George VI's first name?  *Albert
  8. What color is a purple finch?  *Crimson
  9. Where are Chinese gooseberries from?  *New Zealand
  10. What is the color of the black box in a commercial airplane?  *Orange, of course.

Which James?

However, in this case, the author of the book of James, who says he is James is James.  But since several people have this name in the New Testament, how do we know which James this is?  Your homework assignment was to determine who the James that wrote this book really was, of the several alternatives.

So first, can you tell me some of the James's that appear in the New Testament?

How many James's did you find?

As many as five.

Who were they?

James, the father of Judas (not Iscarot), one of the Disciples

James the Lesser who was probably either slight built or younger, to be called the lesser.  He is the son of a woman named Mary and the brother of Joses.  Mary the mother of Jesus has sons names James and Joses, so James the lesser might have been the brother of Jesus.  This does not seem likely, since in Mark 15:40, when this Mary was standing near the cross refers to her as the mother of James and Joses, not mentioning that she was the mother of the man on the cross.

Also, we have other references to Salome but not as one of Jesus' sisters.   So James the Lesser is probably not his James.  Some have tried to make the case that James the Lesser was James the son of Alpheus, but there is little to support that.  So for now, we will assume there is a man called James the Lesser, who is a different man from the rest of the James's.

There are two Disciples named James:

One of the brothers of Jesus was named James.

Perpetual Virginity?

Wait a minute.   I thought Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin.   There is one well-known religion that claims she was a virgin and still is, a perpetual virgin.  How can there be a man named James, the brother of Jesus? Possible answers:

  1. Joseph had other children, but Mary didn't. --or--
  2. Mary had other children, after Jesus, the normal way.
So, did Mary have other children?

We will see that there are several references in the New Testament to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers, and sometimes his sisters. One famous one is immediately after the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives, we are told:

If these brothers were only the sons of Joseph and not the sons of Mary, you would not expect them to be staying close and supporting Mary, who is not their mother.   You would expect them to be with their father, not Mary.   This is not absolute proof, but when you put the various references together, you really have to stretch to decide that these children were not the children of Mary.

Another of your homework assignments was to tell me how many siblings did Jesus have.

How many?  At least 6, maybe more.

Matthew tells us Jesus had 4 brothers and sisters.   Since sisters is plural, there had to be at least 2, maybe more.   So he had 4 brothers and at least 2 sisters, a total of at least 6 siblings.   So he was raised in a family with at least 7 children.   Jesus was not an only child.

Now back to the question of who wrote the book of James.   We have five men identified as James in the new Testament.

So which one wrote the book?

How do we know?

One approach is the process of elimination:

Let's start with the easier ones.

James the father of Judas, the good Judas, is not much of a candidate.   Other than this reference, which is probably to identify him as different from Judas Iscarot, the bad Judas, is all we know about him.  He had neither the experience or position of authority to author a letter like this.  So we have 4 left.

James the lesser falls into the same category.   He did nothing of note and had not position or basis of authority to issue the instructions found in this book.   That leaves 3.

  1. James, the son of Alphaeus
  2. James, the son of Zebedee
  3. James, the brother of Jesus

Next week:

...we will decide which James wrote this book.   Then I want to spend some more time getting to know the man we have concluded wrote this book.   I want to see what we can learn about him from the Scripture.

Your assignment for next week is to find out everything that you can about these remaining three James's.   Where were they from?   Did they have families?   What was their age relative to the rest of their family?   When did this James realize that Jesus was God?   How was James related to Jude?

If you are not too slow next week, we will also look at when the book was written and to whom.