The Book of James, Part 2:
Narrowing the Search for James, the Author


Last week we just barely got started with the introduction to the Book of James.  One of the "take homes" from last week, I hope, was that the reputation of Jesus is damaged by the way that so called Christians live their lives.  James is going to tell us that our faith should make a difference in how we live.  He is going to tell us that 54 times in 108 verses.

We got a start of the first part of the four aspects of the book that we want to look at, before we jump into the book; who wrote the book.  The author identifies himself as James in the very first verse.

But, we found that there are as many as five men in the New Testament identified as James.

  1. James the father of Judas, a Disciple (the good Judas)
  2. James the Lesser
  3. James, the son of Alphaeus, a disciple
  4. James, the son of Zebedee, a Disciple
  5. James the brother of Jesus
Then we looked at how Jesus could have a brother, at least a half brother.  We concluded that unless the New Testament is in error, Jesus had siblings and Mary was their mother.  We then found that the New Testament tells us that Jesus had at least six siblings -- four brothers and at least two sisters.

In an effort to determine which of the James's wrote the book of James, we eliminated James, the father of Judas and James the Lesser, because neither of them has anything to contribute in the New Testament in the way of participation or activities, and therefore they do not have the position or authority to have written such a letter.

That left us with James #3, #4 and #5 from our list to consider today.

Today: The Process of Elimination:

Two of the remaining three are Disciples.  As members of the Twelve, they start to be in a position to be considered.  Here are a couple of the listings of the Twelve.  The first one is just after the Disciples had been chosen and it is when Jesus gave them their marching orders.

The next listing is after the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives. Do you notice anything interesting about these two lists?
  1. The first list has 12 and the second list only has 11.   Why?   The Holy Spirit does not include dead traitors in his lists.  You become a traitor to Jesus and then commit suicide, you get dropped from the roll call of Disciples.
  2. Thaddaeus is in the first list and not in the second list.  Judas, the son of James is in the second list and not in the first.  That is strange.  If you research this you will find that Biblical scholars have determined that both names refer to the same man, called Thaddaeus in the first list and Judas in the second list.  In the King James he is called Lebbacus, whose surname was Thaddaeus.  Apparently the way the Greek was written, there are several ways to refer to him, but all are the same man.
James, the Son of Alphaeus:

But, back to the search for the real James, the one who wrote this book.  One of the Apostles named James is referred to as "James the son of Alphaeus".  He is never mentioned outside the lists of the Twelve in the Gospels, nor is he mentioned in Acts other than the list in 1:13.  He did nothing of note, so there is no reason to consider him to be the author of this letter.  You would expect anyone who would write a letter like this book would have a much more important role among the Twelve.  That leaves us with two to choose from.

James the Son of Zebedee:

The other disciple named James is the one who was brother to the Disciple John.  They are the sons of Zebedee.  This James has much greater prominence.  In fact, Peter and Andrew, James and John are almost always mentioned first when the Apostles are referred to.  These four are sort of the inner circle for Jesus.  But this James was the first Apostle to be martyred, very early in the development of the Church.

After Stephen was stoned to death (and you may recall that Paul, then known as Saul, stood by and watched), the Christians dispersed throughout the region.  There was a fanatic trying to put them in jail or kill them.  His name was Saul.  The persecution continued after the stoning of Stephen.  Acts 12 tells us:

So, because of his early demise, it is unlikely that he was the author of this letter.  It is not likely that a document as deep as the Book of James would have been authored as early as his martyrdom.  We are down to only one likely candidate.

James, the Brother of Jesus:

This leaves us with James, the brother of Jesus.  He was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, sort of the mother church, home base for the Christians.

Right after Herod had James, John's brother killed, he arrested Peter and threw him in jail.  This is the time that, while Peter was asleep in his cell, shackled to two guards, an angel came to him, kicked him in the side and said, "Come on, let's go."  The shackles fell off and they walked out.  The prison's iron gate opened on its own and they left the prison.  Peter thought he was having a vision, but then he woke up and realized that it was real, and he was out of prison.  Peter then went to the house of Mary, who was John Mark's mother, and knocked on the door.  Rhoda, the servant girl, came to the door and was so startled at seeing him that she slammed the door in his face and left him outside as she went to tell the others who were there.  Peter kept knocking until they came back and let him in.  Then in verse 17 of Acts 12, Peter said:

By this we can conclude that James was a high official of the church there, probably the leader.

In Acts 15, Paul went to Jerusalem to get a ruling on whether or not Christians needed to be circumcised.  Remember that the early Christians were Jews and they considered circumcision to be required because it was required to be a Jew.  So the big argument was not whether or not gay clergy could be ordained, but whether or not a man had to be circumcised to be a Christian.  After lengthy debate, Peter argued before the elders that God and the Holy Spirit did not make a distinction between Jew and Gentile, so circumcision should not be required.  After the arguments before the elders, in Acts 15:13, we learn that the final answer was handed down by James.

He proceeded to quote Scripture, and in verse 19 hands down the ruling. In effect, he said they do not have to be circumcised.  It is clear that, as the one handing down the decision, he was the head of the Jerusalem church.

Just as a matter if interest, James' decision was not that the Gentile believers could do whatever they wanted, he added that they should abstain from what had been contaminated by idols and that they should abstain from meat that had been strangled or from eating blood.  Oh, and one more thing, they should abstain from fornication.  (James was a real spoil sport.)

In Paul's letter to the Church at Galatia, he indicated that James was a pillar in the church, a church leader.  Paul says:

Church history also tells us that James, the brother of Jesus was the head of the church in Jerusalem.  His position as leader of the church in Jerusalem would give him authority and credibility among Jewish Christians.

We have two different references to the "scattering" of Jewish believers living Jerusalem.  In the very next verse after the stoning and death of Stephen, we are told:

A little later in Acts we learn that: As we'll see later, these believers and those who came to Christ through them were the audience to whom James wrote this letter.

There is another reason to conclude that the author is James, the brother of Jesus.  Scholars point to similarities in the wording of James' letter and James' speech in Acts 15, when he handed down the "circumcision is not required" finding.

Finally, we have testimony of the early Christian leaders including

...and many other early writers that James, the brother of Jesus was the author of this letter.

Next Lesson:

For the next lesson, I want to spend some time getting to know James, the brother of Jesus, the man we have concluded wrote this book.  I want to see what we can learn about him from the Scripture.

The next lesson on James will be two weeks from now, as Pat & I will be out of town next week.  Terry Heames will present another lesson next Sunday, on Mere Christianity.

Your assignment  for two weeks from now is to find out everything that you can about this man James, the brother of Jesus and about Jesus from some assigned verses.  Where was he from?  Did he have a family?  What was his age relative to the rest of the family?  When did James realize that Jesus was God?  How was James related to Jude?

I have a handout of verses to read to answer these questions. 

A second assignment is to tell me when the book was written and to whom.   We'll look into that, next time.