The Epistle of James is classed in the group of letters in the New Testament called General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John and Jude). James is a practical book and finds itself in a class of its own when compared with the other NT epistles. It doesn’t appear to contain much structure and lacks an introduction and benediction. After a brief greeting (1:1) he gets right into it (1:2). The style of James has been likened to the book of Proverbs because of the emphasis on wise living. Of the 108 verses in this epistle there are 54 commands thus providing lots of exhortation. It has been said that the best way to understand James is to see it as a series of sermons. Another feature of this letter is the use of metaphors of everyday life making it very illustrative and relevant.
Who wrote the epistle of James? The first verse of the book says, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the New Testament, there are four men who carry this name. James the father of Judas (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13) and James the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Acts 1:13) are not likely candidates because we know nothing more about them. James the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19, 5:37, 9:2, 10:35, 14:33) was martyred (Acts 12:2) around A.D. 44 making that an early date for the book to have been written. This leaves James, the Lord’s half brother (Acts 12:17, 15:13, 21:18; Gal. 1:19). Early church tradition considered him to be the author and consider his involvement in the early church makes him the best candidate. James was a well-known individual in the early church. Though he was the half brother of the Lord, during Jesus earthly ministry James wasn’t a believer (John 7:2-5). However, some stage after the resurrection of Christ he was converted (1 Cor. 15:7) and displayed great leadership in the early church (Acts 15:21). After introducing himself as the author, he makes mention of the recipients of this letter, “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” This is probably a reference to Jewish Christians who were spread across Asia Minor due to persecution (cf. Acts 11:19).
Why was this letter written? James writes this letter to encourage his readers to understand that the suffering they are going through is part of a pathway that includes the Lord’s purpose in bringing them to spiritual completion. His desire is that his readers would manifest their faith by being obedient to the Word of God.