A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Friday, December 19, 2008

Who Wrote the Book of James?

Yesterday, my Thursday morning bible study began a new series on the Book of James. This first session was only an overview of the book, authorship, dating, primary audience, etc. When we resume on January 8, we will take one chapter at a time and since there are five chapters in this book, we'll be focusing on the Book of James over a five week period.

Real briefly, here are some of the overview highlights and I'll conclude with a summary of the many people with the name of James in the New Testament.

  • The writing style of this book feels less like a letter and more like a summary of proper ethical conduct for Christians within the church.

  • The author presupposes that the Christians are living in an alien world filled with immorality (reminds me of the Book of Revelation in this regard.)

  • The primary audience appears to be Jewish people who have become Christian and who live outside of Palestine.

  • There is an emphasis on the second coming of Jesus Christ.

  • Tradition claims that the author, James, is the brother of Jesus. Because of the sophisticated Greek style of this book and the late acceptance of this book into the biblical canon, some bible scholars think it may have been someone else.

One of the problems in trying to figure out who wrote the Book of James is because James was such a popular name in the 1st century as well as within the New Testament itself. The reason for this is because the English name of James is a variant of the name Jacob from the Old Testament, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. People would have been very proud to name their sons after this Old Testament hero in the faith.

And now to complicate things...which is why it's good to be part of a bible study to sort out some of these unanswered questions! For all we know, there might be only two people with the name of James in the New Testament or as many as eight different people. Here are the eight references:

  • James the Greater (One of the 12 disciples)

  • James the Less (One of the 12 disciples)

  • James the Just (Listed in the Book of Acts & Brother of Jesus)

  • James the Writer (the author of the Book of James)

  • James the Son of Cleopas (Luke 24:10 & John 19:25 - Is this referring to someone other than the mother of Jesus?)

  • James the Kinsman of Jude the Apostle (Luke 6:16)

  • James the Brother of Jude the Writer (from the Book of Jude)

It's interesting that in our last bible study topic on the book, "The Blue Parakeet: How to Study the Bible" by Scot McKnight, the author sees a connection between Mary, the mother of James/Jesus (her focus on God's concern for the poor: see the Magnificat & the focus on taking care of the poor in the Book of James.) Did Mary teach James when he was a child about taking care of the poor and then he focuses on the poor this in his letter?

Finally, I mentioned that the Revised Common Lectionary which is a three year cycle of readings for each Sunday includes six different passages from the Book of James. We are presenting in the middle of the three year cycle which has five of the six James readings. The other James reading appears in the first year of the cycle.

Next summary on the Book of James: January 8 (when our bible study resumes after the holidays.) And of course, the fun part of this bible study series will be to sort out the whole "faith" (Apostle Paul) vs. "works" (James) debate.

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