Address and Greeting

James, the brother of Jesus. As explained in 'James in Context' in the Introduction, we hold the traditional view that James, the brother of Jesus, is the author of the epistle (Matt. 13:55f; Mark 6:3).

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ

In a manner reminiscent of the apostle Paul, James' introduction does not stress his position as the leader of the Jerusalem church. He does not mention here that he encountered the risen Christ personally. James does not announce that he is Jesus' brother or Mary's son. Instead, he simply refers to himself as 'a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ' (1:1). In doing so, he demonstrates both humility and authority. The title 'servant' (doulos) clearly indicates that his esteem is not tied to his personal agenda but only to his Master. The recipients should listen to James because he represents God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet the title 'servant' also carried with it a connotation of authority. John MacArthur said it clearly:

To be a doulos (servant) of God was considered a great honor in Jewish culture. Such Old Testament luminaries as Abraham (Gen. 26:24), Isaac (Gen. 24:14), Jacob (Ezek. 28:25), Job (Job 1:8), Moses (Exod. 14:31), Joshua (Josh. 24:29), Caleb (Num. 14:24), David (2 Sam. 3:18), Isaiah (Isa. 20:3), and Daniel (Dan. 6:20) are described as God's servants. In the New Testament, Epaphras (Col. 4:12), Timothy (Phil. 1:1), Paul (Rom. 1:1), Peter (2 Pet. 1:1), Jude (Jude 1), John (Rev. 1:1), and our Lord Himself (Acts 3:13) all bore the title of doulos.

James was 'a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ' (1:1). This is the only place in the New Testament where this exact language is found. If James indeed was written in the late 40s, then the use of the titles 'Lord' and 'Christ' demonstrates how the early Christians viewed Jesus.

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion

Who were the recipients of James' letter? James 1:1 states that the letter was addressed, 'To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.' Three main views have been posited by scholars concerning these scattered believers. Most scholars view this literally, as referring to Jewish Christians who are scattered among the nations (cf. Acts 11:19f). Other scholars are quick to point out that this phrase was used in intertestamental Judaism as a reference for the true people of God in the last days. Peter also used it in this way (1 Pet. 1:1). So it is unclear whether these Jewish Christians were located in Palestine and given this label as an encouragement to stand firm through the trials because of the eschatological hope they possessed, or whether they were literally scattered among the nations and lived the realities of Diaspora Judaism.

What other information does James give us to help us understand his audience? One characteristic of the audience is clear: the recipients were primarily, if not exclusively, Jewish Christians. Throughout James are references to Jewish institutions and beliefs. These Christians gather in a 'synagogue' (2:2) with 'elders' (5:14). They worship a God who is immutably holy (1:13-15) and are committed monotheists (2:19). They view God as the unique Judge and Lawgiver (4:12). They understand the Old Testament imagery of the marriage relationship as a covenant between God and His people (4:4).

A careful reading of James also provides other insights into the audience. We find that these Jewish Christians were a part of a local congregation ('synagogue' in 2:2) with teachers (3:1) and elders (5:14). So evidently James is addressing a particular church with specific problems. These believers were experiencing significant trials (1:2f) and evidently serious oppression (2:6; 5:1-11). There were some in their ranks who were claiming they had faith but had little concern for personal holiness (1:22-25; 4:4) and failed to assist the poor or the marginalized (1:26-27; 2:1-13). The congregation also included others who were quarrelsome, bringing friction rather than peace (3:13-4:10).

James 1:9-11 suggests recipients who were low on the socio-economic scale. Yet James 2:1-13 evaluates how these recipients have treated the rich who attend their assembly in comparison to those who come and are poor with 'shabby clothes.' Some of the members of the church gave preferential treatment to the rich and dishonored the poor, which made no sense since most of them were poor (2:6). It also seems from the commands in James 2:14-26 that the recipients were generally able to meet the needs of those fellow church members who were poorly clothed and in need of daily food. From this it appears that there was a certain minority in the church who had major financial needs, but also a larger group that was not poor in any severe sense. The majority at least had decent clothes and daily food, and even enough resources to help their fellow believers. There also appear to have been some who were wealthy enough to receive James' exhortation in 4:13: 'Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit."' Such an exhortation makes little sense unless at least some in the congregation were merchants. In any event, it seems best to conclude that the audience of James' letter is largely lower class, with a few members who were severely poor and potentially a few members who were well-off financially.