Commentary On James

I. Greeting (1:1)

This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am writing to the "twelve tribes"-Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings!


1:1 of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. All the nouns in this series lack the article, and there is some discussion as to whether theou [TG2316, ZG2536] (of God) refers to God the Father or to the divine Christ. The latter would be translated "slave of Jesus Christ, who is God and Lord" (so Motyer). While this meaning is very possible, because the term "God" is utilized regarding the deity of Christ (e.g., John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1), it is not likely here. In 2 Pet 1:1 (another place the title is used of Christ: "our God and Savior Jesus Christ"), Granville Sharp's rule (see Wallace 1996:270-290) makes it clear that the single article brings together "God" and "Savior" into a conceptual unity. That is not the case here; "God" must be seen here as the Father of Christ. Nevertheless, the two function together as the master of James, their slave; so the equality of God and Christ is implicit in this formula.

to the "twelve tribes"Jewish believers scattered abroad. Lit., "to the twelve tribes of the Diaspora." This can be understood several ways: (1) it could be racial and geographical, referring to Jews and Jewish Christians living outside Palestine (Hort, Mayor); (2) it could more narrowly refer to those in Palestine but outside Jerusalem (Scaer); (3) it could be metaphorical, used as in 1 Pet 1:1 for the church as the new Israel "sojourning" in this world (Laws). The best understanding is most likely a combination of 1 and 3, that these were Jewish Christians living outside Israel, who considered themselves as the "scattered people of God."


The author of this epistle (as discussed in the Introduction) is neither James the brother of John and one of the inner circle of the apostles (martyred by Herod Agrippa I, Acts 12:2) nor James the son of Alphaeus (noted in Mark 3:18 as one of the Twelve, but hardly mentioned in the New Testament; some consider him to be Clopas, also known as James the younger, son of Mary in Mark 15:40, but that cannot be proven). The author of this epistle was likely James the brother of Jesus, an unbeliever during Jesus' life (John 7:5) and converted by the resurrected appearance of Jesus (1 Cor 15:7). He became chief elder of the church in Jerusalem and the leading figure in the Jerusalem council of Acts 15. According to Galatians 1:19, he was considered an "apostle," and in Galatians 2:9 he was labeled by Paul as one of the "pillars of the church" (with Peter and John). According to Galatians 2:11-14, a controversial episode took place in which some "friends of James" arrived and turned Peter against Paul on the issue of having table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentile followers. What cannot be known is the complicity of James in this incident, i.e., whether he sent them as emissaries or they simply used his name for their Judaistic demands. If he had sent them, it is clear that by the end of the Jerusalem council he had at least changed his mind on that issue. He was so pious as a Jewish Christian that the Jews labeled him "James the Just." The end for James came at the siege of Jerusalem when he was first denounced by the high priest Ananus and then thrown headlong down from a pillar atop the Temple (see Josephus Antiquities 20.200).

James does not call himself "the brother of our Lord," probably because his humility did not allow him to take advantage of that relationship. Besides, he was an unbeliever throughout his life (as a brother) until the resurrection appearance. Rather, he calls himself doulos [TG1401, ZG1528] ("slave"; see further on 1 Pet 2:16), a word often used at the beginning of New Testament letters (e.g., Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1; Jude 1). This followed an Old Testament practice (e.g., Gen 32:10; Exod 14:31 [Moses]; Isa 41:8 [Israel]; 42:1; Jer 7:25 [the prophets]). The "slave of Yahweh" represented one who was a trusted official or envoy in the administration of the royal kingdom of Yahweh. It also speaks of absolute servanthood under the power of God. James's master here is God and Christ. There is no formula in the New Testament as full as this ("slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ"). James wanted the reader to understand fully that he served under the authority of his God and his Lord. They are fully sovereign, equally divine and master over James (see note on 1:1). We must note that while at the earthly level James was Jesus' brother, at the level of ultimate concern (and with James's whole being), he was Jesus' slave. While "Christ" here is without the article and thus part of his proper name ("Jesus Christ"), no Jew would have read this without thinking "Jesus the Messiah," and that is likely intended here. All of the first half of the verse is anarthrous (i.e., the definite article does not appear), emphasizing the theological aspects of Jesus' lordship and messianic office (cf. Acts 2:36, where Peter said in his Pentecost sermon, "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah"). "Jesus is Lord" appears in several creedal passages (Rom 10:9-10; 1 Cor 8:6; 12:3; Phil 2:11; Col 2:6) and is part of his exaltation to the right hand of God (Rom 8:34; Col 3:1) and of his ultimate authority over God's kingdom.

The addressees are called "'the twelve tribes'—Jewish believers scattered abroad" (lit., "the twelve tribes of the Diaspora"). The twelve tribes were, of course, the descendants of the twelve patriarchs and were allotted territory in Israel after they conquered the Promised Land (Josh 13-21). However, in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, the tribes lost their place in the Holy Land and were "dispersed" throughout the nations (forming the Diaspora). The prophets frequently promised that God would regather his scattered people in exile and assemble the nation together once more (Isa 11:11-12; Jer 31:8-12; 50:19; Zech 10:8-12). It was commonly believed that the Exile would not be over until all the Jewish people had been returned to Zion, and that would only happen with the coming of the Messiah. Thus, the early church looked upon itself as the new Israel, Jew and Gentile alike, who were the regathered people of God. They were citizens of heaven and exiles living in a foreign land, alienated from and despised by the people of this world (see on 1 Pet 1:1, 17; 2:11). They were God's people of the last days. As Moo points out (2000:49-50), Jesus' choice of twelve disciples shows he was gathering together "eschatological Israel," depicted also in Revelation 7:5-8 by the 12,000 drawn from each of the twelve tribes, and in Revelation 21:12 by the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem inscribed with "the names of the twelve tribes of Israel." So James was addressing a group of Jewish Christians who lived in pagan lands outside Palestine and considered themselves to be true Israel, living in exile far from their heavenly home.