1 ᾿Ιάκωβος θεου̑ καὶ κυρίου ᾿Ιησου̑ Χριστου̑ δου̑λος, “[From] James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The identity of the author as James is much disputed. See Introduction. Of the various persons in early Christianity who carried this name the three most likely candidates for the authority behind this letter are as follows: (1) James, son of Zebedee was one of the Twelve (Mark 3:16-18 // Matt 10:2 // Luke 6:14 // Acts 1:13). According to Acts 12:2 he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I around the year AD 44, and no further allusion to him is made in the NT (2) Another James is referred to in the list of the Twelve (Mark 3:18 // Luke 6:15 // Acts 1:13), identified by Matthew 10:3 as “James son of Alphaeus.” He is a largely unknown figure in the early church. (3) By contrast, James the Lord’s brother (on the precise meaning to be given to ἀδελθός, see Mayor, vi–lv, concluding that James the Lord’s brother was the natural son of Joseph and Mary) played a significant role in early Christianity. G. H. Rendall hardly exaggerates when he comments:
Apart from Paul and Peter, no figure in the church of the first days plays a more substantial part upon the historic and legendary stage than James, first Bishop of Jerusalem (The Epistle of St. James and Judaic Christianity, 11-12).
Surnamed by Paul as one of the “pillars” (στυ̑λοι) of the church, along with Peter and John (Gal 2:9) James enjoyed contact with other leaders (Acts 15:13). His entry into the story of the narrative in Acts (12:17) is unheralded—a fact that has led to some speculation as to Luke’s embarrassment over what James came to stand for (see S. G. F. Brandon, “The Death of James the Just: A New Interpretation,” 60).
Later in Acts (15:13-21) he assumed a commanding position at the Council, which suggests that by that time he was a recognized figure of authority in early Judaic Christianity. The encounter with Paul, according to Acts 21:18, has to be noted here, with more detailed discussion relegated to another section (see Introduction). In the Pauline letters there is mention of James in 1 Cor 15:5-7 (possibly belonging to a pre-Pauline stratum), where his name appears in a fixed formulation (J. Murphy-O'Connor, “Tradition and Redaction in 1 Cor. 15:3-7,” 587), and it has been proposed that 1 Cor 9:14 with its allusion to those who “preach the gospel” and who “should get their living by the gospel” relates to Jewish Christian missionaries who had reached Corinth as envoys from James. Whether they are the same persons as the “false apostles” of 2 Cor 10-13 is another issue, but it is possible that the latter individuals, whom Paul sternly denounced in 2 Cor 11:13-15, were claiming to have some authorization from “the highest-ranking apostles” (2 Cor 11:5, 12), among whom James is almost certainly to be reckoned. The Paul of the epistles evidently held James in high regard. He acknowledges making his acquaintance (Gal 1:19; 2:2, 6, 9; 1 Cor 9:5; 15:7), and he seeks to place his own ministry in a context of cordial relations with the leader of the Jerusalem community (Gal 2:1-10), even if those relations were strained at a later time (Gal 2:12-21; Cf. Acts 21:18-26 for one version of James’ latent hostility to Paul, albeit based on what the narrator regarded as unfounded rumor, 21:21).
If we confine our interest here to the canonical record—and church tradition, both catholic and sectarian, adds a rich quota of additional material—it is a firm conclusion based on the data already cited that James, the Lord’s brother, was a person of considerable stature in early Jewish Christianity (Niederwimmer, “᾿Ιάκωβος,” 412-14) and a leader whose authority Paul and Peter were unable to ignore. Not least among his credentials is his claim made in the preamble to the letter to be “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
᾿Ιάκωβος, “James,” is the OT name “Jacob” (Gen 27:36; Isa 41:8; 43:22; Jer 26:27[30:10] LXX; Ezek 28:25). The self-designation of δου̑λος is based on the OT, as we have observed, and is used of Israel’s leaders as persons of dignity in Yahweh’s service. Here aspects of the writer’s authority—or, more precisely, of the authority claimed for James in whose name the letter is sent out—are registered. Whether the historical James was ever regarded as an “apostle” (based on 1 Cor 15:7) is a vexed question (see Kirk, “Apostleship,” 257, for a positive attitude to James’ apostleship; a negative assessment is given by Trudinger, “Heteron,” 200-202). An earlier discussion has concluded that Paul did not unequivocally give the designation to James, or if he did, it was not his normal practice, whatever claim was being registered by a James-party (on 1 Cor 15:7 as witness to a “formula of rivalry” [Rivalitätsformel], see Pratscher, Der Herrenbruder, 32-46). The cautious assessment of a modern writer may be cited, as noted earlier.
Paul limits the assertion that he has seen no apostle besides Peter by leaving room for the possibility that one could, if need be, count James among the apostles—something he was not himself accustomed to doing—whom he had also seen (W. Schmithals, The Office, 65).
κύριος refers to Jesus as in 2:1; 5:7-8, 10. Vouga’s argument (31, 36) in support of taking θεου̑ and κυρίου together is doubly based: (1) other divine titles are linked in 1:27; 3:9 to provide a model for this parallelism; and (2) patristic interpretation of Pseudo-Andrew of Crete (ca. AD 740) supports this link. Motyer (27) similarly argues for the rendering and cites parallels from the later NT literature. But Mitton criticizes the translation “servant of Jesus Christ, who is God and Lord,” while granting the linguistic possibility, on the score that such an explicit ascription of deity to Jesus is rare in the NT and is unlikely in this letter, which he takes to be a primitive document. He does concede, however, that “even if Jesus is not here identified with God, He and the Father are clearly associated together in what is in effect a unity. One who becomes a servant of Christ thereby becomes a servant of God” (14).