If you want to understand someone’s writing you have to understand something about them as an author.  The Bible is not mythical book, it was written by real men, to real audiences, in real time.  Understanding these things is not hard but does require a little work. I present this life synopsis on James, the brother of our Lord to help you better appreciate the book we are studying.

     James was the a younger half brother of the Lord. He was one of 4 boys that Mary had after the birth of Jesus.[1]  James like his brothers, did not believe that his oldest brother was the Messiah. As adults they responded to Jesus’ signs and miracles with unbelief, calling him a lunatic![2]  Jesus’ brother convinced Mary to doubt Jesus. We find her standing with her sons calling Jesus to stop his ministry and return home![3]  The Apostle John paints the picture clearly when he wrote, “For even His own brothers did not believe Him.”[4]

     Unsurprisingly the brothers of Jesus are not mentioned during the crucifixion. Their brother was a mad man, who had finally crossed the line and would now die for his lunacy. Mary having recovered her faith was entrusted to the Apostle John and not her unbelieving sons. John was now regarded as closer to Mary blood relatives[5]  A miracle filled life, a shocking death, and an incredible rumor of resurrection had no effect on James.

     It was a post resurrection appearance of Jesus that finally opened James eyes.[6]  The conversion of James during the encounter in 1 Corinthians isn’t, but the later life of James shows that a radical change took place after meeting Jesus. From then on, the doubting brother would be a faithful witness. He is found among those in Jerusalem praying before the day of Pentecost.[7]  He is seen as consequential leader in the young and growing church in Jerusalem. His teaching gives shape and form to this new Christian community.[8]  James was so important to the church the Apostle Paul appeared before him. James was one of the first to hear of the miraculous escape of Peter from jail.[9]  It is not understating the point to say that James shaped Christianity as you and I know it! 2000 years later his teaching continues to shape and influence the morality of Christian community.

     How James died is a matter of church tradition. We read that James led the church in Jerusalem for 30 years.[10]  His career and character provided the necessary stability for the early church. Despite persecution from without and division from within, the church continued to grow. James influence wasn’t contained to the church. We read that Jewish leaders became threatened by the influence of James among the Jews and arranged his murder.

     The legacy of James is inspiring. From calling Jesus a mad-man, to calling mad-men to follow Jesus as their Savior, James is a living illustration of Gospel transformation. Whether we read about James in the book of Acts or read the book named after him, we what is possible when we follow God.

     The challenge to reading the book of James isn’t it’s content. The problem is with us, we live in an authority adverse culture. The clarity and boldness of James is offense to people trained to doubt authority. James isn’t having a discussion, he’s clear, simple and urgent. If you are a Christian you are a friend of God, so live like it!

     How can James write like this? As you read you will hear the Words of Jesus saturating this letter. This is intentional. James is providing a sermon on the implications of the Sermon on the Mount.[11]  The Gospel truth creates moral imperatives and James is a book of moral imperatives. We are in danger of seeing Christianity devolve into a religion of moral codes. James saves us from this fate by teaching that obedience is the result of a relationship with God, not the cause. Christians do what they do because of what has been done in them. More simply, “good works do not save, but saved people do good works.”

This is a religion that works, it is the religion taught in James because it is the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ.


[1] Matthew 13:55

[2] Mark 3:21

[3] Matthew 12:46-50 cf. Mark 3:31

[4] John 7:5

[5] John 19:26-27

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:7

[7] Acts 1:14

[8] Acts 15

[9] Acts 12:17

[10]  Saint Jerome “On Illustrious Men” pg. 8 para. 14

[11] Matthew ch. 5-7


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