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“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” James 1:1

The Author of the Epistle

The author of this epistle directed to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion is undoubtedly James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ as according to the flesh. The Scriptures speak of more than one James. In the list of the apostle, according to Matt. 10, Mark 3, Luke 6, and Acts 1:13, we read of two who bear this name: James, the son of Zebedee, and James, the son of Alphaeus. Neither of these two James can be considered to have written this epistle. James, the son of Zebedee, commonly called James the Greater or the Elder, was slain with the sword by King Herod, according to Acts 12. Because of the early date of this Herodian murder James, the son of Zebedee, could not have written this epistle. Of James, the son of Alphaeus, we read nothing in the Scriptures except that he appears in the list of the apostles. Against the claim that he may have been the author one may object that the writer of this epistle does not address himself to the church of God as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. This claim to the apostleship appears in the great majority of the epistles; and in those epistles where, e.g., the apostle Paul does not present himself to his readers as an apostle (see Phil. 1:1, I Thess. 1:1, II Thess. 1:1) the epistles themselves clearly establish the apostleship of the author. Fact is, then, it is exactly because this writer is not an apostle that he does not address himself as an apostle. We may conclude, therefore, that the writer of James cannot refer to one of the apostle. This leaves but one possibility: James, the brother of Christ. Of this James we read that, at an early period in the Acts of the Apostles, he appears as the head of the church at Jerusalem (see Acts 12:17, 15:13 ff., Acts 21:18). Paul calls him the brother of the Lord in Gal. 1:19 and in Gal. 2:9 the apostle reckons him among the pillars of the church. Moreover, he is the brother of the writer of the epistle of Jude, and, according to the narrative of Josephus, suffered martyrdom about the year 63. It is true that the writer of the epistle of James does not address himself as the brother of Christ. To this we will call attention later. Only, what bearing could his relationship of flesh and blood to the Christ possibly have on the writing of an infallible epistle to the church of the living God? In fact, it is exactly because this relationship of flesh and blood has no significance whatsoever that the holy writer refrains from introducing himself as such to his readers. Time and space forbid us to elaborate on this particular subject. We may safely conclude that James, the brother of Christ according to the flesh, head of the church at Jerusalem, is the writer of the epistle.

The Addressees

This epistle is addressed to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad. We read literally of the “12 tribes which are in the Dispersion”. It is evident, in the first place, that the writer of this epistle is writing to Jews. The expression “12 tribes” clearly indicates that James is addressing Jews. Resides, there are expressions in the epistle which also lead us to this conclusion. We read of Job, of Elijah, of the early and latter rain—these references were familiar to the Jews. Secondly, however, it is evident that the holy writer is not writing merely to Jews, but to Christian Jews. This is established throughout the epistle. Does not James introduce himself to his readers, not as a Jew, but as a “servant of the Lord Jesus Christ”? Does he not repeatedly address them as “his beloved brethren.” Clearly, therefore, the author designates himself as a Christian and his readers as his beloved brethren. And in several places in the epistle he distinctly affirms that they stand with him on the same ground of faith. In chapter 1:18 he declares that God has begotten them by the word of truth; in chap. 2:1 he reminds them of their faith of the Lord Jesus Christ of glory; in chap. 2:7 he speaks of the goodly name (that is, the name of Jesus Christ which was invoked upon them; in chap. 5:7 he exhorts them to patience, pointing out to them the nearness of the coming of the Lord; and in chap. 2:16 ff., he evidently supposes that they had one and the same faith with himself. James is therefore addressing Christian Jews. It is for this reason that he addresses these Christian Jews as the “twelve tribes”. The expression “12 tribes” was commonly used to designate the Israel of God of the Old Dispensation. The fact that James addresses the Christian Jews as the “twelve tribes” indicates that, to him, they are the true Israel of God. Thirdly, the writer is addressing the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion”. It is evident, also from the original text, that “Dispersion” is a proper name. As such it was expressive of a locality outside of Jerusalem. The Christian Jews lived in that locality because they had been driven into it by persecutions. For this reason our translation reads “scattered about”. The original word “Dispersion” has been translated “scattered about”. To understand this we need but be reminded of the persecution of the Church by Saul, according to Acts 9.

This church of God, the Christian Jews in the Dispersion, is a picture of the church of God throughout the ages. Throughout the ages God’s cause, although in the world, is not of the world. And yet we must assume our place in the midst of that world, shewing forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. To that church Jesus speaks. And it is only as that church that we can hear and receive his word. Whosoever would be a friend of the world finds nothing in this epistle which can be of any comfort to him. James’ addressees are a very particular group of people. They are the friends of God in the midst of an adulterous world. They alone are comforted and admonished and exhorted by this holy writer.

The Address

James introduces himself to his readers in this epistle as a “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” First of all, the names of “God” and “Lord Jesus Christ” must not be understood as coordinate, so that the holy writer would be a servant equally of both, of God and of Christ. The meaning of this expression can be interpreted as follows: James, a servant of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is true, of course, that Jesus Christ, being Immanuel, is God in the flesh. However, he does not refer to the Lord Jesus Christ according to His divine nature. He has already mentioned God, and when he speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ he is referring to the Christ according to the human nature. The relationship in which Christ stands to us, and in which we, through Christ, stand to God immediately suggests that James is a servant of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice, in this connection, the often recurring triple appellation of the Savior. James speaks of Him as the Lord Jesus Christ. These names are Christ’s most common names in Holy Writ, often appear together although not always in the same order. Jesus is He because He is the revelation of Jehovah as the God of our salvation. Jesus means: Jehovah saves. Christ Jesus is He as He saves us as our chief prophet, only High Priest, and Eternal King. And our Lord Jesus Christ is He because, having saved us as Christ Jesus, He is become our Lord who has bought us with His own precious blood, to whom we owe allegiance, and who preserves and protects us unto the end.

Secondly, James calls himself a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “servant” means literally “slave”. It is well that we retain this original meaning. The word is used in the Scriptures, as in Eph. 6:6, with reference to the people of God in general. The same thought is expressed by our Heidelberg Catechism in the first Lord’s Day where we read that we are not our own but belong unto our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. The child of God delights in calling himself the slave of God and of Christ Jesus. By nature we imagine ourselves to be our own masters, the captains of our own lives and destiny, having refused in Paradise to be the servants of God. Now, however, we are the slaves (servants) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The expression “servants (slaves) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” does not merely mean that we serve God and the Lord Jesus Christ, but that we are His slaves, slaves of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. This implies three things. It signifies that God bought us through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, we belong unto God. It also implies that we, belonging unto God and the Lord Jesus Christ, must serve them. A slave does not his own will but that of his master. The same applies to the Christian. And, finally, to be a slave of God, through Jesus Christ, implies that He is fully responsible for our welfare and will protect and fully care for us. We understand that to be such a slave of God through the Lord Jesus Christ is expressive of the highest freedom and of everlasting life—then we again move about freely in the sphere to which we, by virtue of our creation, are adapted, to wit, the service and fellowship of the living God.

The word “slave” is also used in the Scriptures, however, with reference to the holy writers of the Word of God (see, besides our text, Rom. 1:1, Gal. 1:10, Phil. 1:1, Titus 1:1, II Pet. 1:1). James is a servant of God and of Christ, indeed, in the same sense in which this applies to all the people of God. But he is such also in a particular sense of the word as a writer of Holy Writ. He does not introduce himself as the brother of Christ according to the flesh. This would be of no significance. Bond of flesh and blood are of no significance in the Kingdom of God. But he is a slave of God and of Christ Jesus. This means, especially in this text, that he will not write his own will, but only the will of God, revealed unto him through the Spirit of Christ Jesus, his Lord—he is completely in the service of God through Christ.

Thirdly, we notice the greeting. This word was used commonly as a salutation, a greeting, at the beginning of letters (see, e.g. Acts 15:23). It is derived from a word which means “to rejoice, be glad.” As such it was a greeting to the addressee of a letter, wishing him joy and peace. Only, we must understand that James here is greeting the church as the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, the text conveys to us, not James’ personal greeting, but the greeting of God, through James, unto His church. We have here the inspired record of God’s salutation to His people, God’s greeting of peace and joy, which He bestows upon us, which is therefore always upon us, and which salutation of peace and joy we can also consciously experience in the prayerful reading of and instruction, also applied by the Holy Spirit, in the divine Scriptures.