A Different Look at the Book of James

Writers, who write best, write from their perspective on life.  If you have experienced something traumatic such as the death of a child, been involved in a war or survived a natural disaster and you write about it, then chances are your writing will reflect the deeper and often mixed feelings of the event.  You readers are then more drawn into your writing because you wrote from what you knew.  Equally significant is taking some time to understand the background of an author before you read their work so the intended meaning becomes clearer.

One such author is the James, the writer of the Book of James in the New Testament.  So before you sit down to read this very practical and short Book on Christian living, consider the following information.

  1. James (James 1:1) identifies himself as a slave of both God and Jesus Christ acknowledging both belief and devotion to Jesus.
  2. James along with his other brothers Joseph, Judas and Simon are identified as Jesus half brothers (Mark 6:3 and Gal. 1:19).  Jude (Judas) verifies that his is both the brother of James and the half brother of Jesus in his Book of Jude (Jude 1:1).
  3. The townspeople of Nazareth further verify the relationship between Jesus and his half brothers when they minimize and question His wisdom and power (Matt. 13:53-57).  Jesus replies that a prophet has no respect in his hometown or family (Matt. 13:57) indicating that his brothers were not yet believers.
  4. James the half brother of Jesus is not the same person as James the brother of John, sons of Zebedee (Matt. 26:37) who was one of the twelve disciples (Matt. 10:2) , nicknamed by Jesus as “Sons of Thunder”  (Mark 3:17),  and later martyred for his faith (Acts 12:2).  Nor is he the other disciple named James, son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3) for whom nothing more is recorded.
  5. Jesus knew the Jewish leaders were plotting to kill him so he avoided Judea where His brothers urged him to go (John 7:1-4).  Then John comments that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him and their motive may not have been in Jesus’ best interest anyway (John 7:5-9).
  6. At the cross, Jesus tells John, one of his disciples, to care for his mother Mary and tells Mary that John is now responsible for her (John 19:25-27).  Normally, the responsibility for a widowed mother would rest on the eldest son first and then if he is deceased the second eldest.  Jesus instead departed from this tradition asking John to care for her possibly because his half brothers did not believe yet and would not have empathy for what their mother was experiencing.
  7. Paul recalls that Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor. 15:7) after He was resurrected.  Paul mentions prior to that that Jesus appeared to the disciples first which would have included the disciple also named James but then lists James’ name later and by itself before mentioning the apostles and finally Paul, himself.  While the details of this encounter are not recorded, given James’ past lack of belief and his later belief and leadership in the Jerusalem church, this moment could have been when he finally believed that Jesus was his Messiah.
  8. After the ascension of Jesus, the apostles when to Jerusalem to an upstairs room and were in prayer along with Mary (mother of Jesus) and Jesus’ brothers (Acts 1:12-14).  At this point, James is not mentioned by name indicating that he had not yet developed any leadership amongst the group.  In fact, his name was not even discussed as a possible disciple replacement for Judas (Acts 1:23) most likely because he had just become a believer.
  9. Paul after becoming a believer, met with Peter first and then James (Gal. 1:18-19) before meeting with the elders of the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:15-18).  This implies that James now had an important role and likely was already the leader of the Jerusalem church.
  10. James was the leader of the Jerusalem church and as such demonstrated authority in directing the church (Acts 15:13-21).  Peter and the others listen to his words and then follow his instruction again signifying the important role James is now playing in the church.
  11. Paul recounts a dispute between him and Peter (Gal. 1:11-12) in which he confronts Peter’s fear of James’ friend’s opinion further indicating James’ prominence in the early church.  Paul goes on to say that James, Peter and John were known as pillars of the early church (Gal. 2:9).
  12. Peter after being rescued by an angel from prison requests at Mary’s (mother of John Mark) house for others to go and tell James of his escape from Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:6-18).
  13. Paul visits with James and the elders of the church when he arrives in Jerusalem giving them a report on his ministry with the Gentiles (Acts 21:17-19).
  14. This is the last mention of James in the New Testament.  The Book of James was one of the first New Testament books written sometime around 49 A.D. just a year before the Jerusalem council occurred (Acts 15:13-21) (see number 10).

So after reading the summary, the bottom line is that James grew up with Jesus but did not believe Jesus was his Savior until after He was resurrected from the dead.  James’ ministry began at the same time as the early church and he eventually became the respected leader of the Jerusalem church.  James wrote the Book of James as a believer but was doing it with the perspective that he had at one time rejected his half brother Jesus.  Can you imagine the things he said in his youth that he later regretted as a Christian leader? 

The Book of James tells a much richer story of how a person can be so physically near to Christ in his youth and yet so far from the reality of who Jesus was.  Greater yet, it tells a story of how a person can go from spiritual death to life though faith strengthened by works in Jesus Christ.  Now, read the Book of James remembering the story of the author and allowing it to speak to you at a deeper and practical level.

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