Faith at Work

The letter does not mention the Jewish/Gentile controversy, perhaps indicating that it was composed before Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council. This suggestion would date the letter before AD 47/48 (Moo 26).

The meeting place of the church is still identified as the sunagoge (2:2, translated “meeting” in the NIV). Later the church gathering would be called the ekklesia, dropping the Jewish “synagogue” identity.

Elders are mentioned (5:14), but no bishops or deacons, perhaps indicating a very early stage in the church’s development.

The famine in Judea of AD 46 (Acts 11:28) is a likely backdrop for James’ discussion regarding the poor and the rich.

Others believe the letter to have been composed later in the life of James, for these reasons:

There are only two references to Jesus, suggesting to some scholars that the letter was composed in an era when the early, evangelistic preaching about the Lord had become more didactic, assuming knowledge of his life and work.

The rich are discussed often (1:9-11; 2:1-3; 5:1-6). In the earliest church there were apparently few wealthy members: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26). Thus some believe the letter to have been composed during a period when more influential people had joined the church.

I accept a very early date for the letter (perhaps the mid-40’s), and believe James to be the first book of the NT to be written.

I believe that James’ lack of references to Jesus is a function of the letter’s purpose, and do not accept the assertion that the relative poverty of the Corinthian church precludes the existence of wealthy members in the Jerusalem congregation.

People from across the Roman Empire had gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Ac 2), families with enough means to make such a journey.

Many who trusted Christ that day apparently stayed in the city to compose the Jerusalem church, providing the social and cultural variety which James reflects.

Who are its recipients?

The letter is sent to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” The Greek literally translates, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion. The “twelve tribes” reminds us immediately of the people of God in the OT, the descendants of Jacob’s twelve sons (Exodus 1:2-5).

Diaspora means “scattering” or “dispersion.” The term indicates one who is living in a foreign country (Rienecker 375); cf. 1 Peter 1:1, “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered (diasporas) throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.”

Some have interpreted this “scattering” as spiritual or metaphorical in nature, but it is most likely a geographical reference (Adamson 49-50).

The ten northern tribes of Israel were scattered into Assyria (ca. 922 B.C.), never to return; their descendants continued a Jewish presence in that land.

The southern kingdom of Judah was exiled to Babylon (586 B.C.); many never returned, but established a thriving Jewish community in that land which continued when Persia later conquered Babylon. Cf. Haman’s description of the Persian Jews to the Persian king Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws” (Esther 3:8). They lived in all 127 provinces of Persia (8:9; 9:30; 10:1).

In 63 B.C., Pompey took thousands of Jews to Rome as slaves, but they were soon freed and lived in that city in large numbers.

As many as a million Jews lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the first century, and multiplied thousands more in Antioch and Syria. Strabo, the Greek geographer, records, “It is hard to find a spot in the whole world which is not occupied and dominated by Jews” (Barclay 40).

By the first century, Jews numbering more than four million had scattered across the entire Empire and known world, as the question asked of Jesus made plain: “Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?” (John 7:35).

Note that at Pentecost, Jews were present from Rome and Crete to the west, Asia Minor (including Phrygia and Pamphylia), Pontus and Cappadocia to the north, Egypt and Cyrene (in northern Africa) to the south, the Parthian empire to the east (including Medes and Elamites), and Arabia to the southeast (Acts 2:9-11). Presumably, converts at Pentecost carried their faith back to these lands, bringing the gospel across the world.

The persecution which followed Stephen’s martyrdom further scattered these early believers: “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1; “scattered” is the same Greek root as in James 1:1).

They spread as far as Phoenicia (to the north), Cyprus (to the west), and Syrian Antioch (to the northeast) by Acts 11:19.

The literary style of the book indicates a wider audience than Palestine, where the people were mainly agriculturalists who spoke Aramaic. The koine (common) Greek of James’ letter was the typical language of those Jews who lived in Gentile lands (Robertson 10).

Given that many of them had been members of his church in Jerusalem, James would naturally feel a spiritual responsibility for them and wish to continue his pastoral ministry in their lives. Thus he writes with a note of authority which indicates his previous status as their spiritual leader (Burdick 162-3; Moo 50; Stulac 30-2).

The “twelve tribes in the dispersion” would likely have included those living in Jerusalem and Judea as well.

The rabbis typically saw the “twelve tribes of Israel” as representing all Jews everywhere; cf. Paul’s statement, “this is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night” (Acts 26:7; Adamson 50).

Hebraic customs abound in the letter. For instance, we find numerous examples of repetitive alliteration in the Greek (“you fall into various trials” [1:2] in the Greek is peirasmois peripesete poikilois; see also 3:5, 3:8; 4:8). Parallelism is also common (1:9, 10; 15; 17; 19, 20; 22; 3:11, 12; Oesterley 394-5; 406).