James' Tests of Authenticity

The author of James is James, the half-brother of Jesus and brother of Jude, not James the Apostle. From Acts 15 we can see that James had become an influential and well-respected leader of the Jerusalem church. He was the oldest of Mary's other children and had to deal with the problems Jesus caused the family. Scripture says His siblings did not believe Jesus' claim to be sent from God, but at some point their eyes were opened and we are told (Acts 1) they were in the upper room with the Apostles after the resurrection.

 

He was called James the Just or James the Righteous. It was not uncommon to add those words to the name of a man who was considered a righteous and faithful observer of the Law and in reading Acts15 it would seem that James was such a man. When a council was called in Jerusalem (49A.D.?) to decide the issue of whether Gentile believers needed to follow the Old Testament rite of circumcision James listened to those who firmly believed they should obey the Law and Paul and Peter who did not feel the Gentiles should be under that Law. As hard as it must have been for him, after much prayer and discussion he came down on the side of Paul and Peter. This decision was a milestone for the early church; at stake was the fledgling unity of Jewish and Gentile believers coming together as one body under Jesus Christ.

Scholars believe this was one of the first New Testament letters written, probably between 45 and 50A.D. This epistle was written to Jewish believers who formed the early church, many of them saved when they traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, and who carried the Gospel back to their respective countries. Eventually the Jewish believers who called Jerusalem home were ordered to leave and were scattered throughout the Roman Empire as this new “religion” grew and was seen as a threat by not only orthodox Jews but by Rome. Throughout the Empire these new Jewish Christians joined local synagogues bringing the news that Jesus Christ was alive and was their Messiah come to fulfill the Law. They continued to observe the laws, ceremonies and feasts of their forefathers. Acts 17:11,12 and 21:20 tells us there were many thousands of zealous Jews who believed the Gospel attending synagogue with orthodox Jews who did not. It was emotionally painful for these believers to separate themselves from worshipping the way they and their families had for more than a thousand years and many of the trials James addresses in the opening verses of chapter 1 had to do with their ill treatment received at the hands of fellow Jews which eventually did force the separation.

In his introduction James encourages his readers to stand fast and endure through their trials; they will be rewarded for their suffering. The word trial in the Greek is “peirasmos” which is trial or testing directed toward an end. James wanted them to understand that God has purpose in all He does and the joy comes from pleasing Him and persevering through the trial, whatever it is, knowing there is reward waiting. The rest of the letter is similar to the Sermon on the Mount and gives one practical test after another to prove that genuine authentic faith is a working faith. He does not pull any punches and writes in the style of an Old Testament prophet that urges action on his readers part. In 108 verses he gives 54 imperatives to communicate the importance of what he is telling them.

Josephus says James was martyred sometime after the death of the Roman Governor Festua and the arrival of his successor Albinus (62A.D.?). Tradition says he was taken to the top of the temple and thrown off and there are many versions of how it happened. It is very easy to take for granted not only the price these pioneers of our faith paid, but their courage in the days when Christianity was turning the world upside down. Their endurance and perseverance accomplished the remarkable task of taking the Gospel everywhere. To read as much as we can about them personally (like James) forces us to take their words seriously and it should encourage us to determine to love and obey Christ as they did.

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