Bible Commentaries

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

- James

by Gary Hampton

James and His Readers

An Epistle On Christian Living

The book of James has most often been placed in a group with 1 and 2Pe_1:1-21 ; 2Pe_2:1-22 and 3 John and Jude. The seven books, as a group, are often called the general epistles. This title comes from the fact that they all are written to the church in general or a wide section of the church, instead of to a church in a specific city. In many ways, this epistle could be called a commentary on the sermon on the mount.

James reveals the very heart of the gospel. He tells Christians how to live daily for the Master. Coffman says, "There is no similar portion of the sacred scriptures so surcharged with the mind of Christ as is the Epistle of James." Shelly titles his book on James What Christian Living Is All About and suggests Jam_1:27 sounds the theme of the book, which is pure and undefiled religion.

James, The Lord's Brother

The author identifies himself as James ( Jam_1:1 ). Four men in the New Testament are called James. One was the father of Judas, not Iscariot ( Luk_6:16 ; Act_1:13 ). It seems unlikely that this is our author since we know so little of him. The author of this book was so well known to the early church that he only signed his name.

James, the son of Alphaeus, was one of the Lord's apostles ( Act_1:13 ; Luk_6:15 ; Mar_3:18 ; Mat_10:32 ). His mother was one of the women at the cross and his father seems to have also been called Clopas ( Mat_27:56 ; Mar_16:1 ; Luk_24:10 ; Joh_19:25 ). He was known as James, the less, which may have been because of his height. Matthew was also known as the son of Alphaeus and may have been his brother along with Joses ( Mar_2:14 ). Other than details about his family, this James is also obscure and an unlikely candidate for authorship. The third James we would consider is James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John ( Mat_4:21 ; Mat_10:2 ; Mar_1:19 ; Mar_3:17 ; Luk_6:14 ; Act_1:13 ). He was among the three Jesus often took with him apart ( Mat_17:1 ; Mat_26:36-37 ; Mar_5:37 ). This James was put to death by Herod Agrippa I, as is recorded in Act_12:1-2 . Since Herod died in A.D. 44, James would have had to die before that time. Such an early date would seem to eliminate him as a choice.

Thus, we conclude that James, the brother of our Lord is this book's author ( Mat_13:55 ; Mar_6:3 ). Christ's brethren did not believe on him during his early ministry ( Joh_7:1-5 ; Mar_3:31-35 ). However, after the resurrection, Jesus' brethren were in the upper room praying with the disciples ( Act_1:12-14 ). The resurrection must have convinced them Jesus was God's Son ( 1Co_15:7 ).

James' Role In the Early Church

Having been converted, James became a leader in the early church. After his release from prison, Peter told those assembled at Mary's house what had happened. Then, he instructed them to tell James and the brethren ( Act_12:17 ). It is James who made the suggestion at the Jerusalem counsel which was finally agreed to as the wisest course ( Act_15:13-22 ). At the end of the third missionary journey, Paul went in with his companions and delivered a report to James, with all the elders present ( Act_21:18-25 ). Paul also referred to James as one who seemed to be a pillar in the Jerusalem church ( Gal_2:9 ).

Does Gal_1:18-19 teach James was an apostle? It should be noted that the word apostle means "one sent" and is applied to others besides the twelve plus Paul ( Act_14:14 ; Rom_16:7 ). The Hebrew writer even calls Jesus an apostle (3:1), presumably because he was sent by God to die for our sins ( Joh_3:16 ). The American Standard Version, in the margin, suggests the verse could be translated "But other of the apostles saw I none, but only James the Lord's brother." So, it is our opinion that James was the Lord's brother, but was not an apostle in the sense we generally mean.

About the Author and His Readers

Rather than relying upon his physical kinship with our Lord to get himself a hearing, James calls himself "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." The Greek word "doulos", which is translated servant, suggests the idea of one born into slavery. We are born into Christ by baptism ( Rom_6:3-4 ), and should be his slave since he gave his blood to buy us ( Act_20:28 ; Tit_2:14 ). Woods says the word means, "one 'who gives oneself up wholly to another's will,' serving to the complete disregard of one's own selfish interests." Paul would certainly describe himself as such an one ( Php_1:21 ; Gal_2:20 ), and would plead with others to join him ( Rom_12:1-2 ).

The twelve tribes which were scattered abroad must be Christians, since James uses the word brethren nineteen times. They could be Jewish converts who were scattered throughout the world after the death of Stephen ( Act_8:1-4 ). However, it seems more likely James was addressing all of spiritual Israel. The kingdom was taken away from fleshly Israel ( Mat_21:43 ). The children of flesh were no longer recognized as the children of God ( Rom_9:8 ). So, we conclude James must be speaking to Christians who were Gentiles as well as Jews ( Gal_6:15-16 ). God now looks on the inward circumcision of the heart instead of the outward circumcision of the flesh ( Rom_2:28-29 ; Php_3:3 ). The children of promise are now Abraham's seed in Christ ( Gal_3:7 ; Gal_3:16 ; Gal_3:26-29 ). Christians are a holy nation, the people of God ( 1Pe_2:9-10 ).


Coffman, James Burton. Commentary on Jam_1:1-27 & 2Pe_1:1-21 ; 2Pe_2:1-22 & 3 John, Jude . Austin: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1979.

Roberts, J. W. Titus, Philemon and James . Austin: R. B. Sweet Co., Inc., 1963.

Robertson, A. T. Studies in the Epistle of James . Nashville: Broadman Press, n.d.

Shelly, Rubel. What Christian Living Is All About (Studies in James) . Memphis: Simple Studies Publishing Company, 1974.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Mature . Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1978.

Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on the Epistle of James . Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1964.