James is one of the so-called General Epistles of the New Testament – along with First & Second Peter, First Second & Third John & Jude.
James was most likely the first book of the New Testament to be written – around A.D. 45.
Two of our Lord’s 12 apostles were named James. James, the brother of John, was put to death by King Herod very early in the history of the Church (Acts 12). The other apostle James (son of Alphaeus), is seldom mentioned.
But there was another James – the brother of the Lord – among those siblings born to Mary & Joseph after Jesus was born (Matthew 13:55).
The Bible tells us that, until Jesus had risen from the dead, “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5). Paul tells us that the risen Savior made a special point of appearing to James (1 Corinthians 15:7). He would have been among the 120 souls gathered together after the ascension, waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14).
Later, James becomes one of the “pillars” of the church at Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). When Peter is freed from Herod’s dungeon by an angel, he instructs the believers: “Tell these things to James and to the brothers” (Acts 12:17 EHV).
It is James who extends “the right hand of fellowship” to Paul and Barnabas (Galatians 2:9 EHV). As the head of the church at Jerusalem, James sums up and supports the united teaching of the Council held there – that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Acts 15:12-21).
James writes his brief, general letter before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and before the missionary journeys of Paul. The church at this time was mostly made up of Jewish Christians.
The Christians to whom he writes are well acquainted with the acts of redemption – the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
James writes his short letter to Jewish Christians who may have been tempted, amid poverty and persecution, to turn back to the empty formalism they had learned from the Pharisees and others.
James addresses a phony formalism, a “cheap” grace, an easy “believism” which is no real faith at all. James in no way contradicts Paul’s teaching that we are justified by faith in Christ apart from the deeds of the law. Paul, in his letters, talks about genuine faith in Jesus. James, on the other hand, takes aim at a fruitless and phony faith which is no faith at all. Paul addresses our justification before God. James speaks of our justification before the eyes of a watching world. Like the book of Proverbs, like the Sermon on the Mount, like the many admonitions to Christian living in the letters of Paul, James talks to people who already believe in Jesus as their only Savior – and encourages them to live up to that real faith in real life.