There are five men named James in the New Testament who could have written been the author of this letter. Three of the five are high-profile enough to be good candidates, so let’s have a very brief look at them.
1. James, the brother of Jesus.
2. James the Apostle, son of Zebedee. This James was one of the inner-circle of Jesus, along with Peter and John. Although he might be a good guess for authorship, he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2) around 44 A.D., meaning that this Letter would have been by far the earliest written of the New Testament books. If he had written it, one would have expected him to mention that he was an Apostle in the letter, and there is no mention of apostleship.
3. James the Apostle, son of Alpheus. Again, there is no mention of apostleship, so the same objection would apply. Very little is known about this James.
The other two men mentioned in the New Testament who have this name are quite obscure, making them unlikely authors of a major letter such as this. I would conclude that the author is James, (half) brother of Jesus and brother of Jude.
As for the date and specific purpose of the letter, James gives us no real clues, so in these posts, I won’t speculate, rather I will focus on the more universal application as most commentators tend to do. It is an interesting letter, almost a moral code. The author seems to borrow from the moral coda of Leviticus 19, and parallels topically the Sermon on the Mount, and interestingly also appears to have been influenced by two Apocryphal books; I’ll include a “Bonus Study” on that.
Looking at the theme and structure, James is interesting, for one could easily teach it by topic rather than by using en expository approach as I will do here. The topics are
1. Waiting for Jesus (1:2-4, 12-18; 5:7-12)
2. Wisdom (1:5-8; 3:13-18)
3. Rich and Poor (1:9-11; 2:1-13; 4:13-16; 5:1-6)
4. The Tongue (1:19-21;, 26; 3:1-12; 4:11-12)
5. Prayer (1:6-8; 4:1-10; 5:13-20)
6. Faith and Action (1:22-27; 2:14-26)
To say the least, it’s an unusual outline, and we’ll get to it next, so have some hot coffee ready, pull up your chairs and fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a lot of fun!