Author: James, the brother of Jesus, who becomes one of the three pillars in the early church. This could not be written by James, the disciples of Jesus, as he died too early (Acts 12:2).
Audience: From 1:1, we deduce that James is writing to Jews who have converted to Christianity, probably from the first Day of Pentecost. Acts records 22 different languages in which the Holy Spirit-filled apostles spoke in, and Jews who had pilgrimaged from their native lands to Jerusalem heard them.
Date written: From the fact that it was written to Jews, it sounds like it was written BEFORE Gentiles got converted in mass numbers.
Rivalry between James and Paul: Liberal theologians deduce from 2:17-26 that James argued directly against Paul’s assertion we are saved by grace alone, not by works (Eph 2:8). The naming of Abraham in v. 21 certainly sounds like a direct counter-argument to Gal. 3:8-11. There is more to this argument. From what Paul tells us in Gal. 2:12, it appears that James is the patron of the group of the circumcision that Paul steadfastly resists.
We are going to argue that there is no rivalry between James and Paul, and that James’ argument of faith and works is complementary, not contradictory, to Paul’s discussions.
First, it appears that James wrote before Paul wrote or even started ministry, maybe before Paul even got saved. It would be impossible for James to address written material from Paul that hadn’t yet been written.
Secondly, the supposed rivalry is a case of building a few pieces of circumstantial evidence into a mountain. Paul respects James as his leader (Gal. 1:19, 2:9). James sides with Paul’s interpretation of grace (Acts 15:13 ff). Other evidence points not to rivalry, but to mutual respect and trust.
Thirdly, if a reasonable explanation to how James 2:17-26 might not be counter-argument, the rivalry theory continues to crumble. Specifically, James names a kind of faith that is more of an intellectual assent than real faith (2:19). Paul would oppose an only intellectual faith too. Next, James says that real faith produces “works.” Paul would call them “fruit.” A fruit tree does not have to “work” to produce fruit; simply under optimum conditions, fruit happens. This is Paul’s argument. He worked so hard striving to please God and wound up God’s enemy (persecuting the church) that he repudiates this approach to God. As a persecutor, he tried to earn God’s favor. When he gets God’s favors through no merits of his own, he gets God’s grace in spite of his conduct, he gushes gratitude and now produces fruit by the Spirit out of thankfulness. James would argue that a truly saved person shows it by his works (Paul would say fruit).
Fourthly, the polar opposition continues to erode when we look at 1:25, 2:8 and 2:12. Here James markedly contrasts the Jewish law with the Christian law, which he calls the “law of liberty” (sounds a lot like Paul) and the “royal law,” the law of King Christ (Matt. 5:43 ff). His labeling “the law” thus distances himself from the supposed Pharisaical positions (Acts 15:5) that James is assumedly leader of.
For these four reason, we argue that there is no bad blood between Paul and James, that they take different tracks and address differing problems but agree in essence on the gospel.
Organizational divisions of the book: