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Relevant Verses: James 1:1; 2:1

Synopsis: The Author of the Book of James

The official study guide adopts the position that the author of the book of James is the Lord’s brother by that name. Also known as James the Just, this brother of Jesus nowhere in his book refers to his familial relationship to Jesus. Indeed, Jesus’ name only appears twice in the whole book (1:1; 2:1). But James was active in the early Christian community, chairing, for example, the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.

Two of Jesus’ disciples were also called James: 1) son of Zebedee, who was killed by Herod Agrippa I in AD 44 (Acts 12:2); 2) son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3). Neither of these is seen as a serious candidate as author of the book.

Another alternative has been proposed by more radical critics, namely, that the book was written later under a pseudonym. The Greek in the Book of James is very sophisticated, presumably beyond the skill of someone from Jesus’ family. According to examples found in the Bible itself, however, someone other than James could easily have written the letter. In the Old Testament for example, Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe (cf. Jer. 36). And in the New Testament, Tertius wrote the book of Romans for Paul (Rom. 16:22); Paul also used an unnamed secretary to write his first letter to Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 16:21).

Interest in knowing the author of a book seems to be more important to us than to the Bible writers, at least to the writers of Old Testament books. Very few books in the OT clearly indicate the author. In New Testament times, however, authorship seems to play an important role in the acceptance of books into the canon. Apostolic authorship seems to have been a crucial factor.

Questions for discussion.

1. Why should it make any difference to us who actually wrote a book that is now found in our canon?

Note: Some books leave clear markers when someone other than the primary author has contributed to the book. Just before the last chapter of Jeremiah, for example, these words appear: “Thus far are the words of Jeremiah” (Jer. 51:64). What follows is simply a copy of the last chapter in 2 Kings, a testimony to the fact that Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem. The book of Jeremiah is a good example that was put together by the “Jeremiah Estate,” probably after the prophet’s death.

Proverbs is another book that leaves evidence of editors and compilers at work. Proverbs 1:1, 10:1, and 25:1 all indicate that these verses begin a fresh compilation. And Proverbs 30 is attributed to Agur son of Jakeh; Proverbs 31 is attributed to the mother of King Lemuel! But some scholars of the past have tried to argue that these were simply other names for Solomon, all in an effort to preserve the idea that Solomon wrote the whole book.

2. Is there any evidence in the book of James that would suggest which James was the author? Would it make any difference in our appreciation of the book if we knew?

Note: Sometimes knowing the author can make a difference in how we see a document. I well remember when I was working with the Adventist Review staff on the series that would eventually appear as the “Sinai to Golgotha” series (December 1981; July 1982), I received a critique from the editors which I felt was somewhat unjust. But when I learned that the author of the critique was actually the new editor/editor-elect, Bill Johnnson, I began to see the critique in a much better light!
Another example from my own personal experience involves the author of these beautiful lines:

“O the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as it is, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keeping what is worth keeping and then, with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

These lines have been widely attributed to George Eliot. That was the author I linked with these lines when I memorized them. To my great disappointment, however, I later learned that the author was most likely Dinah Maria (Mulock) Craik (1826-1887). Is it not curious that I would be so troubled? George Eliot is a more famous name, but neither Eliot nor Craik mean anything to me personally. Yet I was disappointed when I learned the truth.

A similar logic seems to be a work when it comes to the authorship of biblical books. In theory, authorship should make no difference; in practice, it often means a great deal.

3. Where in the Bible itself would one find the suggestion that knowing who wrote an “inspired” work is crucial to our understanding or acceptance of a book?

4. How do we make peace with the fact that the Bible does not insist on knowing the author, and often does not tell us who the author was, and possibly uses a pseudonym at times, at least during the time of Christ (e.g. Enoch, and Ezra)?

Note: A similar psychology seems to be at work both with the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. When it is discovered that the author used sources without telling us, it can be shattering to faith. But letting the Bible itself inform us on such matters should make our faith secure. The “inspiration” of a particular book does not rely on knowing who the author was.

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