James is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I’ve read through it many times, heard it preached, studied it verse-by-verse, wrote a devotional commentary on it, and more. There is so much to explore and learn in this short letter. So, I’m excited that we’re exploring James’ epistle on the Olive Tree blog (See the other posts here). Together, we’re going to learn some fantastic insights from this letter with a character study.

Let’s get started.

Bible Text

The verse we’re focusing on is the very first verse of the letter, which reads:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. Greetings.

James 1:1 (Christian Standard Bible)

As with most New Testament epistles, the writer declares his authorship at the very beginning. The author of this letter is James, who calls himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Which James? A Character Study

Well, James is a common name in the Bible. Which one is this? Let’s see what we can find in the Olive Tree Bible App to help us.

Thankfully, the Resource Guide makes this work incredibly easy for us. If we scroll down to the “People” section we find a listing for James. Then, if we tap on that, the Resource Guide presents us a list of articles. This second article, titled “James, Letter of“, from the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary looks promising.

James Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Here’s what it says about the epistle’s authorship:

The author of the letter refers to himself as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jas. 1:1). The NT mentions five who bore the name of James. Tradition attributes the authorship of the letter to James the brother of the Lord, who was probably favored with a special appearance of the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:7) and who from a very early date occupied a leading position in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; Gal 1:19). Paul names him first among the three “pillars” (Gal 2:9). In Acts 15 he is described as the leader and chief spokesman of the Apostolic Council.

All that is known of him shows that he was highly esteemed not only by Christians but also by unbelieving Jews. According to Josephus, he was put to death by the high priest in the interregnum between the death of Festus and the arrival of his successor Albinus in A.D. 62.

All the characteristics of the letter support the traditional attribution of it to James the brother of the Lord. The author speaks with the authority of one who knew he did not need to justify or defend his position. There is no more Jewish book in the NT than this letter; and this is to be expected from a man whom both tradition and the rest of the NT show was distinguished by his Jewish commitments. The whole of the letter, moreover, bears a striking resemblance to the Sermon on the Mount, both in the loftiness of its morality and in the simple grandeur of its expression.

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary

With this information, given the options available, it looks like James, the half-brother of Jesus is the most likely author of this epistle. But our character study is far from over…

James, the Half-Brother of Jesus

Instead of turning to another dictionary, let’s see what Scripture has to say about him. Again, the Resource Guide makes this easy for us. In the same section, past the articles, a section called “What does the Bible say about” appears. Tapping it provides a list of relevant Bible passages. If we look at the verses for “Brother of Jesus” we can learn more about him.

James cross reference

Both Matthew (13:55) and Mark (6:3) connect him with Jesus alongside a list of his other siblings, including: Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Jude). In Galatians (1:19; 2:9, 12) Paul writes that this James is an apostle and leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that this James was a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, in Acts (15:13-21) we find James leading the church in response to how the Gentiles ought to live according to the gospel, as well as another encounter with Paul where he listens to reports of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 21:18, 19). We also learn from other places in Scripture, like John 7:3-5, that Jesus’ brothers, James included, were not believers during the time of his earthly ministry.

All this information gives us a pretty solid picture of who James was as a person:

  • He grew up with Jesus
  • Doubted his brother’s claim to be the Messiah but still followed him
  • Witnessed the resurrection
  • Became an apostle and leader of the church in Jerusalem
  • Authored the epistle that bears his name

What Can We Learn from James?

When it comes to learning from the life of James, the brother of Jesus, there is one thing that stands out above the rest, and it is this: the resurrected Christ has the power to change lives. Like the religious leaders of their day, James had seen Jesus perform countless miracles, but none of that convinced him that Jesus was the Messiah (John 7:5). But when he witnessed the resurrected Jesus his entire life changed. He went from skeptic to believer to church leader.

It’s amazing to see the same work that happened in the life of James happen in our own lives. One moment we’re dead in our sins with no faith in who Jesus is. Upon witnessing the resurrected Christ through gospel proclamation, the Holy Spirit makes us alive and our lives are never the same.

Character Studies Help Us Go Deeper

It is this James, the James who went from unbelief to belief, that pens this beautiful epistle to Jews who have been scattered abroad because of persecution for their belief in the risen Savior. If you’re like me, knowing this background gives you a greater appreciation for the author of this letter, and makes me want to pay attention to his words all the more.

And to think, we got all this information from a couple clicks in the Olive Tree Bible App. What else could we learn if we dig a little deeper? Open up your Bible to James and look around the Resource Guide to see what other information you can learn about our Lord’s brother.

Interested in doing more character studies with the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary? Discover the Bible’s rich background with the NIV Bible Study Pack, a curated collection of Bible study tools, including study Bible notes, maps, this dictionary, and more.

A Word Study Example in James 2
Finding Godly Wisdom in James 3
Writing Your Own Bible Outlines: James 4
Strength to Endure: Journaling on James 5

3 Comments

  1. Unless I’m not reading correctly, you’re saying I need to buy the Anchor Bible Dictionary for $125 in order to do this study ?? I will be very disappointed if this is the way to get those who want to learn.

    • Jo, no you do not need to purchase the Anchor Bible Dictionary to do a character study. It was just an example of a resource that can be used to accomplish this type of study. But you can get comparable information from a wide variety of Bible dictionaries.

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