This book bears the name of the writer, James (1:1).
Most scholars conclude there are three persons called James in the New Testament.
Although a moot point, it is believed by many that James the brother of the Lord wrote this book called James. That he was not one of the twelve apostles is indicated by the fact that he did not believe on the Lord until after the resurrection (Jn 7:2-9; Mk 3:21; Acts 1:13,14). He was a pillar in the early church, being associated largely with the saints at Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; Gal 1:19; 2:9-12). Josephus declared that James was brought before the Sanhedrin by Sadducees, charged of departing from the Jewish Law, and then stoned to death. Clement of Alexander claimed that James was flung down from the gable of the temple, stoned, and beaten to death with a club for speaking to Jews about Christ.
The letter was addressed primarily to the Jews scattered abroad, "twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion" (1:1). Evidently they were Christian Jews, for James called them "My brethren" with respect to the "faith of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2:1). Some were rich and some poor (2:1-10; 5:1-6). Lust, greed and pride were evidenced among them (4:1-12). They were severely persecuted (1:2-4, 12-18). The general state of the ones addressed is not such as a gospel teacher could look on with satisfaction. The poor were oppressed and dragged before the judgment seats by the rich. These trials were not endured with the patience and humility which might have been expected of them as Christians. Instead of seeking wisdom from God they regarded Him as their tempter. Worldliness of spirit created strifes and dissentions among them. They seemed to believe that their nominal Christian faith would save them, without a holy life.
Jerusalem, where James did most of his work, is believed to be the place of writing. The date is uncertain. Some place it as early as A.D. 40; others as late as A.D. 62. Many conservative scholars believe that it was written around A.D. 48. Their argument is based on several factors. Since the issues of Romans 4 and Galatians 3 are absent, it is thought that the book was written before the Jerusalem conference. Evidently it was not written after the dreadful calamity of A.D. 70. The circumstances described and sins condemned are characteristic of early Jewish Christians. Furthermore, there is no reference to Gentile Christians, which allusions would have been natural after A.D. 50. It is probably safe to say that the Epistle of James is one of the earliest of the New Testament books.
The book was written to warn Christian Jews against their besetting sins and to exhort them to steadfastness under persecution. It is one of the seven General Epistles, so called because they were not addressed to particular persons or churches. The general theme is practical religion, or faith at work (1:27; 2:14-26). Abrupt in style, it has been called "The Christian Book of Proverbs." It omits the word gospel, lacks the doctrinal emphasis found in Paul's writings, makes no reference to the work of redemption, the incarnation, the resurrection or ascension, and mentions Christ's name only twice (1:1; 2:1). With the exception of his references to works, James assumes the doctrinal features of the gospel. He is concerned largely with the social and ethical aspects of Christianity. Luther called the epistle of James "a veritable epistle of straw" because it emphasized salvation by works and did not agree with his doctrine of justification by faith only. There is no scriptural basis for Luther's criticism that Paul and James are contradictory concerning salvation. Each taught that man is saved by "faith working through love (Gal 5:6; Js 2:14-26).