The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 5: Authorship

In the prescript of the letter the author merely identifies himself as James, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This self-designation raises the question of James’ identity.[1]

Several schools of thought abound with regards to the identity of this James, because several people bearing the name abound in Scripture[2]. Traditionally authorship of this epistle has commonly been attributed by Church Fathers such Jerome, to James the brother of Jesus.[3]

This is the one whom the Apostle Paul designated as “the brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1:19), who also appears other places in the New Testament as the leader of the early church in Jerusalem. Internal evidence seems to support this view. The author’s knowledge of synoptic tradition is not surprising in one who was a close relative of Jesus and became his disciple.[4] Verse 1 of the epistle shows James stating his office as  “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” here James puts forward to whose authority he is speaking from but also implying that it is not of his own accord that he is writing to his audience, but of his Lord Jesus Christ,  while at the same time implicitly shows his Jewish roots by speaking of the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” to which he is writing to and later on in the passage he would refer to as his brothers (Jas. 1:16).

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 2: James in the Christian Canon

With the many diverging perspectives with regards to the identity of the author of James has led it also to become subject to scrutiny with regards to its canonicity –that is its place as to whether or not it is to be considered rightly as Scripture.

In fact church history itself testifies to several disputes over the place of the epistle in canon Scripture, which is prominent in Martin Luther’s consignment of it as an ‘epistle of straw’ to which he wrote: “Therefore, St. James’ epistle is really and epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it[1].”

Luther’s supposition of the epistles’ worth finds substance in his conclusion that: in comparison to books such as Romans and Galatians, the Gospel of John and 1st Peter. James bears “nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.” As according to Luther it does not bear witness to Christ or to such cherished Reformation themes of salvation that one appropriates by faith alone, in Christ’s accomplished work of redemption in contrast to that of the Pauline epistles of Romans and Galatians as well as to that of John’s Gospel and 1st Peter which Luther considers as documents that were to be prized as the “true kernel and marrow of all the books,” because they would “show you Christ” and “teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know[2].”  As a consequence such an appraisal, Luther deemed James unfit to qualify as a book that is to be considered as Scripture, consequently marginalizing the epistle along with its message from the rest of Reformation movement that burgeoned later.

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