Where the world comes to study the Bible

James 1:1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. — NIV

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. — KJV

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. — ESV

Greek Transliteration of James 1:1 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
Iaeiros [2385] James theos [2316] God kai [2532] and kurios [2962] Lord, Master, Sir iesous [2424] Jesus christos [5547] anointed, messiah, Christ doulos [1401] slave ho [3588] the (article or indefinite pronoun) dodeka [1427] 12 phule [5443] tribe ho [3588] the en [1722] preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… ho [3588] the diaspora [1290] dispersion, scattering chairo [5463] greetings, God speed, fairwell, hello, etc. (friendly salutation to greet or part company).

1.1.0 Introduction to James 1:1

Verse 1 is a welcome providing an introduction to the author, his position in Christ, and states who the letter is addressed to. The author is generally accepted to be James, the half-brother of Christ.

1.1.1: Who was James?

The author identifies himself as James. This James is generally accepted to be the biological half-brother of Jesus (Jn 7:2-5). Mt 13:55 “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” This verse tells us about a James who is not the Apostle James who was with Jesus through his ministry. This James didn’t even get along with Jesus while he was alive in the flesh. Obviously he came into his salvation at a later time, almost certainly after the resurrection. He became well known and a leader of church council in Jerusalem - Ac 15:13, 2:8, Jude 1, Gal 1:19, 2:9. Secular records indicate he was martyred 62 AD. There’s some debate, but many scholars hold that he probably wrote the book around 45-50 AD. This makes it one of the earliest books. The Apostle James was martyred earlier than this period.

There was some debate in the early church as to whether this book was authentic, but after much deliberation and the weight of available evidence at the time this book was accepted as cannon some time in the second or third century AD. Much of the debate came from the perception that this book has a very “Jewish” flavor with greater emphasis on the practical outward display of works than most other New Testament writings. The book refers to God or Lord while Jesus is only mentioned by name in this first verse. This lead some to believe it was an older Jewish writing adapted for new Christians. While this is something of a curiosity, there are several reasonable explanations. I believe this deep and extended study will only serve to support the balance of old and new testament scriptures. The perfect agreement we shall discover only serves to validate the presumption this book is the inspired work of our Lord and God Almighty.

If I had to sum up the book with one sentence it would be: “The Book of James – An Operator’s Manual for Christianity.”

1.1.2: How does James identify himself?

James 1:1 “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” James here identified himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Assuming he was the Lord’s half-brother, it seems telling to me that he identified himself in this way and didn’t use his clout as Jesus’ sibling. Of course how could we expect otherwise? With this opening remark it seems he is placing himself at a level equal to other believers and below the level of his pseudo-sibling - God incarnate.

1.1.3: What are the qualities of a servant?

A servant serves, of course. A servant is in the employ of a master. The servant DOES what the master requests. The 4th chapter of James talks about this, and it is a common theme throughout the entire bible.

Jn 4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Jesus said he came to work.

1 Cor 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Here we see that servants share a common purpose with their master. Jesus’ own words confirm this in Jn 5:17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” In the passage Romans 13:1-7 we are given instructions about servanthood, both worldly and Godly. Ro 13:4 For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. This is very telling with regard to the “other side of the coin.” It is a stark warning to be faithful in service. If God gives the sword to our earthly masters to punish us for wrongdoing, how much more so will God punish those who fail to serve him?

Jn 4:24 “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” A servant of God will worship in spirit and truth.

Rev 2:23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. This verse makes it startlingly clear that we cannot hide what is in our hearts any more than Adam could. Service not done from our hearts (spirit and truth) is of no value and will be “repaid.” Notice in Rev 2:23 that our “deeds” are repaid based on what is in our hearts. I find this intensely sobering.

1 Pe 1:13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Peter offers guidance and hope in light of what we just read. To be a good servant, we must prepare our minds, be self controlled, and put our hope in Jesus. If we put our hope in anything else, our hearts will follow it to the wrong places.

Perhaps my favorite verse on the subject is Jn 12:26. “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My father will honor the one who serves me.” I think people take this the wrong way and think that where they go Jesus will also be. That’s just plain wrong. It clearly says we must follow him. He will be with us because we’re where he, and this is because we followed him there. The great part is the promise that we won’t be forgotten, that we will be “honored” by God for our service - service offered with the right heart.

1.1.4: What about humility?

Humility is the foremost character trait of a servant. This main question is actually comprised of several smaller questions:

a) Was James humble? James identified himself as a servant. James did NOT identify himself in a way which showed he had a special relationship with Jesus, though as far as know he was Jesus’ half-brother. In v2 he refers to fellow believers as brothers, placing himself at the same level as them, once again not as a brother of Jesus. Personally, I think James was a no-nonsense kind of guy, privately humble, but unafraid to be bold publicly for Christ.

b) What did James have to say on the subject of humility? Jas 4:10 says “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” In fact, the whole principle of the 4th chapter is humility to God, what it is, and what the benefits are, and the dangers of turning from humility. We’ll spend time on this chapter when we get there, but feel free to go ahead and skim over it so you’ll be able to put James’ humility into perspective with this opening verse.

c) Is humility Christlike? Col 2:16-19, in particular v18, addresses this question nicely. There’s a lot of meat in this passage, but with regard to humility in particular v 18 reads Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind… Verse 19 goes on to say that this indicates the person has lost their connection to “the Head”, aka God. You have only to read the gospels and the account of Jesus washing Peter’s feet to gain a better understanding of Jesus’ humility; not to mention dying on the cross.

d) How does humility help us with respect to one another? Eph 4:2 says with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Humility makes it possible to get along, and more than that it allows us, in mutual submission to a common master, to be of a like mind and to be effective in service. After all, it was the subject of Service that sparked this conversation on humility.

As for myself, I hope I am humble in this study. I hope and pray I am not like the person described in Col 2:18. I hope God blesses each and every reader of this. I hope together we are all growing closer to Christ. I encourage you to test yourself, test me, and in so doing test the spirits to see that they are of God (and immediately discard any which are not of God).

1.1.5: Why does James differentiate God and the Lord Jesus Christ?

This is admittedly a touchy subject, but since James brought it up, we must deal with it. I know many God fearing Jesus loving Christians who struggle with the concept of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the whole supernatural aspect of who and what Jesus really is.

1 Cor 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. This verse is similar to Eph 4:6 and 1 Tim 2:5 identifying God as a lone supreme being.

Jn 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. This passage describes Jesus by addressing his divinity.

Jn 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John ties together the divine with the human in this verse.

We know all scripture is divinely inspired, we know God doesn’t lie, so we therefore know that no matter how some passages may appear to our eyes to be in conflict, the conflict lies in our understanding rather than God’s word.

It is interesting to note the word “trinity” does not appear in scripture. Rather, this is a man-made term to try and capture an understanding of the essence of God the Father, God incarnate as the Lord Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit. It seems that God presents himself in each of these capacities so that we might better know him in totality. To try to divide God is a common error. God is larger than our ability to comprehend, so he gives us what we can comprehend. The spiritual family (Father, Son, Spirit) are one, yet presented in scripture as three. In our minds it is a three-way experience, but God is not nearly so limited. God has many names in the bible. The simplest, the one God used with Moses (Ex 3:14) was also used by Jesus (Jn 8:58): I AM. Jesus himself made it clear he was God when he spoke of himself this way, albeit living in human flesh for his divine purpose.

1.1.6: Who is the Message For?

James 1:1b (NIV) “to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.”

James 1:1b (KJV) “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.”

James 1:1b (ESV) “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”

James uses the phrase “12 tribes” to describe his target audience, however each of the three versions of scripture above describe these tribes differently. James was basically running the church in Jerusalem, so if he was writing a letter it stands to reason it would be to someone some distance away. To have become a book of the bible at all it had to have been mass produced and copies distributed far and wide. There are lots of other requirements as well I’m sure, but this is enough for now. Let’s break this down a bit…

a) To the Jews only? Ro 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Paul provides good perspective here. The message went to the Jews first, but certainly to the gentile believers also. Don’t get caught up here thinking James is limited only to Jews.

b) Who then are the 12 tribes? This is not a fight worth having. Again, Paul explains this nicely in Ro 2:9-11 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. The message is addressed to the Jews because the Jews were to receive it first, but not only. It isn’t implicitly stated, but I think it is also obvious that James is writing firstly to fellow believers. The persecution of the early church came primarily from the Jews, so certainly it wasn’t to all the Jews or just Jews. The remainder of the letter feels like it is written specifically for the benefit of all believers, not just Jews or Jewish believers in general. On close examination James only serves to confirm Paul.

c) What were the “12 tribes” doing? Mt 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Carrying out The Great Commission is the paramount thing that they were doing, or at least supposed to be doing. These were “scattered” people. That’s what the early Christians did, they spread the Good News to all the world. True enough that only the Lord could manage such a structure, but through James He expressed himself with this wonderful, practical, and pertinent letter to all the new believers as far as the letter could be carried.

d) Where were they? Scattered, of course. They were spreading out all over the civilized world and beyond. Ps 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” God is a global God. Gen 1:1 declares the beginning and His mighty hand in making the majesty that is greater than the capacities of all the hard drives on all the universities of the world to hold. Ps 67:1-2 further explains the purpose of this letter James wrote: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”

The ESV translation accurately translates the Greek word diaspora as Dispersion. The spreading of the believers equaled the spreading of the Gospel, fulfilling the Great Commission. Some argue they were forced to scatter due to persecution in Jerusalem and some argue they took off on their own in direct obedience. Even if you doubt the motivation of the individuals, there can be no denial that God’s purpose was accomplished.

e) Does God play favorites? If you looked up Ro 2:11 you already know the answer. Here’s another reference - 1 Tim 5:21 says, “I charge you in the sight of God and Jesus Christ and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.” This last question is one we must look in the mirror to answer. Do you follow the same instructions given to Timothy? Who wants to see a bum off the street walk into their service? Are you frustrated by the disruption of a crying baby? Maybe the boss in the corner office doesn’t need your witness because he’s too important or has too much money. Who do you NOT tell them the Good News? Why? What are your prejudices?

1.1.7 How are you at telling the good news?

The following are a series of personal questions for you to ask yourself… Who have you shared the Good News with lately? How did you first hear it? Do you feel different now? Are you involved in any international missions? Do you think it is fair if God has favorites yet we’re not supposed to? Who do you serve?

Now I know why vampires hate the mirror. When God looks through your eyes into a mirror, He can see right through you.

1.1.8 Summary of James 1:1

James 1:1 James, a servant* of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. (ESV) *or slave or bondservant

In this verse of our study we learned the author was most likely James the half-brother of Jesus. James didn’t get along with Jesus prior to the crucifixion, but later became an important figure in the Jerusalem church. This was probably one of if not the first NT book written. It was written to aid the early Christians, at that point primarily Jews, who had by this time left Jerusalem in obedience the Great Commission issued by Jesus (Mt 28), helped along by persecution of the Jewish leaders.