Who penned the book of James? Can we know who it was? And, if we can, what can be learned from it (and from him)?
Not long after the church was established, one of Zebedee’s sons, James, was murdered by Herod (Acts 12:1-2). This is not the James who wrote the epistle in our New Testament, nor is this the James who played a prominent role in the church later in the book of Acts.
Later in the New Testament, the author of the short epistle of Jude identifies himself as “the brother of James,” which naturally points to the author of the book of James. Both men identify themselves as “a bondservant” of Jesus Christ. There are two men—by the names of James and Judas—mentioned in Matthew 13:55 as being brothers. They are listed there along with the other “brothers” of Jesus.
Could it be that the author of James was actually a brother of Jesus? Consider what we know. We know that during Jesus’ personal ministry (when He was preaching, performing miracles and preparing mankind for the coming kingdom), “His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5; cf. Mark 3:21). But, something later changed. When the apostles gathered with various disciples after the resurrection of Christ, “the mother of Jesus” was there, “with His brothers” (Acts 1:13-14). Had the resurrection changed their view of their brother? Paul recorded that one of the appearances that Jesus made following His resurrection was to “James” (1 Cor. 15:7). Is this the same James who wrote the epistle, and the same James who became a leader in the church in Jerusalem?
It can be concluded that Jesus’ brother, James, was a prominent figure in the Jerusalem church. Three years after his conversion, Paul went to Jerusalem, and he saw “James, the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:18-19). Later in the same book, Paul identified James (along with Peter and John) as ones who “seemed to be pillars” in the church (2:9; cf. 2:12). James truly was a strong leader in the early church (read Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:17-25). This James is the one who penned the epistle of James. This James was Jesus’ brother.
Think about the complete reformation of life that he experienced. He went from denying that Jesus (his brother) was the Christ to identifying himself as “a bondservant…of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas. 1:1). Not just a bondservant of God, but of Jesus Christ. And not just a bondservant of Jesus Christ, but a bondservant of THE LORD Jesus Christ. Did James believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? He knew it with absolute confidence, and it changed his life! What an incredible example for us! And what great evidence for us to know that Jesus truly is the Son of God!