Who wrote the epistle of James?
Like the book of Romans, the epistle of James starts off telling us right away who the author was: "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James1:1 ESV). But unlike Paul, there isn't only one known early church leader by this name! Jesus had two disciples who went by the name James: James, son of Zebedee (brother of John) and James, son of Alphaeus. However, it is unlikely that either of these men wrote this letter. James, son of Zebedee, died about 44 A.D while this letter came after 60 A.D. And while James, son of Alphaeus, is mentioned as an apostle, he is never mentioned again in scripture after the gospels and is not known among the church fathers as a writer of letters.
So, who is this mysterious writer? Well, there is one other James who was quite prominent in the Early Church, mentioned repeatedly by other writers of the New Testament: James, brother of Jesus!
- Matthew 13:55 mentions James as Jesus's brother
- Paul visited James in Acts 21
- In 1 Corinthians 15:7, Paul confirms that Jesus appeared to James after the resurrection.
- In Galatians 1:19, Paul confirms his visit to James.
- In Galatians 2:9, Paul indicates he views James as a "pillar" of the church.
- In Jude 1:1, the writer - also believed to be a brother of Jesus - identifies himself as a "brother of James"
(If it's not obvious, technically James would be the adoptive or half-brother of Jesus. His mother was Mary, but his father was Joseph and not God.)
In fact, early church fathers are united in identifying James the brother of Jesus as the writer of this book. So, all of the evidence points in the same direction. And it is rare even among modern scholars to find anyone who has a different view.