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It would be difficult to understand the epistle of James apart from its historic context.
James was the first bishop of Jerusalem, called to lead the “mother church” after the martyrdom of the other James, whose story is told in Acts 12. This “James the Lesser” was the disciple by that name, and not to be confused with the brother of Jesus who also was known by the same name and who wrote the epistle that we are studying.
James had returned to Jerusalem from an evangelistic trip to Spain, for he desired to keep Passover there. Luke also tells us in Acts 12 that after James was killed, Peter escaped to Caesarea, the Roman port along the coast of Judea. He found protection there from the Roman garrison, though Herod himself followed him and attempted to apprehend him. Herod died there, properly judged by God, and Peter then began his ministry to other parts of the empire.
This occurred in 44 A.D., just eleven years after Jesus was crucified. The resurrection of Christ finally made him a firm believer, whereas earlier we read in John 7:5, “for not even His brothers were believing in Him.” Hence, this James was not one of the original twelve disciples.
James’ letter was addressed to the twelve tribes, ten of which had been dispersed 700 years earlier when the House of Israel ceased to exist. The other two tribes, though finding a home in Judea, had many compatriots living in foreign lands. James did not intend to limit his epistle to one or the other, but addressed it to all of them.
It is important, therefore, to keep in mind to whom the epistle was addressed, for James addressed the reasons for Israel’s dispersion. He gives practical advice on how to live a godly life while in captivity, which is applicable also to a broader audience.