James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem during the middle of the 1st century. He was also known as the half-brother of Jesus and author of the Epistle of James. According to both the 1st century New Testament writings and the 2nd century Church, James was named an apostle and a bishop. Along the way, he got the title, “James the Just.”
As it turns out, “James the Just” started out as “James the skeptical.” According to the Gospels of John and Mark, James initially did not believe Jesus’s claim to being the Son of God, and perhaps even thought he was crazy. That is, until James interacted with Jesus after the resurrection, and then everything changed. By about 44 AD, James was recognized as the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James the Just has been considered the author of the Epistle of James since the early Christian era. Nobody knows the exact date when he wrote the biblical letter, but a time soon after this Jerusalem Council in about 48 AD seems most likely. This makes it one of the oldest books in the New Testament.
The Epistle (Letter) of James was written primarily to followers of Jesus from among Diaspora Jews who were scattered around the Mediterranean. James is a very practical book focusing on themes such as love; patience, endurance, and testing; joy in trials; applying the Scriptures to everyday life; advice on conflicts and quarrels; avoiding friendship with the world; praying for the sick; and demonstrating genuine faith in action.
In short, the Epistle of James gives followers of Jesus a challenge – don’t just “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk.” While we should read our Bibles and grow in our knowledge of Jesus’s teachings, we also need to actually act upon what Jesus taught.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
There are a number of New Testament references to James, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church. There are also two important historical references to James outside the Bible from the 1st and 2nd century AD — Josephus and Hegesippus — who both recorded the death of James by martyrdom.
The Roman historian Josephus, writing in the late 1st century, placed the time of the killing of James in 62 AD. This account states that James was stoned in Jerusalem for allegedly breaking the Mosaic Law. The church historian Hegesippus, writing in the 2nd century, records that James was preaching that Jesus was the Messiah during Passover. The religious leaders of Judaism in Jerusalem, instigated by Ananus the high priest, got angry and threw him from the top of the temple. Apparently, he was still alive after the fall, so they beat him with clubs and stoned him, even while he continued to pray.