The first question we need to ask ourselves is which James wrote this letter. Before we get started explaining the answer we should point out that we know who wrote the letter based on church history, the testimony of early church fathers and the evidence before us. However, it’s good for us to review how we arrived at our answer. This will give us a better understanding for ourselves, which not only can help us with future discussions, but also helps our understanding of the Bible as a whole.
From the New Testament list of possibilities there were at least four men who could have been the author of this letter. There was James the son of Zebedee, he was one of the twelve apostles along with his brother John. Together they were called the “Sons of Thunder.” This was because of their zealous attitudes for the Lord and the Gospel. These are the two men we read about in chapter twenty of Matthew’s Gospel. Their mother asked Jesus if her two sons (James and John) could sit in the positions of power and authority on His left and right hand when Jesus came into His kingdom. What she was asking is if her sons could be number two and three in power when Jesus became King. Of course this angered the other apostles. However, this James could not have been the author of the epistle. We know this for certain because he died before the letter was written. James suffered a martyr’s death under Herod Agrippa I. In order to appease the Jews in Jerusalem, Herod killed James with the sword before the letter was ever written. Herod also tried to arrest Peter as well. However, as we read in Acts chapter twelve the Lord sent an angel to free Peter from prison. Next we have James the son Alphaeus, who many think is the same person as “James the Less” or “James the Younger.” He was a brother of the apostle Matthew and the son of Mary and Alphaeus (Mary may also have been called Cleophas or Cleopas).
James was born in Capernaum located on the northwest shores of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Some think he was from the tribe of Levi and may have lived as a Levite before coming to faith in Christ. There isn’t a whole lot known about him, he disappears from church history after the Day of Pentecost. It has also been claimed that James (son of Alphaeus) was stoned in Jerusalem for preaching Christ and buried by the Sanctuary. In addition, there is some contention that he might have been the first bishop of the Syrian church. The third person is James, the father of Judas (not Iscariot). Judas was one of the twelve apostles and James was his father. History does not record James, the father as being active in the Jerusalem church or elsewhere in the early church, so we know he wasn’t involved in the writing. Finally, this leaves us with the last James in our list of possible authors. This is James the half-brother of Jesus and the son of Joseph and Mary. James during his early life did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. He did not believe Jesus was the incarnate God of Heaven. It wasn’t until after the death of Jesus when the risen Lord had appeared to James that James became a believer in the Lord. James was a leader in the early church and the leader of the Christian church at Jerusalem. In addition, the style and grammar of the Greek used in the letter points to James the half-brother of Jesus as the author. Moreover, history and the testimony of the early church fathers testify to James the half-brother of Jesus, as the author of the epistle which bears his name.