Addressed to a group in the Church, or several disparate congregations, probably of Jewish background, and suffering poverty. It is a plea for good works, such as compassion (Jas. 2: 14–26) and honesty (4: 11–12). It deprecates worldliness (Jas. 4: 4) and obsequiousness to the well-off (2: 3). The epistle was little esteemed by Martin Luther, who reckoned its exhortation to good works to be contradicting Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith and not works. But as the good works which James urges are not the works of the Law which Paul does not wish to impose upon his Gentile converts, such as circumcision, there is therefore no real conflict between James and Paul. James is worried that the community is becoming obsessed with money, or in modern terms, the world of efficiency savings and productivity (Jas. 1: 11) and gossip (4: 11) and emphasizes in general the ethics of speech (1: 19–26; 3: 1–12). The Christology of the letter is quiet rather than strident, but Jesus is affirmed as Messiah, and there is an expectation of his Second Coming.

It is uncertain who the ‘James’ of 1: 1 might be. Traditionally, he has been regarded as the Lord’s brother, in Jerusalem, the only James who could write with such authority. But could he write such Greek? It is true that Greek was more widely known and spoken in Palestine than used to be asserted, so it is not impossible that he wrote the epistle. More depends on the apparent knowledge of Paul’s epistles (2: 19–20); such knowledge would require a date later than James, who is reported by the historian Eusebius and by Josephus to have been martyred before 70 CE. If the epistle is pseudonymous, it may have been formed from a miscellaneous compendium of advice from Jewish Christian sources. An editor gave a unified structure to the homilies and used the name of James as author.