The first verse in the Letter attributes the writing to “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” but otherwise the letter gives us no further biographical information on the author. There are a few references in the New Testament to a “James, the brother of Jesus” (a Greek word that can be translated to “cousin”). Perhaps the author of this letter was writing under the authority of this James or “borrowing” the name to give its teaching more weight, a common practice in the ancient world.
James was writing to an organized Christian community. This indicates that it was written later than the letters of Paul because Paul wrote to fairly new, loosely formed, and often mixed communities of Jews and Gentiles who were still struggling to forge their identities as Christians. Exactly where this community was located, we are not told.
Judging from the content of the letter, the community was struggling with injustices associated with the imbalance of rich and poor. There also seems to have been controversy over the role of “faith and works” in the community. James famously insists “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).
This is a short letter – just five chapters – but a powerful, challenging, and convicting one, in the best sense of the word. Read it, pray with it, and try to live it.