Who is the letter of James to?


Was this letter for a specific group of people? What’s the context of James?


It was (likely) written by the Bishop of Jerusalem to the Jews who lived abroad, Jews who lived away from Jerusalem and Israel. The very first verse tells us whom James is addressing.

James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greeting (James 1:1)

More explanation here… old.usccb.org/nab/bible/james/intro.htm



I think the letter, like all of the Apostolic letters (with the possible exception of Hebrews) is to the Churches and especially the Bishops. Remember at this time parchment was shockingly expensive, so much so that there were people whose profession was to write out dictated letters because they would not make errors and so have to waste extremely expensive parchment. Furthermore many times the letters would have been written to a group of people that were, at least to some extent and probably not even a small one, illiterate. And so the letters were sent to the heads of the Churches. You see this clearly in Paul’s letters to Timothy, Philemon, Titus (all of whom were leaders if not Bishops) and John’s letters to the “Elect Lady” would have addressed a church body as a whole, but who would have read them to whole Church? Revelation begins with an admonition to the seven churches in Turkey around Ephesus where John served as Overseer/Bishop of those churches.

So to James’ letter.

It makes more sense that letter would have been not to the laity, especially given the difficulty of dispersing such a letter, but also that James writes about being ordered rightly within the Church (not showing favoritism to the rich that sort of thing); not something that the laity takes care of even in our day even in protestant churches. And he talks about right living beyond right speaking. Well who has the responsibility to speak rightly within the Church? And he talks about the workers trusting the work and its yield to God and to their own plans and about not failing to pay the workers for their work. While he does couch this in the language of harvesting, it was Jesus who commanded the Apostles to be workers in His harvest and the language James uses is very similar to that of Paul’s speaking about caring for the ministry in the Church. And then he talks about confession, healing, and returning a fallen brother to the mercy of God, all of which fall directly under the responsibility of the ministry as it was established by Jesus.

Given all this I think it is reasonable to think that James, who was a Church leader in Jerusalem, is writing to other Church leaders about problem they are having given the persecution of the Church by the Jews and the Romans.

God Bless


It is true he says that, but remember the Church is the true Israel and so the twelve tribes I think is a reference tot he Church in under persecution. Remember the dispersion had happened under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar and then under the Greek rulers as well, which is why synagogues were everywhere even though there was a Temple. Why would James be writing such a specifically Christian letter to Jews unless he was using the word Israel in a new way?

God Bless


To all of us! Amen


The word Israel is not in the Jame’s epistle. He specifically states that it is to “the twelve tribes in dispersion” and does not use the word Israel.

Peter refers to the Christian Church as “exiles of the Dispersion” (cf 1 Pet 1:1) but the fact that James uses the term “Twelve tribes” makes it clear that this is addressed to the children of Israel - Jewish Christians.

The epistle was written about AD 47, while the temple was still standing and before the destruction of Jerusalem. Jewish Christians would have been dispersed by the persecution of Saul (AD 34) and Herod Agrippa (AD 44).

The author makes reference to Abraham and Rahab when explaining about faith and works indicating that his audience is Jewish.

The original Catholic Encyclopedia states that it is addressed to Jews in dispersion who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but had grown discouraged. Reference newadvent.org/cathen/08275b.htm. Also reference bible.org/seriespage/james-introduction-outline-and-argument.

Most scholars agree that it was written to Jews prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

The OP might want to have a look at catholic-resources.org/Bible/Epistles-James.htm for a good overview of the themes addressed.



Its considered a “Catholic” Epistle, written for all…


You might want to look at references to James in Acts and the other Epistles to provide you with some additional insight into the Jewish aspects of the early church. James was very involved with Jewish congregations in many cities and often sent individuals to provide instruction or service to them.

In some cases this clashed with the efforts of Peter and/or Paul, but it demonstrates his influence and interest in the broader church community as well as how he knew of issues they were facing that he addresses in his Epistle.

The fate of the church was very much caught up with the overall Jewish community prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (preaching in synagogues, etc) and James gives us a glimpse of how that “cohabitation” worked in practice.


I don’t know why people have a problem with James’ epistle being written with a specific audience in mind.

The Epistle of James was written only 14 years after the ascension of Christ, in AD 47. James was a Jew based in the center of Judaism, right in Jerusalem where the temple was still standing and temple worship was still taking place. James’ entire pastoral ministry was to Jewish Christians in the heart of Judea. Jews were his ministry.

Jewish Christians had fled Jerusalem and Judea during the persecutions of Saul (AD 44) and Herod (AD 47) and many fled north to Syrian Antioch, where they took Christianity to Jews who lived abroad. His letter followed shortly after Herod Agrippa’s persecution and it was likely taken first to Syrian Antioch which had become the center of Jewish Christianity, and was taken to other places from there.

Paul had barely even started converting the pagans when James was writing his epistle. Paul’s first missionary journey was AD 46 to AD 49 (Acts 13-14), and even then he want to Cyprus and Paphos, islands in the Mediterranean sea first.



I am not saying it wasn’t written to Jewish people, I am saying it was not written to people of the Jewish religion. And as such it was written to those in the Christian Church and more specifically to the overseers within those Churches. The Apostles very early on were already establishing a hierarchy of preaching, serving at table (the Sacrament?) etc and so I do not think it at all out of place to think that James was writing to the heads of Churches around Jerusalem.

That being said those to whom he was writing were no longer any part of the Jewish religion because they had converted to Christianity.

God Bless


I’m going to challenge the statement in bold/red because it is a common misconception.

Many believe that early Jewish converts to Christianity simply abandoned Judaism altogether. There was however, a clear nexus of Temple worship, Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity in the first century, especially before the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Jewish Christians did not simply abandon their Jewish practices.

We see this very clearly in Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John went up to the temple to pray. Paul made offerings in the Temple, purified himself and even took a Nazarite vow. Jewish Christians still circumcised their boys at 8 days, still observed all the Jewish festivals and still celebrated the passover. Jewish Christians in the middle of the first century were not so much converts to Christianity as a sect of Judaism which believed that the Messiah had come.

The destruction of the temple in AD 70 was pivotal in the separation of Jews from Christians and that separation became more formalized in AD 90 when the Jewish authorities began forbidding Christians from entering the synagogues.

Christianity further separated from Judaism because of Roman tax law. Jews were forced by Rome to pay a special tax for the upkeep of the Roman temple to Jupiter as a result of the Jewish uprising (AD 66). Emperor Nerva declared Christianity to be a religion separate from Judaism in AD 98 and Christians no longer had to pay the tax. Anyone who associated frequently with Jews or the Jewish religion could be identified as Jewish and forced to pay the tax. Avoidance of the tax motivated many Christians to distance themselves from Judaism or sever ties completely.

The sudden cessation of Temple worship, rise of Rabbinic Judaism that we know of today, and the gradual separation of Jewish Christians from “Jews” in the first century are historical facts. We really can’t point to a specific instance where Jewish Christians were no longer Jewish, nor can we think of conversion of the early Jews as a sudden abandonment of Judaism.



I think we can point to when Jesus declared the House of Israel to be left desolate to the Jews when He wept over Israel thus declaring God’s rejection of them as His people because of their rejection of Jesus as Christ as a pretty place of separation between the Jewish and Christian religions.

I am not advocating replacement theology in the sense of the Church is the New Israel and so all the promises made to Abraham apply to us the way many Evangelicals try to do, especially given that so many of those promises found their fulfillment in the person of Christ. Neither am I saying that the Jews as a people are lost simply because they are Jewish. I am saying that Jews, just like Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and the rest of the world is commanded, as Paul says on Mars Hill, to repent and believe in Jesus that He is Christ and God has vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead. In other words, everyone is under the covenant of Christ.

So while I am well aware that Temple participation was a part of the early Church and it Jewish converts (as they were all Jewish) that participation was not salvific and not germane to the covenant of Christ. Therefore when James is writing to the tribes in the dispersion he is writing of course to a mostly Jewish audience, but specifically to the Church and not those of the Jewish religion. And given that Christ Himself says that His followers would be persecuted and put of the synagogues, while I agree that those converts may not have abandoned Judaism, I do think it likely that we cast on no few occasions from Judaism.

That is my point.

God Bless.

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