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KJV Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

To all Jews?

To all believing Jews?

To the lost sheep of the house of Israel?

To the persecuted and scattered believers?

Was he writing before Paul established the body of Christ where Jew/gentile distinction did not exist?

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The New International Version and English Standard Version Study Bible notes both suggest the epistle was written for Jewish Christians.

"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ..." (James 2:1).

"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming... You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near" (James 5:7-8).

Here is a brief extract from the NIV Introduction to James suggesting he writes to Jewish Christians:

"It has been plausibly suggested that these were believers from the early Jerusalem church who, after Stephon's death, were scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Syrian Antioch (Acts 8:1; 11:19). This would account for James' references to trials and oppression, his intimate knowledge of the readers and the authoritative nature of the letter. As leader of the Jerusalem church, James wrote as pastor to instruct and encourage his dispersed people in the face of their difficulties."

Here is a brief extract from the ESV Introduction to James which also suggests his intended audience was Jewish Christians who had been scattered:

" If 'Dispersion' is literal as well as metaphorical, then these are a group of Jewish Christian house churches outside Palestine, which fits the situation of persecution and poverty in the letter."

James (the Just) probably wrote this letter prior to the apostolic council in Jerusalem (48-49 AD) since no mention is made of the issues arising from that momentous occasion. It seems that James was writing to the persecuted and scattered Christian believers.

By "Christian" I mean Jews who had come to saving faith in Christ Jesus. "The disciples werecalled Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26) circa 47 AD. James' letter was probably written in the early to mid-40's and reflects a simple church order with no reference to the controversy over Gentile circumcision. So I mean believing Jews.

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  • Can you please clarify what you mean by "Christian" in the final sentence? Did you mean believing Jews? Or Jews and gentiles. The term "Christian" is ambiguous and the question is intended to remove that ambiguity. Thanks. – Ruminator May 23 '18 at 16:37
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    By "Christian" I mean Jews who had come to saving faith in Christ Jesus. "The disciples werecalled Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26) circa 47 AD. James' letter was probably written in the early to mid-40's and reflects a simple church order with no reference to the controversy over Gentile circumcision. So I mean believing Jews. – Lesley May 23 '18 at 17:10
  • Can you please put your clarification into your answer and I will mark it as an answer. Thanks. – Ruminator May 23 '18 at 21:20
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Had it been James the brother of John who wrote this epistle or had it been James of Alphaeus who wrote when James the brother of John was still alive (before execution by the second of the three Herods) then either of them would have had to make clear who they were.

That 'James' does not do so makes it clear that the epistle was written at a time when there was no ambiguity, hence it was written after the death of James the brother of John. And it was written by the surviving James - James of Alphaeus.

James the Lord's brother had some influence for a brief time, as Paul makes clear in the Galatian epistle, but with the Galatian controversy it became clear that the influence of James (brother of the Lord) was not reliable.

Thus no epistle of James the Lord's brother would have carried weight and would not have survived (as scripture) in the early church.

Thus the timing of the James' epistle is after the execution of John by Herod and in the period of the Diaspora (Acts 8) to which state the first epistle of Peter is also addressed.

My understanding is that Peter's First epistle 'unlocks' the Greek scriptures as he had the keys and it was his place, as the Chief Apostle, to write first. I would therefore say that I Peter is first, followed by Matthew and James and Jude (possibly in that order, possibly not quite).

The 'twelve tribes scattered abroad' are - at least - those scattered in the Diaspora but the very saying with which James opens his epistle (James 1:1) :

ταις δωδεκα φυλαις ταις εν τη διασπορα

the twelve tribes in the dispersion

Textus Receptus Interlinear

can be enlarged to cover any previous scattering and particularly the scattering of the ten tribes after the Assyrian onslaught, II Kings 17:6 :

In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, [KJV 1769]

see Wikipedia.

Thus I would see the epistle to be addressed to all living Jews of all twelve tribes, whatever their location and extant status. It is a very gracious inclusion, to my mind, and exclusive of none of the then living children of Israel whatever their own personal background history.

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Both the content of the epistle (it's very similar expression to the prophets) and the timing of the epistle (after the execution of John but before the missionary expeditions of Paul) would indicate, to myself, that the church, as such, is not being referred to - it would be too soon.

This was definitely, to my mind, a transitional period and James addresses the situation as it was at the time, not as it would be, one or two decades later.

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  • So are you saying it was written to all Israel (all 12 tribes, whether believing or not) or are you saying it was written to the believing Jews of Judea, scattered by Paul's persecution? – Ruminator May 19 '18 at 20:26
  • My understanding is that the epistle was published some time after the Pentecost mentioned in Acts 2 and some short time after the Diaspora mentioned in Acts 8. But before the evangelising of the Mediterrenean area mentioned subsequently in Acts. So, to Jews, but yes, some would have believed in the aftermath of Pentecost. There is a difference between Jews who have not heard and Jews who have heard - and have rejected. – Nigel J May 19 '18 at 21:30
  • So are you saying it was written to all Israel (all 12 tribes, whether believing or not) or are you saying it was written to the Jews of Judea who heard of Jesus and traveled outside of Judea (some believing, others not believing)? – Ruminator May 19 '18 at 22:26
  • All 12 tribes, I would say. – Nigel J May 19 '18 at 23:09
  • This would make it an "outreach" like the gospel of John. I've wondered about that. – Ruminator May 19 '18 at 23:56

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