My brain has a hair trigger when James' Epistle comes up. After some good interaction at Pat McCullough's blog, I decided to post these thoughts. As preface, let me first say I assume James' epistle was written by James the Just, brother of Jesus, chief cook and bottle washer of the latter "early" church in Jerusalem, who died in 62 AD. I further assume the Just one was writing largely in response to Paul's Galatian letter. As I've argued recently, Jimmy-J and Paulie G were "talking past" one another, much like certain scholars continue to do today. Bottom line, the fact that they seem to be arguing doesn't mean either man said anything inaccurate or untrue. All of this should be assumed when I make my first point, any moment now...
The big question to me is, "Who was James writing to?" Like a lot of believers, Pat seems to assume James' listeners were "followers of the Jesus movement". I am not at all convinced that they were. Pat also says "Jesus ('the Lord') obviously plays an important role in the letter." Funny, I have the exact opposite impression.
By my reading, Jesus only gets two brief mentions, just long enough for James to establish his credentials as a member of the new movement. Everything else in the letter suggests he was writing to non-christian Jews, especially this - James was writing to the twelve tribes who were meeting in Synagogues (2:2) with chief seats for offering to visitors. The vast bulk of the letter would seem to read the same to a Jewish audience even without the two references to Jesus. ("Lord", it is well established, can be a reference to the God of the Hebrews.)
So why mention Jesus? In my view, James was trying to show his diaspora brethren that not all the followers of the new Jesus movement were rejecting tradition as violently as Paul of Tarsus was doing. In other words, James claimed christianity just long enough to show how acceptable christianity could be, and how very, very Jewish some Jewish-christians still were. It's also possible James had an ulterior motive, that this could make Jesus more appealing to his nonbelieving brethren. The unstated message - it was possible to accept Jesus without altering their current faith or religion in any way. Perhaps even more, James wanted to give the impression that Jesus' followers were renewing true Judaism! (For more, see my post of last June.)
This view seems to fit with the James we see in Acts, who did everything he could to keep the new movement acceptable to those who were most firmly entrenched in the old ways. At the very least, I don't see any reason to assume James' listeners were already believers. To sum up my view with a comparison to recent trends, I'm suggesting that James' epistle was essentially "Seeker Friendly", a combination of P.R. and outreach to the Hebrew nation scattered abroad. Again, that's pretty much how James lived his life in Judea, and why he was famous there, well respected even among Jews who were not believers in Christ.
This may or may not be an original idea, but I'd love some feedback. Anyone intrigued?