The author, whether out of modesty or simplicity, qualifies his name in the most general of terms: “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). Since the letter is not addressed to a particular locality, it is impossible to declare categorically which James of the primitive church is the author. Indeed, the testimony of the church fathers reflects this uncertainty. Not until the third century was this epistle mentioned with other NT books and then with qualifications. Accordingly, over the years assignment of authorship has been made to James the son of Zebedee, James the brother of Jesus, and to an unknown writer who “wrote in the name of James of Jerusalem, now a revered figure of a relatively remote past, in whose spirit he intended to speak” (Barnett, 795).
The following summary statement of Tasker represents the conservative position on authorship:
The homiletic character of the work, its Jewish-Christian flavor, its echoes of the later Wisdom literature of Judaism . . . and of the sayings of Jesus which became embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, . . . and the note of authority with which the author speaks, are all consonant with the tradition that he was the first bishop of the Jerusalem church who presided at the conference described in Acts 15. Moreover, its Hebraic features, coupled with the frequent use of rhetorical questions, vivid similes, imaginary dialogues, telling aphorisms, and picturesque illustrations, make it not unreasonable to suppose that we are listening to the bilingual Palestinian Christian . . . who by virtue of his commanding position was brought into contact with Jews and Christians from all parts of the world (NBD, 597).
Strong exception has been taken to this position on the basis of the stylistic elegance of the epistle. Is it reasonable to expect a Galilean fisherman to write Greek, moreover a literary Greek? J. N. Sevenster has effectively demonstrated that Greek was the vernacular language in Galilee in the first century. He mentions a Greek inscription ordered by Antiochus III (200 b.c.) that was found near the Sea of Galilee south of Tiberius, issuing the directive to duplicate the orders inscribed thereon in other villages. Sevenster reasons, “Apparently it was taken for granted that all who lived there, including the Jews, could read them” (p. 109).