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Asbury Bible Commentary – I. Salutation (1:1)
I. Salutation (1:1)

The salutation conforms to contemporary epistolary style and is notable for its brevity. This brevity suggests that James is anxious to get on with counsel for his Jewish compatriots.

The OT milieu is evident, both in James's self-qualification and the designation of the addressees as the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. When he calls himself “a servant [lit. “slave”] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” James is reflecting the role of spokesman for God associated with Moses and the prophets. Significantly, however, he presents himself as the spokesman for Jesus also. His Christian calling, therefore, is set forth in terms of God's historical way of addressing his people.

In identifying his readers as the twelve tribes, James places himself and them wholly in the mainstream of the Jewish faith as the people of God were originally constituted. Unexpected, however, is the qualification of the twelve tribes as scattered among the nations. Does he intend this to be understood in the classic sense of the Jews living outside of Palestine? Many scholars disagree and interpret it in a metaphorical sense: “Unlike the twelve tribes who have Palestine for their native land, Jerusalem for their capital, and the temple as the center of their religious worship, the twelve tribes addressed in the letter have no earthly fatherland, nor any capital upon earth, but always, no matter where they may be settled, live scattered in a strange world, like the Jewish exiles in Mesopotamia or Egypt” (Zahn, 1:76).

On the other hand, the scattered ones are potentially the gathered ones. James may be thinking of his people, to whom he had an evangelistic commitment, and anticipating a new gathering. God has performed a miracle in the Resurrection to bring the people of all nations together to reconstitute the people of God. Jesus of Nazareth was raised from death!