This weekend, we’re starting our new series, Real Religion, on the book of James. Here’s some background information that can help us better understand the author of this letter.

Who is James?

Although it has been disputed among scholars, there’s good evidence to consider the author of “James” in your Bible to be James, one of Jesus’ half-brothers. He’s nicknamed “James the Just” to help designate him from other people named James in the biblical accounts. He isn’t a figure as prominent as Paul or Peter, but his appearances, especially in Acts, help us better understand who he was.

Why is this important?

Understanding who James was and a little about his story can help us better understand his book as a whole. There’s evidence that James did not believe Jesus was the Messiah before the resurrection (John 7:5). If you consider what kind of evidence it would take for you to believe that your older brother was actually the Son of God, this makes sense. However, in the book of Acts, James is a leader in the church (Acts 21:18). It’s clear that the resurrection of Jesus was so undeniable that even Jesus’ own family came to call him Lord and Savior. James opens his letter by calling himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” giving the man he grew up with divine standing along with the God he came to know through Judaism.

Although James only mentions Jesus’ name once in the entire letter, the text is filled with allusions to Jesus’ own teaching, especially the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). James not only believed Jesus but also submitted himself and called others to submit to Jesus’ ethical teachings. He echoed Jesus’ concern for the poor and marginalized and warned of the power of our words. Eventually, James—following in the way of Jesus—lost his life for the sake of the Gospel.

In addition to teaching us about a life of genuine faith, James’ own life reminds us of something we must remember: hope is not lost for those who don’t first believe.