Was James the author of an epistle of straw? Martin Luther thought so, but I have to say that James was misunderstood. I don’t mean to put Luther down, but I do believe he was wrong about James. As I hope to show, James lost his life, probably due to his writing this “epistle of straw” as Luther terms it.
The book of Galatians was probably Paul’s first epistle. He wrote it to counter the lies that were told about him, concerning he was a renegade who at one time was dependent upon but departed from the doctrine of the twelve apostles. Moreover, Paul wrote to show that those who troubled the new Christians were really false brethren and enemies of the faith.
If Paul had a purpose for writing his epistles as Galatians seems to show, why was James written? I believe, and I think it can be shown that the epistle of James was written at the outbreak of the third and final persecution of the Messianic believers by the Jews organized by Annas, the High Priest who had Jesus crucified. Annas had planned and waited for the opportunity to unleash his major and universal blow against the Church of God. Paul knew that the “man of sin” would hold off until he, Paul, was taken out of the way (2Thessalonians 2:7). Paul told the church that the mystery of iniquity has, indeed, already shown itself within the church, but the believers were not to be overly concerned, because the coming of the Lord would not occur until first there came about a falling away from the Messiah (2Thessalonians 2:1-3). Paul knew this time was nearly upon the church, because he told the elders of Ephesus that he was going to Jerusalem, but it wasn’t clear what would happen to him (Acts 20:22-25), and he said that soon wolves would enter into the flock and even some of the very elders with whom he spoke, would rise up to speak against the Gospel of Christ (Acts 20:28-30). Indeed, even before Paul arrived at Jerusalem, while he waited at Corinth for the sea to be safe for spring travel, he wrote to the Romans saying that the time of Jesus coming was nearer than what they (the apostles) had at first believed (Romans 13:11).
This is the scenario surrounding the writing of the epistle of James. James was stoned in 63 CE, about one year after Paul was sent to Rome, so James’ epistle had to have been written before this time, so what in the epistle of James tells us he wrote during the period of Paul’s imprisonment and to counteract the effects of Annas’ desire to destroy the church of God worldwide?
Notice the opening of James’ epistle:
James 1:1 KJV James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
He addresses the letter to the twelve tribes—Jews—who have been scattered abroad. Why had they been scattered? Well, one reason could simply be because they were of the Diaspora and had been scattered since the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. However, James may also imply a more recent scattering of believers from Judea. The final persecution of Annas had already begun in that back in Judea he had been depriving the low level priests of their rightful tithes. Josephus tells us that some of these priests died of want, due to the fact they were dependent upon the tithes given to them for their services at the Temple. At least some of these low level priests would have been Messianic believers (cf. Acts 6:7).
I believe the epistle of James is in coded form, on account of the fact that James and many of the conservative Messianic priests still lived in Jerusalem. If Annas was indeed behind a worldwide effort to destroy the church, he would have been given a copy of James’ letter by some of the false brethren Annas had planted in the churches abroad. Notice that James had sent his letter during a time of trial (James 1:2). James’ letter comes at a time when some very impressive men had arisen within the churches, in the form of converts or perhaps visitors (James 2:1-3). In any event, James reminded the believers that it was such as these who had oppressed them in the past, and had charged them of wrongdoing in the courts. Respect of persons has behind it–judgment, and judgment ultimately has death in view. James picked two matters of consideration out of the Commandments, adultery and murder. He implies that, even if the believers were not adulterers (i.e. they had been faithful to Christ), if they murdered one another (i.e. if they hated one while honoring another), they were breakers of the same law they sought to obey in being faithful to Christ (James 2:4-12).
In James 3:1 he implies that the current trial (James 1:2) has something to do with the fact that many teachers had arisen among them, causing bitter fighting and division within the churches (James 4:1). The tongue is something that cannot be tamed (James 3:8). James describes the tongue as a fire (James 4:6), and he seems to be referring to the current situation among all the churches and perhaps even to Annas, himself, when he says “Behold what great a matter a little fire kindles” (James 3:5). What great destruction a little falsehood accomplishes (cf. James 4:11-12).
Turning then to those responsible for the current trouble within the church, James says:
James 5:1-6 KJV Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. (2) Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. (3) Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. (4) Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. (5) Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. (6) Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
If we take what Josephus tells us and compare what James says here we get the picture that these people, who were causing the trouble throughout the churches in the Diaspora, are also in some manner connected to what was going on in Judea. Notice that the “hire of laborers” had been kept back by fraud. They had grown rich by oppressing others. Josephus tells us this is what occurred in Jerusalem concerning the High Priests and the low level priests, and now James implies it was also occurring in some form presently in the Diaspora (James 3:6). This is the kind of thing that causes the name of the Lord is blasphemed (James 3:7). Notice that they entered speaking against some brethren (James 4:11), planting division among the believers. Their doctrine had something to do with a prosperity gospel (James 2:14-26), which in reality neglected the poor within the church, putting the responsibility of the poor people’s condition back upon themselves: “Be warmed, be filled!” (cf. James 2:16). It was these kinds of works that showed beyond doubt that the “last days” had already begun (see James 5:3 above).
James is no scarecrow, folks. He is the real deal. What he said here probably got him killed at home in Jerusalem just after Festus, the Roman procurator who sent Paul to Rome, had died. While there was no Roman government in Judea, the new High Priest, Ananias, the son of Annas, took the opportunity to call the Sanhedrin together and condemned James and a few others and had them stoned. This caused some repercussions in that some just men from Jerusalem wrote to Albinus, the new Roman governor who was still on his way to Jerusalem. He promised he would punish Ananias, but all that was ever done was he was removed from office by Herod Agrippa, who was in charge of setting up the High Priests at that time. By the time Albinus had arrived in Jerusalem, he was bought off in bribes by Ananias, so that no punishment was ever administered, but the persecution continued.
 This coming is not to be confused with Jesus literal coming to this earth. Matthew 24 tells of a coming that would arrive like lightening. It would be known to all at once. But the day Jesus would return to earth, no sign could be given (cf. Matthew 24:30-34 with Matthew 24:36-51).