The opening moves of a chess game are extremely important. To play them well you must have the proper objectives in mind. Aimless, purposeless moves lead nowhere and moves made with faulty objectives lead to trouble.
The opening of a letter is equally important. “To Whom It May Concern” is only appropriate for some correspondence. Following a salutation with a comma or a colon–or a dash–will affect the reader’s first impression. “Dear John,” though written by the same person to the same person, sends a very different message from, “Hi, Darling!”
Here is how James opens his letter:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
There is little doubt among conservative scholars that the Epistle of James was written by “James the Just,” the principle adjudicator at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and the half brother of Jesus. I don’t doubt it, either–in fact, this series of posts is written under that assumption.
James doesn’t introduce himself beyond giving his name, so it is apparent that he is well known to his readers. Jesus had two disciples named James, as well. One of them, a member of the “Inner Three,” along with Peter and his own brother John, was executed by Herod early on in the history of the Church. (ACT 12.1-5) The other, James the son of Aphaeus, goes virtually without mention both in the gospels and in history.
Matthew records an incident in which Jesus’ siblings are named by the residents of Nazareth, who are astonished at His wisdom. James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, as well as “all his sisters,” are mentioned. (MAT 13.55) We can assume from this list that James was the oldest of Jesus’ brothers, Mary’s second son (but Joseph’s first.)
So, with the first word he pens, James gives us his perspective as one who grew up in the same house with Jesus. Immanuel, that name for Him given to Isaiah many centuries before, must have held special significance for James as he looked back on his childhood: “God with us.”