There are three, possibly four, men named James in the New Testament. One was the brother of the Lord, along with Joseph (Joses), Judas (Jude), and Simon (Matthew 13.55; Mark 6.3). Two were apostles: James, the brother of John (Matthew 4.21-22, 10.2, Mark 3.17, Luke 5.1-10) who was killed by Herod (Acts 12.2) and James, the son of Alphaeus, also called James the Less (Matthew 10.3, Mark 3.18, Luke 6.15).
Interestingly, “James” was not the actual name of these men; some say it was Iames but most scholars agree that in Aramaic it was something closer to Ya’akov, a fairly common name which usually becomes Jacob. It has undergone metamorphosis, becoming James in English, Santiago in Spanish, and Jacques in French. Because the translators of the King James version of the Bible wanted to get the king’s approval for the translation, they translated at least three of the men named Ya’akov into James.
James was a leader of the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 1.13-14, it is simply noted that the apostles gathered with some women and Jesus’ mother and brothers. However, after several of Paul’s journeys, he mentions James in a leadership context, especially in Acts 15.13 where James states the position of the church regarding Gentiles.
James wrote his letter to early Jewish Christians living in Gentile communities outside of Palestine in about AD 49, prior to the Jerusalem Council held in 50. His purpose was to expose hypocrisy among believers and teach proper Christian behavior. It also expresses his concern for persecuted Christians who were once part of the Jerusalem church.
Notice the three themes of the letter: hardship, perseverance, and wisdom (James 1.2-3). He doesn’t say, if you face trials, but when you face them. He assumes that we will all have trials and can profit from them. The point is not to be happy when you face pain, but to have a positive and confident outlook. Consider it all joy because of what trials produce in our lives. James tells us to turn our hardships into times of learning. Trials teach us endurance and endurance perfects us, makes us complete.