Fair Warning: James has approximately nothing to tell us about Jesus. He mentions Him by name twice. Two times. That’s all. So, whether or not James is the earliest mention of Jesus is practically irrelevant, since he provides no historical or biographical information that might make Jesus seem real.
Another note, if you’ve read the Gospels and Acts, then read James, you can imagine that itis written either 1) before an actual Jesus appears on Earth, or 2) before the tradition of an actual Jesus (as opposed to a wholly spiritual Jesus) is developed. Read Chapter 5, especially Verse 8 to see what I mean.
In the canonical order, James appears after Hebrews and before 1 Peter. It is the twentieth book in the New Testament. It, like Galatians, is brief, consequently I’ll charge through it in one post.
Chapter 1 is addressed to the twelve tribes - apparently of dispersed Judeo-Christians - and begins a sermon on sin. My favorite verse:
Naughtiness! Yes, that’s our problem!
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Chapter 2 shows us James view on justification - the act of becoming righteous - as he espouses works as well as faith. He sounds like a good man.
Chapter 3 seems like general advice on not being sinners, while Chapter 4 continues the theme.
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
Chapter 5 repeats an earlier backhand to rich folk - James loves the poor and downtrodden.
17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
He closes with a final piece of advice.
1 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 motheaten.
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.
James’ epistle is not addressed to a specific group, at least not in the sense that it might be delivered to a particular recipient or group of them. It appears to be a broadcast message. You can imagine printing (if printing had been invented) many tens of copies and leaving them in the public square for general distribution. All-in-all, a nice letter. I like James.
19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
As before, here are the (only two) verses where Jesus is mentioned by name, although “Lord” and “Christ” appear more frequently. Jesus does not seem to be a real person in James’ eyes.
James 1:1 (KJV)
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
James 2:1 (KJV)
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, [the Lord] of glory, with respect of persons.