God had not lost the address of His Old Covenant people. James sent the letter “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (1:1, KJV). He included as the recipients all Jews as well as Christian Jews.
Remember that the earliest Jewish believers had no sectarian name that separated them from other Jews. Many had not broken from the synagogue. At first, Jewish Christians maintained the hope that all of their fellow Jews would turn to Christ. James chose the strongest possible way to address all Jews. Gentiles read and profited by James’s letter, but I feel that he wrote primarily to his Jewish brethren.
God’s people usually have been scattered. Thus, James addressed the twelve scattered tribes. By the time James wrote, as many as 4,000,000 Jews were scattered in the Roman world. The different groups of people who listened to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 suggests how dispersed the Jews were. In almost every distant city, Paul found a synagogue. Strabo, a geographer who was contemporary with Jesus, exclaimed: “It is hard to find a spot in the whole world which is not occupied and dominated by the Jews.” They were Jews of the Diaspora or Dispersion.
Only a persevering postman could have carried James’s letter to all the scattered Jews! This letter probably addressed a particular group of the Diaspora. Those immediately north in Syria or those in the oldest resettlements in Mesopotamia likely received this general letter. Jewish Christians who were driven out after Stephen’s death resettled in these areas. (See Acts 8:1; 11:19.) (Some interpreters hold that the phrase “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” [1:1] refers to the true people of God everywhere.)
Contemporary Christians need to recover the concept of being scattered. In New Testament times, God purposely scattered the Jews as He scattered seed for gospel soil. Too often, Christians have gathered together in safe enclaves rather than to disperse to witness to the world. Today, holy huddles need to break up into world witnesses.
Churches have built their own gymnasiums, schools, and intricate social structures. While none of these is wrong in itself, all of them together can keep believers from being scattered as salt and light in a rotting and darkened world. One minister received an advertisement for a Christian subdivision in which only born again people could live within its walls. That conjures up the image of Christian grocery stores where only Christians may shop for consecrated corn flakes, justified jelly, and sacred sauerkraut! Christians must risk contact with a spiritually sick world’s festering need. In James’s day, God scattered His people throughout the Roman Empire.