Conservative scholarship largely agrees with A.T. Robertson’s view of when the book of James was written: “The Epistle of James was probably written shortly before the Jerusalem Conference, most probably just before, that is A.D. 48 or 49.” The practical message of the book was most fitting for the times in which it was written, and it is equally so for our day. Christians of all times need to know what God expects of them and how to walk with God in a world that is opposed to Him and His teaching. There is always the constant need to translate heavenly truths into earthly shoe leather. Children of God must continually be on their guard against becoming so heavenly minded that they are of little earthly good.
It was to “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (1:1) that James wrote. In other words, he wrote to Jews who had been taken captive and then scattered. They had experienced captivity and scattering from Assyria, Babylon, and Rome. Sometimes they would also migrate on their own to seek their fortunes. However, wherever they went, they always retained their identity and were loyal to their ancient customs. The Jewish historian Josephus said: “There is no city, no tribe, whether Greek or Barbarian in which Jewish law and Jewish customs have not taken root.”
Apparently, James used the phrase “the twelve tribes” in a nontechnical or general way. Before James wrote , the ten northern tribes had already disappeared from history. The content of the book reveals that James had a particular group of scattered Jews in mind: those who had come to believe in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Perhaps James saw and even conversed with some of these Jews as they came to Jerusalem to worship and sensed their need for practical admonition and guidance on their Christian journey.
-- Dr. Robert Lightner, pages 2,3, Solid Stepping Stones (used with permission)