People generally know that the ten northern tribes were divorced by God and sent into exile among the Assyrians. What most do not know is that most of the twelve tribes actually went into that exile. Only Jerusalem and a couple towns nearby were spared that captivity. Even so many believe that the northern tribes became amalgamated into the Assyrian empire and disappeared from history.
James, really Jacob, knew the word that we translate as church. James 5:14 has the phrase, “let him call for the elders of the church”. So James knew the word we translate as church.
Unfortunately these days there is a tendency to spiritualize anything in scripture that is not understood or does not fit with doctrine. In James 1:1 he wrote:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.
Many will teach that James was writing to the church. This is partly true, but James wrote “twelve tribes” and that is what he meant. As I mentioned earlier James knew the word for church and if he had wanted to write church he would have. So to teach that James wrote to the church because one’s understanding is lacking on why he would write what he did is not honest study or teaching of scripture.
The twelve tribes were in existence. The Pharisees knew where many of them were living. Josephus wrote, “…wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the Ten Tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers.” The ten tribes were in Europe. Also Ptolemy spoke of the western isles of Britain and Ireland writing, “They were peopled by descendants of the Hebrew Race .” An early name for Ireland was Ibernia which meant “new land of the Hebrews”. Europe is scattered with grave markers declaring the tribe and family of those buried there. History also records that many of Israel were in the United States. One grave site was found near Knoxville, Tennessee . Those buried there were from the time of Christ.
So the point is that we have been spiritualizing anything we didn’t understand when we should let the scripture writer’s meaning stand. Take a look at John 3:16 and the word perish for another example.