WHICH “JAMES” IS THE AUTHOR?
The author of this letter gives us his name right at the beginning of his letter. He calls himself “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The author is James, but which James? (The Old Testament Hebrew form of the name “James” is “Jacob.”) In the New Testament four men are called by the name James: 1) James, the father of the apostle Judas; we know nothing more of this James. 2) James, the son of Alphaeus, one of the 12 apostles; we know no more about him. 3) James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John; one of the 12 apostles; he was killed by Herod about 44 A.D. (Acts 12:2). 4) James, the Lord’s brother. Since nothing is known of the first two Jameses listed above, it is not thought that either of them could have written this epistle carrying great authority in the early church. And since James, the son of Zebedee, was killed about 44 A.D., it does not seem that he wrote this epistle, which was probably written later than 44. It is generally assumed that James, the Lord’s brother, was the author of the Epistle of James. (Others say it was James, the son of Alphaeus). For some early New Testament references to James, the Lord’s brother, (see Mat. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal. 1:19). During Jesus’ ministry, he was not a believer (Jn. 7:5). After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus appeared to James (I Cor. 15:7). It was perhaps at this time that he became a believer. He became a strong leader in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13ff.; Gal. 2:9 – called a “pillar” of the church). Josephus, a First Century historian, says that James was martyred by the Jewish high priest about the year 62.
LETTER FIRST WRITTEN TO WHOM?
James addressed his letter “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (1:1b). It is clear from the contents of the letter that by this phrase James is addressing not all Jews, but Jewish Christians living around the Mediterranean world. Since this letter was not addressed to just one church or individual but was to have a more general readership, it is grouped among the General Epistles.
WHEN AND WHERE WRITTEN?
The epistle may have been written shortly before the death of James, the Lord’s brother, perhaps 61 or 62 A.D. Others say it may have been written in the mid 40s and call it the first New Testament letter to be written. Strong arguments can be made for both the early and the late date. We will have to be content to say we don’t know for sure when it was written. When we remember that the inspired message is the important thing and that questions about author, date and place of writing are often debatable, then we will not spend a great amount of time arguing about those matters. As far as we know, James remained at Jerusalem. The letter was probably written, therefore, from Jerusalem.
THE OCCASION OF THE LETTER
From the letter’s contents, we can determine that its readers were being persecuted, that they were tempted to fall back and live like the world around them, that they were quick to judge and speak evil about one another. They claimed to have faith but didn’t seem to realize clearly that genuine Christian faith is to show itself in genuine Christian deeds. They were in real need of admonishment and encouragement to demonstrate faith by works.
SOME SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF JAMES’ EPISTLES
1.There is little Christian doctrine in the epistle. James assumes that his readers know Christian doctrine.
2.The practical living of the Christian religion is strongly emphasized. The truth that “faith without deeds is dead” is stressed very much.
3.Many of James’ words are very similar to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Compare: (1:22 with Mat. 7:21); (2:13 with Mat. 6:14-15); (4:11 with Mat. 7:1-5); (5:2 with Mat. 6:19); (5:12 with Mat. 5:34-37).
A THEME AND BASIC CONTENTS OF JAMES’ EPISTLE:
“FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD”
It is difficult to construct a simple outline for James since the author writes about a variety of subjects which are difficult to group under a few headings. Therefore, we will use the NIV headings to cover the basic contents of James’ Epistle.
1. Trials and Temptations (1:2-18) Key passages: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (1:2-3). “When tempted, no one should say, `God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (1:13). 2. Listening and Doing (1:19-27) Key passages: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22). “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (1:27).
3. Favoritism Forbidden (2:1-13) Key passages: “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (2:9-10).
4. Faith and Deeds (2:14-26) Key passages: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:17). “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (2:26).
5. Taming the Tongue (3:1-12) Key passages: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (3:10).
6. Two Kinds of Wisdom (3:13-18) Key passages: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (3:13).
7. Submit Yourselves to God (4:1-12) Key passages: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7).
8. Boasting About Tomorrow 4:13-17) Key passages: “Instead, you ought to say, `If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that'” (4:15). “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (4:17).
9. Warning to Rich Oppressors (5:1-6) Key passages: “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (5:5).
10. Patience in Suffering (5:7-12) Key passages: “You, too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (5:8).
The Prayer of Faith (5:13-20) Key passages: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16b).
JAMES’ MESSAGE AND JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
Some Bible critics try to make it appear that James’ epistle is opposed to Paul’s clear teaching of justification by faith. They say that James teaches a salvation by works and Paul a salvation by faith. The careful Bible reader, however, soon sees that there is no conflict between James and Paul. James is stressing the point that where there is real faith there necessarily must be real works. If a person claims to have faith but produces no works to prove his faith, he shows himself to be without faith and without salvation. Paul and James are in perfect agreement on the relationship between faith and works: first comes saving faith, then follows works; if the works do not follow, then saving faith was not there to begin with. The perfect harmony between Paul and James’ epistles can be seen clearly in this statement of Paul from Gal. 5:5b: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
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