AUTHOR AND TITLE: *db01a,b
This epistle begins with “James of God … to the twelve tribes.” To clearly indicate the sender, the NET Bible translates, “From James, a bond-servant of God … to the twelve tribes …” But there were four men with the name James in the New Testament.
- (1) the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Mark 1:19),
- (2) the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18),
- (3) the father of Judas (not Iscariot; Luke 6:16), and
- (4) the half brother of the Lord (Gal. 1:19).
Regarding this, Ryrie*db02 writes:
Of the four men bearing the name James in the New Testament, only two have been proposed as the author of this letter:
- James the son of Zebedee (and brother of John) and
- James the half brother of Jesus.
It is unlikely that the son of Zebedee was the author, for he was martyred in A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2). The authoritative tone of the letter not only rules out the two lesser known Jameses of the New Testament (“James the Less” and the James of Luke 6:16) but points to the half brother of Jesus who became the recognized leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18). This conclusion is supported by the resemblances in the Greek between this epistle and the speech of James at the Council of Jerusalem (James 1:1 and Acts 15:23; James 1:27 and Acts 15:14; James 2:5 and Acts 15:13).fn78
In the Greek text, the book is simply titled Jakobos from James 1:1. The early title was Jakobou Epistle, “Epistle of James.” But James was actually Jacob (Iako„bos).
Exactly why the English translators chose “James” rather than “Jacob” is uncertain. “James,” “Jake,” and “Jacob” all come from the same root. Bible translations in other languages tend to utilize the transliterated name from the Hebrew yaàa†qo„b, “Jacob.” One might wonder if King James desired to see his name in the English translation he authorized.
Again, due to the way James addresses the recipients, a comment is needed here as well. James is addressed “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad (diaspora), greetings.” As is suggested from “my brethren” in 1:19 and 2:1, 7, this is a reference, not to the dispersion that occurred between A.D. 66-70, but to the Jews dispersed from their homeland through the past dispersions (see Matt. 1:11, 12, 17).
In the early chapters of Acts, Jews were in Jerusalem from all parts of the world for Pentecost (see Acts 1:5). Many of these saw and heard the phenomena of Pentecost and came to believe in Christ. Eventually, many returned to their respective homes in various parts of the world. It is to these that James was writing. Others, however, see this as a reference to those Christian Jews who had been scattered after the death of Stephen.fn79
DATE: A.D. 45 OR 46
While a few suggest a date for James as earlier as the late 30s and some as late as A.D. 150, most scholars date the book about A.D. 45.
The reasons are as follows:
- (1) There is a very distinctive Jewish character to the book which suggests it was written when the church was still predominantly Jewish.
- (2) There is no reference made to the controversy over Gentile circumcision.
- (3) The Greek term synagoge (“synagogue” or “meeting”) is used to designate the meeting or meeting place of the church rather than “church,” ekklesia (2:2).
- (4) The lack of reference to issues involved in the Jerusalem Council like the relationship of Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians (Acts 15:1f.; A.D. 49) also suggests a very early date.
- (5) “The allusions to the teachings of Christ have such little verbal agreement with the synoptic Gospels that they probably preceded them.”fn80
THEME AND PURPOSE:
A great deal of controversy exists regarding the precise nature of the theme and purpose of this epistle. Regarding this controversy, Ron Blue writes:
Few books of the Bible have been more maligned than the little Book of James. Controversy has waged over its authorship, its date, its recipients, its canonicity, and its unity.
It is well known that Martin Luther had problems with this book. He called it a “right strawy epistle.” But it is only “strawy” to the degree it is “sticky.” There are enough needles in this haystack to prick the conscience of every dull, defeated, and degenerated Christian in the world.
Here is a “right stirring epistle” designed to exhort and encourage, to challenge and convict, to rebuke and revive, to describe practical holiness and drive believers toward the goal of a faith that works. James is severely ethical and refreshingly practical.fn81
Clearly, James is concerned about possessing a faith that works, one that is vital, powerful, and functional. But part of the controversy concerns the nature of that faith. Is he writing to develop the characteristics of a true faith versus a false faith of just a professing believer, or is he talking about a genuine faith of a true believer, but one whose faith has become dead and inactive and thus useless?
Some would assert that James “effectively uses these characteristics as a series of tests to help his reader evaluate the reality of their relationship to Christ.”fn82Others would stress that James is writing to warn believers about the consequences of a dead, inactive faith both personally and corporately and to stir them to growth and true spiritual maturity.
In keeping with this focus, Blue has an excellent summary of James’ purpose:
The purpose of this potent letter is to exhort the early believers to Christian maturity and holiness of life. This letter deals more with the practice of the Christian faith than with its precepts. James told his readers how to achieve spiritual maturity through a confident stand, compassionate service, careful speech, contrite submission, and concerned sharing. He dealt with every area of a Christian’s life: what he is, what he does, what he says, what he feels, and what he has.
With his somewhat stern teaching on practical holiness, James showed how Christian faith and Christian love should be expressed in a variety of actual situations. The seemingly unrelated parts of the book can be harmonized in light of this unified theme. The pearls are not rolling around in some box; they are carefully strung to produce a necklace of priceless beauty.fn83
In a book of only five chapters,
- faith occurs sixteen times. This, plus the strong emphasis on
- godly living and the repetition of
- works, working thirteen times in chapter 2, shows these are the two key words of the book.
1:2-5. 2 My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. 5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.
1:19-27 19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and sticks with it, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If someone thinks he is religious and does not control his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep yourself unstained by the world.
2:14-17. 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.
Choosing a key chapter in James is difficult, but chapters 1 and 4 certainly stand out. Chapter 1 is key in that it gives us vital information on the nature and purpose of trials and temptation. Trials build character and produce maturity when mixed with faith, and our temptations come from within and never from God. Chapter 4 is also a key chapter because of what it teaches us about the true source of quarrels, the adulterous nature of worldliness, drawing near to God, and resisting Satan who flees when we draw near to God and resist him. Other key subjects found in other chapters are: faith and works (2:14-26), the use of the tongue (3:1-12), and prayer for the sick (5:13-16).
CHRIST AS SEEN IN JAMES:
In 1:1 and 2:1, James specifically refers to the “Lord Jesus Christ” and then anticipates His coming in 5:7-8.
“In the 108 verses of the epistle there are references or allusions from 22 books of the Old Testament and at least 15 allusions to the teachings of Christ as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount.”fn84
- I. Stand with Confidence (chap. 1)
- A. Salutation and greeting (1:1)
- B. Rejoice in diverse trials (1:2-12)
- 1. Attitude in trials (1:2)
- 2. Advantage of trials (1:3-4)
- 3. Assistance for trials (1:5-12)
- C. Resist in deadly temptation (1:13-18)
- D. Rest in divine truth (1:19-27)
- 1. Receptivity to the Word (1:19-21)
- 2. Responsiveness to the Word (1:22-25)
- 3. Resignation to the Word (1:26-27)
- II. Serve with Compassion (chap. 2)
- III. Speak with Care (chap. 3)
- A. Control talk (3:1-12)
- 1. The tongue is powerful (3:1-5)
- 2. The tongue is perverse (3:6-8)
- 3. The tongue is polluted (3:9-12)
- B. Cultivate thought (3:13-18)
- 1. Wisdom is humble (3:13)
- 2. Wisdom is gracious (3:14-16)
- 3. Wisdom is peaceable (3:17-18)
- IV. Submit with Contrition (chap. 4)
- A. Turn hatred into humility (4:1-6)
- 1. Cause of conflict (4:1-2)
- 2. Consequence of conflict (4:3-4)
- 3. Cure for conflict (4:5-6)
- B. Turn judgment into justice (4:7-12)
- 1. Advice for justice (4:7-9)
- 2. Advantage of justice (4:10-11)
- 3. Author of justice (4:12)
- C. Turn boasting into belief (4:13-17)
- 1. Statement of boasting (4:13)
- 2. Sentence on boasting (4:14)
- 3. Solution for boasting (4:15-17)
- V. Share with Concern (chap. 5)
- A. Share in possessions (5:1-6)
- 1. Consternation from wealth (5:1)
- 2. Corrosion of wealth (5:2-3)
- 3. Condemnation in wealth (5:4-6)
- B. Share in patience (5:7-12)
- 1. Essence of patience (5:7-9)
- 2. Examples of patience (5:10-11)
- 3. Evidence of patience (5:12)
- C. Share in prayer (5:13-20)
- 1. Sensitivity to needs (5:13)
- 2. Supplication for needs (5:14-18)
- 3. Significance of needs (5:19-20)