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An Introduction To The Book Of James

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I. AUTHORSHIP: Most probably James, the Lord’s half-brother

A. External Evidence: Though not decisive, there is good evidence for the epistle of James:

1. James is the first of the “Catholic” or “general” epistles which gain their name because they lack any specific address

2. Except for 1 Peter and 1 John the Catholic epistles have played more of a part in molding the Christian church than Paul’s letters

3. Some question whether Origen doubted the authenticity of James,1 but his abundant references to James as Scripture override this concern2

4. It is not mentioned in the Muratorian Canon, but this may have been to the corrupt state of this cannon (Hebrews and the Petrine Epistles are also missing).

5. Eusebius cites James among his disputed books (Antilegomena), but he refers to it as if it were genuine3

6. M. Mayor claims to find quotations or allusions to James in Didache, Barnabas, The Testaments of the Xii Patriarchs, Ignatius, Polycarp, Hermes and some later second-century Fathers4

7. Guthrie writes, “On the whole it is not altogether surprising that this brief Epistle of James was not much quoted in the earliest period, for it did not possess such wide appeal as the more dynamic Epistles of Paul. It is the kind of letter which could easily be neglected as, in fact, the treatment of it in the modern Church abundantly shows and, once neglected, a fertile soil was provided for future doubts, especially at the time when spurious productions were being attributed to apostolic names”5

B. Internal Evidence: Though one cannot not be dogmatic, it seems reasonable to identify the author of this letter with James, the Lord’s half-brother.

1. The author identifies himself as James 1:1

a. Only two (2) NT people6 could fulfill this title of James and the half-brother of the Lord Jesus is the more reasonable choice:

1) James, the son of Zebedee, of the Twelve Apostles--but he is most probably ruled out since he was martyred in AD 44 by Herod, and the epistle seems to have been written after that

2) James, the half-brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the Jerusalem church

a) This is support by the simplicity of the description (e.g., a well known James)

b) In Church history it seems to have the Lord’s half-brother James who made a significant impact on the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 15; 21).

3) Some believe that the name is only a pseudonym attached to the letter to add authority and others see the salutation as a later addition, but these are not necessary conclusions7

2. If the half-brother of the Lord is the more reasonable of the two possible choices, than other internal evidence supports this conclusion:

a. The author has a Jewish background:

1) He draws upon the Hebrew Scriptures (1:2; 2:8, 11, 23, 25; 3:9; 4:6; 5:2, 11, 17, 18)

2) He employs Hebrew Idioms and style behind the Greek

3) He is concerned with the Jewish Diaspora and uses Jewish terms (cf. 5:4--”Lord of Sabaoth”)

b. There are similarities between James and the speech and letter attributed to James in Acts 158

c. There are similarities with James and the teaching of Jesus. Guthrie writes, “there are more parallels in this Epistle than in any other New Testament book to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels”9

d. The rest of the NT supports James as a prominent figure who could have written this letter with authority:10

1) Yes, he was an unbeliever in the Gospels (Mr. 3:21; Jn. 7:5)

2) But James is among the brethren in Acts (1:14)

3) James was specially singled out for a resurrection appearance (1 Cor. 15:7)

4) James was the leader whom Paul met in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:19)

5) James held a authoritative position in the church at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:13ff)

6) James spoke with Paul on his return to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey and Paul agrees to James’ request (Acts 21)

e. The community appears to belong to the period before the fall of Jerusalem:

1) Rich land owners who preyed upon the needy was the case before the fall of the Jerusalem11

2) Guthrie writes, “In fact, in addition to the social surroundings of the community, the internal conditions of quarrelsomeness among the Christians may well point to an early stage in the history of the community before much maturity had been reached”12

3) The reference to ‘wars and fightings’ in 4:1 may have a context before the siege of Jerusalem by Titus

4) The “thoroughly Jewish background of the letter is evidenced by the absence of any allusion to masters and slaves and by the omission of any denunciation of idolatry, both of which would have been inappropriate in an epistle attributed to such a devoted Jewish Christian as James”13

II. DATE: Most likely c. AD 45-4914

A. As an ending date Josephus15 states that James was martyred in AD 62

B. There is no mention of the fall of Jerusalem16

C. There is no mention of the Jewish-Gentile controversy which arose in AD 49-50 with the Jerusalem council

D. The primitive character of church order17 suggests an early date

E. This letter was not mentioned in the Jerusalem Council (AD 50?) where James played a prominent role

F. Therefore, it may be appropriate to date this letter shortly before the Jerusalem Council (e.g., AD 45-49). This would make James the first NT book which was written.

III. RECIPIENTS OF JAMES: Probably Christian Jews who fled Jerusalem during the persecution of Stephen in Acts 7--8

A. James identifies his audience as the “twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (1:1)

1. The designation “twelve tribes” suggests a Jewish audience

a. This could be unconverted Jews

b. This could be Christian Jews

c. This could be Hellenistic Jews

d. This could even be Christians generally (both Jews and Gentiles--if one understands the church to replace Israel [which this writer does not])18

2. The following evidence suggests limiting the audience to Christian Jews:

a. The congregation’s meeting is a synagogue (2:2)

b. The Hebrew title “Lord Sabaoth” ( κυρίου Σαβαὼθ ) is Jewish (5:4)

c. The author identifies his readers as Christians (2:1; 5:7,8)

3. It is difficult to identify the exact location of these recipients:

a. The fact that they are “dispersed abroad” implies that they are not in one location

b. One possible reconstruction is that these believers fled during the persecution which came upon the heals of Stephen’s death in Acts 7--8.19

1) Acts reports that the Jewish Christians spread out over Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:19) as a result of the persecution of Stephen

2) If this is the case, than James would have felt responsible as their former pastor to offer instruction to them at this time


A. The character of the Lord is sovereign and good:

1. The Lord is the Sovereign of James (1:1)

2. The Lord cannot be tempted with evil or tempt anyone to do evil; He is holy (1:14)

3. The Lord is righteous (1:20)

4. God’s name is “fair” (2:7)

5. The Lord is the consistent source of every good thing in life with out variation in accordance with His will(1:17-18)

6. God is not partial in His judgments against the poor (2:1,5)

7. God is one (2:19)

8. God is to be blessed by men (3:9a)

9. God has made men in his own image (3:9b)

10. God is the Lord of Hosts who fights for those oppressed by others (5:4)

11. The Lord is coming full of mercy and compassion for those who patiently endure hardship (5:11)

12. The Lord will heal suffering that has come due to sin, when his people repent (5:13-16, 20)

B. The Lord acts on behalf of his people for good when they trust and obey Him:

1. The Lord tries men (1:2-3, 13)

2. The Lord gives men wisdom under trials (1:5-7)

3. The Lord will reward those who persevere under trials (1:12)

4. The Lord has implanted His word of deliverance in believers to preserve the lives of believers (1:21).

5. The Lord bless those who obey His word (1:25)

6. The Lord delights in the works of help and purity by his people (1:27)

7. God’s friends are those who obey Him (2:23)

8. God is the source of all wisdom for those who make peace (3:18)

9. As God’s people submit and draw near to Him, He comes to help them (4:7-10, 15a)

C. The Lord will not give wisdom to his people who do evil, but will pursue them with discipline and judge their evil works:

1. The Lord does not give wisdom to those who doubt in their asking (1:6-7)

2. The Lord will judge us in accordance with the mercy we show to others (2:12-13; He will judge teachers more strictly 3:1; He is the Lawgiver who judges 4:12)

3. The Lord does not give wisdom to men who only ask from God with wrong motives (4:2b-3)

4. God’s people become His enemies when they identify with the world against Him (4:4, 6b)

5. The Lord pursues His people, even when they are in rebellion (4:5-6a)

6. God is able to save and destroy (4:12)

7. God is the Lord of Hosts who fights for those oppressed by others (5:4)

8. The Lord is coming to judge those who are oppressive (5:7-9)


A. To unfold New Testament wisdom for living and not doctrinal issues so much20

B. The epistle is practical and designed to correct certain known tendencies in behavior21

C. James exhorts in a reasoned, cause and effect pastoral, manner his readers who are under trials to continue in obedient faith before the Lord so that they might receive blessing and help from Him rather than discipline in their disobedience

1 See his commentary on the Gospel of John 19:6 which mentions James with the following formula: “ὡς ἐν τῃ φερομένη ᾿Ιακώβου ἐπιστολῆ ἀνέγνωμεν.”

2 Cf. Ad Rom. 4:1; Hom. in Lev. 2:4; Hom. in Josh. 7:1.

3 See Guthrie, NTI, 737.

4 Guthrie, NTI, 738.

5 Guthrie, NTI, 739.

6 Although the NT makes mention of James, the son of Alphaeus (Mk. 3:18), and James, the father of Judas (not Iscariot; Lk. 6:16), neither have been historically considered as a possible author.

7 See Guthrie, NTI, 740, 753ff.

8 See Guthrie, NTI, 742-743.

9 Guthrie, NTI, 743-44. This may suggest that James is producing reminiscences of oral teaching which he previously heard for himself.

10 Burdick writes, “The authoritative tone of the epistle (forty-six imperatives) agrees well with the authority exercised by James in Acts 15:13ff.; 21:18” (“James,” in EBC, 12:161).

11 Guthrie, NTI, 746.

12 Guthrie, NTI, 746; cf. Acts 6?

13 Guthrie, NTI, 747.

14 Those who hold to the traditional view of authorship are split in their dating of this epistle. They either hold to an early date (before AD 50) or a date closer to the end of James’ life (e.g., AD 62). Those who do not hold to the traditional view of authorship date the epistle about AD 125.

15 Antiquities 20.9.1. Hegesippus states James death to have occurred in AD 68, but this is less probable (Eusebius, HE 2.23.28).

16 This would of been of particular interest to a Jewish-Christian audience. The social conditions of the letter also reflect a date prior to the fall of Jerusalem after which landowning Palestinian Jews ceased to exist (Guthrie, NTI, 763).

17 Elders are referred to (5:14, 16) as well as teachers (3:1) and the regular meeting-place of those addressed is identified as a “synagogue” (2:2).

18 See 1 Peter 1:1 where the term διασπορᾶς is also used. There it probably refers to both Jews and Gentiles. But James identifies those who have been scattered as “the twelve tribes” unlike Peter.

19 See Burdick, “James,” EBC, 12:162-163; Doerksen, James, EBC, 13-14.

20 Actually James has much in common with Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (cf. James 5:12 with Matthew 5:34-37; James 3:10-12 with Matthew 7:16-20; James 3:18 with Matthew 5:9; James 2:5 with Luke 6:20). It also has some in common with wisdom literature (cf. James 1:5 with Prov. 2:6; 1:19 with Prov 29:20; 3:18 with Prov 11:30; 4:13-16 with Prov 27:1; 5:20 with Prov 10:12).

21 Guthrie, NTI, 764.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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