Introduction to James

 

OPENING STATEMENTS

A. This was Soren Kierkegaard's favorite book in the New Testament because it emphasizes practical, daily Christianity.

 

B. This was Martin Luther's least favorite book in the New Testament because it seems to contradict Paul's "justification by faith" emphasis in Romans and Galatians (i.e., James 2:14-26).

 

C. This is a very different genre from other NT books

1. very much like a new covenant book of Proverbs (i.e., wisdom literature) spoken by a fiery prophet

2. written early after Jesus' death and still very Jewish and practical

 

AUTHOR

A. The traditional author is James (Hebrew, "Jacob"), the half-brother of Jesus (one of four sons from Mary and Joseph (cf. Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). He was the leader of the Jerusalem Church (a.d. 48-62, cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:12).

1. He was called "James the Just" and later nicknamed "camel knees" because he constantly prayed on his knees (from Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius).

2. James was not a believer until after the resurrection (cf. Mark 3:21,31; John 7:5). Jesus appeared to him personally after the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:7).

3. He was present in the upper room WITH THE DISCIPLES (cf. Acts 1:14) with the disciples (cf. Acts 1:14) and possibly also there when the Spirit came on Pentecost.

4. He was probably married (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5).

5. He is referred to by Paul as a pillar (possibly an apostle, cf. Gal. 1:19) but was not one of the Twelve (cf. Gal. 2:9; Acts 12:17; 15:13).

6. In Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1, Josephus says that he was stoned in a.d. 62 by orders from the Sadducees of the Sanhedrin, while another tradition (the second century writers, Clement of Alexandria or Hegesippus) says he was pushed off the wall of the Temple.

7. For many generations after Jesus' death a relative of Jesus was appointed leader of the church in Jerusalem.

 

B. In Studies in the Epistle of James, A. T. Robertson affirms James' authorship.

"There are many proofs that the epistle was written by the author of the speech in Acts 15:13-21—delicate similarities of thought and style too subtle for mere imitation or copying. The same likeness appears between the Epistle of James and the letter to Antioch, probably written also by James (Acts 15:23-29). There are, besides, apparent reminiscences of the Sermon on the Mount, which James may have heard personally or at least heard the substance of it. There is the same vividness of imagery in the epistle that is so prominent a characteristic of the teaching of Jesus" (p. 2).

A. T. Robertson is here following J. B. Mayor's The Epistle of St. James, pp. iii-iv.

 

C. There are two other men named James in the NT apostolic band. However, James, the brother of John, was killed very early in a.d. 44 by Herod Agrippa I (cf. Acts 12:1-2). The other James, "the less" or "the younger" (cf. Mark 15:40), is never mentioned outside the lists of apostles. The author of our epistle was apparently well known.

 

D. There have been three theories as to the relationship of James to Jesus:

1. Jerome said that he was Jesus' cousin (by Alphaeus and Mary of Clopas). He deduced this from comparing Matt. 27:56 with John 19:25.

2. Roman Catholic tradition asserts that he was a half-brother by a previous marriage of Joseph (cf. Origen's comments on Matt. 13:55 and Epiphanius in Heresies, 78).

3. Tertullian (a.d. 160-220), Helvidius (a.d. 366-384) and most Protestants assert that he was a true half-brother of Jesus by Joseph and Mary (cf. Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3).

4. Options #1 and #2 were developed historically to guard the later Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

 

DATE

A. If the above authorship is accepted, there are two possible dates.

1. Early, before the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) in A.D. 49 (if this date is true then James is the earliest NT book to be circulated).

2. Later, just before the death of James in A.D. 62.

 

B. The early date has in its favor

1. the use of "synagogue" (NASB "assembly") in 2:2

2. the lack of church organization

3. the use of the word "elder" in its Jewish sense in 5:14

4. no mention of the controversy over the Gentile mission (cf. Acts 15)

5. James seems to be writing to early Jewish believing communities away from Jerusalem and probably out of Palestine (cf. 1:1)

 

C. The late date has in its favor

1. the possible reaction by James (cf. 2:14-26) to Paul's letter to the Romans (cf. 4:1ff), taking an opposite approach to correct an inappropriate usage of Paul's preaching or writings by the heretics (cf. 2 Pet. 3:15-16).

2. The book apparently assumes basic Christian doctrines because of their total absence from the book.

 

RECIPIENTS

A. The reference to "the twelve tribes that are scattered over the world" (1:1) is our major hint. Also, the inclusion of the letter in the "catholic epistles" (i.e., letters addressed to several churches) reflects its encyclical nature. Obviously one church is not as prominent as a specific though scattered group of individuals and these seem to be Jewish Christians outside of Palestine.

 

B. Although James has a Jewish flavor, it is addressed to a Christian audience. This is confirmed by

1. the use of the term "brother" (cf. 1:2,16,19; 2:1,5,14; 3:1,10,12; 4:11; 5:7,9,10,12,19)

2. the use of the term "Lord" (cf. 1:1,7,12; 2:1; 4:10,15; 5:4,7,8,10,11,14,15)

3. the specific mention of faith in Christ (cf. 2:1); and (4) the expectation of Jesus' return (cf. 5:8).

 

C. There are three possible interpretations of the phrase in 1:1.

1. Jews—This seems improbable because of the recurrent use of "brethren," the lack of the major gospel truths about Jesus, as well as the specific mentioning of faith in Christ in 2:1. Also, after the Babylonian Exile, many of the original twelve tribes never returned. The same metaphor is used symbolically of believers in Rev. 7:4-8.

2. Christian Jews—This seems to be the most likely because of the Jewish flavor of the book and the leadership position of James in the Jerusalem church.

3. The church as spiritual Israel—This is possible because of the use of "diaspora" in 1 Pet. 1:1 and Paul's allusion to the church (believing Jews and Gentiles ) as spiritual Israel (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:16-25; Gal. 3:7,29; 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:5,9).

 

OCCASION

There are two major theories.

A. An attempt to apply the New Covenant specifically to first century Jewish Christians living in pagan settings.

 

B. Some believe it was wealthy Jews persecuting Christian Jews. It is also possible that the early Christians were subject to antisemitic pagan abuse. It was obviously a time of physical need and persecution (cf. 1:2-4,12; 2:6-7; 5:4-11,13-14).

 

LITERARY GENRE

A. This letter/sermon reflects a knowledge of wisdom literature, both canonical (Job - Song of Songs) and inter-biblical (Ecclesiasticus about 180 b.c.). Its emphasis is practical living—faith in action (cf. 1:3-4).

 

B. In some ways the style is very similar to both Jewish wisdom teachers and Greek and Roman moral itinerant teachers (like the Stoics). Some examples are:

1. loose structure (jumping from one subject to another)

2. many imperatives (54 of them)

3. diatribe (a supposed objector asking questions, cf. 2:18; 4:13). This is also seen in Malachi, Romans, and 1 John.

 

C. Although there are few direct quotations from the OT (cf. 1:11; 2:8,11,23; 4:6), like the book of the Revelation, there are many allusions to the OT.

 

D. The outline of James is almost longer than the book itself. This reflects the rabbinical technique of jumping from subject to subject in order to keep the attention of the audience. The rabbis called it "pearls on a string."

 

E. James seems to be a combination of OT literary genres: (1) sages (wisdom teachers) and (2) prophets (much like Amos or Jeremiah). He uses OT truths but bathes them in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount teachings. (See section B. under Content below).

 

F. Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, p. 69 says, "a case could also be made for the letter (James) as having been written by James as having been first a homily or a sermon – perhaps extracts drawn from a number of James' sermons – and only later cast into the form of a letter and circulated more sidely."

 

CONTENT

A. James uses allusions to Jesus' words, found in the Synoptic Gospels, more than any other NT book.

B. James is reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount.

 

JAMES SERMON ON THE MOUNT
1:2 Matt. 5:1-2
1:4 Matt. 5:48
1:5 Matt. 7:7 (21:26)
1:12 Matt. 5:3-11
1:20 Matt. 5:22
1:22-25 Matt. 7:24-27
2:5 Matt. 5:3 (25:34)
2:8 Matt. 5:43; 7:12
2:13 Matt. 5:7 (6:14-15; 18:32-35)
3:6 Matt. 5:22,29,30
3:12 Matt. 7:16
3:18 Matt. 5:9; 7:16-17
4:4 Matt. 6:24
4:11-12 Matt. 7:1
4:13 Matt. 6:34
5:2 Matt. 6:19-20
5:10-11 Matt. 5:12
5:12 Matt. 5:34-37

C. It is applied theology (faith without works is dead). Out of 108 verses, 54 are imperatives.

 

CANONIZATION

A. James' inclusion was late and difficult.

1. James was not in the canonical list from Rome about A.D. 200 called "Muratorian Fragment."

2. It was not in the canonical list from North Africa, A.D. 360, called "Cheltenham List" (also called Karl Mommsen's catalog).

3. It was not included in the Old Latin version of the NT.

4. Eusebius lists it as one of the disputed books (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, II and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation), Hist. Eccl. II:23:24-24; III:25:3.

5. It was not received in the Western Church until the fourth century and was not documented in the Eastern Church until the revision of the Syriac translation of the fifth century called the Peshitta.

6. It was rejected by Theodore of Mopsuetia (a.d. 392-428), the leader of the Antiochean school of biblical interpretation (he rejected all of the catholic epistles).

7. Erasmas had doubts about it, as did Martin Luther, who called it a "strawy epistle" because he felt it contradicted Romans' and Galatians' emphases on "justification by faith."

 

B. Evidence of James' genuineness:

1. It was alluded to in the writings of Clement of Rome (a.d. 95) and later in the second century by Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus.

2. It is alluded to in the non-canonical, but popular, Christian writing called Shepherd of Hermas, written about a.d. 130.

3. It is quoted directly by Origen (a.d. 185-245) in his commentary on John, XIX:23.

4. In his Hist. Eccl. 2:23, Eusebius listed it among the "disputed books," but added that it was accepted by most churches.

5. It is included in the revision of the Syriac translation of a.d. 412 (called the Peshitta).

6. Origen and John of Damascus in the East and Jerome and Augustine in the West championed this book's inclusion in the Canon. It received official canonical status at the Councils of Hippo, a.d. 393, and Carthage, a.d. 397 and again in a.d. 419.

7. It was accepted by Chrysostom (a.d. 345-407) and Theodoret (a.d. 393-457), both leaders of the Antiochean school of biblical interpretation.

 

READING CYCLE ONE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words.

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

 

READING CYCLE TWO (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

 

Passage: