An Overview Of The Book Of James

Date Of The Letter Of James

It appears that the letter was written during the early period of the Jewish Christian Church. The letter was written to Jewish Christians who had been scattered among the nations. They were most likely scattered by the persecution of Jewish Christians that erupted in Jerusalem in connection with the stoning of Stephen in the early A.D. 30's (cf. Acts 7:58-8:2). Since the letter was written to Jewish Christians, and it does not include statements directed to Gentile Christians, it was probably written before the influx of Gentiles began, such as began to occur during Paul's first missionary journey, which has been dated as A.D. 46-48. With the influx of Gentile Christians into the church the Judaistic Controversy arose, which was settled by the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem in A.D. 49-50. The letter makes no reference to the troubles and strife that arose with the influx of the Gentiles. Nor does it state that the Jewish Christians should not trouble the Gentile Christians over observing the laws of Moses and especially the rite of circumcision. These factors suggest that the date of writing could have been possibly around A.D. 45. Such a date makes the Letter of James the first book and letter of the New Testament to have been written.

The Writer Of The Letter Of James

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, James 1:1

There are four men by the name of James in the New Testament. There is the apostle James, who was the brother of the apostle John and a son of Zebedee (cf. Matthew 10:2; Mark 3:17; Luke 6:14). There is a second apostle named James, who was identified as “James the son of Alphaeus” (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15). There is also a James who was the father of the apostle Judas--not Iscariot (cf. Luke 6:16). Then there is the James who is the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3).

Which of these four James wrote the letter? The James who wrote it was a man of recognized dignity and authority. His name was known to all in the early apostolic church. He was so well known and widely recognized that he did not need to identify himself further than to write “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” All would have known who he was without confusing him with the other James who are mentioned in the New Testament.

Certainly the apostle James, who was the brother of John and the son of Zebedee, was well known within the early church in Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee. He was one of Jesus' inner circle of three together with Peter and his brother John. He could not have written the letter, however, because King Herod Agrippa put him to death in A.D. 44, before it appears the letter was written.

The James who was the father of the apostle Judas (not Iscariot) could not have written the letter either. He was not an apostle and he lacked the recognized authority in the church to have written a letter as authoritative as the Letter of James. Similarly, lacking such a recognized authority within the church, James the son of Alphaeus is a poor candidate to have been the letter's author.

This leaves James the half brother of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the most likely candidate to have written the letter. During the three years of Jesus' public ministry James, as well as his brothers Joseph, Simon, and Judas, did not believe Jesus was Christ the Son of God (cf. John 7:3-5). Along with his brothers and sisters James probably thought Jesus was out of his mind and had lost his senses (cf. Mark 3:21). James' opinion of Jesus seems to have changed when Jesus appeared to him as the risen Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:7) After seeing Jesus risen from the dead, James came to believe in him, for by the time of Jesus' ascension into heaven forty days later he and his brothers were united in the same faith with the disciples (cf. Acts 1:12-14).

Already in A.D. 44 James the brother of the Lord was the recognized leader of the church in Jerusalem. Shortly after the apostle John's brother James was put to death by King Herod Agrippa, and immediately after an angel released Peter from prison to save him from the same martyrdom, Peter instructed those in the house of Mary to report his release to “James and the brothers”, meaning the members of the church of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 12:17). In A.D. 49-50 James was clearly the leader of the church of Jerusalem and a recognized authority within the Apostolic Council. He voiced the final decision of the council that the Gentiles should not be troubled about having to follow the laws of Moses, especially with regard to circumcision, in order to be saved (cf. Acts 15:3-21). As a result of James' decree the apostles, elders, and church of Jerusalem then sent a letter to the churches to uphold that they were saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (cf. Acts 15:11,22-29). In his Letter to the Galatians, written about A.D. 52, Paul put James on a level of importance equal with that of the apostles (cf. Galatians 1:19), and stated that James together with Peter and John were the “reputed pillars” of the church in Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 2:9). James was such an influential person within the church of Jerusalem that Paul referred to Jewish Christians from Jerusalem as “certain men (who) came from James” (cf. Galatians 2:12). At the end of his third missionary journey when Paul brought the collection from the churches for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, he reported to James with the collection (cf. Acts 21:17,18). James was so widely recognized in the early apostolic church that Jesus' brother Judas (cf. Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) introduced himself in his Letter of Jude as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1).

James had a reputation for his piety and righteousness. For this he was given the title of “James the Just”, even by Jews who did not embrace Christianity. From early writings the tradition is that James died a martyrs' death between A,D. 63 and 68.

The Recipients Of The Letter Of James

“Greetings to the twelve tribes scattered abroad,” James 1:1

The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem scattered when the ruling council of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, started persecuting them after the stoning of Stephen. They scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (cf. Acts 8:2) and perhaps to areas beyond. Wherever they had scattered to, James wrote this general letter to them from Jerusalem as their pastor to instruct and encourage them in their Christian faith and life.

The Occasion Of The Letter Of James

No particular event or situation can be cited as the cause for the letter's being written. The occasion for the writing of the letter is inferred from the contents of the letter. At its outset James encourages the Jewish Christians to rejoice in the many kinds of trials they were undergoing. He encouraged them to persevere under such trials and withstand the test of faith and the temptation that came with it. He also wrote of their being exploited by the rich who slandered the name of Christ (cf. James 2:6,7). This suggests that the Jewish Christians were being hard pressed by persecution and poverty and were subject to the temptation to abandon their faith in Christ.

Throughout the letter James also addressed their numerous sins and the failure of their faith to be active in good deeds. This further suggests that they had begun to backslide in their faith and were slipping back into their old worldly ways from which they had emerged when they first came to believe in Christ.

The Purpose Of The Letter Of James

The content of the letter suggests that James wrote his letter to instruct, correct, rebuke, and encourage them with the Word of God, so they might not fall away altogether. He wrote to urge them to repent and to live their lives by faith.

The Theme Of The Letter Of James

Live By Faith, For Faith Without Deeds Is Dead, James 2:26

The Outline Of The Letter Of James

Part 1: The greeting, James 1:1

Part 2: Live By Faith, For Faith Without Deeds Is Dead, James 1:2-5:20

A. By faith take up your trials, James 1:2-12

1. By faith rejoice in your trials, for they test your faith to develop a perseverance that makes you mature, complete Christians, James 1:2-4

2. By faith pray to God without doubting for the wisdom to persevere through your trials, James 1:5-8

3. By faith let the poor Christian take pride in his high position as a child of God, and let the rich Christian take pride in his lowly position as a penitent sinner who when he dies will not perish, James 1:9-11

4. By faith see that blessed is the Christian believer who perseveres under his trials, for when he has passed the test of faith he will receive from God the crown of life, James 1:12

B. By faith face up to your temptations, James 1:13-18

1. By faith don't blame God for the temptations that arise from your own evil desires, which incite you to commit sin and which lead to the punishment of death, James 1:13-15

2. Rather, by faith recognize that God blesses you with every good gift and that he gave you a spiritual rebirth to faith through his Word of truth, James 1:16-18

C. By faith do as well as hear the Word of God, James 1:19-27

1, By faith humbly accept the Word which can save you. It teaches you to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, so you live the righteous life God desires and you get rid of all the moral filth that is so prevalent in the world, James 1:19-21

2. By faith do not merely listen to the Word and then forget what it says. Rather, do what it says that you may be blessed as the Christian believer who is free to serve God and your neighbor, James 1:22-25

3. If you would be truly religious, in light of what God's Word says, by faith bite your tongue, mercifully help the distressed, and keep yourselves from being polluted by the evil ways of this world, James 1:26,27

D. By faith, as Christian believers in Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism, James 2:1-13

1. By faith don't discriminate among yourselves on the basis of wealth or poverty, lest you become judges with evil objectives, James 2:1-4

2. By faith don't insult the poor Christians among you, whom God has chosen to be rich in faith so they may inherit the kingdom of heaven, by favoring the rich who are the very ones who exploit you, drag you into court, and slander the noble name of your Lord Jesus Christ, James 2:5-7

3. By faith fulfill the royal law of God to love your neighbor as yourself. For even if you kept the whole law but show favoritism, you become guilty of breaking all of it, James 2:8-11

4. By faith speak and act as those who will be judged. Don't judge among yourselves without mercy by playing favorites, for then you also will be judged without mercy, James 2:12,13

E. By faith do the deeds that verify the existence of your faith, James 2:14-26

1. A faith that does not act in performing deeds is worthless and dead, James 2:14-17

2. Your deeds verify the presence of faith in your heart, James 2:18,19

3. What Abraham and Rahab did by faith are examples that show God sees your faith by what you do and justifies you on the basis of those fruits of faith. Where there are no deeds, there is no faith. The faith without deeds is dead, James 2:20-26

F. By faith tame your tongue, James 3:1-12

1. Don't be too eager to become a teacher, for you will be judged more strictly. We all stumble, and who is never at fault in what he says? James 3:1,2

2. By means of a small bit or a small rudder man can make great horses and ships do what he wants them to do. Well, the tongue is a small member of the body that does great evil and corrupts a person. Yet there is not a single person who can tame his tongue, James 3:3-8

3. With our tongue we praise God and curse men. This is not a fruit of faith that should be. Both should not come out of the same mouth, James 3:9-12

G. By faith produce the deeds that come from a heart filled with divine wisdom, rather than your deeds that are according to the world's wisdom, James 3:13-5:12

1. By faith produce the humble deeds of a good life that come from divine wisdom to show that you are a Christian of wisdom and understanding, James 3:13

2. Be honest with yourselves if you have a heart filled with bitter envy and selfish ambition, James 3:14

a. This is the worldly wisdom that characterizes the people of this earth. It is natural to sinful mankind, not spiritual. Worse yet, it is demonic and comes from the devil himself, James 3:15

b. This worldly wisdom produces the deeds of disorder and every kind of evil, James 3:16

3. Rather, by faith exhibit the wisdom that comes from God, the virtues of which produce the fruits of righteousness and peace, James 3:17,18

4. Where are your deeds of faith, you worldly minded people who quarrel and fight? Don't you know that your sinful desires and envy are the cause of your worldly quarrels and fights to get what you want? Yet, in spite of your quarreling and fighting, you do not get what you want because you do not ask God. If and when you do ask, God does not give it to you, because you ask with wrong motives to indulge yourselves in worldly pleasures, James 4:1-3

a. You are therefore an unfaithful people, who have made friends with the world at the expense of making yourselves enemies of God, who jealously longs for the Christian spirit he enlivened within us, James 4:4,5

b. By the grace God gives to us who are humble, repent! By faith submit yourselves to God, and resist the devil, so the devil will flee from you and God will draw near to you. Draw near to God with penitent hands and hearts, and with a God-pleasing sorrow over your sins, so God will exalt you in turn, James 4:6-10

5. Unlike the world with its “wisdom”, by faith exhibit the divine wisdom that does not speak against a brother in the faith nor judges him, lest in doing so you condemn God's law to love one another. God is the lawgiver and the judge, not you! James 4:11,12

6. Now where are your deeds of faith, you worldly minded individuals who bank on your plans to do what you want to do when you want to do them? You count on having your will done in the future, yet you don't even know what tomorrow will bring, nor that your short life will not end before you ever see your plans fulfilled. By faith entrust your intentions and plans to the will of God and repent of your evil boasting about what you intend to do and when, James 4:13-17

7. And where are your deeds of faith, you who are rich? Repent of your worldly love of wealth. Your riches are rotten and good for nothing in the sight of God. You better start weeping and wailing over the eternal misery that your love of wealth has stored up for you as your “treasure” in hell. Your cheating your workers cries out to God to condemn you, for you have enriched yourselves at the expense of those who labored for you. Your love of money has led you to condemn and kill innocent men, James 5:1-6

8. By faith be wise in waiting patiently for the coming of the Lord, which is close at hand. Wait patiently without complaining about your fellow Christians' sins against you, lest you yourselves be judged by the Lord when he comes. Rather, by faith endure what you suffer in patience, that the Lord in the end may deal compassionately and mercifully with you, James 5:7-11

9. Most importantly, unlike the worldly minded people around you, by faith don't make oaths but give a simple answer of “Yes” or “No”, James 5:12

10. By faith produce the deeds that are fitting to whatever your situation may be. If you are suffering, pray to God. If you are happy, praise God. If you are sick, seek out God's servants to minister in your behalf with prayer and medicinal ointment in the name of the Lord for your salvation, life, and forgiveness. Such prayers of the righteous are effective, as it was in the case of Elijah, James 5:13-18

11. By faith regain those who are straying from the truth of God's Word to save them from hell and to cover their many sins, James 5:19,20