James is a collection of proverbial sayings and stories in the form of aphorisms, a tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion. James uses about sixty imperatives in his book. An imperative in the Greek language offers the reader/listener a place to make a decision. There is a similarity between James and the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospels (James 1.2 cp. Matthew 5.10-12; James 1.5-7 cp. Matthew 5.48). Some of the sayings in James have a resemblance to the wisdom found in Ecclesiasticus in the Apocrypha.[ref]Winn Griffin. God’s EPIC Adventure. Harmon Press. 279[/ref]
Author: James, the half-brother of Jesus Age Written
Age Written: A.D. 49
To: Jesus Followers Everywhere
Problem: Wisdom about living as a new human being
Audience: Those who had not caught the vision of new humanity
Hello: James 1.1
Attacks will come in life, welcome them: James 1.2
Treatment: James 1.12-27
Welcome attacks because they will force you to exercise in practice what you have learned in Christ: James 1.3-4
Treatment: James 2.1-26
Since you lack wisdom in working through attacks, ask God, he will grant the wisdom you need: James 1.5-8
Treatment: James 3.1-4.17
How the rich and the poor should live in harmony in the church: James 1.9-11
Treatment: James 5.1-12
The Full Circle: Attacks, Faith, and Wisdom: James 5:13-19
Characteristics And Background
Paul’s first missionary trip was in Galatia. Upon his return from Galatia to Antioch in Syria, he reported to the church all that had happened to him, on during, and after his tour. After he left, he heard about a group of local agitators who had never been happy with what Paul was teaching found support from a group of agitators who came to Galatia and disrupted what Paul had accomplished among the Galatians.
These agitators suggested that he had only shared half the gospel with the Galatians, i.e., that one could become a follower by just following Jesus. The agitators believed that a significant part had been left out, which was that the Galatian people had to convert to Judaism before they could become followers of Jesus. In short, they had to take on the legal ramifications of Judaism before they could be a Christian. Paul wrote the Book of Galatians to attack this perversion of the Gospel. Not long after, Paul went to Jerusalem (Acts 15) to discuss this matter with the church leaders there.
The head of the Jerusalem church was James. Paul met with James and the other leaders in Jerusalem. When the Jerusalem meeting was over, a letter was written to share their conclusions. This letter is recorded for us by Luke in Acts 15. It is probable that this letter was written by the author of James because the language and use of words are very similar.
The book of James had a difficult time becoming a part of the Canon of the Second Testament because of its intimacy with “works.” Even after it was received into the Canon, it still was looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion and reserve. In the sixteenth century, Luther would have had it banished because of the overplay of works in the Roman church. In the concluding paragraph of his Preface to the New Testament, he gives his verdict.
In sum: the gospels and the first epistle of St. John, St. Paul’s epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle, are the books which show Christ to you. They teach everything you need to know for your salvation, even if you were never to see or hear any other teaching. In comparison with these the epistle of James is an epistle full of straw, because it contains nothing evangelical.[ref] Luther, Martin, and John Dillenberger. “Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude.” Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings. New York: Anchor, 2004. 19. Print.[/ref]
Author: Who Wrote This Book?
There are five men named James recorded in the New Testament. James the son of Zebedee (Mark 1.19); James the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3.18); James the brother of Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary (Mark 6.3); James the Younger (Mark 15.40); and James, the father of the Apostle Jude (Luke 6.16).
Tradition confers that James, the brother of Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, is the author of this book. There are several reasons which favor this conclusion. The main reason was that his speech and the letter recorded in Acts are the same style. (One can read more on this subject in most commentary introductions to James.)
Audience: When And Why Was It Written?
The most likely date is AD 49 or 50 immediately after the Jerusalem Council. Josephus, a historian of the era, tells us that James was killed in AD 62.[ref]Wikipedia. James, brother of Jesus. [/ref]
According to a passage found in existing manuscripts of Josephus‘ Antiquities of the Jews, (xx.9) “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” met his death after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus but before Lucceius Albinus had assumed office. [ref]Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, 20,9).[/ref]
One must understand that the literature in the Second Testament should be thought of as problem-solving literature. The books of the Second Testament were primarily written to solve problems, which arose in the Second Testament ecclesiae.
The problems with which James was faced were twofold:
The first problem was: salvation by faith or salvation by works? In Galatians, Paul answers the question: “How are we justified before God?” His answer and the answer of the Jerusalem Council was: “by faith.” James is answering another question, “How do I know that you are justified?” His answer: “by works.” The idea, which James wanted to warn the church against, was the real possibility that once one was justified by faith that a believer could become lazy and take a position that there were no works for him or her to do.
This may pose the question for the modern readers of Galatians and James: How then should the teachings of these two books be used today? The answer is simple. If you need to give instruction to a person concerning his or her new life in the ecclesia—teach Galatians. If, on the other hand, you have a person who feels that he/she should do none of God’s work in the ecclesia, then teach him, James.
If one were to ask Paul: How are we justified before God? He would answer: By faith! If one were to ask James: How are we justified before, man? He might answer: By works!
The second problem which James addressed was: Why do Jesus followers suffer? Suffering is one of the lenses through which one should read James. This concern offers us a second way to use the book. If you have suffering in your own life or others are suffering, and you do not understand it, a study of James will give you some practical answers. In reading from this perspective, you may find God’s view about this bothersome area of life.
The book was written to either Jewish Jesus followers living outside of Palestine or to Jesus followers in general regardless of where they lived. In light of the latter, one must note that there was already a belief in Paul, which understood the ecclesia as the New Israel (see Gal. 6.15–16). Although not mentioned, it is likely that this was discussed during the time the leaders of the ecclesia met in Jerusalem to discuss the problem of circumcision.
First Testament Background
In the First Testament, Israel made a covenant with God. It was based on his love and protection. It provided them with stipulations by which they governed their lives. When they kept these stipulations, i.e., what we often call the Ten Commandments, the promise of blessings was fulfilled. However, when they broke the covenant stipulations, the promise of curses was fulfilled (Deut. 28).
There were some First Testament books (Job and Habbakuk), which appear to suggest that the righteous suffered because they were God’s children as also being a reality. This was the beginning of a mindset, which took a firm grip on the nation of Israel during the Second Temple timeframe of 516 BC to AD 70. The periods past this timeframe called the Intertestamental Period, which was believed to be the period of time between Malachi and John the Baptist, was approximately 400 years.
The suffering because they were God’s children mindset, believed that there was a war going on between God and Satan, and the battlefield was the people of God. When you open the pages of the Second Testament and read the Gospels, it appears the war is full-blown. The kingdom of God is at war with the kingdom of Satan. This shift may have led to a belief in which the suffering of an individual believer could have been understood.
For Further Investigation
The following articles and books would be useful for a more thorough study of James.
Articles: from Holman Bible Dictionary. Online @ studylight.org. 1991. Trent C. Butler, Editor.
- James E. Glaze. James.
- Paige Patterson. James, the Letter.
- Jeff Cranford. Tongue.
- D. Glenn Saul. Wealth And Materialism.
- Douglas, J.D. ed. 1982 New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition. Wheaton: InterVarsity
- Motyer, Alec. 1985. The Message Of James. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press.
- Adamson, James. 1976. The Epistle Of James. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.