Easton's Bible Dictionary
Author of, was James the Less, the Lord's brother, one of the twelve apostles.
He was one of the three pillars of the Church ( Galatians
It was addressed to the Jews of the dispersion, "the twelve tribes scattered abroad."
The place and time of the writing of the epistle were Jerusalem, where James was
residing, and, from internal evidence, the period between Paul's two imprisonments
at Rome, probably about A.D. 62.
The object of the writer was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian
life. "The Jewish vices against which he warns them are,
|(1) formalism, which made the service of God consist in
washings and outward ceremonies, whereas he reminds them ( James
1:27 ) that it consists rather in active love and purity;
(2) fanaticism, which, under the cloak of religious zeal, was tearing Jerusalem
in pieces ( James
(3) fatalism, which threw its sins on God ( James
(4) meanness, which crouched before the rich ( James
(5) falsehood, which had made words and oaths play-things ( James
3:2 - 12
(6) partisanship ( James
(7) evil speaking ( James
(8) boasting ( James
(9) oppression ( James
The great lesson which he teaches them as Christians is patience,
|(1) patience in trial ( James
(2) patience in good works ( James
1:22 - 25
(3) patience under provocation ( James
(4) patience under oppression ( James
(5) patience under persecution ( James
(6) and the ground of their patience is that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh,
which is to right all wrong ( James
"Justification by works," which James contends for, is justification before man,
the justification of our profession of faith by a consistent life. Paul contends
for the doctrine of "justification by faith;" but that is justification before
God, a being regarded and accepted as just by virtue of the righteousness of Christ,
which is received by faith.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
The author of this epistle was in all probability James the son of Alphaeus, and
our Lords brother. It was written from Jerusalem, which St. James does not seem
to have ever left. It was probably written about A.D. 62, during the interval
between Pauls two imprisonments. Its main object is not to teach doctrine, but
to improve morality. St. James is the moral teacher of the New Testament. He wrote
for the Jewish Christians, whether in Jerusalem or abroad, to warn them against
the sins to which as Jews they were most liable, and to console and exhort them
under the sufferings to which as Christians they were most exposed.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EPISTLE
The Epistle of James is the most Jewish writing in the New Testament. The Gospel
according to Matthew was written for the Jews. The Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed
explicitly to them. The Apocalypse is full of the spirit of the Old Testament.
The Epistle of Jude is Jewish too. Yet all of these books have more of the distinctively
Christian element in them than we can find in the Epistle of James. If we eliminate
two or three passages containing references to Christ, the whole epistle might
find its place iust as properly in the Canon of the Old Testament as in that of
the New Testament, as far as its substance of doctrine and contents is concerned.
That could not be said Of any other book in the New Testament. There is no mention
of the incarnation or of the resurrection., the two fundamental facts of the Christian
faith. The word "gospel" does not occur in the epistle There is no suggestion
that the Messiah has appeared and no presentation of the possibility of redemption
through Him. The teaching throughout is that of a lofty morality which aims at
the fulfillment of the requirements of the Mosaic law. It is not strange therefore
that Spitta and others have thought that we have in the Epistle of James a treatise
written by an unconverted Jew which has been adapted to Christian use by the interpolation
of the two phrases containing the name of Christ in 1:1 and 2:1. Spitta thinks
that this can be the only explanation of the fact that we have here an epistle
practically ignoring the life and work of Jesus and every distinctively Christian
doctrine, and without a trace of any of the great controversies in the early Christian
church or any of the specific features of its propaganda. This judgment is a superficial
one, and rests upon superficial indications rather than any appreciation of the
underlying spirit and principles of the book. The spirit of Christ is here, and
there is no need to label it. The principles of this epistle are the principles
of the Sermon on the Mount. There are more parallels to that Sermon in this epistle
than can be found anywhere else in the New Testament in the same space. The epistle
represents the idealization of Jewish legalism under the transforming influence
of the Christian motive and life. It is not a theological discussion. It is an
ethical appeal. It has to do with the outward life for the most part, and the
life it pictures is that of a Jew informed with the spirit of Christ. The spirit
is invisible in the epistle as in the individual man. It is the body which appears
and the outward life with which that body has to do. The body of the epistle is
Jewish, and the outward life to which it exhorts is that of a profoundly pious
Jew. The Jews familiar with the Old Testament would read this epistle and find
its language and tone that to which they were accustomed in their sacred books.
James is evidently written by a Jew for Jews. It is Jewish in character throughout.
This is apparent in the following particulars:
|(1) The epistle is addressed to the 12 tribes which are
of the Dispersion (11). The Jews were scattered abroad through the ancient world.
From Babylon to Rome, wherever any community of them might be gathered for commercial
or social purposes, these exhortations could be carried and read. Probably the
epistle was circulated most widely in Syria and Asia Minor, but it may have gone
out to the ends of the earth. Here and there in the ghettos of the Roman Empire,
groups of the Jewish exiles would gather and listen while one of their number
read this letter from home. All of its terms and its allusions would recall familiar
(2) Their meeting-place is called "your synagogue" (James 2:2).
(3) Abraham is mentioned as "our father" (James 2:21).
(4) God is given the Old Testament name, "the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:4).
(5) The law is not to be spoken against nor judged, but reverently and loyally
obeyed. It is a royal law to which every loyal Jew will be subject. It is a law
of liberty, to be freely obeyed (James 2:8 - 12 ; 4:11).
(6) The sins of the flesh are not inveighed against in the epistle, but those
sins to which the Jews were more conspicuously liable, such as the love of money
and the distinction which money may bring (James 2:2 - 4), worldliness and pride
(James 4:4 - 6), impatience and murmuring (James 5:7 - 11), and other sins of
the temper and tongue (James 3:1 - 12 ; James 4:11 , 12).
(7) The illustrations of faithfulness and patience and prayer are found in Old
Testament characters, in Abraham (James 2:21), Rahab (James 2:25), Job (James
5:11),and Elijah (James 5:17 , 18). The whole atmosphere of the epistle is Jewish.
The writer of this epistle speaks as one having authority. He is not on his defense,
as Paul so often is. There is no trace of apology in his presentation of the truth.
His official position must have been recognized and unquestioned. He is as sure
of his standing with his readers as he is of the absoluteness of his message.
No Old Testament lawgiver or prophet was more certain that he spoke the word of
the Lord. He has the vehemence of Elijah and the assured meekness of Moses. He
has been called "the Amos of the New Testament," and there are paragraphs which
recall the very expressions used by Amos and which are full of the same fiery
eloquence and prophetic fervor. Both fill their writings with metaphors drawn
from the sky and the sea, from natural objects and domestic experiences. Both
seem to be countrybred and to be in sympathy with simplicity and poverty. Both
inveigh against the luxury and the cruelty of the idle rich, and both abhor the
ceremonial and the ritual which are substituted for individual righteousness.
Malachi was not the last of the prophets. John the Baptist was not the last prophet
of the Old Dispensation. The writer of this epistle stands at the end of that
prophetic line, and he is greater than John the Baptist or any who have preceded
him because he stands within the borders of the kingdom of Christ. He speaks with
authority, as a messenger of God. He belongs to the goodly fellowship of the prophets
and of the apostles. He has the authority of both. There are 54 imperatives in
the 108 verses of this epistle.
The epistle is interested in conduct more than in creed. It has very little formulated
theology, less than any other epistle in the New Testament; but it insists upon
practical morality throughout. It begins and it closes with an exhortation to
patience and prayer. It preaches a gospel of good works, based upon love to God
and love to man. It demands liberty, equality, fraternity for all. It enjoins
humility and justice and peace. It prescribes singleness of purpose and stedfastness
of soul. It requires obedience to the law, control of the passions, and control
of the tongue. Its ideal is to be found in a good life, characterized by the meekness
of wisdom. The writer of the epistle has caught the spirit of the ancient prophets,
but the lessons that he teaches are taken, for the most part, from the Wisdom
literature of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. His direct quotations are from
the Pentateuch and the Book of Proverbs; but it has been estimated that there
are 10 allusions to the Book of Proverbs, 6 to the Book of Job, 5 to the Book
of Wisdom, and 15 to the Book of Ecclesiasticus. This Wisdom literature furnishes
the staple of his meditation and the substance of his teaching. He has little
or nothing to say about the great doctrines of the Christian church.
He has much to say about the wisdom that cometh down from above and is pure, peaceable,
gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality,
without hypocrisy (James 3:15 - 17). The whole epistle shows that the author had
stored his mind with the rich treasure of the ancient wisdom, and his material,
while offered as his own, is both old and new. The form is largely that of the
Wisdom literature of the Jews. It has more parallels with Jesus the son of Sirach
than with any writer of the sacred books.
The substance of its exhortation, however, is to be found in the Synoptics and
more particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. Its wisdom is the wisdom of Jesus
the son of Joseph, who is the Christ.
These are the three outstanding characteristics of this epistle In form and on
the surface it is the most Jewish and least Christian of the writings in the New
Testament. Its Christianity is latent and not apparent. Yet it is the most authoritative
in its tone of any of the epistles in the New Testament, unless it be those of
the apostle John. John must have occupied a position of undisputed primacy in
the Christian church after the death of all the other apostles, when he wrote
his epistles. It is noteworthy that the writer of this epistle assumes a tone
of like authority with that of John. John was the apostle of love, Paul of faith,
and Peter of hope. This writer is the apostle of good works, the apostle of the
wisdom which manifests itself in peace and purity, mercy and morality, and in
obedience to the royal law, the law of liberty. In its union of Jewish form, authoritative
tone, and insistence upon practical morality, the epistle is unique among the
New Testament books.
II. AUTHOR OF THE EPISTLE
The address of the epistle states that the writer is "James, a servant of God
and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1). The tradition of the church has identified
this James with the brother of our Lord. Clement of Alexandria says that Peter
and James and John, who were the three apostles most honored of the Lord, chose
James, the Lord's brother, to be the bishop of Jerusalem after the Lord's ascension
(Euscb., HE, II, 1). This tradition agrees well with all the notices of James
in the New Testament books. After the death of James the brother of John, Peter
was thrown into prison, and having been miraculously released, he asked that the
news be sent to James and to the brethren (Acts 12:17). This James is evidently
in authority in the church at this time. In the apostolical conference held at
Jerusalem, after Peter and Paul and Barnabas had spoken, this same James sums
up the whole discussion, and his decision is adopted by the assembly and formulated
in a letter which has some very striking parallels in its phraseology to this
epistle (Acts 15:6 - 29). When Paul came to Jerusalem for the last time he reported
his work to James and all the elders present with him (Acts 21:18). In the Epistle
to the Galatians Paul says that at the time of one of his visits to Jerusalem
he saw none of the apostles save Peter and James the Lord's brother (Galatians
1:18 , 19). At another visit he received the right hand of fellowship from James
and Cephas and John (Galatians 2:9). At a later time certain who came from James
to Antioch led Peter into backsliding from his former position of tolerance of
the Gentiles as equals in the Christian church (Galatians 2:12).
All of these references would lead us to suppose that James stood in a position
of supreme authority in the mother-church at Jerusalem, the oldest church of Christendom.
He presides in the assemblies of the church. He speaks the final and authoritative
word. Peter and Paul defer to him. Paul mentions his name before that of Peter
and John. When he was exalted to this leadership we do not know, but all indications
seem to point to the fact that at a very early period James was the recognized
executive authority in the church at Jerusalem, which was the church of Pentecost
and the church of the apostles. All Jews looked to Jerusalem as the chief seat
of their worship and the central authority of their religion. All Christian Jews
would look to Jerusalem as the primitive source of their organization and faith,
and the head of the church at Jerusalem would be recognized by them as their chief
authority. The authoritative tone of this epistle comports well with this position
of primacy ascribed to James.
All tradition agrees in describing James as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a man of
the most rigid and ascetic morality, faithful in his observance of all the ritual
regulations of the Jewish faith. Hegesippus tells us that he was holy from his
mother's womb. He drank no wine nor strong drink. He ate no flesh. He alone was
permitted to enter with the priests into the holy place, and he was found there
frequently upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, and his knees became
hard like those of a camel in consequence of his constantly bending them in his
worship of God and asking forgiveness for the people (Euseb., HE, II, 23). He
was called James the Just. All had confidence in his sincerity and integrity,
and many were persuaded by him to believe on the Christ. This Jew, faithful in
the observance of all that the Jews held sacred, and more devoted to the temple-worship
than the most pious among them, was a good choice for the head of the Christian
church. The blood of David flowed in his veins. He had all the Jew's pride in
the special privileges of the chosen race. The Jews respected him and the Christians
revered him. No man among them commanded the esteem of the entire population as
much as he.
Josephus (Ant., XX, ix) tells us that Ananus the high priest had James stoned
to death, and that the most equitable of the citizens immediately rose in revolt
against such a lawless procedure, and Ananus was deposed after only three months'
rule. This testimony of Josephus simply substantiates all that we know from other
sources concerning the high standing of James in the whole community. Hegesippus
says that James was first thrown from a pinnacle of the temple, and then they
stoned him because he was not killed by the fall, and he was finally beaten over
the head with a fuller's club; and then he adds significantly, "Immediately Vespasian
besieged them" (Euscb., HE, II, 23). There would seem to have been quite a widespread
conviction among both the Christians and the Jews that the afflictions which fell
upon the holy city and the chosen people in the following years were in part a
visitation because of the great crime of the murder of this just man. We can understand
how a man with this reputation and character would write an epistle so Jewish
in form and substance and so insistent in its demands for a practical morality
as is the Epistle of James. All the characteristics of the epistle seem explicable
on the supposition of authorship by James the brother of the Lord. We accept the
church tradition without hesitation.
III. STYLE OF THE EPISTLE
The sentence construction is simple and straightforward. It reminds us of the
English of Bunyan and DeFoe. There is usually no good reason for misunderstanding
anything James says. He puts his truth plainly, and the words he uses have no
hidden or mystical meanings. His thought is transparent as his life.
2. Good Greek
It is somewhat surprising to find that the Greek of the Epistle of James is better
than that of the other New Testament writers, with the single exception of the
author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Of course this may be due to the fact that
James had the services of an amanuensis who was a Greek scholar, or that his own
manuscript was revised by such a man; but, although unexpected, it is not impossible
that James himself may have been capable of writing such Greek as this.
It is not the good Greek of the classics, and it is not the poor and provincial
Greek of Paul. There is more care for literary form than in the uncouth periods
Of the Gentile apostle, and the vocabulary would seem to indicate an acquaintance
with the literary as well as the commercial and the conversational Greek "Galilee
was studded with Greek towns, and it was certainly in the power of any Galilean
to gain a knowledge of Greek .... We may reasonably suppose that our author would
not have scrupled to avail himself of the opportunities within his reach, so as
to master the Greek language, and learn something of Greek philosophy. This would
be natural, even if we think of James as impelled only by a desire to gain wisdom
and knowledge for himself; but if we think of him also as the principal teacher
of the Jewish believers, many of whom were Hellenists, instructed in the wisdom
of Alexandria, then the natural bent would take the shape of duty: he would be
a student of Greek in order that he might be a more effective instructor to his
own people" (Mayor, The Epistle of James, ccxxxvi). The Greek of the epistle is
the studied Greek of one who was not a native to it, but who had familiarized
himself with its literature. James could have done so and the epistle may be proof
that he did.
James is never content to talk in abstractions. He always sets a picture before
his own eyes and those of his readers. He has the dramatic instinct. He has the
secret of sustained interest. He is not discussing things in general but things
in particular. He is an artist and believes in concrete realities. At the same
time he has a touch of poetry in him, and a fine sense of the analogies running
through all Nature and all life. The doubting man is like the sea spume (James
1:6). The rich man fades away in his goings, even as the beauty of the flower
falls and perishes (James 1:11). The synagogue scene with its distinction between
the rich and the poor is set before us with the clear-cut impressiveness of a
cameo (James 2:1 - 4). The Pecksniffian philanthropist, who seems to think that
men can be fed not by bread alone but by the words that proceed magnificently
from his mouth, is pilloried here for all time (James 2:15 , 16). The untamable
tongue that is set on fire of hell is put in the full blaze of its world of iniquity,
and the damage it does is shown to be like that of a forest fire (James 3:1 -
12). The picture of the wisdom that comes from above with its sevenfold excellences
of purity, peaceableness, gentleness, mercy, fruitfulness, impartiality, sincerity,
is worthy to hang in the gallery of the world's masterpieces (James 3:17). The
vaunting tradesmen, whose lives are like vanishing vapor, stand there before the
eyes of all in Jerusalem (James 4:13 - 16). The rich, whose luxuries he describes
even while he denounces their cruelties and prophesies their coming day of slaughter,
are the rich who walk the streets of his own city (James 5:1 - 6). His short sentences
go like shots straight to the mark. We feel the impact and the impress of them.
There is an energy behind them and a reality in them that makes them live in our
thought. His abrupt questions are like the quick interrogations of a cross-examining
lawyer (James 2:4 - 7, 14 , 16 ; 3:11 ,12 ; 4:1 , 4 , 5 , 12 , 14). His proverbs
have the intensity of the accumulated and compressed wisdom of the ages. They
are irreducible minimums. They are memorable sayings, treasured in the speech
of the world ever since his day.
Sometimes James adds sentence to sentence with the repetition of some leading
word or phrase (James 1:1 - 6 , 19 - 24 ; 3:2-8). It is the painful style of one
who is not altogether at home with the language which he has chosen as the vehicle
of his thought. It is the method by which a discussion could be continued indefinitely.
Nothing but the vividness of the imagery and the intensity of the thought saves
James from fatal monotony in the use of this device.
5. Figures of Speech
James has a keen eye for illustrations. He is not blind to the beauties and wonders
of Nature. He sees what is happening on every hand, and he is quick to catch any
homiletical suggestion it may hold. Does he stand by the seashore? The surge that
is driven by the wind and tossed reminds him of the man who is unstable in all
his ways, because he has no anchorage of faith, and his convictions are like driftwood
on a sea of doubt (James 1:6). Then he notices that the great ships are turned
about by a small rudder, and he thinks how the tongue is a small member, but it
accomplishes great things (James 3:4 , 5). Does he walk under the sunlight and
rejoice in it as the source of so many good and perfect gifts? He sees in it an
image of the goodness of God that is never eclipsed and never exhausted, unvarying
for evermore (James 1:17). He uses the natural phenomena of the land in which
he lives to make his meaning plain at every turn: the flower of the field that
passes away (James 1:10 , 11), the forest fire that sweeps the mountain side and
like a living torch lights up the whole land (James 3:5), the sweet and salt springs
(James 3:11), the fig trees and the olive trees and the vines (James 3:12), the
seed-sowing and the fruit-bearing (James 3:18), the morning mist immediately lost
to view (James 4:14), the early and the latter rain for which the husbandman waiteth
patiently (James 5:7).
There is more of the appreciation of Nature in this one short epistle of Jas than
in all the epistles of Paul put together. Human life was more interesting to Paul
than natural scenery. However, James is interested in human life just as profoundly
as Paul. He is constantly endowing inanimate things with living qualities. He
represents sin as a harlot, conceiving and bringing forth death (James 1:15).
The word of truth has a like power and conceives and brings forth those who live
to God's praise (James 1:18). Pleasures are like joyful hosts of enemies in a
tournament, who deck themselves bravely and ride forth with singing and laughter,
but whose mission is to wage war and to kill (James 4:1 , 2). The laborers may
be dumb in the presence of the rich because of their dependence and their fear,
but their wages, fraudulently withheld, have a tongue, and cry out to high heaven
for vengeance (5:4). What is friendship with the world? It is adultery, James
says (James 4:4). The rust of unjust riches testifies against those who have accumulated
them, and then turns upon them and eats their flesh like fire (James 5:3). James
observed the man who glanced at himself in the mirror in the morning, and saw
that his face was not clean, and who went away and thought no more about it for
that whole day, and he found in him an illustration of the one who heard the word
and did not do it (James 1:23 , 14). The epistle is full of these rhetorical figures,
and they prove that James was something of a poet at heart, even as Jesus was.
He writes in prose, but there is a marked rhythm in all of his speech. He has
an ear for harmony as he has an eye for beauty everywhere.
6. Unlikeness to Paul
The Pauline epistles begin with salutations and close with benedictions. They
are filled with autobiographical touches and personal messages. None of these
things appear here. The epistle begins and ends with all abruptness. It has an
address, but no thanksgiving. There are no personal messages and no indications
of any intimate personal relationship between the author and his readers. They
are his "beloved brethren." He knows their needs and their sins, but he may never
have seen their faces or visited their homes. The epistle is more like a prophet's
appeal to a nation than a personal letter.
7. Likeness to Jesus
Both the substance of the teaching and the method of its presentation remind us
of the discourses of Jesus. James says less about the Master than any other writer
in the New Testament, but his speech is more like that of the Master than the
speech of any one of them. There are at least ten parallels to the Sermon on the
Mount in this short epistle, and for almost everything that James has to say we
can recall some statement of Jesus which might have suggested it. When the parallels
fail at any point, we are inclined to suspect that James may be repeating some
unrecorded utterance of our Lord. He seems absolutely faithful to his memory of
his brother's teaching. He is the servant of Jesus in all his exhortation and
Did the Master shock His disciples' faith by the loftiness of the Christian ideal
He set before them in His great sermon, "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your
heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48)? James sets the same high standard
in the very forefront of his epistle.: "Let patience have its perfect work, that
ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing" (James 1:4). Did the Master
say, "Ask, and it shall be given you" (Matthew 7:7)? James says, "If any of you
lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God ....; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5).
Did the Master add a condition to His sweeping promise to prayer and say, "Whosoever
.... shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he faith cometh
to pass; he shall have it" (Mark 11:23)? James hastens to add the same condition,
"Let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubteth is like the surge
of the sea driven by the wind and tossed" (James 1:6). Did the Master close the
great sermon with His parable of the Wise Man and the Foolish Man, saying, "Every
one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a
wise man. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not,
shall be likened unto a foolish man" (Matthew 7:24 , 26)? James is much concerned
about wisdom, and therefore he exhorts his readers, "Be ye doers of the word,
and not hearers only, deluding your own selves" (James 1:22). Had the Master declared,
"If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them" (John 13:17)? James echoes
the thought when he says, "A doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his
doing" (James 1:25). Did the Master say to the disciples, "Blessed are ye poor:
for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20)? James has the same sympathy with
the poor, and he says, "Hearken, my beloved brethren; did not God choose them
that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which
he promised to them that love him?" (James 2:5). Did the Master inveigh against
the rich, and say, "Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you, ye that
laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:24 , 25)? James bursts forth into
the same invective and prophesies the same sad reversal of fortune, "Come now,
ye rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you" (James 5:1).
"Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded. Be afflicted,
and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to
heaviness" (James 4:8 , 9). Had Jesus said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged"
(Matthew 7:1)? James repeats the exhortation, "Speak not one against another,
brethren. He that .... judgeth his brother .... judgeth the law: .... but who
art thou that judgest thy neighbor?" (James 4:11 , 12). Had Jesus said, "Whosoever
shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12)? We find the very words
in James, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall exalt you"
(James 4:10). Had Jesus said, "I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by the
heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool
of his feet. .... But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is
more than these is of the evil one" (Matthew 5:34 - 37)? Here in James we come
upon the exact parallel: "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither
by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath; but let your yea be yea,
and your nay, nay; that ye fall not under judgment" (James 5:12).
We remember how the Master began the Sermon on the Mount with the declaration
that even those who mourned and were persecuted and reviled and reproached were
blessed, in spite of all their suffering and trial. Then we notice that James
begins his epistle with the same paradoxical putting of the Christian faith, "Count
it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold trials" (James 1:12, the American
Revised Version margin). We remember how Jesus proceeded in His sermon to set
forth the spiritual significance and the assured permanence of the law; and we
notice that James treats the law with the same respect and puts upon it the same
high value. He calls it "the perfect law" (James 1:25), "the royal law" (James
2:8), the "law of liberty" (James 2:12). We remember what Jesus said about forgiving
others in order that we ourselves may be forgiven; and we know where James got
his authority for saying, "Judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no
mercy" (James 2:13). We remember all that the Master said about good trees and
corrupt trees being known by their fruits, "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or
figs of thistles?" (Matthew 7:16 - 20). Then in the Epistle of James we find a
like question, "Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs?" (James
3:12). We remember that the Master said, "Know ye that he is nigh, even at the
doors" (Matthew 24:33). We are not surprised to find the statement here in James,
"Behold, the judge standeth before the doors" (James 5:9). These reminiscences
of the sayings of the Master meet us on every page. It may be that there are many
more of them than we are able to identify. Their number is sufficiently large,
however, to show us that James is steeped in the truths taught by Jesus, and not
only their substance but their phraseology constantly reminds us of Him.
IV. DATE OF THE EPISTLE
There are those who think that the Epistle of James is the oldest epistle in the
New Testament. Among those who favor an early date are Mayor, Plumptre, Alford,
Stanley, Renan, Weiss, Zahn, Beyschlag, Neander, Schneckenburger, Thiersch, and
The reasons assigned for this conclusion are:
|(1) the general Judaic tone of the epistle, which seems
to antedate admission of the Gentiles in any alarming numbers into the church;
but since the epistle is addressed only to Jews, why should the Gentiles be mentioned
in it, whatever its date? and
(2) the fact that Paul and Peter are supposed to have quoted from James in their
writing; but this matter of quotation is always an uncertain one, and it has been
ably argued that the quotation has been the other way about.
Others think that the epistle was written toward the close of James's life. Among
these are Kern, Wiesinger, Schmidt, Bruckner, Wordsworth, and Farrar.
|(1) that the epistle gives evidence of a considerable lapse
of time in the history of the church, sufficient to allow of a declension from
the spiritual fervor of Pentecost and the establishment of distinctions among
the brethren; but any of the sins mentioned in the epistle in all probability
could have been found in the church in any decade of its history.
(2) James has a position of established authority, and those to whom he writes
are not recent converts but members in long standing; but the position of James
may have been established from a very early date, and in an encyclical of this
sort we could not expect any indication of shorter or longer membership in the
church. Doubtless some of those addressed were recent converts, while others may
have been members for many years.
(3) There are references to persecutions and trials which fit the later rather
than the earlier date; but all that is said on this subject might be suitable
in any period of the presidency of James at Jerusalem.
(4) There are indications of a long and disappointing delay in the Second Coming
of the Lord in the repeated exhortation to patience in waiting for it; but on
the other hand James says, "The coming of the Lord is at hand," and "The judge
standeth before the doors" (5:7-9). The same passage is cited in proof of a belief
that the immediate appearance of the Lord was expected, as in the earliest period
of the church, and in proof that there had been a disappointment of this earlier
belief and that it had been succeeded by a feeling that there was need of patience
in waiting for the coming so long delayed.
It seems clear to us that there are no decisive proofs in favor of any definite
date for the epistle. It must have been written before the martyrdom of James
in the year 63 AD, and at some time during his presidency over the church at Jerusalem;
but there is nothing to warrant us in coming to any more definite conclusion than
that Davidson, Hilgenfeld, Baur, Zeller, Hausrath, von Soden, Julicher, Harnack,
Bacon and others date the epistle variously in the post-Pauline period, 69-70
to 140-50 AD. The arguments for any of these dates fall far short of proof, rest
largely if not wholly upon conjectures and presuppositions, and of course are
inconsistent with any belief in the authorship by James.
V. HISTORY OF THE EPISTLE
Eusebius classed Jas among those whose authenticity was disputed by some. "James
is said to be the author of the first of the so-called Catholic Epistles. But
it is to be observed that it is disputed; at least, not many of the ancients have
mentioned it, as is the case likewise with the epistle that bears the name of
Jude, which is also one of the seven so-called Catholic Epistles. Nevertheless,
we know that these also, with the rest, have been read publicly in most churches"
(Historia Ecclesiastica, II, 23). Eusebius himself, however, quotes James 4:11
as Scripture and James 5:13 as spoken by the holy apostle. Personally he does
not seem disposed to question the genuineness of the epistle. There are parallels
in phraseology which make it possible that the epistle is quoted in Clement of
Rome in the 1st century, and in Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, the Epistle
to Diognetus, Irenaeus, and Hermas in the 2nd century. It is omitted in the canonical
list of the Muratorian Fragment and was not included in the Old Latin version.
Origen seems to be the first writer to quote the epistle explicitly as Scripture
and to assert that it was written by James the brother of the Lord. It appears
in the Peshitta version and seems to have been generally recognized in the East.
Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ephraem of Edessa, Didymus of Alexandria,
received it as canonical. The 3rd Council of Carthage in 397 AD finally settled
its status for the Western church, and from that date in both the East and the
West its canonicity was unquestioned until the time of the Reformation.
Erasmus and Cajetan revived the old doubts concerning it. Luther thought it contradicted
Paul and therefore banished it to the appendix of his Bible. "James," he says,
"has aimed to refute those who relied on faith without works, and is too weak
for his task in mind, understanding, and words, mutilates the Scriptures, and
thus directly contradicts Paul and all Scriptures, seeking to accomplish by enforcing
the law what the apostles successfully effect by love. Therefore, I will not place
his Epistle in my Bible among the proper leadingbooks" (Werke, XIV, 148). He declared
that it was a downright strawy epistle, as compared with such as those to the
Romans and to the Galatians, and it had no real evangelical character. This judgment
of Luther is a very hasty and regrettable one. The modern church has refused to
accept it, and it is generally conceded now that Paul and James are in perfect
agreement with each other, though their presentation of the same truth from opposite
points of view brings them into apparent contradiction. Paul says, "By grace have
ye been saved through faith .... not of works, that no man should glory" (Ephesians
2:8,9). "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works
of the law" (Romans 3:28). James says, "Faith, if it have not works, is dead in
itself" (James 2:17). "Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by
faith (James 2:24). With these passages before him Luther said, "Many have toiled
to reconcile Paul with James .... but to no purpose, for they are contrary, 'Faith
justifies'; 'Faith does not justify'; I will pledge my life that no one can reconcile
those propositions; and if he succeeds he may call me a fool" (Colloquia, II,
It would be difficult to prove Luther a fool if Paul and James were using these
words, faith, works, and justification, in the same sense, or even if each were
writing with full consciousness of what the other had written. They both use Abraham
for an example, James of justification by works, and Paul of justification by
faith. How can that be possible? The faith meant by James is the faith of a dead
orthodoxy, an intellectual assent to the dogmas of the church which does not result
in any practical righteousness in life, such a faith as the demons have when they
believe in the being of God and simply tremble before Him. The faith meant by
Paul is intellectual and moral and spiritual, affects the whole man, and leads
him into conscious and vital union and communion with God. It is not the faith
of demons; it is the faith that redeems. Again, the works meant by Paul are the
works of a dead legalism, the works done under a sense of compulsion or from a
feeling of duty, the works done in obedience to a law which is a taskmaster, the
works of a slave and not of a son. These dead works, he declares, can never give
life. The works meant by James are the works of a believer, the fruit of the faith
and love born in every believer's heart and manifest in every believer's life.
The possession of faith will insure this evidence in his daily conduct and conversation;
and without this evidence the mere profession of faith will not save him. The
justification meant by Paul is the initial justification of the Christian life.
No doing of meritorious deeds will make a man worthy of salvation. He comes into
the kingdom, not on the basis of merit but on the basis of grace. The sinner is
converted not by doing anything, but by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. He
approaches the threshold of the kingdom and he finds that he has no coin that
is current there. He cannot buy his way in by good works; he must accept salvation
by faith, as the gift of God's free grace. The justification meant by James is
the justification of any after-moment in the Christian life, and the final justification
before the judgment throne. Good works are inevitable in the Christian life. There
can be no assurance of salvation without them.
Paul is looking at the root; James is looking at the fruit. Paul is talking about
the beginning of the Christian life; James is talking about its continuance and
consummation. With Paul, the works he renounces precede faith and are dead works.
With James, the faith he denounces is apart from works and is a dead faith.
Paul believes in the works of godliness just as much as James. He prays that God
may establish the Thessalonians in every good work (2 Thessalonians 2:17). He
writes to the Corinthians that "God is able to make all grace abound unto" them;
that they, "having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every
good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8). He declares to the Ephesians that "we are his
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared
that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). He makes a formal statement of
his faith in Romans: God "will render to every man according to his works: to
them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption,
eternal life: but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey
unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon
every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek;
but glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first,
and also to the Greek" (Romans 2:6 - 10). This is the final justification discussed
by James, and it is just as clearly a judgment by works with Paul as with him.
On the other hand James believes in saving faith as well as Paul. He begins with
the statement that the proving of our faith works patience and brings perfection
(James 1:3 , 1). He declares that the prayer of faith will bring the coveted wisdom
(James 1:6). He describes the Christian profession as a holding "the faith of
our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory" (James 2:1). He says that the poor as
to the world are rich in faith, and therefore heirs to the kingdom (James 2:5).
He quotes the passage from Genesis, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned
unto him for righteousness" (James 2:23), and he explicitly asserts that Abraham's
"faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect" (James 2:22).
The faith mentioned in all these passages is the faith of the professing Christian;
it is not the faith which the sinner exercises in accepting salvation. James and
Paul are at one in declaring that faith and works must go hand in hand in the
Christian life, and that in the Christian's experience both faith without works
is dead and works without faith are dead works. They both believe in faith working
through love as that which alone will avail in Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:6). Fundamentally
they agree. Superficially they seem to contradict each other. That is because
they are talking about different things and using the same terms with different
meanings for those terms in mind.
VI. MESSAGE OF THE EPISTLE TO OUR TIMES
1. To the Pietist
There are those who talk holiness and are hypocrites; those who make profession
of perfect love and yet cannot live peaceably with their brethren; those who are
full of pious phraseology but fail in practical philanthropy. This epistle was
written for them. It may not give them much comfort, but it ought to give them
much profit. The mysticism that contents itself with pious frames and phrases
and comes short in actual sacrifice and devoted service will find its antidote
here. The antinomianism that professes great confidence in free grace, but does
not recognize the necessity for corresponding purity of life, needs to ponder
the practical wisdom of this epistle. The quietists who are satisfied to sit and
sing themselves away to everlasting bliss ought to read this epistle until they
catch its bugle note of inspiration to present activity and continuous good deeds.
All who are long on theory and short on practice ought to steep themselves in
the spirit of James; and since there are such people in every community and in
every age, the message of the epistle will never grow old.
2. To the Sociologist
The sociological problems are to the front today. The old prophets were social
reformers, and James is most like them in the New Testament. Much that he says
is applicable to present-day conditions. He lays down the right principles for
practical philanthropy, and the proper relationships between master and man, and
between man and man. If the teachings of this epistle were put into practice throughout
the church it would mean the revitalization of Christianity. It would prove that
the Christian religion was practical and workable, and it would go far to establish
the final brotherhood of man in the service of God.
3. To the Student of the Life and Character of Jesus
The life of our Lord is the most important life in the history of the race. It
will always be a subject of the deepest interest and study. Modern research has
penetrated every contributory realm for any added light upon the heredity and
the environment of Jesus. The people and the land, archaeology and contemporary
history, have been cultivated intensively and extensively for any modicum of knowledge
they might add to our store of information concerning the Christ. We suggest that
there is a field here to which sufficient attention has not yet been given. James
was the brother of the Lord. His epistle tells us much about himself. On the supposition
that he did not exhort others to be what he would not furnish them an example
in being, we read in this epistle his own character writ large. He was like his
brother in so many things. As we study the life and character of James we come
to know more about the life and character of Jesus.
Jesus and James had the same mother. From her they had a common inheritance. As
far as they reproduced their mother's characteristics they were alike. They had
the same home training. As far as the father in that home could succeed in putting
the impress of his own personality upon the boys, they would be alike. It is noticeable
in this connection that Joseph is said in the Gospel to have been "a just man"
(Matthew 1:19 the King James Version), and that James came to be known through
all the early church as James the Just, and that in his epistle he gives this
title to his brother, Jesus, when he says of the unrighteous rich of Jerusalem,
"Ye have condemned and killed the just" man (5:6 the King James Version). Joseph
was just, and James was just, and Jesus was just. The brothers were alike, and
they were like the father in this respect. The two brothers seem to think alike
and talk alike to a most remarkable degree. They represent the same home surroundings
and human environment, the same religious training and inherited characteristics.
Surely, then, all that we learn concerning James will help us the better to understand
They are alike in their poetical insight and their practical wisdom. They are
both fond of figurative speech, and it seems always natural and unforced. The
discourses of Jesus are filled with birds and flowers and winds and clouds and
all the sights and sounds of rural life in Palestine. The writings of James abound
in reference to the field flowers and the meadow grass and the salt fountains
and the burning wind and the early and the latter rain. They are alike in mental
attitude and in spiritual alertness. They have much in common in the material
equipment of their thought. James was well versed in the apocryphal literature.
May we not reasonably conclude that Jesus was just as familiar with these books
as he? James seems to have acquired a comparative mastery of the Greek language
and to have had some acquaintance with the Greek philosophy. Would not Jesus have
been as well furnished in these lines as he?
What was the character of James? All tradition testifies to his personal purity
and persistent devotion, commanding the reverence and the respect of all who knew
him. As we trace the various elements of his character manifesting themselves
in his anxieties and exhortations in this epistle, we find rising before us the
image of Jesus as well as the portrait of James. He is a single-minded man, steadfast
in faith and patient in trials. He is slow to wrath, but very quick to detect
any sins of speech and hypocrisy of life. He is full of humility, but ready to
champion the cause of the oppressed and the poor. He hates all insincerity and
he loves wisdom, and he believes in prayer and practices it in reference to both
temporal and spiritual good. He believes in absolute equality in the house of
God. He is opposed to anything that will establish any distinctions between brethren
in their place of worship. He believes in practical philanthropy. He believes
that the right sort of religion will lead a man to visit the fatherless and widows
in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. A pure religion
in his estimation will mean a pure man. He believes that we ought to practice
all that we preach.
As we study these characteristics and opinions of the younger brother, does not
the image of his and our Elder Brother grow ever clearer before our eyes?
Works on Introduction: by Zahn, Weiss, Julicher, Salmon, Dods, Bacon, Bennett
and Adeney; MacClymont, The New Testament and Its Writers; Farrar, The Messages
of the Books, and Early Days of Christianity; Fraser, Lectures on the Bible; Godet,
Biblical Studies. Works on the Apostolic Age: McGiffert, Schaff, Hausrath, Weizsacker.
Commentaries: Mayor, Hort, Beyschlag, Dale, Huther, Plummer, Plumptre, Stier.
Doremus Almy Hayes
bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of james, brother of jesus, define, epistle of james, james, morality, written for the jewish christians