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New Testament Notes
The Epistle of James
The following notes are intended to supplement, not replace, the readings from the Bible and the text book.
Comments or questions should be sent to: Dr. Rollinson.
Although this book begins with a greeting modeled on that of a Greek epistle it reads more like a homily. It is not addressed to the members of some specific church or region, but seems to be a treatise intended for general circulation.
The author of the book identifies himself as "James".
There were several men in the early Church called James, but only two stand out as leaders in the Church and so as likely candidates for authorship.
James the Apostle (the brother of John) was martyred ca. AD 44 (Acts 12:1-2), before the Church spread far from Judea, so is unlikely to be the author.
James the "brother of the Lord" is more likely, and is generally credited with authorship of this book. He was probably the oldest of the "brothers of the Lord", as his name comes first in the listing of them (Matt. 13:55)
The relationship of the "brothers of the Lord" to Jesus is a matter of debate. According to Epiphanius they were sons of Joseph from a previous marriage, but Jerome said that they were probably Jesus' cousins (the Greek word for "brother" can include members of the extended family). While Jesus was alive they did not understand or believe in Him (Mark 3:21, John 7:2). However, after the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appeared to James (I Cor. 15:7), and the brothers are listed as having joined with the apostles and Mary for prayer in the days following the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:14).
James became one of the recognized leaders of the Church in Jerusalem. At the Council of Jerusalem he spoke in favor of Gentiles being allowed to join the church (Acts 15:13-21); Paul visited him at least twice (Gal. 1:19 and Acts 21:18), and referred to him as a "pillar of the Church" (Gal. 2:9). James was also specifically mentioned by Peter when he was released from Herod's prison (Acts 12:17).
While Paul and those associated with him concentrated on spreading the gospel to the Gentiles, Peter and James worked mainly with the Jews (Gal. 2:9), and it was men associated with James who tried to cause a division between Jews and Gentiles in the churches of Galatia. (Gal. 2:11-13)
The intended recipients are identified as "the Twelve Tribes of Israel scattered among the nations" which points to Jewish Christians of the Diaspora. The letter is distinctly Jewish in tone - the Greek word
(synagogue, assembly) is used, instead of
("ecclesia" - congregation, church)
for the gathering of Christians (James 2:2), and God is referred to by the Greek translation of the Hebrew title "Lord of Hosts"
Also, the epistle assumes a knowledge and concern for the Old Testament which is more consonant with a Jewish-Christian than a Gentile audience.
- James 1:1 : Greetings
- James 1:2-18 : Trials and Temptations, and how to face them
- James 1:19-27 : Hearing and Acting
- James 2:1-13 : Equality under God
- James 2:14-26 : Faith and Works
- James 3:1-12 : Control of the Tongue
- James 3:13-18 : Worldly Wisdom vs. Heavenly Wisdom
- James 4:1 - 5:6 : Denunciation and Warnings against ungodly behavior
- James 5:7-11 : Patience in face of suffering
- James 5:12 : Do not swear an oath
- James 5:13-19 : Faith and Prayer
James 2:9 - see Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:38
James 2:11 - see Exodus 20:13-14, and Matt. 5:21-32
James 2:14 - James is not decrying true faith (trust) in Jesus, but a false faith that someone might claim to "have" as if it were by their own efforts. True faith in Jesus will result in acknowledging Him as Lord, and in following His leading to love and care for others.
James 2:19 - see Deut. 6:4 and Mark 12:29
James 2:21 - see Genesis 22:1-18
James 2:23 - see Genesis 15:6 and II Chron. 20:7
James 2:25 - see Joshua 2:1-21
James 4:4 - see Matt. 6:24
James 4:5 - see Deut 4:23-24, Zech. 8:2
James 4:6 - see Proverbs 3:34
James 4:7 - If the Epistle of James is regarded as a homily or sermon rather than a letter, then this is James' "altar call"
James 4:11 - see Exodus 20:16, Leviticus 18:18, Psalm 50:19-21, Proverbs 6:16-19, Matt. 7:1-5, 19:19, 22:39
James 4:17 - Take this to heart as a definition of sin
James 5:1-3 - see Matt. 6:19-21
James 5:12 - see Matt. 5:33-37
James 5:17-18 - see I Kings 17:1, 18:1, 18:36-46
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Last Updated : July 14, 2014