The Book of James; An Introduction

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Book of James; an Introduction

The book of James is the 59th book of the Bible, and it is comprised of 5 chapters of 108 verses. Therefore, a verse-per-day evaluation of James will take a bit over three months to complete.

James is believed to be the Lord’s half-brother; born of Mary and Joseph. As there are four people named James in the New Testament, it is important to determine which it is. The apostle James, the brother of John, died too early for the letter to have been written by him. His death is recorded in Acts 12. The other two men named James did not have any reputation which would make either a likely candidate for being the author. However, James, the Lord’s half-brother did.

He is mentioned first in Matthew 13:55 in a list of Jesus’ other half-brothers. Therefore, he was probably the oldest of them. It is noted in John 7:5 that Jesus’ brothers were originally of those who didn’t believe in Him. Eventually, that changed, and James became the leader of the early church. He is noted as having been one who witnessed the resurrected Lord in 1 Corinthians 15:7.

Acts 15:12-21 is the passage from which we determine that James was the leader of the early church (not Peter as suggested by the Roman Catholics). After hearing testimony from the entire group and specifically Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, it was James who made the final decision on the matter being discussed. Thus, it is a logical assumption that he also was the author of this letter.

Further, he was of such renown in the early church that Jude, also the Lord’s half-brother, identified himself as a “brother of James.” He is mentioned by Paul in Galatians 1:19 and 2:9, and he is mentioned at several other key points in the book of Acts.

As this book was written very early after the establishment of the church, around AD 48, the letter is addressed to Jewish believers. At this point, the number of non-Jewish believers would have been exceptionally small. Also, as it was Paul’s ministry that was directed to the Gentiles, it is no great leap to see that James is specifically writing to a solely Jewish audience. As the first verse of the epistle will note, he is writing to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad.”

The Apostle Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So, in a real sense, the letter is, like all of Scripture, written to the people of the world. However, James is written specifically to the Hebrew people of the twelve tribes.

Due to its placement after Paul’s letters, and then after the book of Hebrews, it is evident based on an evaluation of the structure of the Bible that the Lord intends for this epistle, like Hebrews, to be a letter directed to the Hebrew people of the end times as much as it was directed to the early Jewish believers in the Lord. The very structure of the Bible gives us this hint of redemptive history.

The main theme of James is “The Necessity of Living Faith.” James includes works as a demonstration of faith, something which has brought the letter into theological question by many. Paul argues adamantly against works for justification, but James seems (but which is not correct) to argue exactly the opposite. This is so much the case that the Roman Catholic church – misunderstanding important theological points raised by James 2 – states in Canon 10 of the Council of Trent that –

“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

In other words, they state that man is not justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone, but also by their cooperating works. This will be addressed during the evaluation of this epistle. Martin Luther found little value in the book of James, having stated about it –

“In sum, St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle; St. Paul’s letters, especially the ones to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians; and St. Peter’s first epistle are all books that show you Christ, and they all teach which is necessary and salutary for you to know, even if you do not see or hear any other book or teaching. It is for this reason that James’s epistle is in comparison a real strawy epistle, for it has no evangelical character about it.”

In calling it a “real strawy epistle,” he was indicating (based on 1 Corinthians 3:12) that using James’ epistle for one’s doctrines is to use straw to build upon the foundation which is Jesus Christ. Is this true? Or did Martin Luther miss one of the principle points concerning James’ idea of faith and works? That too will be evaluated in this analysis.

In the Old Testament, there are five books known as wisdom literature: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. In the New Testament, no book is considered specifically as wisdom literature, but James is the closest to the style and content of a book of wisdom.

As a short summary of the intent and purpose of the book, we should remember these points: 1) Author: James, the Lord’s brother; 2) Date: Mid to late 40s; 3) Theme: The necessity of living faith; 4) Purpose: To remind the believers that genuine faith is seen in a life that is changed and which is produced by living according to God’s wisdom; 5) Presentation of Christ: Our Wisdom.

Life application: We hope that you will spend the next 108 days of your life learning the book of James, one verse at a time. From there, we hope you will apply its truths to your life, molding yourself more each day into being a faithful and wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.

Lord God, we are given sixty-six books of marvelous wonder to study in order to know Your heart and what You intend for us as we live out our short lives in Your presence. Help us not to fritter away our time with worthless pursuit, but to study Your word, apply it to our lives, and stand approved in Your eyes as we anticipate the Day when we will come before You for an evaluation of the days we have spent in these lives You have given us. Amen.

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