James: Outline and Introduction

Thomas D. Lea  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 29 - Fall 1986

An Outline of James

Occasion: This letter was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were facing trials and persecution. Under the threat of this persecution they were tempted to compromise their Christian commitment and relapse into an accommodation to the life of the world. James spoke as a pastor to these friends who were facing persecution and urged them to develop spiritual stamina. He also spoke as a prophet to those who were contemplating the compromise of their faith and urged them to give evidence of its reality.

I. Greeting (1:1)

II. The Words of a Pastor-How to Face Trial (1:2-18)

A. The Correct Attitude in Trial and Temptation (1:2-4)

B. The Use of Prayer in Trial (1:5-8)

C. The Correct Estimate of Trial (1:9-11)

1. By the poor (1:9)

2. By the rich (1:10-11)

D. The Result of Trial (1:12)

E. The Source of Human Temptation (1:13-18)

1. Repudiation of the divine source (1:13)

2. Identification of the human source (1:14-15)

3. Exhortation against error (1:16)

4. Explanation of divine involvement (1:17-18)

III. The Words of a Prophet—The Evidence of Genuine Faith (1:19-5:20)

A. A Correct Response to God’s Word (1:19-27)

1. The manner of response (1:19-21)

2. An illustration of response (1:22-25)

3. The specific evidences of response (1:26-27)

B. The Avoidance of Partiality (2:1-13)

1. A rebuke of partiality (2:1-4)

2. The consequence of partiality (2:5-11)

3. An appeal to avoid partiality (2:12-13)

C. The Production of Works of Mercy (2:14-26)

1. The emptiness of an unproductive faith (2:14-20)

2. The demonstration of saving faith (2:21-26)

D. The Practice of Personal Discipline (3:1-18)

1. The discipline of the tongue (3:1-12)

2. The discipline of attitudes (3:13-18)

E. The Avoidance of Worldliness (4:1-10)

1. The source of worldliness (4:1-3)

2. The solution to worldliness (4:4-10)

F. The Control of a Critical Attitude

G. The Defeat of Godless Self-confidence (4:13-17)

1. A rebuke of the condition (4:13-14)

2. The display of the correct attitude (4:15)

3. The exposure of arrogance (4:16-17)

H. The Demonstration of Economic Justice (5:1-6)

1. An announcement of guilt (5:1-3)

2. An elaboration of the charges (5:4-6)

I. The Practice of Endurance (5:7-11)

J.  The Avoidance of Oaths (5:12)

K. The Proper Use of Prayer (5:13-18)

1. In times of various emotion (5:13)

2. In physical needs (5:14-15)

3. In personal confession (5:16)

4. The illustration of Elijah (5:17-18)

L. The Reclamation of Straying Christians (5:19-20)

An Introduction to James

Most Christians remember Martin Luther as the man whose courage and conviction brought the Reformation into existence. Not many will remember Luther’s negative opinion about the book of James. After commending the books of John, 1 John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter which showed Christ, Luther said, “Therefore St. James epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”[1]Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, ed. E. Theodore Bachmann, vol. 35: Word and Sacrament (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press,   1960), 362.

Few other Christians have followed Luther’s excessively negative emphasis. Typical among the positive evaluations is that of R. V. G. Tasker who says,

This Epistle would seem to be of especial value to the individual Christian during what we might describe as the second stage in his pilgrim’s progress. After he has been led to respond to the gospel of grace, and come to have the joyful assurance that he is a redeemed child of God, if he is to advance along the way of holiness, and if the ethical implications of his new faith are to be translated into practical realities, then he needs the stimulus and the challenge of the Epistle of James.[2]R. V. G. Tusker, The General Epistle of James in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (London: Tyndale Press, 1957), p. 11.

In a world which seems to take delight in continuing to find new ways of sinning, the firm commands of James have a necessary relevance. James will call us back to the searching scrutiny of the gospel message and urge us to live as doers of the law rather than as mere hearers.

The brevity and content of James made it easy for some Christians to ignore the book. The lack of a specific addressee and uncertainty about which James wrote the book also contributed to a lack of widespread enthusiasm for the book. We will examine some of these problems and the solutions which are proposed.


The Authorship of the Book of James

Evidence concerning the authorship of James is both external and internal. External evidence concerns what Christian leaders have said about the book. Their evidence is external because it is not based on Scripture. Internal evidence is the information which the Bible itself makes available.

External Evidence[3]An excellent discussion of external evidence concerning the authorship of James appears in D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith (Chicago: Moody Press 1979) pp 115.

The earliest known writer to quote the Epistle of James by name is Origen. He admitted that some sections of the church had not received the book, but he expressed no doubts about its canonicity.

The church historian Eusebius related that James was a disputed book in some sections of the church. He listed the book among what he called the antilegomena, books which were not universally received by the church. He conceded that many approved the writing and referred to the belief by some that James, the brother of Jesus, had written it. Although some regarded the book as a false writing, he acknowledged that many sections of the church used James publicly.

No quotations from James appear in the known writings of Tertullian, Irenaeus, Cyprian, or Hippolytus. It is omitted from the Muratorian Canon which is believed to represent the views concerning the canon in the church at Rome around A.D. 180. There are few witnesses to the existence and usage of James for much of the second and third centuries after Christ. Origen, as previously mentioned, is from this period of time and represents an exception to this trend.

In the West the Epistle of James did not achieve wide acceptance until such leaders as Jerome and Augustine gave it their support. Jerome accepted it m the Vulgate, but he indicated some uncertainty about it. He suggested that someone had published it in the name of James, the Lord’s brother.

The acceptance of the book as canonical by the synods of Rome (A.D. 382) and Carthage (397) appeared to secure a place for James. However, in the modern period a leader such as Erasmus questioned the book. Luther’s own opposition to the book came from his feeling that James contradicted Paul’s teaching concerning justification by faith.

All of this evidence does suggest that James came slowly into widespread circulation. It won approval as a canonical writing much later than such books as Romans, Galatians, and Matthew. Many factors contributed to this. The brevity and practical nature of James made it seem of small significance in contrast with a book like Romans. The book also has no claim of apostolic authorship, and it was not addressed to a specific church. A writing addressed to a specific church was more likely to be treasured than one which was general. Further, Christianity rapidly became a Gentile spiritual movement. A letter addressed to Jewish Christians would have little appeal for the entire church. All of these circumstances would diminish the interest in reading and treasuring James.

In summary, we should observe that some people in the earliest periods of Christian history did suggest that James, the Lord’s brother, was the author of the epistle. However, acceptance of this view was not unanimous, and many early Christian leaders ignored it entirely.

Internal Evidence

The text of James provides little information about the author other than his name. However, the mention of the name provides an important clue.

Few people with the name of James could succeed in identifying themselves by the mere proper name James. Indeed, the writer must have been an important James.

Four individuals in the New Testament have the name of James. James the father of Judas (not Iscariot) is mentioned in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. He is an obscure figure and would not possess the importance needed by one who could identify himself only by his first name. James the son of Alphaeus appears in Matt. 10:3 and the parallels in other gospels. He is also listed in Acts 1:13. He also is an obscure and undistinguished person and does not merit serious consideration for authorship of James. Some scholars feel that James the less (see Mark 15:40) is the same as James the son of Alphaeus.[4]Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. ”.James,” by W. T. Dayton.

A more serious contender for authorship would be James the son of Zebedee and brother of John the apostle. However, he suffered martyrdom under Herod Agrippa I in A.D. 44 (see Acts 12:2). He had not achieved a position of leadership in the church and would have died before the time in which most people feel that the book first appeared.

The most viable candidate among the Jameses of the New Testament is the half-brother of the Lord. He was likely the oldest of Jesus’ brothers, for his name appears first in the two lists of their names (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). He was an unbeliever in the Lord during Jesus’ earthly ministry (see John 7:2-5). The risen Christ apparently appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:7), removed James’s doubt, and he became a follower of Christ (Acts 1:14). References to James in Acts 12:17; 15:12-29; 21:18-25; Gal. 1:18-19 and 2:6-9 suggest that he rapidly became an important leader in the early church. The New Testament picture of this James is that of a committed Jew who has recognized Jesus as Messiah and Lord and demonstrates spiritual sensitivity to the working of God. This same picture of the writer appears in the Epistle of James.

The James who wrote the epistle did not call himself the Lord’s brother, but he affirmed that Jesus was the Lord (1:1). He is quite familiar with the Old Testament and uses illustrations from the lives of Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah. He uses typical Hebrew expressions when he calls Abraham “our father” (2:21) and Jehovah “the Lord of Sabaoth” (5:4). The author of James used the same Greek word to communicate greetings in James 1:1 as the brother of Jesus used in Acts 15:23.

Some commentators find similarities between the references in James and the teachings of Jesus.[5]Alexander Ross, Commentary on the Epistles of James and John in New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), pp. 16-17. For example, James 1:22 has parallels with Matt. 7:20-24. The wording of James 5:12 sounds similar to Matt. 5:34-37. These words are not quotes, but they have the appearance of referring back to the teaching of Jesus. Other eminent scholars will, however, view the same evidence and conclude that one cannot prove a relationship between James and the Gospels.[6]Martin Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James in Hermeneia, rev. Heinrich Greeven, trans. Michael A. Williams (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), p. 29.

The James who authored the Epistle of James was a man of prayer (5:14-18). This fact accords with the extra-biblical picture of James as a man who prayed with earnest devotion. Eusebius presents the following description of James from the second-century Christian leader Hegesippus:

He was called the “Just” by all from the time of the Lord even to our own, since many were called James, but this man was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh; no razor passed over his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. To this man alone was it permitted to enter the sanctuary, for he did not wear wool, but linen. He used to enter the Temple alone, and be found resting on his knees and praying for forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became as hard as those of a camel because of his constant bending forward on his knees in worshiping God and begging for forgiveness for the people.[7]Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.23

While the preceding description undoubtedly is correct in presenting James as a man of devotion, it has also made too much of his ascetic tendencies.[8]Tasker, p. 27. It makes for popular preaching, but it is not wholly reliable.

Many of these arguments and facts do seem to point to the likelihood that James the Lord’s brother is the author of the letter. However, the opponents of this authorship also have facts to which they refer. Some will question how a writing coming from a prominent figure such as the brother of the Lord could have encountered such difficulty in receiving a place in the canon. The lack of doctrinal emphasis in James and the decline of Jewish Christianity would contribute to the difficulty in accepting the epistle.

Also, it must be admitted that the letter of James displays a high quality in the use of the Greek language.[9]E. F. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), p. 366. How could a Hebrew Christian such as James acquire the facility in the use of Greek? James may have used an amanuensis, a secretary, who could have provided help in the writing of the book. Also, James would have had opportunity to develop proficiency in his use of Greek through his leadership of the Jerusalem   church.

Still others find a difficulty in that James does not mention relationship with Jesus such as Paul claims for him in Gal. 1:19. A natural humility could have prevented James from mentioning that he was the brother of the Lord. Because of his prominence in leadership of the Jerusalem church he would need no other identification than his name.

Assuming that James the Lord’s brother is the author of the epistle, we will still want to answer an additional question that is of importance to Roman Catholic interpreters of Scripture. Because of their view that Mary remained perpetually a virgin, they have hesitated to accept James as the Lord’s brother. Two views of the relationship of James to Jesus have been used to safeguard the doctrine of Mary’s virginity.[10]Hiebert, pp. 31-34.

Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis (c. 315-403) held that James and his “brothers” (Matt. 13:55) were sons of Joseph by a former marriage. Therefore, they would be older than Jesus. No biblical evidence exists to contradict this view absolutely. However, if they were older than Jesus, it is difficult to explain their continued presence with their mother during the ministry of Jesus. The evidence from Scripture (Mark 6:3; Acts 1:14) indicates that these brothers constituted a single household along with Jesus and Mary. If they were indeed older than Jesus, we would expect them to have married long before.

Jerome advocated the view that these “brothers” of Jesus were really cousins, the children of Clopas and Mary, the sister of Jesus’ mother. This view assumes that John 19:25 teaches that Mary is the wife of Clopas and also the sister of Jesus’ mother. It overlooks the difficulty which occurs from having two sisters both named Mary who are members of the same family. It also takes the term “brother” appearing in such passages as Matt. 13:55 and Mark 6:3 and ascribes to it the meaning of “cousin,” an unnatural meaning of the word.

Both of these views would protect the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. However, the most natural interpretation of the biblical evidence is that these brothers were the sons of Joseph and Mary and were younger than Jesus.

Was James the Lord’s brother an apostle? Competent scholars will observe the evidence and differ in their conclusions. Hiebert examines Gal. 1:18-19 and concludes that Paul is saying that he did not see any of the apostles in his visit to Jerusalem but only James.[11]Ibid., p. 29. Ellicott says that Paul is definitely calling James an apostle.[12]Charles J. Ellicott, A Critical and Grammatical Commentary on St. Paul s Epistle to the Galatians (London: John W. Parker and Son, 1859), p. 19. Even if we feel that Paul is calling James an apostle, the term may be used in a broad sense to refer to men who were leaders in the ministry of the church (cf. Acts 14:4, 14; Rom. 16:7). It may not be an explicit claim that James was one of the twelve. Whether or not we accept that James is an apostle, we can observe that he makes no claim for apostolicity in the Epistle of James. He is content merely to use the humble designation of ”servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1, KJV).

In considering the question of authorship some have suggests that the name James might be pseudonym. Dibelius says quite openly, “We are dealing with a pseudonymous document.[13]Dibelius, p. 18. Dibelius feels that there is no moral condemnation attached to this practice by the early church and argues that the literary custom of the day would have permitted the practice. However, the available evidence from the early church indicates that they opposed the use of pseudonymous authorship of a writing even for laudatory purposes.[14]Thomas D. Lea, “The Early Christian View of Pseudepigraphic Writings,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 27 (March 1984):65-75. Also, Paul seemed set against a letter from an imitator in 2 Thess. 2:2 and made a point of stating that he was signing the epistle in his own handwriting (2 Thess. 3:17).

In summary, we can observe that the internal evidence does not demand that James the Lord’s brother was he author of this epistle, but it certainly creates the likelihood. His authorship of the epistle is more likely than that .of any other contender.


The Date of the Epistle

If James the Lord’s brother is the author of the letter we must date it before his death in A.D. 62. This incident is not mentioned in the New Testament but Eusebius indicates that James was martyred by a group of Jewish priests furious because he refused publicly to denounce the messiahship of Jesus.[15]Eusebius 2.23.

Deciding on a specific time prior to this martyrdom is a more difficult matter. There are few clear indications in the text to provide solid guidance. Those who feel that the brother of the Lord authored the epistle fall into two chief groups concerning the dating and writing. Some will date the letter early, often before A.D. 50. Others will date it closer to the time of his death in A.D. 62.

Harrison is among those who date the epistle early. His conclusion rests on four items of information from the epistle.[16]Harrison, p. 368. First, he notes that James does have language which sounds much like Christ’s teachings in the Synoptics. He sees an especially close similarity to the Sermon on the Mount. However, James has so little verbal agreement with Jesus’ reported words in the Gospels that Harrison suggests that James authored the epistle in the period before the Gospels were fixed into written form. Second, he notes that James devotes considerable discussion to economic conditions among his readers, stressing especially the gap between the rich and the poor (5:1-6). When the war against Rome broke out in A.D. 66, the rich suffered great losses, and conflict between rich and poor ceased. The impact of this observation pushed the writing earlier rather than later. Third, there is a simplicity of church organization as seen in the mention of elders (5:14). Such church leaders as bishops and deacons are absent. Fourth, the Christians were fervently expecting the return of Christ (5:7-9). This seems to support more the acceptance of an earlier date.

Tasker is among those who opt for a later date. He feels that the letter shows a settled state of affairs which is not concerned with laying foundations but with maintaining cherished practices.[17]Tasker, pp. 31-32. Many basic doctrines of Christianity are regarded as firmly established. Tasker also regards the apparent presence of wealthy people within the Christian community (James 2:1-3) as evidence of a later date. He notes Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 1:26 that among early Christians not many of wealth, importance, and nobility were called. He does not feel that James was encountering the perversions of the gospel which come out of the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith. Some had twisted that teaching into the direction of liberty and license. James attempted to speak to this problem. This type of reasoning leads Tasker to date James after Romans so that a date in the early 60s seems probable.

After surveying the evidence for both viewpoints, Guthrie makes the following sensible conclusion:

The general drift of these considerations (about date) is more in the direction of an early date than a later one and this accords with what has already been said on the subject of authorship. But it is less easy to decide between A.D. 50 and A.D. 62 as to the most likely early date. The former has much to be said and is probably to be preferred.[18]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, vol. 3: Hebrews to Revelation, 2d ed. (London: Tyndale Press, 1964), p. 88.


The Readers of the Epistle

James addressed his letter to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1, KJV). It is obvious that the writer has a Jewish background, and his readers have a similar background. However, there is a wide range of possibility even if we suppose that writer and readers shared the same Jewish back­ ground. The readers could be either Christian or non-Christian Jews. They could be Hellenists, Greek-speaking Jews living outside of Palestine. It is also possible that James used the term “twelve tribes” as a symbol applicable to all Christians, both Jew and Gentile.

The term “twelve tribes” seems to be a reference to Jews, and this is reinforced by the statement in Acts 26:7 which clearly refers to Jews by that term. The term “dispersion” would seem to be a description of Jews who live outside of Palestine. When this term is linked with the reference to the twelve tribes, it seems to suggest that the recipients are Jewish Christians who have been living among the Gentiles outside of Palestine.

The Greek word for “dispersion” does appear in 1 Pet. 1:1 as a reference to a Christian dispersion throughout the world. Peter may have used the term in a spiritual sense to refer to the church, but it seems unlikely that James meant the same thing by the term. Some following considerations also appear to indicate that James wrote to Jewish Christians.

One such indication appears in the Greek term used in 2:2 for “assembly” (so translated in KJV and “meeting” in NIV). This is the normal word for synagogue. The term need not imply that the worshipers were actually meeting in a Jewish synagogue, but it may indicate that Jewish Christians chose to use this name to describe the place where they met to worship Jesus.

The description of the setting in James 2 pictures rich people being favored over poor people. Further, the statements in James 5:1-6 present the picture that these poor believers were being intimidated by the rich. The situation seems more understandable if the poor people are Christians, and the rich people are unbelievers operating on the fringes of the church. There must have been times when these rich people did attend the synagogues or Christian gatherings, but their presence did not indicate conversion.

James 3:1 contains a warning to the teachers. This may not have been a distinct office, but the use of the word does suggest that teaching was done in the assembly. The position of the elders mentioned in 5:14 does not suggest what they did in connection with the church rule, but we may assume that they had administrative duties in addition to their function in connection with faith healing. These references point to Christians who were attempting to carry out the ministry of the Lord in a church.

These Christians were also people of an immature faith. They had a willingness to listen to the law but an inability to practice it (1:22-25).

These assorted facts do not finally settle all of our questions about the readers, but again the conclusion of Guthrie seems proper: “It seems better to regard the letter as addressed to Jewish Christians.”[19]Ibid., p. 85. Despite Guthrie’s preference for the above view, he does suggest that the alternative view that Christians generally are in mind may have much to be said for it.

Beyond identifying these readers as Jewish Christians, it is not possible to add many additional facts. Because of the proposal of an early date for James, it seems wiser to hold that the readers were located near Palestine. In its early years Christianity would have spread most rapidly among these Jews who were nearer to Palestine in such countries as Syria, Phoenicia, or Asia Minor. This is a feasible guess for the destination of the writing.


The Location for Writing the Epistle

Accepting the view that James the Lord’s brother was the author of this letter carries with it the likelihood that the place of writing was Jerusalem. This was the place of residence for James. The reference in 5:7 to the “early and latter rain” points out a climatic peculiarity which would be true for inhabitants in Palestine but not elsewhere. Palestinians were accustomed to receiving these early rains in late October or early November. They softened the ground for plowing and sowing. The latter rains came during late April or May. They were important for maturing the crops.[20]Hiebert, p. 298. Further evidence of a Palestinian origin comes from the reference to hot winds (1:11), sweet and bitter springs (3:11), and the cultivation of figs and olives (3:12). Although these conditions would be true of other locations in the Middle East, they are strong reminders of conditions in Palestine.


General Characteristics of the Epistle

The Epistle of James makes its unique contribution to the New Testament with its strong ethical emphases. It clearly teaches that a faith which does not produce works is empty, vain, and useless. Ethical teaching in James is scattered throughout the letter, and it is not linked merely with doctrinal sections. James frequently uses the imperative mood, and this indicates his passionate feeling about the issues which he faced. His fiery words bear a close similarity to the words of Old Testament prophets. His ethical injunctions touch on both personal morality and social injustices committed by the selfish and the indifferent.


Because of the important ethical discussions James does have some omissions which are notable. For example, his description of Christ is “hardly a developed Christology, but it is a Christology.”[21]Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James in New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), p. 41. There are specific references to Christ in 1:1 and 2:1. The Lord is the one who will come to end history (5:7-8). However, there is no detailed discussion of Jesus’ person and work. No mention is made of Jesus’ incarnation, death, or resurrection. This does not imply that James questions or denies any of these basic teachings. As Davids says, “The Christology of James is an assumed Christology.”[22]Ibid., p. 39. James writes with the understanding that beliefs about Jesus are shared in common by himself and his readers.

The letter of James also omits references to certain Jewish practices such as the Sabbath, temple ritual, and feasts. There is no clear indication given of the presence of Gentiles in the churches. Unlike Paul’s writings there is no evidence of any personal contacts between the author and his recipients. There is no appeal to contemporary historical events or persons who would aid us in making a more precise dating for the writing of the book.

Doctrinal Significance

It is incorrect to say that James’s epistle lacks doctrinal emphasis. James assumed a doctrinal heritage shared between himself and his readers, and he did not feel it necessary to elaborate upon these convictions.[23]Hiebert, p. 44. There are, however, implications of widespread doctrinal formulations in the epistle.

James affirmed the unity of God (2:19; 4:12), but there is no discussion of the Trinity within the book. James presented God as creator of the world (1:17) and of men (3:9). He saw God as good (1:17), gracious (4:6-8), and forgiving (5:15). God has nothing to do with evil, and He does not use evil to tempt human beings (1:13-14). On the other hand, God is a God of judgment to those who fail to demonstrate mercy (2:13).

James also presented an analysis of temptation and sin in 1:12-15 which pointed out that human desire or lust was the source of sin. He did not mention Satan in connection with his discussion because he wanted to emphasize human responsibility in evil.

James’s discussion in 5:14-16 developed the responsibility of the church for ministry in instances of sickness and spiritual need. In 2:1-13 James discussed the role of the church in combating favoritism and discrimination. Although the discussion is not lengthy, James’s words do highlight an emphasis which no other section of Scripture articulates.

In 1:2-4 and in 1:12-15James discussed a theology of suffering as one faced trials and temptations. James’s discussion deals both with outward trials and inward solicitation to evil. His concern about facing outward trials has similarity to discussions by Paul (Rom. 5:1-5) and Peter (1 Pet. 4:12-19). James emphasizes that the “proper reaction to suffering,…is not to give in to the evil impulse and accuse God, but to endure patiently.”[24]Davids, p. 38.

James also gave a considerable attention to eschatology. The strongest references to the return of Christ appear in 5:7-11. Here James saw the church standing at the concluding time of history, and he urged it to hold together in the face of overwhelming pressures which it faced. Christians needed to persevere in doing good and avoid complaint about the difficulties and trials which they faced.

Style and Language

James spoke to his readers with an awareness of his importance and authority but without a sense of dominance and autocracy. James’s response does not suggest that his views were under attack, and he does not appear defensive. His language is clear and energetic. He expressed heavy thoughts with pungent language.

James displayed a vivid imagination. He used similes and other comparisons and expressed a preference for concrete thought over the abstract. Who can overlook his comparison of the wavering man to “a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (1:6), or his description of human life as “a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (4:14)?

James was a keen observer of nature. His description of the effects of the sun’s heat (1:11), springs (3:11), agriculture (3:12), and rainfall (5:7-18) indicated this.

He also exhibited a literary practice known as paronomasia. This refers to the uniting of clause and sentences by repeating a leading word or a cognate. Note the frequent repetition of “tempted” and “temptation” in 1:12-15. The appearance of the word “lust” binds verses 14 and 15 together. This practice is also evident in other sections of the epistle   (cf. 1:3-6; 3:2-8).

Literary Form

James’s writing has often been compared with the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament such as Proverbs and Psalms.[25]Hiebert, p. 47. The similarity comes because both James and the Wisdom writings deal with such subjects as the use of the tongue, the need to subdue the passions, and the dangers of wealth. However, the Epistle of James often makes a more radical type of moral appeal than is found in the Wisdom writings.[26]Davids, p. 24. The style of James is thus not identical to that of Old Testament Wisdom.

The content of James also can be called hortatory literature. Its style fits the form of Jewish synagogue homilies.[27]Ibid., p. 23. Some will also compare it to a Greek dis­ course form known as the diatribe.[28]Hiebert, p. 47. Among features of this type of writing are the presence of rhetorical questions (cf. 2:1-4;  4:1-4), imaginary opponents (2:14-26) a direct address to the reader (2:1), variety in subject matter, and strong, passionate language.[29]Davids, p. 23.

James may have originally used this type of material in a teaching ministry in the church. However, the form of the epistle itself suggests that it was put into its present form in order to be read in a congregation.[30]Hiebert, p. 46.


The Value of James

Many interpreters of James have been troubled by the apparent contradiction between James’s words in 2:24 and Paul’s statement about justification in Rom. 3:28. However, if we properly interpret the readers for whom both men were writing, we should not see them as contradicting each other. James wrote to people who professed faith in Christ but practiced discrimination, selfishness, quarreling, and many other vices. He emphasized that faith in Christ would produce better fruit than this.

Paul wrote to proud people who felt that their supposed moral   obedience to God’s law was a work which earned them acceptance with God. He indicated that right standing with God came only to those people who forsook their feeble efforts at righteousness and placed their confidence m the righteousness which God provided.

The combination of the message of James along with that of Paul is an antidote to error. “As long as there are professed Christians who are prone to separate profession and practice, the message of James will continue to be relevant.”[31]

Ibid., p. 47.
Tasker has expressed the relevance of James in especially meaningful words:

There would, however, seem to be special times both in the history of the Church and in the spiritual pilgrimage of the believer, when its message sounds forth with special relevance. Whenever faith does not issue in love, and dogma, however orthodox, is unrelated to life; whenever Christians are tempted to settle down to a self-centered religion, and become oblivious of the social and material needs of others; or whenever they deny by their manner of living the creed. they profess, and seem more anxious to be friends of the world than friends of God then the Epistle of James has something to say to them which they disregard at their peril.[32]Tasker, p. 10.

The circumstances which Tasker described are present in our generation. Our study of James’s epistle can provide a corrective for a lethargic Christianity in a moral stupor concerned only for its welfare, material prosperity, and physical ease.


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Southwestern Journal of Theology
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