STUDY 10 - THE EPISTLE OF JAMES
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.264-267; R.H.Gundry, pp.432-436.
Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An
Introduction to the New
1. AUTHORSHIP, DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING
The epistle is ascribed to James (1:1), but which James? Four are to be
found in the NT (see Mt.4:21; 10:3; 13:55; Lk.6:16). The epistle is
ascribed traditionally to James, the brother of the Lord, who features
as an elder of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13f.; Gal.1:18-19,
2:1-10). But further: "If James was the brother of Jesus
mentioned in the Gospels (Mk.6:3), their exact relationship remains to
be defined. Was James a child of Joseph by a former marriage,
which would make him really a stepbrother, or was he a half brother, a
son of Joseph and Mary, or was the word 'brother' loosely used to mean
'cousin'? All three theories have been advanced at various times, and
usually the first and third have been defended by those who have argued
for the perpetual virginity of Mary".  Note: Jesus is called Mary's
'firstborn' in Lk.2:7.
Why did James not call himself the brother of the Lord? A possible
answer may be supplied by the evangelist in Mk.3:35. James did
not embrace the claims of Jesus until he encountered him after his
resurrection (see: Jn.7:5; 1 Cor.15:7).
Date and place of writing
James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1,2 & 3 John and Jude are commonly referred
to as the general or catholic epistles as they have no specific
address. This practice goes back as far as Origen. The
internal evidence, however, may indicate a Jewish readership.
Note the Palestinian colouring in the allusions to the Sea, or
Mediterranean (1:6), the scorching wind and the withering plant
(1:11-12), figs and olives (3:12), drought (5:17), etc. Like
Hebrews, the epistle could have been directed to a fellowship of Hebrew
Christians in a city like Rome. They may have met in a synagogue
The epistle is seen by many to be the first NT book, dating c.A.D. 45.
It must be dated before A.D. 90, as it is quoted by Clement of Rome
(A.D. 90). 
The epistle indicates that the people addressed were made up of rich
and poor (1:9-11; 2:15; 5:1-6). Some were tainted with snobbery
(2:1-3), others desired to be teachers, and lacked a control of the
tongue (3:1-12). A number were proud of their 'wisdom'
(3:13-16). Jealousy and pride were present in the fellowship
2. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF JAMES
A practical epistle The epistle is more practical than
doctrinal. It is concerned with everyday living. It has
striking similarities with the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5-7).
Consider these parallels, reading James first:
1:5; 5:15 (7:7-12);
2:13 (5:7; 6:14-15);
So M.C.Tenney says, "The epistle seldom refers to systematic Christian
doctrine. The name of Jesus Christ appears only twice (1:1; 2:1),
and there is a possible reference to him in 5:8. The synagogue is
mentioned as the place of meeting rather than the church (2:2). The
illustrations are taken from the OT, or else are drawn from rural
life. In style and content the Epistle of James bears a striking
similarity to the teaching of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the
3. OUTLINE AND CONTENTS OF JAMES
An outline of the epistle There is no fixed structure to
James, but the way that the writer deals with a variety of topics and
problems does gives a kind of outline to the book. The epistle
compares with the OT book of Proverbs. M.C.Tenney offers this outline
to the epistle:
James: The True Standards
The nature of true religion (1:2-27)
The nature of true faith (2:1-3:12)
Avoidance of discrimination (vv.1-13)
Avoidance of inactive profession (vv.14-26)
Avoidance of boastful officiousness (3:1-12)
The nature of true wisdom (3:13-5:18)
Wisdom defined (3:13-18)
Wisdom in spiritual life (4:1-10)
legal relationships (4:11-12)
Wisdom in commercial plans (4:13-17)
Wisdom labour problems ( 5:1-6)
Wisdom in waiting for the Lord (5:7-11)
Wisdom in language (5:12)
Wisdom in affliction (5:13-18)
Conclusion: The purpose of wisdom, an effective testimony
An analysis of the epistle suggested by H.F.Vos:
The Christian under trial (1:1-18). Temptation is an
prove one's faith, and in the midst of it God will give wisdom to know
what to do. There is a reward for the overcomes. Temptation
evil is not of God.
The Christian is a doer of the Word and not a mere hearer
of it (1:19-27).
The Christian in relationship to others (2:1-13).
Avoid partiality; love your neighbour as yourself.
The Christian's faith is shown by their works
(2:14-26). This is the
heart of the epistle. Its message is that one who has experienced the
new birth will evidence it by good works.
The Christian and the use of the tongue (3:1-18).
The sinning Christian and victory over his sin
(4:1-5:6). Here the
author deals with a number of subjects relating to victorious
One need not expect answers to prayer when they are offered for the
mere purpose of self-advancement. Resist the devil. Beware of the
spirit of envy. Avoid the snare of riches.
The Christian and the return of Christ (5:7-10).
Miscellaneous instructions for the Christian
4. FAITH AND WORKS
Note the discussion of about faith and works in
Jam.2:14-26. Martin Luther called James 'an epistle of straw'
because it seemed to contradict the teaching of Romans and Galatians on
justification by faith. But note Tenney's comment:
"James is not really an attack on faith, but a protest against the
hypocrisy of pretending to have faith without demonstrating it in
works...James does not deny the necessity of faith. He insists that
faith must produce results. Like Paul, he took his illustration
from the life of Abraham, the founder of the Jewish race and the first
beneficiary of God's covenant relations with his people. Paul
cited this instance of Abraham's response to God's promise as proof
that salvation is by faith, not of works (Rom.4). James used
Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac to prove that faith must be manifested
through works in order to be real (Jam.2:21-24)". 
James, Paul and the Lord Jesus
The truths of justification by faith, and of works as the evidence of
faiths are supplementary, not contradictory. James counteracts
the idea that divine grace allows men to live as they please - like
Paul he is against antinomianism (see Rom.6:1-2). Paul relates
works to faith in Eph.2:8-10. The Lord Jesus taught, "By their fruit
you will recognise them" (Mt.7:20).
1. M.C.Tenney, p.265.
2. F.F.Bruce dates 1 Clement at A.D. 96.
3. Notice that the NT church was not perfect! 1 Corinthians is
another epistle that provides inside information about an immature
4. M.C.Tenney, p.264.
5. H.F.Vos, Beginnings in the New Testament, pp.95-96.
6. M.C.Tenney, p.267.