Background Setting for the Gospel of James
One of the largest revolts occurred in 66AD because of grain shortages and extreme corruption. The people rose up and attacked, and subsequently massacred the priests (many who were wicked and oppressed the poor) and a Roman garrison. Since this happened at the
James' Epistle was copied and dispatched to all the known Christian world as a handbook on how to endure persecution, model authentic faith, and be encouraged because Christ loves you! It was also a first century sermon resource to pastors!
Theme: Right belief equals right behaviors from a Christ-directed and faith- centered life. The theme is that the knowledge of what God puts in our hearts must transmit into our daily lives. The key verse is, "…faith without works is dead…" (James 2:14-20). The principle theme is, real, authentic faith will produce works to glorify our Lord. Faith, without any actions to prove it, is worthless and meaningless. Saved? Perhaps. But, what good are you-claiming to be a Christian and not doing anything with your faith!
James is more of a book of sayings that it is an epistle, (meaning, a letter) as it was not addressed or meant to a particular person or group, but it is also a practical discourse of wisdom literature focusing on moral exhortations, just like Proverbs. It is about personal responsibility by aligning one's beliefs to be right so that one's behaviors are right. James uses the Old Testament, especially Psalm 15, as his background, and his exhortations are almost like a commentary to it. James warns and encourages his readers that the sufferings they are experiencing are only the beginning, and it will get worse. But, when our faith is in who Christ is and His work in us, we will have the confidence and perseverance to not only get through our trials, but actually persevere so we will also learn and grow through them! As a result, we will be even better and more mature and then will be able to extol others for the faith. James then switches to practical, "hands on" Christian living-to control our attitudes and tongue, to be listeners, and to stay away from pride and sin. When we do such things, we will be better able to grow in the faith and model the Christian life to others.
James uses illustrations directly for the time and events the people were then facing; he draws from nature and Greek Philosophy. James' main assertions are our relationship of faith and life, and that we must make our Christian life real and meaningful; if not, it is worthless (-26). James speaks to both the rich and the poor (1:9-11; 2:1-9; 4:13-17), to persecutions (1:2-8; 2:6-7; 5:4-6), temptations (1: 2-4; 2:11; 4:2), handling our words (1:19-20,26; 3:1-12; 4:11-12; 5:9), how to seek wisdom (1:5; 3:14-18), developing our faith (1:6-8; 2:14-26), and enduring trials to benefit us (1:9-11; 5:7-11). James' writings were used by the early Church as sermon material, and often read in worship services and gatherings. James was a man who not only taught the way of his Lord, but also lived the life of sincerity with evangelical faith and righteous obedience, a model for us today! This Epistle's destination was for the use, in the church in
Authorship: Who was the author of this epistle? Who is this James? Most biblical scholars contend it is James the Son of Joseph-the half brother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ-who was fathered from Joseph and Mary, whereas Jesus, His humanity, was fathered from God and Mary. The Epistle does not give us the details of who James is; we have to research through the writings of the Early Church Fathers as well as archeology, Church tradition, and textual criticism. We know he was prominent and well known. The only prominent and well known James we know of from the above areas of research is James, the half brother of Jesus (Psalm 69:8; Matt. 13:55-56, Mark 6:3, Luke 24:10, John 7:5; Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:17-26; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:18-19; 2:9,12). There are four other Jameses in the New Testament, including the brother of John referred by the Early Church Fathers as James the Less (Matt. 4:21; 10:2; Mark 15:40). This was James, the son of Zebedee, who was the brother of John (Matt. -22). He was also a fisherman, and was a partner with Peter (Luke ). He and his brother John (the writer of the Gospel of John, three Epistles, and the Revelation-John 21:20-24), were called the Sons of Thunder, perhaps because of the "hot" temperament of their father, or of themselves, as supported in Luke 9: 52-54. This James was the first of the Apostles to be martyred in 44 A.D. (Acts 12:1-2). It is rumored that he preached in
James, the half brother of Jesus, was curious and yet skeptical of Jesus until His resurrection when he was convinced and then converted (Mark 6:3; John 7:5; 1 Cor. 15:5-7). It is assumed he was married (1 Cor. 9:5) and he was not among the original twelve or perhaps only followed occasionally (Matt. 10:1-4). He was probably there at Jesus' last days, helping prepare the Passover due to cultural customs, and was there at Pentecost (Matthew 26:17; Acts -14). The Early Church Fathers call him "James the Just," telling us of his extraordinary godliness, integrity, and righteousness. He had a repetition for zeal and prayer and was most known for his obedience. His nickname was "Camel Knees" because of his constant prayer and the calluses on his knees because of it. Remember, Jesus was his half brother; how many obedient younger half brothers have you met? Eusebius and Hegesippus tell us James was beaten to death with clubs and then thrown down the
Objections to James, the half brother of Jesus, as the author? The Epistle suggests a higher learning and grammatical structure that he may have had access to. James, the half brother of Jesus, was uneducated. But, is this true? I have no idea how the idea that the disciples were uneducated and illiterate men came about. In fact, the disciples had the equivalent of a college education, as they attended school and were able to read and write well. They did not have the further formal education that the Scribes and Pharisees had, which was equivalent to a Ph.D. of today. That is the reason the Pharisees looked down at them-because they did not have "their" education and title, and they were not under the care of another Rabbi (that they approved of)-not because they were uneducated (Mark 6:2-3; 11:27-28; John 7:14). But, modern research now suggests that Ezra indeed did set up schools and most of the population, as in ours today in the
The further proof of is that the Early Church Fathers credited it to him. Origen (185-253AD), Eusebius (265-340), and Jerome (340-420) all state, without a doubt, that James, the half brother of Jesus, wrote this epistle. Also, the textual criticism (examining the recorded speech pattern from the grammar and vocabulary in the writings of Acts -29) to the Epistle clearly shows author agreement.
Date: Most conservative scholars give the date at about 44 to 50 A.D. and 60 A.D. at the very latest; this is from the use of language and its colloquialisms, structure, describing of events prior to the destruction of the Temple as recorded in Acts 12, and before the events in Acts 15. James himself was martyred in 62 A.D. by the high priest Ananus II, of which Josephus and Eusebius record. The most logical date is 49 A.D., making this one of the first, if not the first New Testament writing. The
Destination: How James addresses the letter, and that the Gentiles are not mentioned, (as they come into the Church after 50 A.D.) are also strong indications for an early date (Acts 8:1). Thus, at this time, this letter was written to a church that was primarily Jewish, to the twelve tribes (1:1). Also, the mention of assembly or meeting in the Greek (2:2) refers to a synagogue. Furthermore, James uses the Hebrew term Lord Almighty or Lord of the Sabbath (5:4) meaning "Lord of Hosts." Thus, the letter was intended for the first Christians who were mostly, if not, all Jews. Fear not, if you are not a Jew, because the rest of us have been grafted in; thus, this letter is for you, too (Rom. -21)!
Canonicity: In contrast to Matthew, that was the darling of the Church without controversy or argument, James was the most contested Epistle of the New Testament, barely making it in the canon. This letter was not fully embraced by the
Theological Value: The lack of theological value does not take away from the importance, as James contains the application of theology. It is far more valuable to do what Jesus says than just believe and not do! Ironically, James does contain a lot of theological value apart from faith without works is dead. It has a good presence of the doctrines of God, as in His generosity, holiness, unchanging, goodness, sovereignty, justice, mercy, and His concern for us (1:5, 17; ; 3:9; ; ). James also gives us a Doctrine of Sin, its indwelling of all humanity, giving of death, its anger, it is filthy, it blasphemes, it is prejudiced, bitter, lustful, its universality, evil, pride, and its oppression (1:14-15, 20-21; 2:7, 9-11; 3:2; 4:1-4, 6; 5:4). Even though the Church was not formed yet, James gives a glimpse of Eschatology (end times)-the end of the Church; we will be rewarded, our hope is eternity, God's Kingdom is coming, Judgment will come, and Jesus will return (; 2:5, 12; 3:1; 5:7-8). Also, Jesus is called God (1:1; 2:1), we are regenerated (), salvation is from Christ alone (), faith that is real will show fruit (-26), justification is by faith alone (-25), and our sins will be forgiven (). James, indeed, is a book of theological value and eminence!
The great Reformer Martin Luther called this a "Strawy" Epistle (meaning made of feeble straw that does not hold up)," because he thought it contradicted the rest of the veracity of Scripture, especially of Paul and the Romans. However, with all due respect to one of the Reformation's great heroes, he got this one wrong. James does not contradict Paul; in fact, they complement and dovetail nicely into each other (
Genre: The type of literature is a Greek essay for exhortation called "Parenesis." It is literally a series of short exhortation sermons. James is a book of exhortation that is intended to persuade, incite, advise, counsel, and rebuke us while encouraging us to be responsible with our faith. James is calling Christians to take their faith seriously and not recklessly.
James is perhaps based as a commentary from Psalm 15, and incorporates Classic Jewish wisdom, some Greek stoic philosophy, Greek rhetorical insights (indicating his higher education level) and some of his Bothers teachings (Matthew chapters 5-7). It is possible these were sermons and writings (proverbs) from James that were collected and turned into this Epistle after his death, but this is speculation. It is more probable that this is a single, polished work from James to encourage and extol the
References and Resources used: 1. Richard J Krejcir. Into Thy Word. "Into Thy Word Bible Study Method." Writers Club Press. 2000. 2. The Works of Justin 3. The Works of Josephus 4. The Works Eusebius 5. The Works of Early Church Fathers 6. Ralph Martin. James. Word. 1988. 7. Peter Davids. The Epistle of James. Eerdmans. 1982. 8. Warren Wiersbe. With the Word. Oliver Nelson. 1991. 9. Halley's Bible Handbook. Regency. 1927. 10. New 11. Sturgeon's Devotional Bible. Baker Books. 1964. 12. Jerome H Smith, Ed. The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Thomas Nelson. 1992. 13. R.C. Sproul. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Tyndale. 1992. 14. Expositors Bible Commentary, Revelation. Zondervan. 1994. 15. Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The King Has Come. Revell. 1892. 16. Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. Inter Varsity Press. 1993. 17. Research at the Scholarly Archives at Fuller Theological Seminary in © 2004 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of "Into Thy Word Ministries," a missions and discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word, and is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in
References and Resources used:
1. Richard J Krejcir. Into Thy Word. "Into Thy Word Bible Study Method." Writers Club Press. 2000.
2. The Works of Justin
3. The Works of Josephus
4. The Works Eusebius
5. The Works of Early Church Fathers
6. Ralph Martin. James. Word. 1988.
7. Peter Davids. The Epistle of James. Eerdmans. 1982.
8. Warren Wiersbe. With the Word. Oliver Nelson. 1991.
9. Halley's Bible Handbook. Regency. 1927.
11. Sturgeon's Devotional Bible. Baker Books. 1964.
12. Jerome H Smith, Ed. The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Thomas Nelson. 1992.
13. R.C. Sproul. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Tyndale. 1992.
14. Expositors Bible Commentary, Revelation. Zondervan. 1994.
15. Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The King Has Come. Revell. 1892.
16. Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary. Inter Varsity Press. 1993.
17. Research at the Scholarly Archives at Fuller Theological Seminary in
© 2004 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of "Into Thy Word Ministries," a missions and discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word, and is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in