The Epistle of James

This little epistle is a masterpiece. It has a strong Jewish flavour, even referring to the Christian assembly (church) as a “synagogue” (2:12), which is the Greek word for congregation (Sunagwgh) that eventually became used exclusively for Jewish congregations.

James is a very practical epistle. It deals with controlling one’s tongue, the rich and proud, the need to show that our faith is real by our lives and works, etc.

Many Bible names were changed in their journey from Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and French into English. But none is more different from its original than James, which in Greek is IakoboV, taken from the Hebrew Yaakov (Jacob). The name Jacob (James) was very popular among the Jews, and there are four men so named in the New Testament:

  1. James the Apostle, son of Zebedee and brother of John (Matthew 4:21)
  2. James the son of Alpheus. He is almost unknown except that he is in the list of apostles. (Matthew 10:3)
  3. James the father of Judas, not Iscariot (Luke 6:16)
  4. James the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55 and Galatians 1:19)

This last James is the author of the epistle we are studying. He is well known yet modest. James is the man who presided at the Jerusalem Council and stayed in the city until his death. He was known as a very Jewish Christian,  extremely strict  in lifestyle.  Actually,  he is remembered by historians (i.e. Josephus) and church tradition as a Christian who would have written just such an epistle as James.

Josephus says that James was killed in 62 AD, so the letter must have been written before that. There are many resemblances to the book of Proverbs. Like Proverbs, the style is rugged, vivid, graphic, and difficult to outline. The word wisdom is used often. Another word used frequently is brethren. It occurs 15 times and reminds us that “James” is written to believers, even if at times he seems to address the unconverted, too.

In some ways, this letter of James is the most authoritarian in the New Testament. That is, James issues more institutions than any other writer. In the short space of 108 verses, there are 54 commands. There are two themes throughout the letter: persecution from the outside and problems on the inside. The believers were going through trials and James sought to encourage them. The believers were going through sins within the community and James sought to help them confess and forsake their sins. One of the key thoughts is perfection or spiritual maturity. These Christians needed to grow up in the Lord and their various trials would help to mature them if he would obey God.

Outline of James

  1. Salutation (1:1)
  2. Trials and Temptations (1:2-17)
  3. The Word of God  (1:18-27)
  4. Condemnation of Partiality (2:1-13)
  5. Faith and Works (2:14-26)
  6. The Tongue: Its Use and Abuse (3:1-12)
  7. Wisdom: The True and the False (3:13-18)
  8. Covetousness: Its Cause and Cure (4)
  9. The Rich and Their Coming Remorse (5:1-6)
  10. Exhortation to Patience (5:7-12)
  11. Prayer and the Healing of the Sick (5:13-20)