Author

The author identifies himself as James (1:1). This was probably James, the Lord’s brother (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3; Gal 1:19; 1Cor 15:7), a leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Gal 2:9).

Recipient

The epistle is addressed to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” This means that the recipients were Jewish Christians in the Dispersion, although the expression “twelve tribes” could also refer to spiritual Israel—all the believers in Christ, including Jews and Gentile. The content of the epistle seems to favor the view that the readers were Jewish Christians. Examples of this include the reference to “synagogue” (2:2) and the use of the Hebrew title for God, “Lord of Sabbath” (“Lord Almighty”; 5:4). Because the epistle is written to a general audience rather than a specific person or congregation, it is classified as one of the Catholic Epistles, along with the epistles of Peter, John, and Jude (“Catholic” means “universal”).

Date

Uncertain. Probably A.D.45-50 or the early sixties.

Purpose/Occasion

The Christians of that period were under various trials (1:2)—possibly persecution. James wrote to the believers to encourage them to rejoice and be patient. In terms of their personal conduct and fellowship among one another, some believers failed to live in a manner that reflects their professed faith in Christ. Thus, the epistle addresses problems such as misleading views on faith and sin, superficiality, favoritism, and strife, and calls believers to a righteous, holy living.

Unique Characteristics

1. Similarity to the book of Proverbs, with emphasis on conduct.
2. Simple, straightforward sentences that recall the Lord’s teachings, in particular the Sermon on the Mount.
3. Predominance of commands (59 imperatives out of 108 verses).
4. Frequent use of picture words and analogies in a way similar to OT writings. E.g. wave of the sea (1:6); flower of the field (1:10-11); mirror (1:23); bits, rudder, fire, poison, spring, fig tree (3:3-12); vapor (4:14); farmer (5:7).

Central Verse

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (2:26).

Survey

James does not have a clearly discernible structure. But try to identify groups of paragraphs that share common subjects as you write down paragraph titles in chart A, found at the end of this lesson.

Themes

Faith and Works

The central teaching of James is that faith needs to be put into action (2:17-20). Only the faith that is accompanied by works can justify and save (2:14, 21-26). Faith is demonstrated through patience (1:2-4; 5:8-11), prayer (1:6; 5:15), impartiality (2:1), love (1:27; 2:15,16), humility (4:6-16), refraining from indulgence (4:3,4; 5:1-6), and doing good deeds (4:17).

Consistency in Action

As people of faith, Christians ought to be consistent in their conducts. Not only should we hear the word, we should be doers of the word (1:22-25). Our actions towards the poor should be the same as our actions towards the rich (2:1-4). We must not use the mouth that praises God to curse men, who are created in God’s image (3:9-12). We cannot love God and covet the pleasures of this world (4:1-5). We must be truthful and let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No,” “No.” (5:12).

Law and Judgment

James teaches us that God’s law is the measure of all our conducts. If we persistently abide by the “law of liberty” and carry it out, we will be blessed in what we do (1:25). As we live according to the law of God, we need to keep it in its entirety. If we claim to love our neighbors but show partiality, we are convicted by the law as transgressors. Anyone who stumbles in one point is guilty of all (2:8-11). Since we will all have to give an account, we must speak and act as those who will be judged by the law (2:12). If we fulfill the law by being merciful to one another, we will also be shown mercy at the judgment (2:13). James also reminds us not to judge our brothers because in so doing we are judging the law (4:11). Rather than take judgment upon ourselves, we need to let God the Lawgiver be the ultimate judge (4:12).

Sin

To lead a righteous life, believers need to be aware of the seriousness of sin and how to deal with sin. James teaches us that sin comes from evil desires and its consequence is death (1:13-15). We become sinners when we transgress against the law of God (2:9). In fact, if we know to do good but do not do it, we have sinned (4:17). In order to lead a life free from sin, we should receive the implanted word, which is able to save our souls, and live by the law of liberty (1:17-25). We need to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts (4:8). As a community, it is our responsibility to help one another overcome sin. This is done through intercession and confession of trespasses to one another (5:15,16). When we see someone wander from the truth, it is our duty to turn him back in order to save his soul and cover a multitude of sins (5:19,20).

Riches

The epistle consistently warns us of the pursuit of riches. Just as the grass withers and its flower falls, the rich man will fade away in his pursuits (1:9-11). It is not the rich that God favors, but He has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him (2:5). Therefore, we ought not despise the poor and exalt the rich (2:1-4). We must not indulge in luxurious living, for those who store up riches for themselves in the last days, especially those who treat the poor unfairly, are storing up wrath for themselves (5:1-6). Instead of boasting about our earthly ambitions, we ought to humbly depend on the Lord’s will in our day-to-day living (4:13-16).

The Coming of the Lord

Eschatology is a theological theme in this epistle, although it is sometimes implicit in the text. James speaks of receiving the crown of life when a believer has been approved after enduring temptation (1:12). The future judgment is another indirect reference to the coming of the Lord (2:12; 3:1). If we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He will lift us up (4:10). Heaping up of treasures is considered an evil, especially in view that we are in the last days (5:3). James also teaches patience based on the expectation of the Lord’s immediate return (5:7-8). Believers should not grumble against one another, knowing the Judge is standing at the door (5:9).

Map & Chart

[insert Chart A Survey of James]