Written around 45-50 A.D., it is one of the "General Epistles" (along with 1 & 2 Peter, 3 John, Jude) because they were addressed to no specific group, but universally. James is addressed to "the 12 tribes who are dispersed abroad" (1:1)...a designation for believers everywhere (though probably they were still primarily Jewish believers at this time). It is generally accepted that it was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus...since it has authoritative overtones (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18) and he was a recognized leader in the early church. Another reason for his being accepted as the author is because of the similarities between this book and his speech at the Jerusalem Council (1:1 & Acts 15:23; 1:27 & Acts 15:14; 2:5 & Acts 15:13).
There are several key subject matters in James…faith and works (2:14-26), the use of the tongue (3:1-12), and prayer (5:13-16). But if careful a reading is made a common theme is woven throughout the entire book and inclusive of every theme…relationships. James is a book that instructs Jewish believers how they are to relate to each other. Evidently, while there was intense persecution against these believers from without…there were also intense struggles taking place among them. The very first verses speak of “trials” (1:12) and being “tempted” (1:13-15). If we simply take these verses out of context we might assume that they speak of persecution from without. However, if we continue reading we find that they flow very naturally into the theme of the rest of the entire letter…relationships. These trials and temptations were not the result of their experiencing persecution from unbelievers…but were the result of the struggle that they were having getting along with each other.
With that thought in mind the book of James could be outlined in the following manner…
1:2-18-The Presence of Trials…the struggle of relationships
1:19-28-The Power of the Word…the guide for relationships
2:1-13-The Law of Love…the foundation of relationships
2:14-26-The Work of Faith…the proof of relationships
3:1-12-The Control of the Tongue…the discipline of relationships
3:13-18-The Behavior of Wisdom…the understanding of relationships
4:1-17-The Lust for Pleasure…the danger to relationships
5:1-6-The Deception of Wealth…the destroyer of relationships
5:7-20-The Practices of Caring…the bond of relationships
- Author of the Epistle.
The address of the epistle states that the writer is "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Jas 1:1). The tradition of the church has identified this James with the brother of our Lord. Clement of Alexandria says that Peter and James and John, who were the three apostles most honored of the Lord, chose James, the Lord's brother, to be the bishop of Jerusalem after the Lord's ascension (Euscb., HE, II, 1). This tradition agrees well with all the notices of James in the New Testament books. After the death of James the brother of John, Peter was thrown into prison, and having been miraculously released, he asked that the news be sent to James and to the brethren (Ac 12:17). This James is evidently in authority in the church at this time. In the apostolical conference held at Jerusalem, after Peter and Paul and Barnabas had spoken, this same James sums up the whole discussion, and his decision is adopted by the assembly and formulated in a letter which has some very striking parallels in its phraseology to this epistle (Ac 15:6-29). When Paul came to Jerusalem for the last time he reported his work to James and all the elders present with him (Ac 21:18). In the Epistle to the Galatians Paul says that at the time of one of his visits to Jerusalem he saw none of the apostles save Peter and James the Lord's brother (Ga 1:18,19). At another visit he received the right hand of fellowship from James and Cephas and John (Ga 2:9). At a later time certain who came from James to Antioch led Peter into backsliding from his former position of tolerance of the Gentiles as equals in the Christian church (Ga 2:12).
All of these references would lead us to suppose that James stood in a position of supreme authority in the mother-church at Jerusalem, the oldest church of Christendom. He presides in the assemblies of the church. He speaks the final and authoritative word. Peter and Paul defer to him. Paul mentions his name before that of Peter and John. When he was exalted to this leadership we do not know, but all indications seem to point to the fact that at a very early period James was the recognized executive authority in the church at Jerusalem, which was the church of Pentecost and the church of the apostles. All Jews looked to Jerusalem as the chief seat of their worship and the central authority of their religion. All Christian Jews would look to Jerusalem as the primitive source of their organization and faith, and the head of the church at Jerusalem would be recognized by them as their chief authority. The authoritative tone of this epistle comports well with this position of primacy ascribed to James.
All tradition agrees in describing James as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a man of the most rigid and ascetic morality, faithful in his observance of all the ritual regulations of the Jewish faith. Hegesippus tells us that he was holy from his mother's womb. He drank no wine nor strong drink. He ate no flesh. He alone was permitted to enter with the priests into the holy place, and he was found there frequently upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, and his knees became hard like those of a camel in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God and asking forgiveness for the people (Euseb., HE, II, 23). He was called James the Just. All had confidence in his sincerity and integrity, and many were persuaded by him to believe on the Christ. This Jew, faithful in the observance of all that the Jews held sacred, and more devoted to the temple-worship than the most pious among them, was a good choice for the head of the Christian church. The blood of David flowed in his veins. He had all the Jew's pride in the special privileges of the chosen race. The Jews respected him and the Christians revered him. No man among them commanded the esteem of the entire population as much as he.
Josephus (Ant., XX, ix) tells us that Ananus the high priest had James stoned to death, and that the most equitable of the citizens immediately rose in revolt against such a lawless procedure, and Ananus was deposed after only three months' rule. This testimony of Josephus simply substantiates all that we know from other sources concerning the high standing of James in the whole community. Hegesippus says that James was first thrown from a pinnacle of the temple, and then they stoned him because he was not killed by the fall, and he was finally beaten over the head with a fuller's club; and then he adds significantly, "Immediately Vespasian besieged them" (Euscb., HE, II, 23). There would seem to have been quite a widespread conviction among both the Christians and the Jews that the afflictions which fell upon the holy city and the chosen people in the following years were in part a visitation because of the great crime of the murder of this just man. We can understand how a man with this reputation and character would write an epistle so Jewish in form and substance and so insistent in its demands for a practical morality as is the Epistle of James. All the characteristics of the epistle seem explicable on the supposition of authorship by James the brother of the Lord. We accept the church tradition without hesitation.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,
(1.) Author of, was James the Less, the Lord's brother, one of the twelve apostles. He was one of the three pillars of the Church (Gal 2:9).
(2.) It was addressed to the Jews of the dispersion, "the twelve tribes scattered abroad."
(3.) The place and time of the writing of the epistle were Jerusalem, where James was residing, and, from internal evidence, the period between Paul's two imprisonments at Rome, probably about A.D. 62.
(4.) The object of the writer was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian life. "The Jewish vices against which he warns them are, formalism, which made the service of God consist in washings and outward ceremonies, whereas he reminds them (Jam 1:27) that it consists rather in active love and purity; fanaticism, which, under the cloak of religious zeal, was tearing Jerusalem in pieces (Jam 1:20); fatalism, which threw its sins on God (Jam 1:13); meanness, which crouched before the rich (Jam 2:2); falsehood, which had made words and oaths play-things (Jam 3:2-12); partisanship (Jam 3:14); evil speaking (Jam 4:11); boasting (Jam 4:16); oppression (Jam 5:4). The great lesson which he teaches them as Christians is patience, patience in trial (Jam 1:2), patience in good works (Jam 1:22-25), patience under provocation (Jam 3:17), patience under oppression (Jam 5:7), patience under persecution (Jam 5:10); and the ground of their patience is that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, which is to right all wrong (Jam 5:8)."
"Justification by works," which James contends for, is justification before man, the justification of our profession of faith by a consistent life. Paul contends for the doctrine of "justification by faith;" but that is justification before God, a being regarded and accepted as just by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, which is received by faith.
Eaton’s Bible Dictionary,
In the 108 verses of the epistle there are references from 22 books of the Old Testament and at least 15 allusions to the teachings of Christ as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount.
Ryrie Study Bible, Introduction to the Letter of James, Contents, p. 1856
The letter of James is addressed broadly to Jewish believers who were dispersed everywhere.
James 1:2-18-The Presence of Trials…is the struggle of relationships
The Purpose for Encountering Trials (1:2-4)
We are told to "consider" (we are to control how we think about something) it "all" (pure, completely…not just some, or a little) “joy” when we encounter trials “knowing” (we know this because God tells us so) that when our faith is tested it provides an opportunity for it to be strengthened in “endurance”.
primarily, "to lead the way;" hence, "to lead before the mind, account," is found with this meaning in Phl 2:3, RV (AV, "esteem"); Phl 2:6, RV (AV, "thought"); Phl 2:25 (AV, "supposed"); Phl 3:7, 8; 2Th 3:15; 1Ti 1:12; 6:1; Hbr 10:29; Jam 1:2; Hbr 11:11 (AV, "judged"); 2Pe 2:13; 3:9.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
radically means "all." Used without the article it means "every," every kind or variety. So the RV marg. in Eph 2:21, "every building," and the text in Eph 3:15, "every family," and the RV marg. of Act 2:36, "every house;" or it may signify "the highest degree," the maximum of what is referred to, as, "with all boldness" Act 4:29. Before proper names of countries, cities and nations, and before collective terms, like "Israel," it signifies either "all" or "the whole," e.g., Mat 2:3; Act 2:36. Used with the article, it means the whole of one object. In the plural it signifies "the totality of the persons or things referred to." Used without a noun it virtually becomes a pronoun, meaning "everyone" or "anyone." In the plural with a noun it means "all." One form of the neuter plural (panta) signifies "wholly, together, in all ways, in all things," Act 20:35; 1Cr 9:25. The neuter plural without the article signifies "all things severally," e.g., Jhn 1:3; 1Cr 2:10; preceded by the article it denotes "all things," as constituting a whole, e.g., Rom 11:36; 1Cr 8:6; Eph 3:9.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
Patience, Patient, Patiently:
lit., "an abiding under" (hupo, "under," meno, "to abide"), is almost invariably rendered "patience." "Patience, which grows only in trial, Jam 1:3, may be passive, i.e., == "endurance," as,
(c) under chastisement, which is trial viewed as coming from the hand of God our Father, Hbr 12:7;
(d) under undeserved affliction, 1Pe 2:20; or active, i.e. == "persistence, perseverance," as
(e) in well doing, Rom 2:7 (AV, "patient continuance");
(f) in fruit bearing, Luk 8:15;
(g) in running the appointed race, Hbr 12:1.
"Patience perfects Christian character, Jam 1:4, and fellowship in the patience of Christ is therefore the condition upon which believers are to be admitted to reign with Him, 2Ti 2:12; Rev 1:9. For this patience believers are 'strengthened with all power,' Col 1:11, 'through His Spirit in the inward man,' Eph 3:16.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
And when that happens, we become "perfect" ("teleios"-full grown, mature, what I am supposed to be) and "complete" (a compound word: "holo"-complete and "kloros"-parts...complete in all parts, nothing missing).
What is the purpose of trials? God uses them as a tool to strengthen our faith. Like a body builder uses weights to strengthen his muscles. It is only when the muscle (faith) is placed under a strain that it will develop and become stronger.
The Wisdom for Understanding Trials (1:5-8)
But even with this understanding of the general purpose of trials, if you don't comprehend why something is happening, there is nothing wrong with asking God. However, if you ask, you must be ready to accept God's answer. Otherwise, it does you no good. If you are not willing to do this then don't expect to receive anything from God...He cannot trust you because you are double-minded...saying this, then that.
The Universal Nature of Trials (1:9-11)
This is true whether you are rich, or poor. Both will go through trials and both must respond the same way. The man who responds to trials in this manner will be blessed...he will be "approved" by God and will receive the crown of life, eternal life.
The Reward for Enduring Trials (1:12)
In the ancient world there was no banking system as we know it today, and no paper money. All money was made from metal, heated until liquid, poured into moulds and allowed to cool. When the coins were cooled, it was necessary to smooth off the uneven edges. The coins were comparatively soft, and of course many people shaved them closely. In one century, more than eighty laws were passed in Athens to stop the practice of whittling down the coins then in circulation. But some money-changers were men of integrity, who would accept no counterfeit money; they were men of honour who put only genuine, full-weight money into circulation. Such men were called dokimos, and this word is used here for the Christian as he is to be seen by the world.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: God's Glory, p. 18,
Lust is the source of Temptation (1:13-15)
God may lead us into a time or experience of trial (as He did Jesus, Matthew 4:1-11)…but temptations do not come from God. They are the result of our allowing our lusts to control us when confronted with a trial, instead of trusting God’s control. The trial then becomes a temptation. But God even uses these negative things to produce positive growth in our lives. Notice that there is an order...trial, lust, temptation, sin, death. At any place in the order we could stop the process. And at that point we will have received the benefit of spiritual growth. However, how common it is for us to allow a trial to proceed to being a lust, to being a temptation, etc.
God is the source of all Good Things (1:16-18)
James doesn’t want us to be confused about the source of temptation so he says, “Do not be deceived”…meaning to not be confused about it. Then he makes sure that we understand that everything that comes from God…even trials…are good. They are good because when we respond to them with faith in God we grow spiritually. The problems begin when we “lust”…desire to respond to the trial in our own manner, or in our own strength…and it becomes a temptation for us.
1:19-28-The Power of the Word…is the guide for relationships
Take Responsibility for Your Words (1:19-20)
James says that they already know these things...but that they should be willing to hear it again (“in humility receive”), and to put it into practice. They are to take responsibility for their words…how they respond to trials.
God’s Word is What Saves Us (1:21)
It is the “word implanted”…taken to heart and applied…that is able to keep us from the negative consequences of trials.
Be a Doer of the Word (1:22)
It is those who do these things, not merely say that they believe them that are truly being faithful.
The Word Provides an Objective View of Ourselves (1:23-24)
We must continually study the Word (the Bible). It will give us a true, objective evaluation of the status of our soul. When we don’t read the Bible regularly…we tend to not recognize what is happening spiritually, or to deceive ourselves into believing that we are doing better than we really are.
The Word is a source of blessing (1:25)
When we live according to the Word of God we will be blessed.
The Word is a source of self-discipline (1:26)
Religion (professed faith in God) that does not have an affect on how a man lives and relates to other people…is of no value.
The Word is a guide for ethical behavior (1:27)
When a man truly believes in God and faithfully follows the Word it will result in a change in his attitude and behavior towards other people. His desire will be to help others, to care for others…even those who can offer no benefit to him. And, he will desire to be holy…not caught up in the sinful matters of the world.
Prayer: Lord, please help me to be approved by You. Keep me totally, 100% faithful, a man of integrity. Don't let me be a counterfeit, and cheat around the edges.