Book of James
of James was probably the first book written in the New Testament. While there
are four men called James in the New Testament, with two of them being
apostles, Christian tradition says that Jesus' half-brother named James wrote
this book because he was a prominent figure in the church at Jerusalem around
A.D. 44 until he was martyred around A.D. 62. Some date this writing as early
as A.D. 44 – 47, while others date it as late as A.D. 60. Some consider his
letter the most Jewish letter in the New Testament.
of James was written to the Jewish Christians that were scattered abroad as the
first verse says:
James 1:1 … To the
twelve tribes which are scattered abroad:
this Book "The Proverbs of the New Testament." The reason it is
viewed this way is because James moves from one point to the next and it expresses
a lot of wisdom just as the Book of Proverbs does. It also promotes living a Christian life by
being a doer of God's Word, instead of just a hearer (Jam. 1:22). James teaches
that we show our faith by our works (Jam. 2). Some think that James and the
writings of Paul contradict one another because Paul said:
Galatians 2:16 … a man
is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ
In fact, Martin Luther called
James' letter "a right strawy epistle." However, he did include James
in his translation into the German language, but he stuck the letter in the
appendix because he didn't like that it emphasized good works and considered it
contradictory to Paul's teachings. He also had Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation in
that appendix as books that were considered disputable.
What people fail to understand is that Paul is saying that
we are not justified by the works of the Law of Moses, and we cannot work our
way into heaven. Paul never taught that we are justified by faith alone.
Instead, he teaches that we must have an obedient faith and work out our own
salvation (Phi. 2:12). Paul mentions the need for an obedient working faith in
many other passages as well:
"but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout
all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should
repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.
Ephesians 2:10 For
we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God
prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Romans 1:5 Through
Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all
nations for His name,
Romans 6:17 But God be thanked that though you
were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to
which you were delivered.
Romans 16:26 but now made manifest, and by the
prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of
the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith—
So, James' message is in perfect harmony with Paul's
message. Paul speaks of the faith that works, and James talks about the works
of faith. As James states:
James 2:20 But do you want to know, O foolish man,
that faith without works is dead?
The name Jesus is only mentioned
twice, and the Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all. The word church is only
mentioned once. He cites the Old Testament directly three times:
2:8 "You shall love your neighbor
as yourself," (Lev. 19:18).
James 2:23 "Abraham
believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Gen.
3. James 4:6 "God resists the proud, But gives
grace to the humble." (Prov. 3:34).
Of course, he alludes to the Old Testament many
times throughout his letter and uses several Old Testament characters such as Abraham,
Isaac, Rahab, Job, and Elijah. Though his letter refers to and quotes the Old
Testament, it also presents ideas from a Christian point of view. Some of the
points sound similar to those found in the Sermon on
the Mount, and there are also several parallels between James and 1 Peter.
Let's take a quick look at what you will find is this letter:
show that one cannot merely claim to be a Christian and be pleasing to God
because we must be active Christians who are doers of God's Word.
three keywords: Faith (12 times); Works (13 times); Doer (5 times).
phrase is to be doers of the word (Jam. 1:22), and the key chapter is chapter
The overall theme is about how a
person's faith will be proven through good works that he maintains throughout his life as
opposed to one who just claims to be a faithful Christian. I can see three main
themes that are dealt with, which are the uncertainty of wealth, the sins of
the tongue, and the necessity of works.
The key verses in each chapter are as follows:
James 1:2 My
brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3
knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and
complete, lacking nothing.
2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has
faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and
destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and
filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the
body, what does it profit?
17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not
have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show
me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
James 3:1 My
brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a
stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word,
he is a perfect man, able
also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn
their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce
winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and
boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
James 4:1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and
covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do
not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it
on your pleasures.
5:19 Brethren, if anyone among you
wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from
the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
James 1 Your faith will be tested, and the anatomy of sin is given.
James 2 We should be swift to hear and slow to speak. God shows no
and neither should we. Faith without works is dead.
James 3 The dangers of the uncontrolled tongue. The difference
between the wisdom of man and God.
James 4 Warnings against worldliness and making unjust judgments of
brethren. We must draw near to God.
James 5 We are blessed through patience, prayer, and love. Warnings are given
to the rich.
Examining the men called James in the Bible
The word "James" comes from the Greek word Iakobos and is used 42 times in the New
Testament. Out of these 42 times, there
are four different men named James. Let's begin with
the most obscure James.
Our first man, called James, is
referred to as Judas' father (not Iscariot).
Luke 6:16 Judas the son
of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor. (Acts 1:13 KJV says James is Judas' brother, but all the other prominent version say father). This is all we really know about this man.
Our second man, called James, is
referred to as the son of Alphaeus.
Matthew 10:3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and
Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; (Lk. 6:15; Acts 1:13).
He is also called the son of
Matthew 27:56 among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary
the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of
Zebedee's sons. (15:40;
Mk. 16:1; Lk. 24:10).
This man was one of the apostles and was called James the less (Mk.
John 19:25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother,
and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary Magdalene.
Some scholars believe that the
word "Clopas" is another name for
Alphaeus. If this is the case, then this
would mean they are indeed husband and wife, and James the less is their son.
If these are two different men, it doesn't really
matter in the overall scheme of things.
In either case, we know very little about this James.
Some sources say that this James preached in
Palestine and Egypt. According to tradition, he was thrown down from the temple by the
opposing Jews, stoned, and then beat with a club. Whether this is true, we will
never know for sure.
Our third James, who is also an
apostle, is referred to as the son of Zebedee and is usually mentioned with
John his brother.
Matthew 4:21 Going on from there, He saw two other
brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat
with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. (Mt. 10:2, 17:1; Mk. 1:19, 29, 3:17, 5:37, 9:2, 10:35, 41, 13:3, 14:33, Lk:
5:10, 6:14, 8:51, 9:28,54; Acts 1:13). We
also learn from these passages that James, John, and Peter went along with
Jesus by themselves and were privileged to witness many amazing things. His mother was named Salome which you can
surmise by comparing Mt. 27:56 to Mk. 15:40 and 16:1.
among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.
Mark 15:40 There
were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the
mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome,
Mark 16:1 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.
What you will notice from these
three verses is that they refer to the same time period, and they mention these
three women being together. Mark's accounts name them as Mary Magdalene, Mary,
the mother of James the Less, and Salome. However, Matthew's account names the
first two women and identifies the third woman as the mother of Zebedee's sons,
which is Salome.
This James was the first apostle
to be martyred under the direction of King Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1-2).
James was killed by the sword, most likely by decapitation around A.D. 44.
Our fourth man, named James was
the half-brother of Jesus.
Matthew 13:55 "Is this not the carpenter's
son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses,
Simon, and Judas? (Mk. 6:3).
At first, none of Jesus'
brothers believed in him.
John 7:5 For even His brothers did not believe in
But after Jesus was raised from
the dead and had ascended to heaven, his brothers became believers. We learn that they were gathered
together with their mother, the apostles, and the other disciples in
prayer and supplication.
Acts 1:13 And when
they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying:
Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew;
James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of
14 These all continued with one
accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus,
and with His brothers.
Paul states that James saw Jesus
after He was resurrected from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:7
After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
Paul also says he saw James in
Jerusalem when he went to see Peter.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter,
and remained with him fifteen days.
19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the
Paul informs us that James was
1 Corinthians 9:5
Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other
apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
Now that we have examined these
four men that are called James, we need to turn our attention to some passages
in Acts and Galatians that refer to James.
I believe logic will show us that the James being referred to in these
passages are all talking about Jesus' half-brother. In Acts 15, certain Jews began to say that
the gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved, and Paul disagreed.
So, they were sent to Jerusalem to bring the matter before the apostles and
elders of the church. When they arrive,
Peter speaks out first, then a second man named James speaks in verses 13 –
Since James is making decisions
and judgments, we can conclude he is either an apostle or one of the elders of
that church. I believe that James was an elder and was speaking for the
eldership just as Peter was speaking for the apostles. Those who have examined James' speech and
vocabulary see many similarities in the book of James, and they conclude this
implies that the author of James and the James in Acts 15 are one in the same.
We also have this event recorded in Galatians 2:1-10. In verse 9, we see James, John, and Cephas
(Peter) were considered as pillars of the church. Also, in Acts 12:17, after Peter had escaped
prison and made his way into Mary's house, he asked them to let James and the
brethren know that he had escaped from prison. Logically, this would be the
same James in all these passages because they were in Jerusalem, and James is
singled out, which implies that he played a prominent role in the church (See
also Acts 21:18).
We can logically narrow down
which of the four men named James are most likely being referred to in these
verses. First, we can eliminate Judas' father. Second, we can eliminate James,
the son of Zebedee, considering he was killed (Acts 12:2) before any of these
events happened. We can also eliminate
James the son of Alphaeus and Mary because every time he is mentioned in the
gospels, he is always referred to as the son of Alphaeus or the son of Mary. There
was always a distinction made so that no one was confused about which apostle named
James was being talked about. Not to mention the fact that we only see this
James mentioned in the gospels. The half-brother of Jesus fits the time frame
perfectly, and the early writers such as Josephus and the words of Hegesippus, as recorded by Eusebius, confirms that Jesus
half-brother was a man who stood out in the community and was martyred for
proclaiming Jesus as the son of God.
Josephus writes: Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned (Book 20, Chapter 9).
Eusebius writes: Hegesippus, who belongs to the generation after the apostles, gives the most accurate account of him…. [James] was called the 'Just' by all men from the Lord's time to ours, since … he was holy from his mother's womb… He used to enter alone into the temple and [would] be found kneeling and praying for forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel's because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people… So the Scribes and Pharisees… made James stand on the Battlement of the temple… And [James] answered…, 'Why do you ask me concerning the Son of Man?'…. So they went up and threw down the Just, and they said to one another, 'Let us stone James the Just,' and the began to stone him since the fall had not killed him, but he turned and knelt saying, 'I beseech thee, O Lord, God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23).
All these things strongly imply
that James, the half-brother of Jesus, is the man being spoken of in these
passages. He also fits perfectly as
being the author of James. Finally, the
book of Jude, ascribed to Jesus' other half-brother Jude, says, "Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James ..." (Jude 1:1). It's almost like Jude is using his
brother's name for validation. Once
again, the best man that would fit this description is Jesus half-brother.
In conclusion, James is one of
the most practical and needed letters for every generation of Christians. He denounces
social injustice and worldliness. His goal for Christians is to remain faithful
to God and never lose sight of heaven. There is so much wisdom for us to gain
throughout this letter. There is so much more I could say about this beautiful
letter by James in this introduction, but let's begin
to dig into the text itself in our next lesson.