Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation - Lesson 26

James (Part 2)

James discusses the roles of faith and works in a believers life and the importance of prayer.

Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
Lesson 26
Watching Now
James (Part 2)

I. James – Faith Without Works is Dead

A. The Setting of James

1. Author is Jesus' half-brother and key early church leader

2. Probably the earliest New Testament document, not consciously using Paul's language

3. Addressed to largely poor, Jewish-Christian congregations in Syria or Palestine, ironically discriminating in favor of the rich

4. Oppressed by rich absentee landlords, causing internal squabbling

B. Catchwords in James 1:2-7

1. Trials/testing (vv. 2, 3)

2. Perseverance (vv. 3, 4)

3. Not lacking/lacking (vv. 4, 5)

4. Ask (vv. 5, 6)

5. Doubt (vv. 6, 7)

C. A Chiastic Outline of James

1. Intro (1:1)

2. 3 Key themes: statement 1

a. Trials (1:2-4)

b. Wisdom (1:5-8)

c. Riches/poverty (1:9-11)

3. 3 Key themes: statement 2

a. Temptation (1:12-18)

b. Speech (1:19-26)

c. The dispossessed (1:27)

4. Expansion of theme (a)

5. Expansion of theme (1)

6. Expansion of theme i)

7. Conclusion (5:19-20)

D. Key Exegetical Issues in James 1-2

1. 1:2: How can I be joyful in trials?

2. 1:5-6: Is this a blank check, if I have enough faith?

3. 1:9-11, 2:1-4, 4:13-17, 5:1-6: Are any of the rich Christian?

4. 1:13: Christ's temptation, the Lord's Prayer, and the devil's role

5. 1:25: The perfect law of liberty

6. 1:27: Social ethics and holy separation in balance

7. 2:5: What is God's preferential option for the poor?

E. James on Faith and Works (2:14-26)

1. Faith

a. James – Jewish

b. Paul – Christian

2. Works

a. James – Christian

b. Paul – Jewish

F. Key Exegetical Issues in James 3-4

1. 3:1: Not condemnation, but accountability

2. 3:13: Competence, content and character!

3. 4:4: As the thesis of the letter

4. 4:13-17: planning and the Lord's will

G. James on Prayer

1. God's will

a. Unconditional

i. We pray [+]

ii. We don't pray [+]

b. Conditional

i. We pray [+]

ii. We don't pray [–]

2. Not God's will

a. We pray [–]

b. We don't pray [–]

H. James' "Militant Patience" (5:10-11)

1. Militance: Zealots – revolutionary violence

2. Militant Patience

a. Old Testament prophets – Prophetic option

b. Jesus – Denunciatory rhetoric

c. James – Prayer as "rebelling against the status quo"

3. Patience: Essenes – Passivist, Monasticism

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.


  • Correlation of the accounts in Galatians and Acts on Paul's trip to Jerusalem. 

  • Galatians as a model of apologetics supporting Christianity.

  • Comparing faith and works in Judaism and Christianity. 

  • Paul faced persecution when he preached in Thessalonica. The return of Christ is a central theme in the letters to the Thessalonians.

  • One aspect of the subject of biblical eschatology is the timing and nature of the tribulation. 

  • Paul addresses the extremes of asceticism and hedonism, as well as concerns regarding marriage, spiritiual gifts and the resurrection.

  • Divisions in the Corinthian church were caused by both theology and lifestyle.

  • Whether or not believers should eat food that had been offered to idols was an issue in the Corinthian church. The importance and role of spiritual gifts was a major topic of discussion.

  • Paul updates the people in the church in Corinth about his travels. He also follows up on relationships and defends his apostolic ministry.

  • Paul responds to specific situations in the Corinthian church including emphasizing a correct perspective on giving and encouragement to see God's redemptive purpose in our suffering.

  • Knowing the key places as backgrounds for Romans, the timeline and the outline of the book are helpful to understanding the context and message.

  • Paul wrote Romans as a systematic exposition of the gospel.


  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the deity of Christ. Philemon was written to a gentlema Paul knows to encourage him to welcome back Onesimus, his runaway slave, who became a disciple of Christ and was returning.

  • Paul addresses how to live in different roles: husbands and wives, masters and slaves, elders and others in the church.

  • Paul describes the blessings of salvation and encourages believers to live in unity that transcends cultural and racial barriers. 

  • Paul describes to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, who they are in Christ, and the ethical implications for how they should live their daily lives.

  • Paul contrasts the condescention and the exaltation of Christ, and addresses specific situations in the Philippian church.

  • Paul writes to encourage and instruct Timothy and Titus, both of whom are young pastors. It is important for Titus to identify and train elders and deal effectively with factious people. 

  • Paul instructs Timothy about how to pastor a church and turn it away from heresy.

  • Both 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians contain key passages addressing the roles of men and women in the local church. Some of them address conduct when gathering for corporate worship.

  • 1 Timothy 2:11-15 gives some direction for gender roles in a worship service.

  • Key themes and catchwords in James include trials, wisdom, temptation, speech, doubt and perseverance.

  • James discusses the roles of faith and works in a believers life and the importance of prayer.

  • A prominent theme in Hebrews chapters 1-5 is the superiority of Christ to the angels and to Moses.

  • Hebrews 6:4-8 is a key warning passage. Christ's priesthood is superior to both the Levitical priesthood and also to Melchizedek. Chapter 11 remembers the heroes of the faith.

  • A major theme of 1 Peter is perseverance despite persecution.

  • The outline of 1 Peter has similarities to other letters of the first century that emphasize a high view of Christology.

  • Jude and 2 Peter both emphasize refuting false teachers.

  • In his epistles, John emphasizes themes that refute gnostic doctrines. He outlines the tests of life as keeping God’s commandments, loving one another and believing in Jesus as the God-man.

  • As you study and preach from the epistles of John, note the passages that Dr. Blomberg describes as, “gems from John.”

  • Revelation was written by the apostle John in the late first century using apocalyptic, prophetic and epistolary genres. A possible structure by time line would be the past (chapter 1), the present (chapters 2-5) and the future (chapters 6-22). 

  • In addition to the framework of eschatology, Revelation chapters 1-6 develops themes of Christology including a description of Jesus as the lion who is a lamb, as well as the spiritual condition of some of the churches in the first century. 

  • In both of the possible scenarios for the tribulation, believers are exempt from God’s wrath but they are not exempt from Satan’s attacks.

  • Revelation chapters 12-22 cover themes of salvation and judgment of nations, Armageddon, the millennium and the new heavens and new earth.

Using the English New Testament, this course surveys the New Testament epistles and the apocalypse. Issues of introduction and content receive emphasis as well as a continual focus on the theology of evangelism and on the contemporary relevance of the variety of issues these documents raise for contemporary life.


Dr. Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
James (Part 2)

This is the 26h lecture in the online series of lectures on understanding the Epistles and Revelation, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Book, Acts through Revelation, An Introduction and Survey. 


Selecting only a handful of exegetical highlights out of many that could be picked; certainly chapter 1:2 is one of the most challenging commands in all of Scripture. To consider it pure joy when we have trials of many kinds; it is the last thing emotionally, we feel like being joyful in times of testing and tribulation. But as we suggest in our accompanying textbook, Acts through Revelation, that verse 3 suggests that James is primarily thinking of a way of viewing trials and reflecting on them, of having a settled and deeply seated kind of joy that is more of a mental convention than that which can always or can often turn into the emotions we associate with joy. The reason of course that we can at least have these convictions as the testing of our faith can work perseverance and maturity of our character. 


In chapter 1:5-8, of many things we could say, perhaps it’s the question that the first two verses most bring into fore. It is most crucial at an age when many people both within main stream Christianity and in fringe manifestations of it like to claim that if we are seeking answered prayer, we must simply name and claim what we already know as God’s will for our life and receive it and in fact to do otherwise is to reflect the kind of doubt that verses 7-8 go on to discuss. Thus if we have enough of the right kind of faith, verses 5-6 are interpreted as a virtual blank check. But remember what is being requested here: is wisdom. And the kind of doubting that James wishes us to avoid is the kind that is described in verse 8, the term that appears James has coined, ‘double souled’ or with conflicting allegiance, a term that will occur again in James chapter 4:8. This is paired with those whose hands are metaphorically unclean because of their sin and therefore their hearts need to be purified. To speak of double minded is therefore a sin, suggests something far more serious than not knowing God’s will for a particular situation. If one knew it, one wouldn’t be asking for wisdom in the first place. But for being considerably less than confident in our commitment to the God of the Scriptures as the unique God of all the Universe who indeed exists and can answer our prayers. 


Chapter 1:9-11 is the first of four passages that speak of rich or poor and all of them have to varying degrees, created exegetical controversies concerning whether James acknowledges or even knows about the option of being both rich and Christian. In 1:9-11, the problem is that the term, ‘brother’, here, meaning fellow believer of either gender appears in verse 9 with the poor or humble or humiliated individuals but not again in verses 10-11 with the rich. In 2:1-4, the person coming into the Christian assembly could be a visiting outsider to the faith, especially since the rich in verse 6-7 are portrayed as those of exploiting James’ Christian audience, dragging them into court and blaspheming the name to whom we belong, Christ. Thus it is clearly that there are no believers there. In 4:13-17, it is sometimes argued that the identical apostrophic introduction, this is when a person is addressed who is not present. It says, ‘now listen’ or more literally, ‘come now’, and this term reappears in 5:1-6 talking about the rich who the vast majority of commentators acknowledge are not believers, hence neither should the perhaps slightly, well to do; but at least upper or middle class, travelling merchants of 4:13-17 not be viewed as believers as well. 


And finally, just note that the exploiting luxurious self-indulging rich of 5:1-6 contemning and murdering, even if it is only the judicial murder of throwing people into prison from circumstances which they would not be able to escape. This hardly fits anything else James would use or for that matter any other Biblical passage used to describe the consistent behavior of the true believer. On the other hand, even if we accept this conclusion for 5:1-6, it’s very natural to assume that the term brother from verse 9 carries over to verse 10 due to the parallel structure, at least up to a point and the lack of need as in English and also in Greek to repeat the category of person the rich would qualify when in fact the category is the same as the one that’s been announced. There is also, at least, possible; I’m inclined to think probable that the assembly, literally a synagogue in 2:2, a term used nowhere else in the New Testament for a Christian gathering for worship and clearly not just James, the early Jewish Christian writers distinctive synonym for church since he will use the term, ‘church’ in 5:14. It seems likely that this assembly is a Christian courtroom of sorts because of all the judicial language, language of discrimination, the language of special seating, the language of judging which the subsequent verses introduced. We know the rabbinic Jewish synagogues practiced something similar so that God’s people would not have to settle their internal squabbles and bring discredit to their religion before pagan courts. We know that Paul encouraged identical schemes in 1st Corinthians 5 and this may be precisely such an application of it in a Jewish Christian context. In such a case even the rich person, though presumably at fault in this setting, nevertheless is considered to be a believer.


And finally in 4:13-17 it seems unlikely that James would command a non-Christian and rebut them for not saying, ‘if it is the Lord’s will.’ We will live and do this and do that and as 2:1 demonstrates, the Lord being Jesus Christ, not merely Yahweh, ‘God’.  It’s unlikely that James would have anybody but Christians in view in this context. In which case, it does seem to be possible to be rich or reasonably well to-do and Christian, even for James. Perhaps the pinnacle of New Testament teaching against the dangers of wealth, but what is not possible in this short letter, is to be rich, Christian and self-centered, to be rich, Christian and exploitative, to be rich, Christian and not taking God’s will which may entirely override our own will and practice; rich, Christian and not sharing with the outcast or dispossessed more generally.


Returning to chapter 1 and the second triad of brief reviews for the key clusters of themes in James; we come to the intuitive though not always practiced conclusion that God is not the author of evil, which comes from our own evil desires. Later, we will see what James knows about Satan and his role as well. And therefore what God gives are only good things, verse 16-18. It follows from that if God does not cause evil, he doesn’t tempt people or act in evil ways; at which point one might ask then how could Christ have commanded his followers to pray, ‘lead us not into temptation’, if God never does that any way. Answer: the most literal meaning of the Lord’s petition at that point is probably, ‘do not let us succumb to temptation.’ If God not only tempts no one but cannot be tempted by evil, also in verse 13 of James 1, then how could Christ have been tempted in the wilderness? Answer: the orthodox Christian reply historically as always, ‘it was his human-side, not his divine nature that was tempted.’  Does that mean, the devil has no role in temptation? Of course not, but the concern here is clearly for James to instruct his audiences, if they are not going to blame God, they shouldn’t immediate blame the devil for that matter or any other external source but they should own up to their own responsibilities and accountability that any sin is not something anyone may do. God always offers through his Spirit a way out, 1st Corinthians 1:13, if we but yield to his Spirit and therefore, it’s us, our own internal lust and desires which are preeminently to blame. And until we own up that responsibility, it’s really inappropriate to talk about more indirect causes for sin.


The antidote is to have our sins forgiven and to be freed through the Gospel which is described in 1:25; it is the perfect law of liberty because of the very Jewish tenor of the expressions in James. And because of what we can piece together from internal and external tradition about the very Jewish Christian nature of James, himself, the person and his addressees, particularly outside of evangelical circles, it has been popular from time to time to claim that James reflects a period in which Jewish Christians were still keeping the entire Torah. As if Cornelius’ vision and the Apostle’s Council and all of the other progressive moves away from a fully taught observant Christianity, not only had not yet come into being but had not even been approved by anyone, yet see the speech of Steven in Acts 7 for a rebuttal to that notice. The perfect law of liberty seems to be an implicit contrast to a law that cannot give liberty and cannot be perfect and thus gives the lie to ultra-orthodox Jewish interpretation of James, the man and or James, the letter.  


In 1:27, in the second introduction of the theme of rich and poor, it’s interesting to see how James, like Jesus and the prophets and the Torah keep together what the church has in many areas, has sundered such that a given denomination or manifestation of Christianity at one time or place, either focuses well on what might be called the social action dimension of the Gospel, caring for orphans and widows and their distress, or for the dimension of personal propriety or holiness represented by keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. But the Gospel message requires both or else is severely truncated. 


Finally, in chapter 2:5, it has become well-known since the liberalizing council of the 1960’s and international Roman Catholicism known as Vatican II, since the widely known and highly respected ministry of Mother Teresa over decades in Calcutta. This has been since the dawn rise and something of a fall of liberation theology in many parts of the 3rd World and in minority groups in the 1st World as well, namely that God has a preferential option for the poor. Doesn’t 2:5 read, ‘hasn’t God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world,’ that’s to say, physically and materially speaking, ‘to be rich.’ Yes, it says that. But that’s not the end of the phrase or the clause, much less the verse. He has chosen them to be rich in faith. And to inherit the Kingdom of God and he promised those who love him. There no necessary promise to material prosperity here, there’s no necessary correlation between socio-economics and salvation. If there were, it would be a sin and a crime to help anyone out of their poverty, for they would be losing their salvation in the process. Does God have a special place in his heart for the needy? Of course! Should Christians likewise? Of course! But there is no inherit virtue in salvific value in poverty, in and of itself. And Vatican II never said that and Mother Teresa never said that, but casual misappropriations, some of them, found even among some liberation theologians, including some fairly respected ones have moved in that direction. 


In the second half of James 2, we return to that vexed question of faith verses works. And it is indeed, the recognition that for James, faith is Jewish monotheism, particularly in verse 19, the belief that God is one. That is what must be supplemented by Christian works. Works that Paul would have called, of the Law of Christ and demonstrates the reality of one’s salvation and right standing with God. Whereas for Paul in those passages, it seems at first glance to be so contrary to James, it is Christian faith; faith that is directed toward the Lord Jesus that alone saves as opposed to Jewish works, the works of the Torah misappropriated in the spirit in which they were never intended to be used. But as we saw in Romans 9:32, that did happen and at times in a big way, namely offering those works up, as if they were inherently meritorious and hence, merited salvation. 


Progressing to exegetical highlights from chapters 3 and 4, we come to server warning to ‘would be teachers’ in chapter’s 3, largely a status symbol in James’ world, not as the King James Bible translates it, ‘they will receive the greater condemnation but they will be judged more strictly because their influenced is great through the spoken word which even in today’s highly visual age, is still, as this audio file once again demonstrates being almost unable to be separated from the spoken word. We read in 3:13, ‘who is wise and understanding,’ one must know the truth before one can apply it. Along with being wise, there is also the competence of good conduct of deeds done in humility, but it’s the humble character that comes from wisdom and then unpacked in 17 as being pure, and then peace loving, considerate and submissive, full of mercy and good fruit and sincere which forms the apex and climax of the spiritual believer. We pointed out in our notes that according to Luke T. Johnson, 4:4 can be viewed as a thesis statement. This entire collection of verbal wisdom enables James’ audience to avoid friendship with the world and therefore to remain and become friends with God. We have already noted the presumptuousness of planning, apart from leaving room for God’s will to override ours. This is not a call not to plan but a call to plan with the reliance on the Spirit of God as we plan and continually rely on the Spirit as we overturn our plans when he sees fit as we wait for the time of the implementation of the plans. 


Key texts for helping us to understand the anointing with oil ceremony in chapter 5, particularly verse 15a, and the prayer of faith will make them well. Again, as for 1:5-8, this is not a blank check or a justification for putting a guilt trip of insufficient faith on those whose prayers for healing are not answered with physical healing. As Douglas Mu puts it, that the prayer of faith, will by definition allow the Lord’s will to over-ride ours. To put is more prosaically, James assumes that when we get to what we now call James 5, we will remember James 4.


Apart from the three major themes, now introduced twice then unpacked in detail, seemingly in reverse order. The next most common theme or at least a motif in James, though not organized to a predictable fashion, is a theme of prayer. Our printed material highlights three key reasons for unanswered prayer that James gives, all of them in chapter 4. We may simply not have asked or ask persistently enough, we may have ask for wrong motives or may not have made allowance for Lord’s will to over-ride ours. The student could be forgiven at the end of reading all that, for saying then, ‘why bother to pray.’ Or even without reading that. Just focusing on 4:13-17, if the Lord’s will, will be done anyway, why bother to pray? And the theological answer, admittedly going beyond the explicit text James at this point, but seemingly the necessary and logical ideas we read in James. While it is clear from many parts of Scripture, there are things that God determines to do irrespective of human requests or responses that theologians have come to call his unconditional will that will happen whether we pray or not. And there are things that are unconditionally not part of Gods will that will not happen. James 4 gives us a window into situations where we have not because we have not asked or not ask correctly. And therefore the implication is that we should pray and pray persistently and with right motives, allowing God to work his will and if we do so, there will cases where we will get something where we would not have gotten otherwise that is good and Godly because God has determined to set up his relationship with humanity in this fashion. 


Finally, we come to the one portion of chapter 5 we haven’t covered yet. And that is the response to the oppression of the exploiting absentee landlords. While at first glance, it seems to be very passive, it turns out to appeal to the models or patterns of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord and of Job who was known for vigorously protesting his unfair treatment, suggests that James is carrying on in the tradition of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets while never condoning or commanding violence, does fit in the tradition of denunciatory rhetoric even against the kings and emperors of the land. Even when their ways were immoral and unethical as compared to God’s standards and then even the recurring theme of prayer to borrow a phrase from theologian David Wells can be seen as rebelling against the status quote as remembering to include pleads for justice, for all the many kinds of people around the world who are not experiencing it in this age. Not just our typical and unfortunately myopic list of requests for physical healing for ourselves and our friends with an occasional request for someone’s salvation. Jesus walks a balanced view between the extreme supporters of violence, the zealots and the retreaters and the monastic Essenes of his world. 


In regards to physical healing, what do we do besides allowing God’s will to work, in chapter 5? A short answer, this is most likely a situation of acute physical stress that the ceremony is one that is meant to be repeated though it’s very clear that the command to pray recurs over and over again whereas the actual ceremony, the anointing with oil is discussed and mentioned only once. It is certainly appropriate to pray, and pray continually and pray as elders and pray in the company of a sick person without an anointing ceremony. But it is also appropriate to follow this kind of ceremony who knows but if we don’t do this, we may not be asking as properly as we could and thus may miss out on some of God’s blessings he wants to give. But in light of what we have already said, we must always remind ourselves that miracles are called that because they’re rare. That even the legendary John Windber, founder of the Vineyard, author of many books and one who was blessed to personally take part in some of the clearest and documented examples of physical healings that have taken place in the last fifty or so years. Nevertheless, he confessed that his experience of seeing God physical heal people that the medical world could not account for, was approximately five percent. 


We return to the motif of 2nd Corinthians 12 again, in that God’s power far more often than not, is made perfect in weakness. And yet miraculous healings do occur. They occur in the 21st century. I have seen them occur. I have participated in ceremonies in which they have occurred. I’ve had people pray over me for them and not seen them occur. I have close friends and relatives whom I have heard give impeachable testimony, though I was not present to them having occurred. Those who do not allow for the possibility of such, without wanting to be formulaic and say that Windber’s five percent success is normative if anything, nevertheless, we might put it for the sake of emphasis, losing out on a least one in twenty chance that God could do something through this way, that he might otherwise have chosen not to do in his sovereign arrangement. But notice that there is no necessary connection to any sin, the third class condition, the if and there is a real doubt in the middle of verse 15 which makes it clear that sin may have had something to do with the sickness, a teaching that the charismatic world have reminded the non-charismatic world of, nevertheless what the non-charismatics must continue to remind the charismatics of is there is no necessary collation between sickness or lack of healing for that sickness and anyone’s sin, including the lack of faith and to say otherwise is not only unbiblical, it can put a huge and unnecessary harmful guilty feeling on those who unfortunately strongly believe such tragic drivel. Stay away from it at all cost. Rather, as James concludes on positive note, seek to bring those who may be wondering from the truth in this arena or in any other arena back into the secure fold, recognizing in that doing so, you have saved them from going down a possible path that would have cumulated in an eternal death and thus covered over and contributed to the process of God forgiving a multitude of their sins. Amen!