Epistle of James
JAMES, EPISTLE OF. The first of the general, or catholic, epistles of the NT.
Theis the most Jewish book in the NT. Except for two or three references to Christ, it would fit rather well in the OT. The life to which the epistle exhorts is that of a profoundly pious Jew who is fulfilling the law in every regard. Gospel, redemption, incarnation, and resurrection are not mentioned. The interest is in the fruits, not the roots. The author is indeed a Christian, writing to believers, but the focus is not on how to become believers. It is on the second stage—on how to advance along the way of holiness and to tr. the ethical implications of the new faith into practical realities (Tasker, James, p. 11). The Gospel fulfilled the law.
Opinions differ concerning the unity of this epistle. Some see no particular connection of thought in it (Jülicher, Introduction, p. 215). Various ideas of composite authorship have been suggested, often based on a core of materials coming from James in Jerusalem, perhaps in Aram., later rewritten in good Gr. (e.g., F. Burkitt, Christian Beginnings, 65-70). Cadoux, at the other extreme, finds the epistle “probably the most completely patterned book in the Bible” (The Thought of St. James, 6). He calls attention to its four divisions, each containing four subdivisions.
The truth may not be at either extreme. There is a tone of authority that hardly goes with a late and composite authorship. Fifty-four imperatives occur in one hundred eight vv. This seems to reflect the kind of certainty that belongs to a recognized leader and spokesman among the apostles. Likewise, the absence of the usual references to incarnation, atonement, and the death and resurrection of Jesus inclines toward unity of authorship. Late editors, overlooking the cause for the omissions, would almost certainly have supplied this lack. Furthermore, hortatory materials tend to have their own peculiar kind of unity. Wisdom lit., of which James is a part, is sometimes more like a string of beads—a series of loosely connected ideas. There may be some truth in Tasker’s suggestion (James, p. 9) that the epistle is more of a “collection of sermon notes” than a polished sermon. Even so, there is a unity and pattern of thought centering around the exhortation to constancy and holy living that could hardly have been the work of any but the original writer. (Note, under Contents, how the main body of the epistle is an elaboration of the three elements of
The epistle, if not pseudepigraphic, must have been written by James, the brother of the Lord. Eusebius and Jerome mention the opinion of some in the Early Church that it may have been published by another under James’ name. This view has also appealed to those modern scholars who on general considerations assign it a late date and who regard it as a moral treatise instead of a letter. However, the absence of motive for a pseudonymous production is a strong argument against it. If it is merely a moralizing tract, why did it need James’ authority, and why should he be chosen? Furthermore, the epistle bears none of the marks usually claimed as indications of pseudepigraphy. In the one v. (
Certainly the author was a Jew (see section 5). Which Jew was he? He calls himself simply “James, a servant of God and of the Lord
Objections have been raised. Barclay, for example, marvels that such a book should have only two incidental references to Jesus, and none at all to the Resurrection, or to Jesus as the Messiah (The Letters of James and Peter, 38, 39). The good Gr. also seems strange to some as coming from a Jew. The answer to the first problem seems to be in the purpose of the book. James is not presenting the Gospel. He is defending the practical and ethical demands of God upon His people. The point at issue is not God’s provision, but man’s obligation. The epistle is a prophetic diatribe against man’s unfaithfulness and lack of discipline. Why should it be complicated with theological questions that would only divert the pressure from their smarting consciences? As to the excellence of the Gr., estimates vary. Is there any reason that a bilingual Jew from Galilee of the Gentiles could not polish his Gr. in thirty-two years of discussion and debate at a center like Jerusalem until he could handle it with skill, esp. in its simple terse forms? It should be remembered that James avoided complex sentences. Short, pungent commands served his purpose better.
Those who accept James the Just, brother of the Lord, as author of the epistle are obliged to date it before a.d. 62, the year of the death of James, between the governorships of Festus and Albinus. Others tend to date it anywhere from late 1st cent. to late 2nd cent., with perhaps a.d. 125 a general favorite. Oesterley avoids the difficult choice by suggesting the possibility that the core of the epistle was a work of James, but was elaborated as time went on by commentary—much after the manner that, on a much larger scale, the comments on the words of Scripture became the Mishna, the comments on these the Gemara, and finally the Talmud (EGT, IV, 405). For reasons already discussed under Unity, this composite authorship should likely be rejected. If Lightfoot and others are correct in seeing James reflected in Clement, the epistle must belong to the 1st cent. James gives the thought in a more terse and rugged form than Clement, and he must have written first (Mayor, James, p. clxix). Once a 1st cent. date has been conceded, little reason remains for rejecting James as author and for objecting to the early date. The writing comes too close to the lifetime of James for one to borrow his name successfully.
A choice still remains for those who accept James as the author. Was it before or after the council in Jerusalem? The seemingly settled condition of affairs and the presence of wealth and perhaps intellectualism in the Christian communities tend to indicate as late a date as possible, therefore around a.d. 60. Josephus, at least, makes abundant mention of the oppressive rich in the period leading up to the rebellion against Rome (a.d. 67-70). However, none of these arguments are conclusive for the later period. Would not the foundations of the Jewish Christian church have already been well laid by a.d. 45 or 50? Were there not people of means among the followers of Jesus and even among the apostles (as, for example, the sons of Zebedee, Matthew, and the ladies who ministered of their means)? Did not Mary the mother of Mark have a large home with servants in the early days of the Jerusalem church? And might not the temptation to fawn on the rich be all the greater where their numbers were few?
It still seems possible, with Mayor and Robertson, to hold to an early date, even the earliest of any NT book. Indeed, the epistle reflects no knowledge of the existence of Gentile Christians. There is no whisper of the controversy relating to the council at Jerusalem. James was early in power (
Place of origin.
If the previous conclusions are accepted, there can be little doubt as to the place of origin of this epistle. There is no record of James’ absence from Jerusalem after his assumption of the leadership of the Jewish church, nor would there need to be. The influence of the Jerusalem church provided a natural support for the leadership of her president in matters that affected Jewish Christians, wherever they were found. As the Temple in Jerusalem had been the hub of the Jewish world to which worshipers traveled from afar, so the believing Jews gravitated to Jerusalem with their questions and problems. James was apparently a cosmopolitan figure without the necessity for travel. The thoroughly Jewish background of the writer has already been discussed (first section, this article). Though it must be admitted that he knew Gr. well and constantly associated with Hel. as well as Palestinian Jews, there is nothing in the epistle incongrous with the view that it originated in Jerusalem under the pen of James the brother of the Lord.
The epistle presupposes not only a Jewish author but also readers of the same background. The most natural understanding of “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (
Some deny that the epistle is occasional; that is, they see no particular circumstance that specifically called for the book to be written. Several circumstances did, indeed, precede the writing. Some find reference to a period of persecution in the trials and temptation (
Alternative views have been held. Some see James engaged in an unlikely diatribe against Paul’s view of justification by faith alone. Others see him attacking those who perverted Paul’s teaching. Both of these ideas demand a late date of the epistle and tend to exaggerate the differences between Paul and James. Cadoux offers a better suggestion. There was need to send something back with Jewish Christians who visited Jerusalem so that they could encourage and establish the believers scattered abroad. This may have been the occasion for the writing (op. cit., 26).
The purpose of the epistle is clearly practical and ethical. Doctrine is assumed more than enunciated. The thrust is for action and obedience. The law is to be lived. The ethical implications of the new faith need to be tr. into practical realities if the believers are to advance along the way of holiness. The mood is hortatory. The purpose is to correct faults, to instruct the wavering, to instill discipline, to rebuke backslidings, and to encourage genuine godliness throughout the redeemed fellowship, wherever believers could be found among the Jews who were scattered abroad.
Direct external evidence for the acceptance of the epistle is relatively late and sometimes ambiguous. This is not strange if its original thrust was toward a Jewish Christianity that soon withered and was displaced by a more viable universal mission. Unlike the writings of Paul and the gospels, this epistle had to work its way back into the general church as a secondary audience after its original audience had perished. Not written by one of the Twelve and not addressed to a single church that would preserve and defend it, the epistle’s comeback was slow. Origen is the first to cite James, speaking of it as “the current Epistle of St. James.” Again he spoke as if some would demur to its authority. The Syr. VS includes it, and Hort thinks it likely that it did so from the first, i.e., the Old Syr. (James, xxviii). Eusebius places James among the antilegomena, as practically accepted in most churches but not in all (Euseb. Hist., II, 23). He himself, however, quotes
Thus far, only the more formal evidences for the canonicity of the epistle have been discussed. The more casual references, quotations, and allusions may be even more revealing of the faith of the Early Church. Formal lit. often waits for doubts and questions to arise. Quotations and allusions follow normal use and acceptance from the first. It is remarkable that the earliest witnesses belong to the church at Rome, which was one of the latest to recognize the epistle formally. In the early days, the church at Rome had a large Jewish component. Having lost this, it had to rediscover James. At any rate,, in the 1st cent., reflects knowledge of James. In the 2nd cent. the same appears to be true of Ignatius, Polycarp, , the Epistle to Diognetus, Irenaeus, and Hermas. Since canonicity depends not on decrees of councils but on the inspiration of the , recognized by believers, perhaps the evidence of an early wide use of the epistle speaks more loudly for canonicity than the temporary “official” silence could speak against it.
Aside from a papyrus of
Since most of the important variants were in existence about as early as B, the value of the documents is not primarily based on date but on the soundness of the principles or tastes on which they are built. Of the groups that can be tested, only Bff bears indication of relative originality and freedom from emendation; B shows less emendation than Bff. Therefore, with due precaution, B should generally be followed except when positive evidence from “transcriptional” or other internal probability outweighs the authority of B. Thus, the other witnesses serve two purposes. When they disagree with B, their readings may commend themselves by internal character as superior, or when they agree with B, they guarantee that the reading was not due to an idiosyncrasy of B. The wider currency of the reading also increases confidence.
By following the above guidelines, Ropes believes (p. 86), one will not have a perfect text of the epistle but will have fewer emended readings than by following any other document or group of documents. The VSS prove that the oldest MSS as a whole are immensely superior to the later eclectic texts commonly used in the Gr.-speaking churches from the middle of the 4th cent. The recensions are valuable for the fragments of older texts which they contain and not for their continuous texts (see quotation by Ropes from Burkitt, Commentary, 86).
The most publicized problem of the epistle is its seeming contradiction to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Luther in particular was greatly disturbed by the position of James (Colloquia, II, 202). Paul said, “A man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (
Roman Catholics have also claimed the epistle as authority for the sacrament of extreme unction. Anointing with oil is not only reported but recommended in connection with prayer for physical and spiritual healing (
The word “elder” in an early epistle has puzzled some (
Some have likened wisdom lit. in general and this epistle in particular to a string of beads. In this intensely hortatory situation, one might expect only a series of ideas instead of a logically developed pattern. However, even beads may be strung in a pattern; James did outline his thoughts.
The theology of the epistle is more implicit than explicit. The thrust is hortatory and ethical. It is addressed to people who already are familiar with the OT and who have been informed of the relevance of Jesus as the One who fulfilled the promises of redemption. They have already believed on Him, found life in Him, and suffered for their faith. It is not new doctrine that is needed. Rather, the necessary element is steadfastness in what they already know and experience. Theology is not discussed for its own sake in the epistle. It is introduced from time to time in support of practical exhortations.
E. Plumptre, The General Epistle of St. James (1886), 5-45; A. Plummer, Theof St. James and St. Jude (1891), 13-54; A. Jülicher, An Introduction to the (1904), 215-229; F. Hort, The Epistle of St. James (1909), ix-xxxiii; J. Ropes, “The Text of the Epistle of James,” JBL, xxviii, (1909), 103-129; W. Oesterley, “The General Epistle of James,” Expositor’s Greek Testament (1910), 385-417; J. Mayor, The Epistle of St. James (1913), ii-ccxci; J. Ropes, “A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James,” ICC (1916), 1-115; D. Hayes, The New Testament Epistles (1921), 81-118; A. Cadoux, The Thought of St. James (1944), 5-47; A. Ross, “The Epistles of James and John,” NIC (1954), 11-24; S. Paine, Studies in the (1955), 9-22; R. Tasker, “The General Epistle of James,” TNTC (1956), 9-38; E. Blackman, The Epistle of James (1957), 13-33; B. Easton and G. Poteat, “The Epistle of James,” IB (1957), 3-18; A. Ross, “Epistle of James,” ChT 1 (1957), 18, 19; W. Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (1958), 3-39; A. Robertson, Studies in the Epistle of James (1959), 1-32; D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Hebrews to Revelation (1962), 60-94; Z. Hodges, “Light on James Two From Textual Criticism,” BS 120 (1963), 341-350; C. Pickrell, “Works Count Too!” ChT8 (1964), 13-15; E. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (1964), 359-370; C. Cranfield, “Message of James,” Scot JT, 18 (1965), 182-193, 338-345; C. Mitton, The Epistle of James (1966), 1-255.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
|| I. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EPISTLE
II. AUTHOR OF THE EPISTLE
III. STYLE OF THE EPISTLE
2. Good Greek
5. Figures of Speech
6. Unlikeness to Paul
7. Likeness to Jesus
IV. DATE OF THE EPISTLE
V. HISTORY OF THE EPISTLE
VI. MESSAGE OF THE EPISTLE TO OUR TIMES
1. To the Pietist
2. To the Sociologist
3. To the Student of the Life and Character of Jesus
I. Characteristics of the Epistle.
Theis the most Jewish writing in the . The Gospel according to Matthew was written for the Jews. The is addressed explicitly to them. The Apocalypse is full of the spirit of the . is Jewish too. Yet all of these books have more of the distinctively Christian element in them than we can find in the Epistle of James. If we eliminate two or three passages containing references to Christ, the whole epistle might find its place iust as properly in the as in that of the New Testament, as far as its substance of doctrine and contents is concerned. That could not be said Of any other book in the New Testament. There is no mention of the incarnation or of the resurrection., the two fundamental facts of the Christian faith. The word "gospel" does not occur in the epistle There is no suggestion that the Messiah has appeared and no presentation of the possibility of redemption through Him. The teaching throughout is that of a lofty morality which aims at the fulfillment of the requirements of the Mosaic law. It is not strange therefore that Spitta and others have thought that we have in the Epistle of James a treatise written by an unconverted Jew which has been adapted to Christian use by the interpolation of the two phrases containing the name of Christ in 1:1 and 2:1. Spitta thinks that this can be the only explanation of the fact that we have here an epistle practically ignoring the life and work of Jesus and every distinctively Christian doctrine, and without a trace of any of the great controversies in the early Christian church or any of the specific features of its propaganda. This judgment is a superficial one, and rests upon superficial indications rather than any appreciation of the underlying spirit and principles of the book. The spirit of Christ is here, and there is no need to label it. The principles of this epistle are the principles of the . There are more parallels to that Sermon in this epistle than can be found anywhere else in the New Testament in the same space. The epistle represents the idealization of Jewish legalism under the transforming influence of the Christian motive and life. It is not a theological discussion. It is an ethical appeal. It has to do with the outward life for the most part, and the life it pictures is that of a Jew informed with the spirit of Christ. The spirit is invisible in the epistle as in the individual man. It is the body which appears and the outward life with which that body has to do. The body of the epistle is Jewish, and the outward life to which it exhorts is that of a profoundly pious Jew. The Jews familiar with the Old Testament would read this epistle and find its language and tone that to which they were accustomed in their sacred books. James is evidently written by a Jew for Jews. It is Jewish in character throughout. This is apparent in the following particulars:
(1) The epistle is addressed to the 12 tribes which are of the Dispersion (11). The Jews were scattered abroad through the ancient world. From Babylon to Rome, wherever any community of them might be gathered for commercial or social purposes, these exhortations could be carried and read. Probably the epistle was circulated most widely in Syria and Asia Minor, but it may have gone out to the ends of the earth. Here and there in the ghettos of the, groups of the Jewish exiles would gather and listen while one of their number read this letter from home. All of its terms and its allusions would recall familiar home scenes.
(2) Their meeting-place is called "your synagogue" (2:2).
(3) Abraham is mentioned as "our father" (2:21).
(4) God is given the Old Testament name, "the" (5:4).
(5) The law is not to be spoken against nor judged, but reverently and loyally obeyed. It is a royal law to which every loyal Jew will be subject. It is a law of liberty, to be freely obeyed (2:8-12; 4:11).
(6) The sins of the flesh are not inveighed against in the epistle, but those sins to which the Jews were more conspicuously liable, such as the love of money and the distinction which money may bring (2:2-4), worldliness and pride (4:4-6), impatience and murmuring (5:7-11), and other sins of the temper and tongue (3:1-12; 4:11,12).
(7) The illustrations of faithfulness and patience and prayer are found in Old Testament characters, in Abraham (2:21), Rahab (2:25), Job (
The writer of this epistle speaks as one having authority. He is not on his defense, as Paul so often is. There is no trace of apology in his presentation of the truth. His official position must have been recognized and unquestioned. He is as sure of his standing with his readers as he is of the absoluteness of his message.
No Old Testament lawgiver or prophet was more certain that he spoke the word of the Lord. He has the vehemence of Elijah and the assured meekness of Moses. He has been called "the Amos of the New Testament," and there are paragraphs which recall the very expressions used by Amos and which are full of the same fiery eloquence and prophetic fervor. Both fill their writings with metaphors drawn from the sky and the sea, from natural objects and domestic experiences. Both seem to be countrybred and to be in sympathy with simplicity and poverty. Both inveigh against the luxury and the cruelty of the idle rich, and both abhor the ceremonial and the ritual which are substituted for individual righteousness. Malachi was not the last of the prophets.was not the last prophet of the Old Dispensation. The writer of this epistle stands at the end of that prophetic line, and he is greater than John the Baptist or any who have preceded him because he stands within the borders of the kingdom of Christ. He speaks with authority, as a messenger of God. He belongs to the goodly fellowship of the prophets and of the apostles. He has the authority of both. There are 54 imperatives in the 108 verses of this epistle.
The epistle is interested in conduct more than in creed. It has very little formulated theology, less than any other epistle in the New Testament; but it insists upon practical morality throughout. It begins and it closes with an exhortation to patience and prayer. It preaches a gospel of good works, based upon love to God and love to man. It demands liberty, equality, fraternity for all. It enjoins humility and justice and peace. It prescribes singleness of purpose and stedfastness of soul. It requires obedience to the law, control of the passions, and control of the tongue. Its ideal is to be found in a good life, characterized by the meekness of wisdom. The writer of the epistle has caught the spirit of the ancient prophets, but the lessons that he teaches are taken, for the most part, from the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. His direct quotations are from the Pentateuch and the; but it has been estimated that there are 10 allusions to the Book of Proverbs, 6 to the , 5 to the , and 15 to the Book of Ecclesiasticus. This Wisdom literature furnishes the staple of his meditation and the substance of his teaching. He has little or nothing to say about the great doctrines of the Christian church.
He has much to say about the wisdom that cometh down from above and is pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without hypocrisy (
The substance of its exhortation, however, is to be found in the Synoptics and more particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. Its wisdom is the wisdom of Jesus the son of Joseph, who is the Christ.
These are the three outstanding characteristics of this epistle In form and on the surface it is the most Jewish and least Christian of the writings in the New Testament. Its Christianity is latent and not apparent. Yet it is the most authoritative in its tone of any of the epistles in the New Testament, unless it be those of the apostle John. John must have occupied a position of undisputed primacy in the Christian church after the death of all the other apostles, when he wrote his epistles. It is noteworthy that the writer of this epistle assumes a tone of like authority with that of John. John was the apostle of love, Paul of faith, and Peter of hope. This writer is the apostle of good works, the apostle of the wisdom which manifests itself in peace and purity, mercy and morality, and in obedience to the royal law, the law of liberty. In its union of Jewish form, authoritative tone, and insistence upon practical morality, the epistle is unique among the New Testament books.
II. Author of the Epistle.
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, 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.
III. The Style of the Epistle.
The sentence construction is simple and straightforward. It reminds us of the English of Bunyan and DeFoe. There is usually no good reason for misunderstanding anything James says. He puts his truth plainly, and the words he uses have no hidden or mystical meanings. His thought is transparent as his life.
2. Good Greek:
It is somewhat surprising to find that the Greek of the Epistle of James is better than that of the other New Testament writers, with the single exception of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Of course this may be due to the fact that James had the services of an amanuensis who was a Greek scholar, or that his own manuscript was revised by such a man; but, although unexpected, it is not impossible that James himself may have been capable of writing such Greek as this.
It is not the good Greek of the classics, and it is not the poor and provincial Greek of Paul. There is more care for literary form than in the uncouth periods Of the Gentile apostle, and the vocabulary would seem to indicate an acquaintance with the literary as well as the commercial and the conversational Greek "Galilee was studded with Greek towns, and it was certainly in the power of any Galilean to gain a knowledge of Greek .... We may reasonably suppose that our author would not have scrupled to avail himself of the opportunities within his reach, so as to master the Greek language, and learn something of Greek philosophy. This would be natural, even if we think of James as impelled only by a desire to gain wisdom and knowledge for himself; but if we think of him also as the principal teacher of the Jewish believers, many of whom were Hellenists, instructed in the wisdom of Alexandria, then the natural bent would take the shape of duty: he would be a student of Greek in order that he might be a more effective instructor to his own people" (Mayor, The Epistle of James, ccxxxvi). The Greek of the epistle is the studied Greek of one who was not a native to it, but who had familiarized himself with its literature. James could have done so and the epistle may be proof that he did.
James is never content to talk in abstractions. He always sets a picture before his own eyes and those of his readers. He has the dramatic instinct. He has the secret of sustained interest. He is not discussing things in general but things in particular. He is an artist and believes in concrete realities. At the same time he has a touch of poetry in him, and a fine sense of the analogies running through all Nature and all life. The doubting man is like the sea spume (1:6). The rich man fades away in his goings, even as the beauty of the flower falls and perishes (1:11). The synagogue scene with its distinction between the rich and the poor is set before us with the clear-cut impressiveness of a cameo (2:1-4). The Pecksniffian philanthropist, who seems to think that men can be fed not by bread alone but by the words that proceed magnificently from his mouth, is pilloried here for all time (2:15,16). The untamable tongue that is set on fire of hell is put in the full blaze of its world of iniquity, and the damage it does is shown to be like that of a forest fire (3:1-12). The picture of the wisdom that comes from above with its sevenfold excellences of purity, peaceableness, gentleness, mercy, fruitfulness, impartiality, sincerity, is worthy to hang in the gallery of the world’s masterpieces (3:17). The vaunting tradesmen, whose lives are like vanishing vapor, stand there before the eyes of all in Jerusalem (4:13-16). The rich, whose luxuries he describes even while he denounces their cruelties and prophesies their coming day of slaughter, are the rich who walk the streets of his own city (5:1-6). His short sentences go like shots straight to the mark. We feel the impact and the impress of them. There is an energy behind them and a reality in them that makes them live in our thought. His abrupt questions are like the quick interrogations of a cross-examining lawyer (2:4-7,14,16; 3:11,12; 4:1,4,5,12,14). His proverbs have the intensity of the accumulated and compressed wisdom of the ages. They are irreducible minimums. They are memorable sayings, treasured in the speech of the world ever since his day.
Sometimes James adds sentence to sentence with the repetition of some leading word or phrase (1:1-6,19-24; 3:2-8). It is the painful style of one who is not altogether at home with the language which he has chosen as the vehicle of his thought. It is the method by which a discussion could be continued indefinitely. Nothing but the vividness of the imagery and the intensity of the thought saves James from fatal monotony in the use of this device.
5. Figures of Speech:
James has a keen eye for illustrations. He is not blind to the beauties and wonders of Nature. He sees what is happening on every hand, and he is quick to catch any homiletical suggestion it may hold. Does he stand by the seashore? The surge that is driven by the wind and tossed reminds him of the man who is unstable in all his ways, because he has no anchorage of faith, and his convictions are like driftwood on a sea of doubt (1:6). Then he notices that the great ships are turned about by a small rudder, and he thinks how the tongue is a small member, but it accomplishes great things (3:4,5). Does he walk under the sunlight and rejoice in it as the source of so many good and perfect gifts? He sees in it an image of the goodness of God that is never eclipsed and never exhausted, unvarying for evermore (1:17). He uses the natural phenomena of the land in which he lives to make his meaning plain at every turn: the flower of the field that passes away (1:10,11), the forest fire that sweeps the mountain side and like a living torch lights up the whole land (3:5), the sweet and salt springs (3:11), the fig trees and the olive trees and the vines (3:12), the seed-sowing and the fruit-bearing (3:18), the morning mist immediately lost to view (4:14), the early and the latter rain for which the husbandman waiteth patiently (5:7).
There is more of the appreciation of Nature in this one short epistle of Jas than in all the epistles of Paul put together. Human life was more interesting to Paul than natural scenery. However, James is interested in human life just as profoundly as Paul. He is constantly endowing inanimate things with living qualities. He represents sin as a harlot, conceiving and bringing forth death (1:15). The word of truth has a like power and conceives and brings forth those who live to God’s praise (1:18). Pleasures are like joyful hosts of enemies in a tournament, who deck themselves bravely and ride forth with singing and laughter, but whose mission is to wage war and to kill (4:1,2). The laborers may be dumb in the presence of the rich because of their dependence and their fear, but their wages, fraudulently withheld, have a tongue, and cry out to high heaven for vengeance (5:4). What is friendship with the world? It is adultery, James says (4:4). The rust of unjust riches testifies against those who have accumulated them, and then turns upon them and eats their flesh like fire (5:3). James observed the man who glanced at himself in the mirror in the morning, and saw that his face was not clean, and who went away and thought no more about it for that whole day, and he found in him an illustration of the one who heard the word and did not do it (1:23,14). The epistle is full of these rhetorical figures, and they prove that James was something of a poet at heart, even as Jesus was. He writes in prose, but there is a marked rhythm in all of his speech. He has an ear for harmony as he has an eye for beauty everywhere.
6. Unlikeness to Paul:
The Pauline epistles begin with salutations and close with benedictions. They are filled with autobiographical touches and personal messages. None of these things appear here. The epistle begins and ends with all abruptness. It has an address, but no thanksgiving. There are no personal messages and no indications of any intimate personal relationship between the author and his readers. They are his "beloved brethren." He knows their needs and their sins, but he may never have seen their faces or visited their homes. The epistle is more like a prophet’s appeal to a nation than a personal letter.
7. Likeness to Jesus:
Both the substance of the teaching and the method of its presentation remind us of the discourses of Jesus. James says less about the Master than any other writer in the New Testament, but his speech is more like that of the Master than the speech of any one of them. There are at least ten parallels to the Sermon on the Mount in this short epistle, and for almost everything that James has to say we can recall some statement of Jesus which might have suggested it. When the parallels fail at any point, we are inclined to suspect that James may be repeating some unrecorded utterance of our Lord. He seems absolutely faithful to his memory of his brother’s teaching. He is the servant of Jesus in all his exhortation and persuasion.
IV. Date of the Epistle.
There are those who think that the Epistle of James is the oldest epistle in the New Testament. Among those who favor an early date are Mayor, Plumptre, Alford, Stanley, Renan, Weiss, Zahn, Beyschlag, Neander, Schneckenburger, Thiersch, and Dods.
The reasons assigned for this conclusion are: (1) the general Judaic tone of the ep., which seems to antedate admission of the Gentiles in any alarming numbers into the church; but since the epistle is addressed only to Jews, why should the Gentiles be mentioned in it, whatever its date? and (2) the fact that Paul and Peter are supposed to have quoted from James in their writing; but this matter of quotation is always an uncertain one, and it has been ably argued that the quotation has been the other way about.
Others think that the epistle was written toward the close of James’s life. Among these are Kern, Wiesinger, Schmidt, Bruckner, Wordsworth, and Farrar.
(1) that the epistle gives evidence of a considerable lapse of time in the history of the church, sufficient to allow of a declension from the spiritual fervor of Pentecost and the establishment of distinctions among the brethren; but any of the sins mentioned in the epistle in all probability could have been found in the church in any decade of its history.
(2) James has a position of established authority, and those to whom he writes are not recent converts but members in long standing; but the position of James may have been established from a very early date, and in an encyclical of this sort we could not expect any indication of shorter or longer membership in the church. Doubtless some of those addressed were recent converts, while others may have been members for many years.
(3) There are references to persecutions and trials which fit the later rather than the earlier date; but all that is said on this subject might be suitable in any period of the presidency of James at Jerusalem.
(4) There are indications of a long and disappointing delay in theof the Lord in the repeated exhortation to patience in waiting for it; but on the other hand James says, "The coming of the Lord is at hand," and "The judge standeth before the doors" (5:7-9). The same passage is cited in proof of a belief that the immediate appearance of the Lord was expected, as in the earliest period of the church, and in proof that there had been a disappointment of this earlier belief and that it had been succeeded by a feeling that there was need of patience in waiting for the coming so long delayed.
It seems clear to us that there are no decisive proofs in favor of any definite date for the epistle. It must have been written before the martyrdom of James in the year 63 AD, and at some time during his presidency over the church at Jerusalem; but there is nothing to warrant us in coming to any more definite conclusion than that Davidson, Hilgenfeld, Baur, Zeller, Hausrath, von Soden, Julicher, Harnack, Bacon and others date the epistle variously in the post-Pauline period, 69-70 to 140-50 AD. The arguments for any of these dates fall far short of proof, rest largely if not wholly upon conjectures and presuppositions, and of course are inconsistent with any belief in the authorship by James.
V. History of the Epistle.
Eusebius classed Jas among those whose authenticity was disputed by some. "James is said to be the author of the first of the so-called
Erasmus and Cajetan revived the old doubts concerning it. Luther thought it contradicted Paul and therefore banished it to the appendix of his Bible. "James," he says, "has aimed to refute those who relied on faith without works, and is too weak for his task in mind, understanding, and words, mutilates the Scriptures, and thus directly contradicts Paul and all Scriptures, seeking to accomplish by enforcing the law what the apostles successfully effect by love. Therefore, I will not place his Epistle in my Bible among the proper leadingbooks" (Werke, XIV, 148). He declared that it was a downright strawy epistle, as compared with such as those to the Romans and to the Galatians, and it had no real evangelical character. This judgment of Luther is a very hasty and regrettable one. The modern church has refused to accept it, and it is generally conceded now that Paul and James are in perfect agreement with each other, though their presentation of the same truth from opposite points of view brings them into apparent contradiction. Paul says, "By grace have ye been saved through faith .... not of works, that no man should glory" (
It would be difficult to prove Luther a fool if Paul and James were using these words, faith, works, and justification, in the same sense, or even if each were writing with full consciousness of what the other had written. They both use Abraham for an example, James of justification by works, and Paul of justification by faith. How can that be possible? The faith meant by James is the faith of a dead orthodoxy, an intellectual assent to the dogmas of the church which does not result in any practical righteousness in life, such a faith as the demons have when they believe in the being of God and simply tremble before Him. The faith meant by Paul is intellectual and moral and spiritual, affects the whole man, and leads him into conscious and vital union and communion with God. It is not the faith of demons; it is the faith that redeems. Again, the works meant by Paul are the works of a dead legalism, the works done under a sense of compulsion or from a feeling of duty, the works done in obedience to a law which is a taskmaster, the works of a slave and not of a son. These dead works, he declares, can never give life. The works meant by James are the works of a believer, the fruit of the faith and love born in every believer’s heart and manifest in every believer’s life. The possession of faith will insure this evidence in his daily conduct and conversation; and without this evidence the mere profession of faith will not save him. The justification meant by Paul is the initial justification of the Christian life. No doing of meritorious deeds will make a man worthy of salvation. He comes into the kingdom, not on the basis of merit but on the basis of grace. The sinner is converted not by doing anything, but by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. He approaches the threshold of the kingdom and he finds that he has no coin that is current there. He cannot buy his way in by good works; he must accept salvation by faith, as the gift of God’s free grace. The justification meant by James is the justification of any after-moment in the Christian life, and the final justification before the judgment throne. Good works are inevitable in the Christian life. There can be no assurance of salvation without them.
Paul is looking at the root; James is looking at the fruit. Paul is talking about the beginning of the Christian life; James is talking about its continuance and consummation. With Paul, the works he renounces precede faith and are dead works. With James, the faith he denounces is apart from works and is a dead faith.
Paul believes in the works of godliness just as much as James. He prays that God may establish the Thessalonians in every good work (
On the other hand James believes in saving faith as well as Paul. He begins with the statement that the proving of our faith works patience and brings perfection (1:3,1). He declares that the prayer of faith will bring the coveted wisdom (1:6). He describes the Christian profession as a holding
"the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory" (2:1). He says that the poor as to the world are rich in faith, and therefore heirs to the kingdom (2:5). He quotes the passage from Genesis, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness" (2:23), and he explicitly asserts that Abraham’s "faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect" (2:22). The faith mentioned in all these passages is the faith of the professing Christian; it is not the faith which the sinner exercises in accepting salvation. James and Paul are at one in declaring that faith and works must go hand in hand in the Christian life, and that in the Christian’s experience both faith without works is dead and works without faith are dead works. They both believe in faith working through love as that which alone will avail in Christ Jesus (
VI. Message of the Epistle to Our Times.
1. To the Pietist:
There are those who talk holiness and are hypocrites; those who make profession of perfect love and yet cannot live peaceably with their brethren; those who are full of pious phraseology but fail in practical philanthropy. This epistle was written for them. It may not give them much comfort, but it ought to give them much profit. The mysticism that contents itself with pious frames and phrases and comes short in actual sacrifice and devoted service will find its antidote here. The antinomianism that professes great confidence in free grace, but does not recognize the necessity for corresponding purity of life, needs to ponder the practical wisdom of this epistle. The quietists who are satisfied to sit and sing themselves away to everlasting bliss ought to read this epistle until they catch its bugle note of inspiration to present activity and continuous good deeds. All who are long on theory and short on practice ought to steep themselves in the spirit of James; and since there are such people in every community and in every age, the message of the epistle will never grow old.
2. To the Sociologist:
The sociological problems are to the front today. The old prophets were social reformers, and James is most like them in the New Testament. Much that he says is applicable to present-day conditions. He lays down the right principles for practical philanthropy, and the proper relationships between master and man, and between man and man. If the teachings of this epistle were put into practice throughout the church it would mean the revitalization of Christianity. It would prove that the Christian religion was practical and workable, and it would go far to establish the final brotherhood of man in the service of God.
3. To the Student of the Life and Character of Jesus:
The life of our Lord is the most important life in the history of the race. It will always be a subject of the deepest interest and study. Modern research has penetrated every contributory realm for any added light upon the heredity and the environment of Jesus. The people and the land, archaeology and contemporary history, have been cultivated intensively and extensively for any modicum of knowledge they might add to our store of information concerning the Christ. We suggest that there is a field here to which sufficient attention has not yet been given. James was the brother of the Lord. His epistle tells us much about himself. On the supposition that he did not exhort others to be what he would not furnish them an example in being, we read in this epistle his own character writ large. He was like his brother in so many things. As we study the life and character of James we come to know more about the life and character of Jesus.
Jesus and James had the same mother. From her they had a common inheritance. As far as they reproduced their mother’s characteristics they were alike. They had the same home training. As far as the father in that home could succeed in putting the impress of his own personality upon the boys, they would be alike. It is noticeable in this connection that Joseph is said in the Gospel to have been "a just man" (
They are alike in their poetical insight and their practical wisdom. They are both fond of figurative speech, and it seems always natural and unforced. The discourses of Jesus are filled with birds and flowers and winds and clouds and all the sights and sounds of rural life in Palestine. The writings of James abound in reference to the field flowers and the meadow grass and the salt fountains and the burning wind and the early and the latter rain. They are alike in mental attitude and in spiritual alertness. They have much in common in the material equipment of their thought. James was well versed in the apocryphal literature. May we not reasonably conclude that Jesus was just as familiar with these books as he? James seems to have acquired a comparative mastery of the Greek language and to have had some acquaintance with the Greek philosophy. Would not Jesus have been as well furnished in these lines as he?
What was the character of James? All tradition testifies to his personal purity and persistent devotion, commanding the reverence and the respect of all who knew him. As we trace the various elements of his character manifesting themselves in his anxieties and exhortations in this epistle, we find rising before us the image of Jesus as well as the portrait of James. He is a single-minded man, steadfast in faith and patient in trials. He is slow to wrath, but very quick to detect any sins of speech and hypocrisy of life. He is full of humility, but ready to champion the cause of the oppressed and the poor. He hates all insincerity and he loves wisdom, and he believes in prayer and practices it in reference to both temporal and spiritual good. He believes in absolute equality in the house of God. He is opposed to anything that will establish any distinctions between brethren in their place of worship. He believes in practical philanthropy. He believes that the right sort of religion will lead a man to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. A pure religion in his estimation will mean a pure man. He believes that we ought to practice all that we preach.
As we study these characteristics and opinions of the younger brother, does not the image of his and our Elder Brother grow ever clearer before our eyes?
Works on Introduction: by Zahn, Weiss, Julicher, Salmon, Dods, Bacon, Bennett and Adeney; MacClymont, The New Testament and Its Writers; Farrar, The Messages of the Books, and Early Days of Christianity; Fraser, Lectures on the Bible; Godet, Biblical Studies. Works on the: McGiffert, Schaff, Hausrath, Weizsacker. Commentaries: Mayor, Hort, Beyschlag, Dale, Huther, Plummer, Plumptre, Stier.