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Introduction to the General Epistle of James

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Once more we start with another series and an apt one to follow Hebrews not only because they share the same Jewish character but also in that they share the same themes of encouraging perseverance and patience in spite of external pressures. But more so James is a treatise on the Christian way of living.


#. Characteristics

    1. Jewish
      1. Most Jewish writing in the NT compared to other NT writing which are written for Jews or has a distinctly Jewish flavour like The Gospel according to Matthew, Epistle to the Hebrews, Epistle of Jude and Revelation
      2. James would fit right in with OT writing if you take out 2-4 references to Christ
      3. Substance & doctrine
        1. no mention of incarnation or resurrection
        2. no mention of gospel
        3. no suggestion that Messiah has appeared
        4. no presentation of the possibility of redemption through Him
        5. consistent teaching on morality aiming to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic law
      4. Shared principles with Sermon on the Mount
        1. ideal Jewish legalism under the transforming influence of the Christian motive and life
      5. Written by a Jew for Jews
        1. Epistle is addressed to the 12 tribes (Jam 1:1)
        2. Instructions for the epistle to be read at synagogues (Jam 2:2)
        3. Mention of Abraham as “our father” (Jam 2:21)
        4. Use of God’s OT name “Lord of Sabaoth” (Jam 5:4)
        5. Reverence for Law (Jam 2:8-12; 4:11)
        6. Focus on particularly Jewish sins
          1. Love of money and the distinction richness brings (Jam 2:2-4)
          2. Worldliness and pride (Jam 4:4-6)
          3. Impatience and murmuring (Jam 5:7-11)
          4. Sins of temper and tongue (Jam 3:1-12; 4:11; 4:12)
        7. Reference to OT Jewish illustrations for faithfulness, patience and prayer
    2. Authoritative
      1. Non-defensive delivery
      2. Unapologetic in the presentation of truth
      3. Sure of his message and his standing with his readers
      4. Prophet-like delivery
      5. 54/108 verses are commands
    3. Practical/Non-theological
      1. More interested in conduct than creed
      2. Very little formulated theology compared to other NT writings but insists upon practical morality
      3. Preaches a gospel of good works based upon love of God and fellowmen
      4. Teachings: patience, humility, justice, peace, steadfastness & faithfulness, obedience to the law, control of passions and the tongue
  1. Date and Authorship
    1. James, the son of Zebedee
      1. Martyred under Herod (Acts 12:1-2)
    2. James, the Less
      1. Son of Mary (Mar_15:40; Mat_27:56; Luk_24:10)
      2. Brother of Jude (Jud_1:1; Luk_6:16; Act_1:13)
      3. “The brother of our Lord” (Mat_13:55; Mar_6:3; Gal_1:19)
      4. “Son of Alpheus” (Mat_10:3; Mar_3:18; Luk_6:15; Act_1:13)
      5. President of the church of Jerusalem (Jam_1:1; Act_12:17; Act_15:13; Act_15:19; Gal_2:9; Gal_2:12).
      6. Descriptions from tradition
        1. Hebrew of Hebrews
        2. rigid and ascetic morality
        3. faithful observance of Jewish ritual regulations
        4. Nazirite
        5. permitted to enter the holy place along with priests and prayed there often for the forgiveness of the people
        6. James the Just
        7. respected by Jews, revered by Christians
        8. martyred in AD 62
    3. One of the earliest books in the NT
      1. Most scholars agree
      2. General Judaic tone of the epistle – before general admission of Gentiles to the Church
      3. Peter and James supposedly quoted from James in their writings
      4. Generally written before AD 70
  2. Style
    1. Plainness
      1. Simple and straightforward and sentences
      2. No hidden/mystical meanings
    2. Good Greek
      1. Second only to Hebrews in quality
      2. Not classical but a studied Greek of a non-native speaker
    3. Vividness
      1. Specific illustrations drawn from the real-world
      2. Short sentences that hit the mark
    4. Figures of Speech
      1. Keen eye for illustrations
        1. use of natural phenomena
      2. Rhetorical figures abound


      1. Written in prose
    1. Unlikeness to Paul
      1. No opening salutations and closing benedictions
      2. Abrupt beginning and ending
      3. Non-personal, no indication of intimate personal relationship with readers/audience BUT aware of their need and sins
      4. More like an OT prophet appeal than a personal letter
    2. Likeness to Jesus
      1. Substance of teaching and method of presentation remind us of Jesus’ discourses
      2. At least 10 parallels with Sermon on the Mount
      3. James is steep in his brother’s teaching and remembers them faithfully
  1. Themes
    1. Warning against prevalent Jewish sins
      1. Formalism as contrasted with true religious service (1:27)
      2. Ritualism (Acts 15:13-21)
      3. Fanaticism (religious zeal) dividing Jerusalem (1:20)
      4. Fatalism (1:13)
      5. Mean crouching to the rich (2:2)
      6. Evil speaking (3:3-12; 4:11)
      7. Partisanship (3:14)
      8. Boasting (2:5; 4:16)
      9. Oppression (5:4)
    2. Teaching Christians patience
      1. under trials (1:2)
      2. in good works (1:22-25)
      3. under provocation (3:12)
      4. under oppression (5:7)
      5. under persecution (5:10)
  2. Issues/Criticisms
    1. Contains almost nothing about Christ
      1. Nothing on:
        1. Cross
        2. atonement
        3. high priestly ministry
        4. His blood
      2. It’s just language that we are not accustomed to
      3. A meditation on the lordship of Christ over our ethical lives
      4. Contains a great deal about the need for Christ and the remedy for sin in Christ
    2. Non-apostolic authorship
      1. Written by someone who is not an apostolic ergo not worthy to write
      2. 8/27 of NT books are written by apostles
      3. James undisputed leader of earliest Christian church
      4. Mentioned by Paul along with Peter & John as one of the “pillars” of the Church (Gal 2:9)
    3. Unorganized structure
      1. Jumping from one teaching to the next
      2. Rhetorical form – general factual knowledge arranged in a way to persuade people
    4. Language style
      1. Greek to good for an uneducated writer
      2. Greek is lingua franca of the region
      3. Greek centres abound in the Galilee area
      4. Jews have high literacy
    5. Emphasis on observance of the Law
      1. Objection of Luther – “an epistle of straw, destitute of evangelical character”
      2. Opposed to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith
      3. James - works is the realization of faith
      4. Paul – focus on faith justifying the sinner before God
      5. James – focus on faith justifying the believer evidentially before men (2:18)
  3. Conclusions
    1. Appropriate follow-up study for Hebrews
    2. Lessons in learning to live as a convert RC among a predominantly RC society
      1. Having a good testimony
      2. Earning respect
    3. Places high regard for the OT Law by showing its true relation to Christianity
    4. The inner spirit of the Law is love manifesting itself in obedience of heart and life.
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