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NT Survey 111 Seminar 17 James Part 1

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                                  17th August 2007

New Testament Survey NTES 111

Seminar 17

The Epistle of James

Part 1


Irving L. Jensen Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament 1981, Moody Press, Chicago Ch 20

Libronix DLS

Guthrie, Donald  New Testament Introduction  Apollos, Leicester, England 4th Ed  1990 Ch 20

John MacArthur, James,  (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).

Summarise the various arguments on authorship of the epistle:

            This discussion centres around which of the up to five James’ mentioned in scripture is the responsible writer of this book. Jensen notes that the OT Jacob (Hebrew Iakob), translated into Greek as Iakobos (LXX?) is the OT form of the NT James (p 422).

            Barker1a suggests the possibility of 5 James’:

  1. The son of Zebedee and brother of John, one of the twelve disciples. Mother (Salome) possibly sister to Mary, Jesus’ mother (compare Matt 27:56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25) which would have made Jesus and this James cousins. One of the ‘inner circle’ of disciples, always listed in the first four names. Not afraid to speak his mind, was an effective witness to the Gospel and was one of the first of the Apostles to be executed (by Herod Agrippa ~44AD, Acts 12:2). This date of death puts this James at the upper limit of age to have written this book, making him most unlikely to be the writer. Matt 4:21, Mk 1:19, Lk 5:10
  2. The son of Alphaeus in common with Matthew, therefore Matthew’s brother and also one of the twelve. Some identify this James as ‘the Less’. Listed as the first of the third group of disciples’ names. Matt 10:3, Mk 3:18, 15:40, Lk 6:15, Acts 1:13. Not considered likely to be the writer.
  3. James the Less (or the ‘short’ or the ‘younger’). Mary was his mother, Cleopas his father and Joseph his brother; this Mary was present at the Cross during the crucifixion along with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus and Salome the wife of Zebedee. Jensen does not recognise this James, probably identifying him with (2) the son of Alphaeus. Barker lists him as being in Matt 27:56, Mk 15:40, Lk 24:10. Also not considered to be the writer.
  4. Barker (p 162) lists a James as the father of the apostle Thaddeus (or Judas, not Iscariot) Luke 6:15-16. He also says “nothing whatsoever is known of him”.

1a Barker, William P.  Everyone in the Bible  Fleming H. Revell Company, Westwood, New Jersey 1966  pp 161-2

  1. One of Jesus’ four half-brothers. This James is the ‘traditional’ writer and is supported by Jensen (p 422), Barker (p 162), Macarthur (p 4) and Guthrie (p 746). Matt 13:55, Mk 6:3, Gal 1:19. Apart from Jesus, this James’ other named brothers - natural children of Mary and Joseph - are Joseph, Simon and Jude, plus unnamed sisters (Matt 13:55).

This James, having grown up with Jesus, was unconvinced of His ministry (Jn 7:2-8) until after the resurrection. He was in the upper room at Pentecost, and therefore had been saved in the intervening fifty days (1 Cor 15:7) between the resurrection and Pentecost. Within ten years (Barker p 162) he had become the leader of the Church at Jerusalem (Gal 2:9-12), presumably succeeding Peter when Peter became itinerant (Acts 12:17?). He was influential in presiding over two important early Church conferences (Acts 15 and 21), on both occasions powerfully displaying God’s wisdom. He was married (as were his other brothers and Peter - 1 Corinthians 9:5).

Josephus relates that Ananus, Sadducean High Priest, during the short hiatus between the death of Festus and the arrival of the next Roman procurator Albinus (governed 61-65 AD), “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;”[1] This action was condemned by Herod Agrippa (II, 53-70 AD), and Albinus, who had Ananus removed from office after only 3 months. This occurred in 61 AD, before the destruction of Jerusalem, and about 6 years before the martyrdom of Paul (see Jensen Chart 12 pp 60-61).

This date in turn implies that if this James wrote the book (in 45 AD Jensen Chart 1  p 20), it was completed about 16 years after his salvation, in his mid to late 40’s, and about 6 years after he assumed the reins of Jerusalem leadership from Peter. It was also written before James displayed God’s wisdom at the first Jerusalem Council (Acts 15, ~48/49 AD). It should be noted that James was well aware of where and how this wisdom came, before it was evidenced in Acts and in the book of James (James 1:5).

Jensen makes the comment that this James’ character can be ascertained from reading the book. He gleans (p 425) that he was “a praying man, pure, powerful, practical, plain, persistent, humble, honest, single-minded, upright and just”. Apparently he developed the sobriquet of “James the Just” ie James the righteous; and more colloquially “old camel knees” on account of the calluses he developed during long hours at prayer.

Jensen also makes the point that “the younger brother James and his elder brother Jesus were so much alike in personality” (p 425).

The role of this James as leader of the first Christian Church of Jerusalem is very important for this Church was the centre of missionary/evangelical activity until persecution forced a withdrawal to Antioch. When doctrinal and practical problems were not locally solvable, the Jerusalem leaders were the arbiters. The book of James proves that they were up to the task.

Clearly there is still some confusion over the precise identification of which ‘James’ is who; perhaps not surprising given that the name was very common; but at present it seems not unreasonable to ascribe the writer of the book of James as Jesus’ half-brother. Caution is therefore necessary when interpreting the book on passages whose hermeneutic may depend on which James may have penned it.

Jensen addresses this issue by assuming that James #5 is the writer, detailing his biography in Chart 105 p 423. Macarthur has no doubt at all: “Despite the specific inspired identification of James in 1:1 and the persuasive evidence that James the Lord’s half brother wrote this letter, unbelieving pseudoscholars have rejected him as author. They cite several unconvincing lines of evidence to support that dubious conclusion. Normally they would not even be helpful to consider, but they do provide a backdrop against which to further demonstrate features of the epistle related to its author.”[2] He then goes on to demolish poor modern scholarship; Guthrie spends more space at this but eventually arrives at a similar conclusion.

Discuss the addressees, purpose, date and literary form of the epistle:

            For date see above.

            James 1:1 states that the addressees are “the twelve tribes that are scattered abroad”. If this is taken literally, as it should according to the context and basic exegesis, the letter is written to the Jews of the diaspora. The next verse proves that they are saved - “my brethren”, supported by vv 3-6 and the subject matter of the remainder (which includes a large number of Semitisms). A possible exception is 5:1-6 which appears to be addressed to unbelievers, returning to believers in 5:7. This may be James’ way of specifically identifying with the circumstances of his intended readers 3a. Discuss

            This raises the interesting point that at this earliest of stages of Church growth, there were already sufficient saved Jews scattered around the known world to warrant James writing to them. Where would he have sent this letter? Would he have despatched multiple copies in various directions? How widely would it have circulated? Why was this letter accepted so late into the canon when it was written so early? (end of the 4th C AD according to Jensen p 429). Discuss 

I would like to explore the view that there were relatively few Jewish Christians scattered abroad at the time James wrote. Chart 106 (Jensen p 426) implies that the church began to be scattered about 33 AD, 12 years before James wrote, and beginning with the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 11:19 “preaching the word to none but the Jews only”). If this refers to Saul’s persecution and those of like-minded Jews, it did not last long and relatively speaking would not have displaced large numbers from Jerusalem (the Jerusalem Church was still the premier institution at the time of the Acts 15 Council in 49 AD, and was sending out ‘prophets’ in Acts 11:27).

Larger numbers of Jewish Christians moved away from Jerusalem on account of the persecutions late in the reign of Tiberius, Caligula and during the first half of the reign of Claudius (33 to 47 AD Jensen Chart 51 p 208) although this was not a consistent and continuous process. ‘King of the Jews’ Herod Agrippa I (a Roman appointee), presumably in order to ingratiate himself with the Romans and the Jews, began to persecute the local Christians (Acts 12:1-2) and had James the brother of John killed in 44 AD (Jensen Chart 51 p 208).

Perhaps James was aware of where those who had been persecuted had gone (Acts 11:19-20) and sent his letter in the appropriate directions to encourage them, but at this time it seems to me that there was insufficient need to do this. In a sense, the book is a series of benchmarks which Christians can use to assess whether or not they have saving faith, and whether or not that faith is producing appropriate works (see Macarthur below).

Jensen then alters tack in Chart 51 around 47 AD: instead of the Church being ‘scattered’, he calls it ‘extended’. I assume that this is about the time when the gospel started taking hold among the Gentiles (see Chart 106 p 426) and the preaching of the scattered Jewish Christians started to win significant numbers of converts (Acts 11:21. Jerusalem was still the lead Church at this time Acts 11:22).

Peter’s encounter with Cornelius (Acts 11) and Paul’s commencement of his mission to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-3) occurred well before the council of Acts 15 and James would already have been aware of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Gospel before he wrote his book (Acts 11:1, 18) specifically to Jews. [Which makes it difficult to agree with Thiessen: “The question of the admission of the Gentiles (into the church which in the earliest years was Jewish) seems not yet to have come to the fore.”]2a If this is so then the Jews as addressees of his book become too narrow a readership. Discuss

Jensen cites “persecution of the Christians, unchristian conduct (e.g., in speech) by many believers, and erroneous views on such doctrines as faith and sin were some of the circumstances that called for this epistle” (p 427). This view necessarily presupposes that James knew of these problems in the far-away diaspora. How? Were they not local problems as well? Discuss

Again Jensen: “The epistle has been called ‘A practical Guide to Christian Conduct’ “(ibid). As a summary James has been called ‘the apostle of good works’, John ‘the apostle of love’, Paul ‘the apostle of faith’ and Peter ‘the apostle of hope’ (ibid).

That the tone of the book is authoritative as shown by James’ Libronix’ verb rivers:

2a Henry C. Thiessen  Introduction to the New Testament p 277 quoted in Irving L. Jensen Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament 1981, Moody Press, Chicago p 426 footnote 8

Most of the verbs are in the active voice and indicative mood. Jensen notes however that there are 54 imperative verbs in the 108 verses (p 428). The diagrams put this comment into perspective.

Apparently Martin Luther had trouble accepting the theology of James where works were cited as the consequence of faith. James “contradicts Paul and all scriptures, seeking to accomplish by enforcing the law what the apostles successfully effect by love.”4a  There is of course no contradiction; Paul rightly puts faith without works before salvation, and James rightly puts sanctified works as a result of saving faith. James actually goes further than this - which may have really got Luther’s back up - by stating that unless there is the fruit of works, one has grounds to doubt the presence of saving faith (James 2:14-18).

Jensen has a useful section (pp 427-8) on the comparisons between the themes of NT books and refers to Chart 62 p 244.

The literary form of the book should be suggested by its greeting or salutation ie a letter/epistle to a group of Jews. But the style of writing and composition is that of a synagogue sermon - short on theological discourse, long on practical truths with a lot of picture language similar to the teaching style of Jesus Himself (Jensen p 428).

            Jensen admits that “this epistle is not a formal treatise as such, but a series of exhortations written in a pattern whose order is not apparent, for the most part” (p 430). He presents a Chart (107 p 430) with three putative outlines of the book (by other authors) and Chart 108 (p 432) with his own best shot.

Articulate James’ instructions on trials and how to meet them 1:1-4:

            Jensen (p 433) summarises: Trials v2 - The Situation

                                                            Testing v 3a - The Test

                                                            Endurance vv 3b, 4a - The Immediate Fruit

                                                            Maturity v 4b - The Ultimate Fruit

            James is encouraging his brethren to accept trial and testing because it carries with it immense personal value, culminating in the blessing of being separated from the world, the flesh and the temptations of Satan, a state of “wanting nothing”, the implication being that living with Christ is complete satisfaction in itself. This is therefore a test of whether what we have is truly saving faith, and is a test useful for both saved and unsaved, and for both an individual and another who is observing eg for evidence of real Christian godliness.

            Macarthur usefully expands this section to make it into a summary of the rest of the Book, based around the tests that we all face in life:

Introduction (1:1)

     I.     The Test of Perseverance in Suffering (1:2–12)

     II.     The Test of Blame in Temptation (1:13–18)

     III.     The Test of Response to the Word (1:19–27)

     IV.     The Test of Impartial Love (2:1–13)

     V.     The Test of Righteous Works (2:14–26)

     VI.     The Test of the Tongue (3:1–12)

     VII.     The Test of Humble Wisdom (3:13–18)

     VIII.     The Test of Worldly Indulgence (4:1–12)

     IX.     The Test of Dependence (4:13–17)

     X.     The Test of Patient Endurance (5:1–11)

     XI.     The Test of Truthfulness (5:12)

     XII.     The Test of Prayerfulness (5:13–18)

     XIII.     The Test of True Faith (5:19–20)[3]

As an Outline of the Book, this is as good as any.

Over pp 17-20, Macarthur lists 8 reasons why it is useful to Christians to have their faith tested:

  • To test its strength
  • To humble us
  • To wean us from our dependence on worldly things
  • To call us to our eternal and heavenly hope
  • To reveal what we really love
  • To teach us to value God’s blessings
  • To develop enduring strength for increased usefulness
  • To better help others in their trials

To a greater or lesser extent, all of these themes are taken up in the rest of the Book.

Macarthur goes on: “Since trials are so productive, it is essential for us to respond rightly to them. James helps us greatly in this in 1:2–12 by giving five key means for persevering through trials: a joyful attitude (v. 2), an understanding mind (v. 3), a submissive will (v. 4), a believing heart (vv. 5–8), and a humble spirit (vv. 9–11).”[4]


Consider James’ ‘wisdom’ and how to maintain it 1:5-8:

            James is clear that the wisdom needed to live as God wants us to live comes only from Him, who gives liberally if and when asked. The trick is for us to recognise when we are acting unwisely, and ask (v6). God does not belittle us when we ask when in need (v 5 cf Heb 4:16) and He always gives in appropriate abundance. We cannot expect to receive any wisdom if we are two-faced or hypocritical in our asking (vv 6-8).



Examine wealth and how to regard it 1:9-11:

            In Christ, the poor in wealth receive the exaltation of abundant spiritual riches (and physical provision in that God promises His children food, drink and clothing - Matt 6:25-33). In Christ, the wealthy appreciate the blessing of having worldly goods and the need to be good stewards of God’s provision while they live; for life is short (4:14), everyone dies in the end and there are no pockets in a shroud.



Contrast trial and temptation 1:12-15:

            V 12a might be expanded as “Blessed is the man who holds firmly to his faith in Christ during a temptation to sin……for he shall receive the crown of life”. A trial - a temptation to sin - is a situation where we lean on Christ to carry us through because of the quality of our faith and trust in Him.

By contrast, a temptation - as defined in v 14 - aided and abetted by Satan and the world, appeals to our sin nature and leads ultimately to death (v 15) because we place faith in ourselves, not God, and the wages of sin is death.





Articulate what is meant by “good gifts” 1:16-18:

            The Greek word translated “gift” in v 17 is dosis and has the specific meaning of “what God confers as a possessor of all things” (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon G1394).

            We are not to be deceived by where we think good gifts come from. They all come from our Father in heaven, are given in abundance according to His grace, unvarying in His intentions to do us good by the giving, and requires us to obediently manage them in holiness and righteousness for His glory.



Summarise what James means by “hearing and doing” 1:19-27:

            The process of good listening (to God and to man), careful consideration and, if necessary, the slow build-up to righteous wrath will ‘work the righteousness of God’ (vv 19-20). Acquiring this facility necessitates rejection of sin and reception of saving faith, and is expressed by obedience to God’s commands in the Word (vv 21-22). Blessings from God come when we commit ourselves to Him in this ongoing process (vv 23-25), our outward works seen by others proving to them and to us that our salvation is real (vv 26-27).



Explain James’ teaching against “partiality” 2:1-13:

            Having a partiality to some people and not all equally is not to have the faith of Christ (v 1). It is hypocrisy.

            If we favour the rich over the poor (vv 2-3, 6) we become judges with evil thoughts (v 4). Foolishly says James, those who he is writing to favoured the rich even when the rich persecuted them (vv 6-7).

            To favour someone over another is to commit a sin (v 9) and this is sufficient to bring down the full weight of the Law if that is what one is trusting in for salvation. To break one Law is equivalent to breaking all (vv 10-13). The only thing that can rescue us from this is the mercy of God (v 13). Discuss



Assess the relationship between faith and works 2:14-26:

            See above. Works cannot save, but we cannot say we are saved unless we display the works that should be a consequence of our salvation (v 14-18).

Even devils believe in God, and we would be considered to be like them if we are not showing the works of faith (v 19-20), which by contrast they cannot.

Faith without works is a dead faith - using Abraham as an example when he offered Isaac - Abraham’s faith was vitally alive else he could not have trusted God so far (v 21-24). Abraham was first saved (v 23), then he expressed this by what he did (v 24). The same argument can be applied using Rahab the harlot (v 25).

Lastly, James (ie the Holy Spirit) equates dead faith with a corpse, for “faith without works is dead also” (v 26).




[1]Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged, Includes index., Ant 20.200 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987).

[2]John MacArthur, James, 3 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).

3aThe International Standard Bible Encyclopedia  G.W.Bromiley General Editor, Fully Revised 1988, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company  Grand Rapids, Michigan II, 965

[3]John MacArthur, James, 5 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).

4a Footnote 11 Jensen p428. This is apparently a quote from D.A.Hayes in  The International Bible Encyclopedia III, 1566 which is an earlier edition than my own, which does not contain this quote.

[4]John MacArthur, James, 21 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).

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