Book Summaries

A general, or catholic, epistle addressed to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (Jas 1:1), that is, one not written to a particular individual or church. In the earliest manuscripts it either bore no title, or had the simple title "Epistle of James." In the Codex Sinaiticus "Epistle of James" appears as a subscript at the close. In the early extant NT manuscripts the 7 epistles from James to Jude immediately follow Acts and precede the epistles of Paul. The right of James to a place in the canon has never been seriously challenged.

The identity of the author is uncertain, inasmuch as the writer identifies himself as simply James, "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Jas 1:1), and several persons by the name of James are mentioned in the NT. This simple introduction would indicate that at the time of writing apparently only one James was well known to the church "scattered abroad" as a prominent, acknowledged leader. This would seem to date the epistle at least after the death of James the brother of John, c. a.d. 44, and thus leave only James the son of Alphaeus and James the brother of our Lord--commonly identified with James, a prominent leader in the church at Jerusalem--as possible authors. See James, 2, 5. The writer evidently expects that his readers will not question his authority. Accordingly, of known NT leaders, James the elder at Jerusalem seems best to qualify.

Whether the "twelve tribes scattered abroad" (Jas 1:1) were literal Jews of the Diaspora or Christian believers generally, including Gentiles, cannot be determined with certainty. However, the instruction contained in the epistle seems most appropriate to literal Jews (see, for example, ch 2:21) who had already accepted Jesus Christ as "Lord" (chs 1:1, 7, 12; 2:1; 5:7, 11).

The epistle deals in a concrete way with practical problems within the church rather than with doctrinal problems, as such, and stresses the effect of faith upon the life. The works that result from faith mark off the true Christian from the one who has not experienced genuine conversion (Jas 2). By "works" James denotes the deeds that result from a living faith, not the "works" of the law by which Jews generally thought to attain to righteousness. Misunderstanding of this point has led some erroneously to consider James at variance with the teachings of Paul in Romans and Galatians. Although the epistle does not present a single, tightly knit argument, its component parts are nevertheless closely related, being aspects of practical Christianity. The epistle is written in plain but excellent Greek, and its effective imagery drawn from nature is reminiscent of such OT prophets as Hosea and Amos. The author's literary skill is evident in the graphic language with which he presses simple but vital truths home to his readers (Jas 1:6, 11; 2:1 ­4, 15, 16; 3:1 ­12, 17; 4:13 ­16; 5:1 ­6; etc.). There are a number of statements that appear to be allusions to the Sermon on the Mount.

After the briefest of introductions (Jas 1:1) the author plunges immediately into his subject, first taking up the need of patient endurance in the face of affliction and temptation (vs. 2 ­18). Next he stresses the importance of applying the principles of religion to the life, contrasting this with the vain, deceptive attitude that insulates theoretical religion from conduct (vs. 19 ­27). In ch 2:1 ­13 he lays emphasis on the principle of love as enunciated in the 2nd table of the Decalogue, and in vs. 14 ­26 upon the worthlessness of a profession unattested by corresponding "works." In ch 3 he stresses the supreme importance of pure, gracious speech. In ch 4 he sets forth the principles by which Christians are to maintain peace and good will among themselves and, conversely, to avoid strife and contention. The closing chapter deals briefly but emphatically with the fact that labourers deserve a just wage (ch 5:1 ­6). In closing, James admonishes his readers to be patient and circumspect, in anticipation of the coming of the Lord (vs. 7 ­13). He gives special instruction with respect to prayer for the sick (vs. 14 ­18), and appeals to Christians to take a sincere interest in the spiritual welfare of their fellow believers (vs. 19, 20).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.