Study of James


An Introduction to James

The Background of James

James, the son of Mary and Joseph, the half brother of Christ, is the human author of the Epistle of James. James is named as one of the children of Mary in Mark 6:3,

(3) Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.

The fact that James is named first among the younger brothers of Jesus suggests that he was Mary's son closest in age to Jesus. In Matthew 12:46-50 an incident which includes James is observed,

(46) While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.

(47) Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

(48) But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?

(49) And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

(50) For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

The text does not state why they desired to see Jesus. James was not a believer during the life of Jesus. Although it was dangerous for Jesus to go to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles, His brothers, undoubtedly including James, made a rather snide comment to Jesus about His motive rather than showing concern for His safety. John 7:1-8 says,

(1) After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.

(2) Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand.

(3) His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest.

(4) For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.

(5) For neither did his brethren believe in him.

(6) Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready.

(7) The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.

(8) Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come (emphasis added).

Things changed after Jesus appeared to James following the resurrection. I Corinthians 15:3-8 says,

(3) For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

(4) And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

(5) And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

(6) After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

(7) After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

(8) And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time (emphasis added).

James was evidently saved as a result of Jesus' appearance to him; and he, along with his brothers; was found among approximately one hundred twenty followers of Jesus in the upper room in Acts waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost when Matthias was appointed to take Judas Iscariot's place as an apostle. Acts 1:13-14 says,

(13) And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.

(14) These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren (emphasis added).

James is next seen in Galatians 1:15-19 where Paul mentions that he saw him while he was in Jerusalem with Peter for fifteen days and also identifies James as the Lord's brother,

(15) But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,

(16) To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

(17) Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.

(18) Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.

(19) But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother (emphasis added).

No one knows what Paul and James might have discussed. One can only imagine that they would have discussed what James knew of Jesus, having grown up in the same home with Him, and how Jesus had appeared to both of them and saved them from their sins.

A James is seen in Galatians 2:9-10,

(9) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

(10) Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

The identity of this James depends somewhat upon which visit to Jerusalem this would have been. If it is the famine visit in Acts 11:27-30 (which is this writer's view), the James mentioned here could have been James the Apostle who was still alive; but it was most likely James, the son of Mary and Joseph and half brother of the Lord Jesus Christ. If, however, this visit to Jerusalem corresponds to the Jerusalem council, then this James would have to be the son of Mary and Joseph and half brother of Jesus Christ because the Apostle James, the brother of John, would have already died about five years earlier. Most commentators view the James mentioned in verse 9 as the son of Mary and Joseph, the half brother of Jesus. This writer views Galatians as having been written before the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 with the result that the identity of the James mentioned in Galatians 2:9 is not quite as clear as he would like; but he favors the idea that it was indeed James, the brother of Jesus.

James seems to have been known for his strict adherence to the law and his strong leadership in the church in Jerusalem because Peter seems intimidated by those who came to Antioch, purportedly from James. Galatians 2:11-13 says,

(11) But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

(12) For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

(13) And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation (emphasis added).

After James the son of Zebedee was martyred in AD 44, Peter was imprisoned and awaiting execution. God had other plans, however, and delivered him from prison. When Peter met with those who had been praying for his release, just before he departed, he told them in Acts 12:17, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. It appears that James either was, or was about to become, the leader in the church in Jerusalem. Acts 12:1-17 says,

(1) Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.

(2) And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

(3) And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

(4) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

(5) Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

(6) And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.

(7) And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.

(8) And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.

(9) And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.

(10) When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.

(11) And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

(12) And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.

(13) And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.

(14) And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.

(15) And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.

(16) But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.

(17) But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place (emphasis added).

Apparently, Peter left Palestine at this time, and James became (or continued as) the leader of the church at Jerusalem. James is next seen in Acts 15 as the leader, in charge in the Jerusalem council. As such, he is regarded as the pastor of this church. Acts 15:1-29 says,

(1) And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

(2) When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

(3) And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.

(4) And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

(5) But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

(6) And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

(7) And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

(8) And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;

(9) And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

(10) Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

(11) But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

(12) Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

(13) And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:

(14) Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.

(15) And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,

(16) After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:

(17) That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

(18) Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

(19) Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:

(20) But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

(21) For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

(22) Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:

(23) And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

(24) Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:

(25) It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

(26) Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(27) We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.

(28) For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

(29) That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well (emphasis added).

James was reportedly martyred in AD 62. This means that the Epistle of James had to be written before this date. It also appears that it was written before the Jerusalem council in AD 48-49 because no mention of this council is made in the letter. Therefore, a date somewhere between AD 45 and 48 is assumed. Nothing in the epistle can be tied to a more specific date. This early date suggests that James was the first New Testament document written.

James wrote to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad. These were Christian Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. The Jews were first scattered in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, and many did not return to Jerusalem when given the chance. Some moved to various places because of business. On the day of Pentecost, Jews came to Jerusalem from various parts of the Roman Empire. They are listed as Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya about Cyrene, Rome, Cretes, and Arabians. Persecution resulted in additional scattering and means that many Jews had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire and were no longer living in Palestine.

The theme of James is practical Christian living. He deals with various matters such as trials and temptations, poverty and wealth, the Scriptures, favoritism, faith and works, the tongue, wisdom, disputes among believers, consulting God when making plans, the rich, oaths, prayer and the healing of the sick, and the restoration of backsliders.

Outline of James

James is difficult to outline because of the number of topics discussed and because these topics do not appear to follow any particular pattern. As a result, each person's outline is different.

I. Salutation - 1:1

II. Trials and temptations - 1:2-8

III. Poverty and wealth - 1:9-11

IV. Trials and temptations - 1:12-17

V. The Word of God - 1:18-27

VI. Partiality - 2:1-13

VII. Faith and works - 2:14-26

VIII. The use and misuse of the tongue - 3:1-12

IX. True and false wisdom - 3:13-18

X. Wicked desires - 4:1-4

XI. God's provision for deliverance - 4:5-10

XII. The slandering of one another - 4:11-12

XIII. The making of plans without seeking God's will - 4:13-17

XIV. A warning to the rich for withholding their laborers' wages - 5:1-6

XV. Patience unto the coming of the Lord - 5:7-11

XVI. The swearing of oaths - 5:12

XVII. Prayer and the healing of the sick - 5:13-18

XVIII. Converting the sinner from the error of his way - 5:19-20