The Epistle of James
is a book in the Christian New Testament
. The author identifies himself as "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ", traditionally understood as James the Just
, the brother of Jesus
(see Authorship and Composition
Framed within an overall theme of patient perseverance during trials and temptations, the text condemns various sins and calls on Christians to be patient while awaiting the Second Coming.
The epistle has caused controversy: Protestant reformer Martin Luther argued that it was not the work of an apostle. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Mormonism claim it contradicts Luther's doctrine of justification through faith alone (Sola fide), which Luther derived from his translation of . The Christian debate over Justification is still unsettled, see also Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification and Biblical law in Christianity.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
- "The subjects treated of in the Epistle are many and various; moreover, St. James not infrequently, whilst elucidating a certain point, passes abruptly to another, and presently resumes once more his former argument; hence it is difficult to give a precise division of the Epistle."
The United Bible Societies
's Greek New Testament
divides the letter into the following sections:
- Salutation (1:1)
- Faith and Wisdom (1:2-8)
- Poverty and Riches (1:9-11)
- Trial and Temptation (1:12-18)
- Hearing and Doing the Word (1:19-27)
- Warning against Partiality (2:1-13)
- Faith and Works (2:14-26)
- The Tongue (3:1-12)
- The Wisdom from Above (3:13-18)
- Friendship with the World (4:1-10)
- Judging a Brother (4:11-12)
- Warning against Boasting (4:13-17)
- Warning to the Rich (5:1-6)
- Patience and Prayer (5:7-20)
The epistle was addressed to "the twelve tribes scattered abroad" (James 1:1), which is generally taken to mean a Jewish Christian audience.
The object of the writer was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian life. The vices against which he warns them are: formalism, which made the service of God consist in washings and outward ceremonies, whereas he reminds them (1:27) that it consists rather in active love and purity; fanaticism, which, under the cloak of religious zeal, was tearing Jerusalem in pieces (1:20); fatalism, which threw its sins on God (1:13); meanness, which crouched before the rich (2:2); falsehood, which had made words and oaths play-things (3:2-12); partisanship (3:14); evil speaking (4:11); boasting (4:16); oppression (5:4). The great lesson which he teaches them as Christians is patience, patience in trial (1:2), patience in good works (1:22-25), patience under provocation (3:17), patience under oppression (5:7), patience under persecution (5:10); and the ground of their patience is that the coming of the Lord drawing nigh, which is to right all wrong (5:8).
Authorship and composition
The author identifies himself in the opening verse as "James, a servant of God
and of the Lord Jesus
Christ". From the middle of the third century, patristic
authors cited the Epistle
as written by James the Just
, a relation of Jesus
and first Bishop of Jerusalem
. Not numbered among the Twelve Apostles
, unless he is identified as James the Less
, James was nonetheless a very important figure: Paul described him as "the brother of the Lord" in Galatians
1:19 and as one of the three "pillars of the Church" in 2:9. He is traditionally considered the first of the Seventy Disciples
. John Calvin
and others suggested that the author was the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus
, who was often identified with James the Just. If written by James the Just, the place and time of the writing of the epistle would be Jerusalem
, where James was residing before his martyrdom in 62.
Authorship has also occasionally been attributed to the apostle James the Great, brother of John the Evangelist and son of Zebedee. The letter does mention persecutions in the present tense (2:6), and this is consistent with the persecution in Jerusalem during which James the Great was martyred (Acts 12:1). However, some challenge the early date on the basis of some of the letter’s content, which they interpret to be a clarification of St. Paul’s teachings on justification found in his Epistle to the Romans, written c. 54. If written by James the Great, the location would have also been Jerusalem, sometime before 45.
Lastly, many scholars consider the epistle to be written in the late first or early second centuries, after the death of James the Just. Among the reasons for this are:
- the author introduces himself merely as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ", without invoking any special family relationship to Jesus.
- the cultured Greek language of the Epistle, it is contended, could not have been written by a Jerusalemite Jew. This argument has lost much force as recent insight into Greek influence on Judea at the time has come to light. It is plausible that the letter in Greek to the Jewish diaspora could have been composed with a secretary, as Jerome argued. Some scholars argue for a primitive version of the letter composed by James and then later polished by another writer.
- the author fails to mention Jewish ritual requirements such as circumcision, whereas James the Just is known from Galatians and the Acts of the Apostles to have been particularly concerned with ministering to the Jewish and circumcised (however, since it is addressed to a Jewish audience, such requirements would naturally be taken for granted; moreover, the Epistle could have been written before the end of Paul's First Missionary Journey (46-48 AD), when the inclusion of gentiles first became an issue).
- the author fails to mention any details of Jesus's life (however, the doctrines resemble Jesus's own doctrines as recorded in the Gospels, more than Paul's doctrines).
- the epistle was only gradually accepted into the (non-Jewish) canon of the New Testament.
- Some see parallels between James and 1 Peter, 1 Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas and take this to reflect the socio-economic situation Christians were dealing with in the late first or early second century. It thus could have been written anywhere in the Empire where Christians spoke Greek. There are some scholars who argued for Syria.
The Epistle was definitely quoted by Origen of Alexandria
, and possibly a bit earlier
by Irenaeus of Lyons
as well as Clement of Alexandria
in a lost work according to Eusebius
The Epistle of James was included among the 27 New Testament books first listed by Athanasius of Alexandria and was confirmed as a canonical epistle of the New Testament by a series of councils in the fourth century. Today, virtually all denominations of Christianity consider this book to be a canonical epistle of the New Testament. See Biblical canon
In the first centuries of the Church the authenticity of the Epistle was doubted by some, and amongst others by Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia; it is therefore deuterocanonical. It is missing in the Muratorian fragment, and because of the silence of several of the western churches regarding it, Eusebius classes it amongst the Antilegomena or contested writings (Historia ecclesiae, 3.25; 2.23). St. Jerome gives a similar appraisal but adds that with time it had been universally admitted. Gaius Marius Victorinus, in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, openly questioned whether the teachings of James were heretical.
Its late recognition in the Church, especially in the West, may be explained by the fact that it was written for or by Jewish Christians, and therefore not widely circulated among the Gentile Churches. There is some indication that a few groups distrusted the book because of its doctrine. In Reformation times a few theologians, most notably Martin Luther, argued that this epistle was too defective to be part of the canonical New Testament. This is probably due to the book's specific teaching that faith alone is not enough for salvation which seemed to contradict Luther's doctrine of sola fide (faith alone).
The letter contains the following famous passage concerning salvation and justification:
- “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? …You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only…? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:14, 24, 26)
This passage has been cited in Christian theological debates, especially against the Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith alone. Gaius Marius Victorinus (4th century) associated James' teaching on works with the heretical Symmachian sect, followers of Symmachus the Ebionite, and openly questioned whether James' teachings were heretical. This passage has also been contrasted with the teachings of Paul of Tarsus, especially in his Epistle to the Romans (see Romans 3:28). One issue in the debate is the proper rendering of the Greek δικαιωθηναι (dikaiōthēnai). But see also New Perspective on Paul.
Anointing of the Sick
James' epistle is also the chief Biblical text for the Anointing of the Sick
. James wrote:
- "Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And their prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make them well. And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven." (5:14,15).
Online translation of the Epistle of James:
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Epistle of St. James: "Luther strongly repudiated the Epistle as "a letter of straw", and "unworthy of the apostolic Spirit", and this solely for dogmatic reasons, and owing to his preconceived notions, for the epistle refutes his heretical doctrine that Faith alone is necessary for salvation. ... For the question of apparent opposition between St. James and St. Paul with regard to "faith and works" see EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS."
- Jewish Encyclopedia: JAMES, GENERAL EPISTLE OF: "It has been assumed by most New Testament exegetes that these observations refer to Paul's doctrine concerning justification by faith, a doctrine which also is based upon Gen. xv. 6 (see Rom. iv. 3; Gal. iii. 6), but which is contradicted by James."
- 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: James, Epistle of
- Marius Victorinus and the Teachings of James
- Early Christian Writings: The Epistle of James
- Justification in James 2 - a Catholic interpretation by James Akin
- NAB Introduction to James
- Sermons on James - texts of sermons on James by famous Protestant preachers John Piper (theologian), John F. MacArthur, J. Ligon Duncan and Charles Spurgeon.