A Study of James
Lesson 1
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A Study of James - Lesson 1 - Overview

Nature of the Epistle: Practical Theology

Doctrinal Theology vs. Practical Theology
Our beliefs must affect our walk. Paul's epistles typically start with the doctrinal as a basis for the practical. See Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1; etc. James, on the other hand, seems to center on practical theology—acknowledging the doctrinal teachings, without formally declaring them.

We must remember that the Goal of the Christian Life is godliness and Christlikeness … see 1 Timothy 1:5; Ephesians 5:25-27; Romans 8:29; Titus 2:14. This is what James, in a very practical way, teaches us to pursue.

James is "Wisdom Literature"
Compare to Proverbs, or the Sermon on the Mount. Biblical "wisdom" is more than merely intellectual knowledge and abilities. Biblical wisdom centers on godly living, "common sense" virtues, and developing good relationships with God and men.

James is organized more like a Braided Rope than a Linked Chain
Paul's epistles (especially Romans) are noted for their careful organization and powerful logic. Each section builds upon previous ones. James, on the other hand, seems to jump around from one topic to another, often returning to ideas introduced earlier, as if to reinforce them or develop them more fully.

Not likely James, the brother of John ("sons of Thunder" or "sons of Zebedee"), for he was martyred early in the book of Acts (12:1-2). Some (Matthew Henry, John Calvin and John Gill) suggest the other apostle: James the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13)

However, the author, although identifying himself by name, does not claim apostleship for himself, but only refers to himself as a "bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." (Jas 1:1). Compare this to Romans 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1; Titus 1:1; 1 Pet 1:1 and 2 Pet 1:1. When including others with him as authors (Phil; 1 Thess; 2 Thess), or when writing a personal letter to an individual (Philemon), Paul sometimes does not mention his apostleship. John does not identify himself as the author of his epistles, and refers to himself simply as "the elder". Jude, like James, claims merely the title "bondservant", identifying himself further as "the brother of James" (Jude 1).

It should be noted that Mark and Luke were not apostles, even though they were inspired by God to write holy scripture. Thus, it was not necessary that the author of James should have been one of the original apostles.

Most modern expositors believe it was James, the half-brother of our Lord, and son of Mary and Joseph (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; 1 Cor 15:7). This James was an unbeliever during our Lord's earthly ministry (John 7:3-5). However, after the resurrection, he was numbered among the disciples, and quickly rose to become a primary leader (arguably the primary leader) in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; Gal 1:19; 2:9, 12). He was also the brother of Jude, who wrote the epistle by that name (Jude 1:1; Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3).

Paul seems to question the propriety of James' position in the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:6, 9). On the human level, it is possible that James achieved such prominence because of :

(This last point may explain similarities of the book of James to the Sermon on the Mount.)  But, while there may have been some in the Jerusalem church who had wrong motives for wanting James to be in leadership, we should not suppose that James therefore lacked the qualifications to be an elder of the church at Jerusalem, or to be a writer of sacred scripture.  As we shall see in this epistle, James exhibited the graces of a true child of God, and clearly had a pastoral heart for his readers.

While there may have been some who questioned the canonicity of James, Calvin regarded it to be inspired Scripture…

"There are also at this day some who do not think it entitled to authority.  I, however, am inclined to receive it without controversy, because I see no just cause for rejecting it. For what seems in the second chapter to be inconsistent with the doctrine of free justification, we shall easily explain in its own place. Though he seems more sparing in proclaiming the grace of Christ than it behooved an Apostle to be, it is not surely required of all to handle the same arguments. The writings of Solomon differ much from those of David; while the former was intent on forming the outward man and teaching the precepts of civil life, the latter spoke continually of the spiritual worship of God, peace of conscience, God's mercy and gratuitous promise of salvation. But this diversity should not make us approve of one, and to condemn the other. Besides, among the evangelists themselves there is so much difference in setting forth the power of Christ, that the other three, compared with John, have hardly sparks of that full brightness which appears so conspicuous in him, and yet we commend them all alike."

John Calvin - Commentary on James, Introduction.

"The twelve tribes of the dispersion" – This is a technical expression describing the Jews that had been scattered among the Gentiles.

A question thus arises: Surely James is writing to Christians. How is it then, that these dispersed Jews had come to Christ? The most likely answer is that James is writing to those whose witness of Christ could be traced to Pentecost, when many of the dispersed Jews had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast, and had heard the apostles preach Christ, witnessing the Spirit's manifest miracles (Acts 2:5ff). Another possibility is that these were Jewish Christians who had later been scattered due to the persecution that arose after the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1ff).

The following list is representative, but not exhaustive.

  1. Patient endurance through trials.
  2. Praying with confidence.
  3. Seeking wisdom from God.
  4. The trials of poverty and wealth.
  5. How trials become temptations.
  6. Bridling the tongue.
  7. The necessity of good works.
  8. Genuine obedience: compassion and purity.
  9. Drawing near to God.
  10. Warnings against judgmentalism, favoritism & presumption.
  11. How to respond to hardships and joy.
  12. Restoring a brother.

A Study of James
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