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3.1.0 Introduction to James

  • I. The Writer of the Epistle of James
  • II. Those Addressed in the Epistle of James
  • III. The Contents of the Epistle of James

I. The Writer of the Epistle of James

James 1:1 "James a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…

  • " Servant: "a bond man; in subjection; a voluntary slave" (Only the will of God will be performed.)

James Who?

This simple signature tells us the writer was well known to his readers and did not need a lengthy introduction. He was a man highly esteemed among them, one who stood in a position of recognized spiritual authority, and one whom they were obliged to obey. There are four men named James' who lived around the NT era.

a) James the son of Zebedee & brother of John was the most prominent "James" in the gospels. He was one of the "sons of thunder," originally a fisherman with John (his brother), along with Peter and Andrew. He became a disciple of Jesus, He was one of the three inner disciples and was later martyred by Herod Agrippa I, as recorded in Acts 12:2 (A.D. 44). There is not much chance that this James could have written this letter before he was killed, and there is no tradition arguing that he did.

b) James the son of Alphaeus, another disciple of our Lord of whom very little is known was the brother of Matthew (Levi). Although a disciple of Jesus, there is no hint that he is the one who wrote this epistle. Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13

c) James the father of Judas the disciple (Judas Thaddaeus) is even more obscure and not a likely candidate

d) James the brother of Jude & half-brother of our Lord and also known as James the Just, appears to be the writer of the epistle of James. He is not so identified, but much about his character is revealed that is in keeping with what is known about him. This choice is also in keeping with tradition which tells us that he remained in Jerusalem and that Peter, James, & John chose James, the brother of Jesus to be the pastor of the Jerusalem church after the ascension of Christ according to Clement of Alexandria. This appointment was despite the fact that James was not one of the original 12 apostles.

"For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem." — Clement (c. 35 AD – 99 AD) in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes

The fact that the writer does not identify himself (as our Lord's brother) may be an indication of his humility, but it also reveals the standing and personal authority he had over his readers. He was a man well known and highly esteemed in the new Christian community. "James, a servant of God and of Jesus Christ" was sufficient identification for them.

(Note: At least four other men beside the original 11 have apostolic status: Matthias [Acts 1:26], Barnabas [Acts 14:4, 14], Paul, and James.)

James' Testimony

1:1 — James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

  • James the Just, The Brother of Jude and Half-Brother of our Lord is first mentioned in Matthew 13:55. Although Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus' conception, there is every indication necessary in Scripture that she did not perpetually stay virgin.

Matthew 13:55 — Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

  • John 7:5 appears to relay the sad fact that even as late as six months before the crucifixion (the feast of tabernacles), James was still an unbeliever. His brethren could not deny his status as prophet as they saw the miracles he did, but they did not receive him as the promised Messiah. Compare also their treatment of Jesus in Mark 3:13-21.

John 7:5 — For neither did his brethren believe in him.

Mark 3:21 — And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. {friends = relatives}

After hearing the rumors of what Jesus had been up to his relatives (probably including James) concluded he was deranged and determined to take him home to restore him to his right mind. Thier "carpentar" brother: quit his job, spent more and more time in the desert denying himself of mere necessities, called to himself 12 disciples and taught them such things as He being the Messiah. Surely, He has lost his Mind!

  • I Corinthians 15:7 tells us that in the midst of the resurrection appearances of Christ, "He was seen of James."

1 Corinthians 15:7 — After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

  • A little later, a number of people are recorded as meeting for prayer with the apostles in the upper room, as they awaited Pentecost; among them were "Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brethren."

Acts 1:12 — Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey. 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.

  • In Galatians 1:18-19 Paul is describing the events of his life following his three years in Arabia after his conversion; at this time he spent two weeks with Peter in Jerusalem and also met another important church leader, "James the Lord's brother."

  • By the time of Acts 12:17 James was evidently already a leader in the Jerusalem church, for Peter, released from prison, asks that the news be reported to James.

  • In Acts 15:13, James is the one presiding at the great council of Jerusalem which met to decide the important question of the relationship of Christianity to the Mosaic law; his leadership role is evident.

  • In Galatians 2:9, Paul refers to him as a "pillar" of the church — equal to Peter and John.

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.

The remaining references to James (Gal. 2:12-13 & Acts 21:18-19) reveal his zeal for the Mosaic law (circumcision; "zealous of the law"). He was evidently in firm agreement with the decision of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:13-19), but he was also careful to keep peace between the Gentile believers and the more "legalistic" Jewish Christians (verse 20). Perhaps he himself (as Peter in Galatians 2:11) carried this matter too far; this does not minimize his standing as an apostle, however (Galatians 1:19).

Galatians 1:19 — But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.

He was "nicknamed" "James the Just" because of his recognized piety, and was said to have "knees like those of camels" because of his much time spent in prayer.

So far James has come from his unbelief!

James' Death

Details of James the Just' martyrdom around 62 A.D. are found in the writings of Josephus, Eusebius, and Jerome. When Festus, the governor of Judea, died, Nero replaced him with Albinus. About the same time, Herod Agrippa II replaced the Jewish high priest Joseph with Ananus. After Festus died and before Albinus had arrived in Judea to replace him, the new high priest decided to pressure James to deny that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. Ananus was taking advantage of a lapse in leadership at the end of Festus' reign. (Similar circumstances at the end of Pilate's reign over Judea had led to the stoning of Stephen.)

The Jewish high priest, Ananus, asked James to stand on the Temple wall and speak against Jesus to the crowds which had gathered in preparation for the Passover. James instead spoke in favor of Jesus as the Christ; many heard him and many were converted. So the Jewish religious leaders threw James down from the Temple wall. He did not die from the fall, so they began to stone him. Still he did not die from the stoning, so a man took a fuller club (used to beat out clothing) and clubbed him to death. In this way, James died at the age of 94 after being the leader of the Church at Jerusalem for 30 years.

II. The Contents of the Epistle of James

A. Key Text: James 2:17,18

James 2:17,18—Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

B. Theme: A living faith is shown by works.

1:3,4,25,27; 2:18,20,22,26; 3:17,18; 4:6-11,17; 5:7-9,12,15,17-20

C. The Purpose of Writing: Intruct & Inspire


The epistle of James is a guidebook for true religion*; James gives a pattern showing the characteristics of true faith. He encourages perfection in Christian Character. In encouraging the perfection of Christian character, James warns of many vices as evil works and in opposition to the works that should accompany our faith:

  • blaming God for our our sin (1:13)
  • religious zeal without conviction and its resulting frusration (1:20)
  • formalism as opposed to true religion (1:27)
  • favoritism in the assembly (2:1-18)
  • not taking neccessary care with our words (3:2-12, 14; 4:11)
  • boasting (4:16)

The epistle of James is also an instruction in patience. The great lesson which he teaches them as Christians is patience, and the ground of their patience is that the coming of the Lord is drawing nigh. We need to have a full Revelation of God's Word that we may understand God's Eternal Purpose.

James 5:7-9 — Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain 8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.


  • in trial (1:2)
  • In good works (1:22-25)
  • under provocation (3:17)
  • though treated with fraud (5:4)
  • under oppression (5:7)
  • under persecution (5:10)


The epistle of James is not merely instructional but is also inspirational. The object of the writer is to inspire men to take on the practical duties of the Christian life. In James 1:2-12 James gives five urgent requirements of faith and in so doing he illustrates faith's spiritual vitality. WE NEED FAITH; without it we will die. In order for faith to remain true and alive it must be added to. Faith can only be added to as it is exercised. Faith is to always be in action; not just in motion doing something, but doing the Will of God.

D. Textual Outline

The whole book of James is dealing with practical everyday living according to the Word of God. When he begins and ends the book, he deals with several points briefly, but in the main body of the letter, he singles out several important issues and takes some time to deal with them individually.

  • Chapter 1 — Practical instructions on Christian living
  • Chapter 2 — Show no partiality vs. 1-13 & "Faith without works is dead" vs. 14-26
  • Chapter 3 — The power of the tongue — Earthly wisdom vs. heavenly wisdom
  • Chapter 4 — The friend of the world is the enemy of God
  • Chapter 5 — Corrupted rich men — Be patient — More practical instruction on Christian living