Bible Book Number 59—James
Place Written: Jerusalem
Writing Completed: Before 62 C.E.
1. What raises a question as to James’ writership of the book that bears the name James?
“HE HAS gone out of his mind.” That is what Jesus’ relatives thought of him. During the time of his earthly ministry, “his brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him,” and James, along with Joseph, Simon, and Judas, was not counted as one of Jesus’ early disciples. (Mark 3:21; John 7:5; Matt. 13:55) On what grounds can it be said, then, that James the half brother of Jesus wrote the Bible book that bears the name James?
2. What argues that Jesus’ half brother was the writer of James?
2 The record shows that the resurrected Jesus appeared to James, and this no doubt convinced him beyond question that Jesus was the Messiah. (1 Cor. 15:7) Acts 1:12-14 says that even before Pentecost, Mary and the brothers of Jesus were assembling for prayer with the apostles in an upper chamber in Jerusalem. But did not one of the apostles called James write the letter? No, for at the outset the writer identifies himself, not as an apostle, but as ‘a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Moreover, Jude’s introductory words, similar to those of James, mention Jude (or Judas) also as “a slave of Jesus Christ, but a brother of James.” (Jas. 1:1; Jude 1) From this we can safely conclude that James and Jude, the fleshly half brothers of Jesus, wrote the Bible books that bear their names.
3. What were James’ qualifications for writing?
3 James was eminently qualified to write a letter of counsel to the Christian congregation. He was greatly respected as an overseer in the Jerusalem congregation. Paul speaks of “James the brother of the Lord” as one of the “pillars” in the congregation along with Cephas and John. (Gal. 1:19; 2:9) James’ prominence is indicated by Peter’s sending immediate word to “James and the brothers” after his release from prison. And was it not James who acted as spokesman for “the apostles and the older men” when Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem to request a decision regarding circumcision? Incidentally, this decision and the letter of James both start with the identical salutation, “Greetings!”—another indication that they had a common writer.—Acts 12:17; 15:13, 22, 23; Jas. 1:1.
4. What indicates that the letter of James was written shortly before 62 C.E.?
4 The historian Josephus tells us it was High Priest Ananus (Ananias), a Sadducee, who was responsible for the death of James by stoning. This was after the death of the Roman governor Festus, about 62 C.E., and before his successor, Albinus, took office.a But when did James write his letter? James addressed his letter from Jerusalem to “the twelve tribes that are scattered about,” literally, “the (ones) in the dispersion.” (Jas. 1:1, footnote) It would have required time for Christianity to spread out following the outpouring of holy spirit in 33 C.E., and it would have required time, also, for the alarming conditions mentioned in the letter to develop. Further, the letter indicates that the Christians were no longer small groups but that they were organized into congregations with mature “older men” who could pray for and support the weak. Additionally, sufficient time had elapsed for a measure of complacency and formalism to creep in. (2:1-4; 4:1-3; 5:14; 1:26, 27) It is most probable, therefore, that James wrote his letter at a late date, perhaps shortly before 62 C.E., if Josephus’ account about the events surrounding the death of Festus and if the sources placing Festus’ death in about 62 C.E. are correct.
5. What proves the authenticity of James?
5 As to the authenticity of James, it is contained in the Vatican No. 1209, the Sinaitic, and the Alexandrine manuscripts. It is included in at least ten ancient catalogs prior to the Council of Carthage 397 C.E.b It was widely quoted by early ecclesiastical writers. A deep inner harmony with the rest of the inspired Scriptures is very evident in James’ writings.
6. (a) What circumstances called for James to write his letter? (b) Rather than contradict, how does James supplement Paul’s arguments on faith?
6 Why did James write this letter? A careful consideration of the letter discloses that internal conditions were causing difficulties among the brothers. Christian standards were being lowered, yes, even ignored, so that some had become spiritual adulteresses as regards friendship with the world. Eager to invent supposed contradictions, some have claimed that James’ letter encouraging faith by works nullifies Paul’s writings regarding salvation by faith and not by works. However, the context reveals that James refers to faith supported by works, not just words, whereas Paul clearly means works of the Law. Actually, James supplements the arguments of Paul, going one step further by defining how faith is made manifest. James’ counsel is most practical in its coverage of the day-to-day problems of the Christian.
7. How does James copy Jesus’ teaching methods, and with what effect?
7 Illustrations from everyday life, including animals, boats, farmers, and vegetation, give colorful backing to James’ arguments on faith, patience, and endurance. This copying of Jesus’ successful teaching methods makes his counsel extremely forceful. This letter impresses one with James’ keen discernment of the motives prompting individuals.
CONTENTS OF JAMES
8. What will result from patient endurance, but what from wrong desire?
8 Patient endurance as “doers of the word” (1:1-27). James opens with words of encouragement: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials.” Through patient endurance they will be made complete. If a person lacks wisdom, he should keep asking God for it, not in doubt, like a wind-tossed wave of the sea, but in faith. The lowly will be exalted, but the rich will fade away like the flower that perishes. Happy is the man that endures trial, for “he will receive the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.” God does not tempt man with evil things to cause his downfall. It is one’s own wrong desire that becomes fertile and gives birth to sin, and this, in turn, brings forth death.—1:2, 12, 22.
9. What is involved in being “doers of the word,” and what form of worship is approved by God?
9 From where do all good gifts come? From the never-varying ‘Father of celestial lights.’ “Because he willed it,” says James, “he brought us forth by the word of truth, for us to be a certain firstfruits of his creatures.” Christians, then, should be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath, and they should put away all filthiness and moral badness and accept the implanting of the word of salvation. “Become doers of the word, and not hearers only.” For he who peers into the mirrorlike law of freedom and persists in it “will be happy in his doing it.” The formal worship of the man that does not bridle his tongue is futile, but “the form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.”—1:17, 18, 22, 25, 27.
10. (a) What distinctions are to be shunned? (b) What is the relationship of works to faith?
10 Faith perfected by right works (2:1-26). The brothers are making distinctions, preferring the rich above the poor. But is it not true that “God chose the ones who are poor respecting the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom”? Are not the rich oppressors? The brothers should practice the kingly law, “You must love your neighbor as yourself,” and should shun favoritism. Let them also practice mercy, for as regards the Law, whoever offends in one point offends in all. Faith without works is meaningless, as is telling a needy brother or sister to “keep warm and well fed” without giving practical aid. Can faith be shown apart from works? Was not Abraham’s faith perfected by his works in offering Isaac on the altar? Likewise, Rahab the harlot was “declared righteous by works.” So faith without works is dead.—2:5, 8, 16, 19, 25.
11. (a) By use of what illustrations does James warn concerning the tongue? (b) How are wisdom and understanding to be shown?
11 Controlling the tongue to teach wisdom (3:1-18). The brothers should be wary about becoming teachers, lest they receive heavier judgment. Everyone stumbles many times. As a bridle controls a horse’s body and a small rudder a large boat, so that little member, the tongue, has great power. It is like a fire that can set a great woodland on fire! Wild animals can be tamed more easily than the tongue. With it men bless Jehovah, yet curse their fellowman. This is not proper. Does a fountain produce both bitter water and sweet? Can a fig tree produce olives? a vine, figs? salt water, sweet water? James asks: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Let him show his works with meekness and avoid contentiousness, animalistic bragging against the truth. For “the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical.”—3:13, 17.
12. (a) What wrong conditions exist in the congregation, and what is their source? (b) What attitude should be avoided and what quality cultivated to gain Jehovah’s approval?
12 Shun sensual pleasure, friendship with the world (4:1-17). “From what source are there fights among you?” James answers his own question: “Your cravings for sensual pleasure”! The motives of some are wrong. Those who would be friends of the world are “adulteresses,” and they become God’s enemies. Therefore, he exhorts: “Oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.” Jehovah will exalt the humble. So the brothers should quit judging one another. And because no one can be sure of his life from one day to the next, they ought to say: “If Jehovah wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” Pride is wicked, and it is a sin to know what is right and not do it.—4:1, 4, 7, 8, 15.
13. (a) Why is there woe for the rich? (b) How does James illustrate the need for patience and endurance, and with what results?
13 Happy those who endure in righteousness! (5:1-20). ‘Weep and howl, you rich men!’ declares James. ‘The rust of your wealth will be witness against you. Jehovah of armies has heard the calls for help from the reapers that you have deprived. You have lived in luxury and sensual pleasure, and you have condemned and murdered the righteous one.’ However, in view of the nearness of the Lord’s presence, the brothers should exercise patience, like the farmer waiting for his harvest, and consider the pattern of the prophets, “who spoke in the name of Jehovah.” Happy are those who have endured! The brothers should recall the endurance of Job and the outcome Jehovah gave, “that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.”—5:1-6, 10, 11.
14. What closing counsel is given concerning confessing sin and concerning prayer?
14 Let them stop swearing oaths. Rather, let their “Yes mean Yes” and their “No, No.” They should openly confess their sins and pray for one another. As is shown by Elijah’s prayers, “a righteous man’s supplication . . . has much force.” If anyone is misled from the truth, the one who turns him back “will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”—5:12, 16, 20.
15. How does James make application of the Hebrew Scriptures? Illustrate.
15 Though James only twice mentions the name Jesus (1:1; 2:1), he makes much practical application of the teachings of the Master, as a careful comparison of James’ letter and the Sermon on the Mount reveals. At the same time, Jehovah’s name appears 13 times (New World Translation), and his promises are emphasized as rewards for faith-keeping Christians. (4:10; 5:11) James draws repeatedly on the Hebrew Scriptures for illustrations and apt quotations in order to develop his practical counsel. He identifies the source by his expressions: “according to the scripture,” “the scripture was fulfilled,” and “the scripture says”; and he goes on to apply these scriptures to Christian living. (2:8, 23; 4:5) In making plain points of counsel and building faith in God’s Word as a harmonious whole, James makes appropriate references to Abraham’s works of faith, to Rahab’s demonstration of faith by works, to Job’s faithful endurance, and to Elijah’s reliance on prayer.—Jas. 2:21-25; 5:11, 17, 18; Gen. 22:9-12; Josh. 2:1-21; Job 1:20-22; 42:10; 1 Ki. 17:1; 18:41-45.
16. What counsel and warnings does James give, and from what source is such practical wisdom?
16 Invaluable is James’ counsel to be doers of the word and not just hearers, to keep proving faith by works of righteousness, to find joy in enduring various trials, to keep on asking God for wisdom, always to draw close to him in prayer, and to practice the kingly law, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Jas. 1:22; 2:24; 1:2, 5; 4:8; 5:13-18; 2:8) Strong are his warnings against teaching error, injuriously using the tongue, making class distinctions in the congregation, craving sensual pleasure, and trusting in corruptible riches. (3:1, 8; 2:4; 4:3; 5:1, 5) James makes it very plain that friendship with the world amounts to spiritual adultery and enmity with God, and he gives the definition of the practical form of worship that is clean in God’s sight: “to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” (4:4; 1:27) All this counsel, so practical and easy to understand, is just what could be expected from this ‘pillar’ of the early Christian congregation. (Gal. 2:9) Its kindly message continues as a guidepost for Christians in our turbulent times, for it is “wisdom from above,” which produces “the fruit of righteousness.”—3:17, 18.
17. What strong reason is presented for enduring in faithful works?
17 James was anxious to help his brothers reach their goal of life in God’s Kingdom. So he urges them: “You too exercise patience; make your hearts firm, because the presence of the Lord has drawn close.” They are happy if they go on enduring trial because God’s approval means receiving “the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.” (5:8; 1:12) Thus God’s promise of the crown of life—either immortal life in the heavens or eternal life on earth—is emphasized as strong reason for enduring in faithful works. Surely this wonderful letter will encourage all to reach out for the goal of everlasting life either in heaven or in Jehovah’s new world ruled by the Kingdom Seed, our Lord Jesus Christ.—2:5.
a Jewish Antiquities, XX, 197-200 (ix, 1); Webster’s New Biographical Dictionary, 1983, page 350.
b See chart, page 303.