Epistle of James in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE

LITERATURE I. Characteristics of the Epistle. 1. Jewish: The Epistle of James is the most Jewish writing in the New Testament. The Gospel according to Matthew was written for the Jews. The Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed explicitly to them. The Apocalypse is full of the spirit of the Old Testament. The Epistle of Jude is Jewish too. Yet all of these books have more of the distinctively Christian element in them than we can find in the Epistle of James. If we eliminate two or three passages containing references to Christ, the whole epistle might find its place iust as properly in the Canon of the Old Testament as in that of the New Testament, as far as its substance of doctrine and contents is concerned. That could not be said Of any other book in the New Testament. There is no mention of the incarnation or of the resurrection., the two fundamental facts of the Christian faith. The word "gospel" does not occur in the epistle There is no suggestion that the Messiah has appeared and no presentation of the possibility of redemption through Him. The teaching throughout is that of a lofty morality which aims at the fulfillment of the requirements of the Mosaic law. It is not strange therefore that Spitta and others have thought that we have in the Epistle of James a treatise written by an unconverted Jew which has been adapted to Christian use by the interpolation of the two phrases containing the name of Christ in 1:1 and 2:1. Spitta thinks that this can be the only explanation of the fact that we have here an epistle practically ignoring the life and work of Jesus and every distinctively Christian doctrine, and without a trace of any of the great controversies in the early Christian church or any of the specific features of its propaganda. This judgment is a superficial one, and rests upon superficial indications rather than any appreciation of the underlying spirit and principles of the book. The spirit of Christ is here, and there is no need to label it. The principles of this epistle are the principles of the Sermon on the Mount. There are more parallels to that Sermon in this epistle than can be found anywhere else in the New Testament in the same space. The epistle represents the idealization of Jewish legalism under the transforming influence of the Christian motive and life. It is not a theological discussion. It is an ethical appeal. It has to do with the outward life for the most part, and the life it pictures is that of a Jew informed with the spirit of Christ. The spirit is invisible in the epistle as in the individual man. It is the body which appears and the outward life with which that body has to do. The body of the epistle is Jewish, and the outward life to which it exhorts is that of a profoundly pious Jew. The Jews familiar with the Old Testament would read this epistle and find its language and tone that to which they were accustomed in their sacred books. James is evidently written by a Jew for Jews...

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