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book of james Summary and Overview

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book of james in Easton's Bible Dictionary

The Epistle of James. (1.) Author of, was James the Less, the Lord's brother, one of the twelve apostles. He was one of the three pillars of the Church (Gal. 2:9). (2.) It was addressed to the Jews of the dispersion, "the twelve tribes scattered abroad." (3.) The place and time of the writing of the epistle were Jerusalem, where James was residing, and, from internal evidence, the period between Paul's two imprisonments at Rome, probably about A.D. 62. (4.) The object of the writer was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian life. "The Jewish 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 draweth nigh, which is to right all wrong (5:8)." "Justification by works," which James contends for, is justification before man, the justification of our profession of faith by a consistent life. Paul contends for the doctrine of "justification by faith;" but that is justification before God, a being regarded and accepted as just by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, which is received by faith.

book of james in Smith's Bible Dictionary

The General Epistle of James. The author of this epistle was in all probability James the son of Alphaeus, and our Lord's brother It was written from Jerusalem, which St. James does not seem to have ever left. It was probably written about A.D. 62, during the interval between Paul's two imprisonments. Its main object is not to teach doctrine, but to improve morality. St. James is the moral teacher of the New Testament. He wrote for the Jewish Christians, whether in Jerusalem or abroad, to warn them against the sins to which as Jews they were most liable, and to console and exhort them under the sufferings to which as Christians they were most exposed.

book of james in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

THE EPISTLE OF JAMES Epistle of James, "a servant (not an apostle) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," the same who is also called "the brother of the Lord." It is one of the catholic or general Epistles, and consists of five chapters. The design of the Epistle is, (1) To correct errors into which the Jewish Christians had fallen, especially relating to justification by faith; (2) To animate their hope, and strengthen their faith, in view of afflictions felt and feared; and (3) To excite the unbelieving Jews to repentance toward God and faith in the rejected Messiah. It is remarkable that the name of our blessed Lord occurs but twice in this Epistle, but with great reverence as the divine Master, Jas 1:1, and as "the Lord of glory." Ruth 2:1. The gospel is described as the perfect law of freedom. The Epistle strongly resembles the preaching of John the Baptist and the Sermon on the Mount. The main stress is laid on works rather than faith. It enforces an eminently practical Christianity which manifests itself in good fruits. Its doctrine of justification, ch. Jas 2, apparently conflicts with that of Paul, Rom 3-4, but in reality the two apostles supplement each other, and guard each other against abuse and excess. James opposes a dead orthodoxy, an unfruitful theoretical belief, and insists on practical demonstration of faith, while Paul, in opposition to Pharisaical legalism and self-righteousness, exhibits a living faith in Christ as the principle and root of all good works. The one judges the tree by its fruit, the other proceeds from the root. The Epistle of James was written before a.d. 62, perhaps much earlier, probably from Jerusalem, the scene of his labors, and is addressed to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, Jas 1:1 -that is, either to all the Jews of the Dispersion, or only to the Jewish Christians, as to the true spiritual Israel. The style is lively, vigorous, and impressive. What kindling words on patience in suffering, joy in sorrow, heavenly wisdom, the power of prayer as the most certain unfailing thing, from deep personal experience! There is a resemblance between the Epistle and the pastoral letter of the Council of Jerusalem, which was no doubt written by the same James as the presiding officer; both have the Greek form of "greeting," Acts 15:23; Jas 1:1, which otherwise does not occur in the N.T. or is changed into "grace and peace." This is an incidental proof of the genuineness of the Epistle. The theory recently advocated by Bassett (Commentary on fhe Catholic Epistle of St. James, London, 1876), that it was written by the elder James, the son of Zebedee, before a.d. 44, has little to support it. He assumes that the Epistle was addressed to all the Jews of the dispersion with the view to convert them by a moral rather than doctrinal exhibition of Christianity.

book of james in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

THE EPISTLE OF JAMES. Called by Eusebius (H. E. 2:23; A.D. 330) the first of the catholic (universal) epistles, i.e. addressed to the church in general; not, as Paul's letters, to particular churches or individuals. In the oldest manuscripts except the Sinaiticus manuscript they stand before Paul's epistles. Two were "universally acknowledged" (homologoumena , Eusebius): 1 Peter and 1 John. All are found in every existing manuscript of the whole New Testament. The epistle of James, being addressed to the scattered Israelites, naturally was for a time less known. Origen, who lived between A.D. 185 and 254, first expressly mentions it (Commentary on John, 1:19). Clement of Rome quotes from it a century earlier (1 Ep. to Cor. 10: James 2:21,23). The Shepherd of Hermas soon after quotes James 4:7. Irenaeus (Haer. 4:16, section 2). refers to James 2:23. The old Syriac version has it and the Epistle to Hebrews alone of the books which were "disputed" (antilegomena , Euseb. 3:25) yet "acknowledged by the majority" (Euseb.). No Latin father of the first three centuries quotes it. It Barnabas, A.D. 40, introduced Saul, three years subsequently to his conversion in A.D. 37 on his first visit to Jerusalem, and through their influence he was admitted to free intercourse with the disciples, who at first had been "all afraid of him, not believing he was a disciple" (Acts 9:26-28; Galatians 1:18,19). When Peter was delivered by the angel, A.D. 44. he said to the assembly at Mary's house "Go show these things unto James" (Acts 12:17). In A.D. 49 at the Jerusalem council James gives authoritative opinion, "My sentence is" (Acts 15:13,19). At the same time Paul recognizes as "pillars of the church" "James, Cephas and John"(James standing first): Galatians 2:9. It was "certain who came from James," president of the mother church of Jerusalem, who led Peter to his Judaizing vacillation at Antioch (Galatians 2:11,12). Finally in A.D. 57 Paul, having been on the previous day "received gladly" by the brethren, went in officially, with Luke and his other assistant ministers, in the presence of all the elders, and "declared particularly what God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry" (Acts 21:17-19). Besides Clement of Alexandria who speaks of his episcopate (Hypot. 6, in Eusebius H. E., 2:1), Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian in the middle of the second century, writes much of James, that he drank not strong drink, nor had a razor upon his head, and wore no woolen clothes, but linen, so that he alone might go into the holy place; in short he was a rigid Nazarite ascetic, following after legal righteousness, so that the Jews regarded him as possessingpriestly sanctity; such a one when converted to Christ was likely to have most influence with the Jews, who called him "the just one," and therefore to have been especially suited to preside over the Jerusalem church. So we find him recommending to Paul a conformity to legal ceremonialism in things indifferent (Acts 21:18-25), which however proved in the end really inexpedient. Hegesippus says James was often in the temple praying for forgiveness for the people. At the Passover shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem (foretold in his epistle, 5:1) the scribes and Pharisees set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and begged him to restrain the people who were "going astray after Jesus as though He were the Christ." "Tell us, O just one," said they before the assembled people, "which is the door of Jesus?" alluding to his prophecy "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh ... behold the Judge standeth before the doors" (Greek, James 5:8,9), wherein he repeats Jesus' words (Matthew 24:33), "when ye shall see all these things, know that He (margin) is near, even at the doors." James replied with a loud voice, "Why ask ye me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He sitteth at the right hand of power, and will occasion to "lay hold on Him," saying that He was "beside Himself"; as He was so pressed by multitudes that He and His disciples "could not so much as eat bread," His cousin brethren thought they would restrain what seemed to them mad zeal (Mark 3:20,21,31-33). The statement in John 7:3-5, "neither did His brethren believe in Him,"does not imply that all of them disbelieved; James and Jude believed. Or if all are included, the negation of belief is not a negation of all belief, but of such as recognized the true nature of His Messiahship. They looked for a reigning Messiah, and thought Jesus' miracles were wrought with a view to this end: "depart hence (from obscure Galilee) and go into Judea, that Thy disciples also may see the works that Thou doest, for there is no man that doeth anything in secret and (yet) he himself seeketh to be known openly (which they take for granted He seeks); if Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world." The theory that denies any of the Lord's brethren to have place among the apostles involves the improbability that there were two sets of four first cousins, named James, Joses, Jude, Simon, without anything to show which is son of Clopas and which his cousin. Luke in enumerating the twelve calls Jude: "the brother of James," he must mean brother of the "James, son of Alphaeus," before mentioned. Jude appears in Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55, as "brother of the Lord"; therefore James the son of Alphaeus must have been"brother," i.e. cousin, of our Lord. This proves the identity of Juntos the apostle with James the Lord's brother. Luke moreover recognizes only two Jameses in the Gospel and Acts down to Acts 12:17; the James there must then mean the son of Alphaeus. An apostle is more likely to have presided over the Jerusalem church, wherein he is placed even before Cephas and John, than one who was an unbeliever until after the resurrection (Galatians 1:19; 2:9-12); compare Acts 9:27, which calls those to whom Paul went "apostles"; now Peter and James were those to whom he went, therefore James was an apostle. After the resurrection Christ appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7). The spurious " Gospel according to the Hebrews" says "James swore he would not eat bread from the hour that he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see Him risen again." Christ's special appearance to James strengthened him for the high position, tantamount to "bishop," which he subsequently held at Jerusalem. Christ's command to the collected apostles to preach the gospel everywhere is compatible with each having a special sphere besides the general care of the churches. To him and Peter is specified as canonical both in the East and West in the councils of Hippo and Carthage, A.D. 397. Known only partially at first, it subsequently obtained a wider circulation; and the proofs becoming established of its having been recognized in apostolic churches, which had men endowed with the discernment of spirits to discriminate inspired utterances from uninspired (1 Corinthians 14:37), it was universally accepted. The Old Testament Apocrypha is a different case; the Jewish church had no doubt about it, they knew it to be not inspired. Luther's objection ("an epistle of straw, destitute of evangelical character") was due to his thinking that James 2 was opposed to Paul's doctrine of justification by faith not works. The two viewing justification from distinct standpoints harmonize and mutually complement each other's definitions. By "works"James means love, which is the spirit of true "works" such as God accepts; for he compares "works" to "the spirit," "faith" to "the body." In James 2:26, "as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also," if mere outward deeds were meant, "works" would answer to "the body," "faith" to "the spirit." His reversing this proves he means by "faith" the form of faith without the working reality. Such "faith" apart from (Greek chooris ) the spirit of faith, which is LOVE (and love evidences itself in works) is dead; precisely the doctrine of Paul also: 1 Corinthians 13:2; Galatians 5:6, "faith which worketh by love" (its spirit). So also James 2:17: "faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone"; presumed faith, if it have not works, is dead,being by itself (Greek for "alone"), i.e. severed from its spirit, love; just as the body would be "dead" if severed from the spirit. Paul speaks of faith in its justifying the sinner before God; James in its justifying the believer evidentially before men. Ver. 18, show me (evidence to me) thy faith without thy works, but thou canst not, whereas "I will show thee my faith by my works." Abraham was justified by faith before God the moment he believed God's promise (Genesis 15:6). He showed his faith, and so was justified evidentially before men, by his offering Isaac 40 years afterward. The tree shows its life by fruits, but is alive before either leaves or fruits appear. (See FAITH ) In James 2:23 James recognizes, like Paul, that Abraham's "faith was imputed unto him for righteousness."James meets the Jews' false notion that their possession of the law, though they disobeyed it, and their descent from Abraham and notional belief apart from obedience, would justify (an error which Paul also combats, Romans 2:17-25; compare James 1:22). James in 1:3; 4:1,12, accords with Romans 5:3; 6:13; 7:23; 14:4. Coincidence with the Sermon on the Mount. James's specialty was so to preach the gospel as not to disparage the law which the Jews so reverenced. As Paul's epistles unfold the doctrines flowing from the death and resurrection of Christ, so James's epistle unfolds His teaching during His life, and is a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. Both represent the law as fulfilled in love; the language corresponds: James 1:2 with Matthew 5:12; James 1:4 with Matthew 5:48; James 1:5; 5:15 with Matthew 7:7-11; James 2:13 with Matthew 5:7, 6:14,15; James 2:10 with Matthew 5:19; James 4:4 with Matthew 6:24; James 4:11 with Matthew 7:1,2; James 5:2 with Matthew 6:19. He teaches the same gospel righteousness which the sermon on the mount inculcates as the highest realization of the law. His character as "the just," or legally righteous, disposed him to this coincidence (James 1:20; 2:10; 3:18 with Matthew 5:20), and fitted him for both presiding over a church zealous of the law, and winning Jewish converts, combining as he did in himself Old Testament righteousness with evangelical faith, James 2:8 with <400544> Matthew 5:44,48. Practice, not profession, is the test of acceptance (James 2:17; 4:17 with Matthew 7:21-23). Sins of tongue, lightly as the world regards them, seriously violate the law of love (James 1:26; 3:2-18with Matthew 5:22). So swearing: James 5:12 with Matthew 5:33-37. Object: Persons addressed. The absence of the apostolic benediction favors the view that the epistle, besides directly teaching the believing, indirectly aims at the unbelieving Israelites also. To those he commends humility, patience, prayer; to these he addresses awful warnings (James 5:7-11; 4:9; 5:1-6). The object is: (1) To warn against prevalent Jewish sins: formalism as contrasted with true religious "service" (threskeia , cult); the very ritual "services" of the gospel consist in mercy and holiness (compare James 1:27 with Matthew 23:23; Micah 6:7,8); in undesigned coincidence with James's own decision against mere ritualism at the council, as recorded in the independent history (Acts 15:13-21); against fanaticism which, under the garb of religious zeal, was rending Jerusalem (James 1:20); fatalism (James 1:13); mean crouching to the rich (James 2:2); evil speaking (James 3:3-12; 4:11); partisanship (James 3:14); boasting (James 2:5; 4:16); oppression (James 5:4). (2) To teach Christians patience in trial (James 1:2), in good works (James 1:22-25), under provocation (James 3:17), under oppression (James 5:7), under persecution (James 5:10). The motive for patience is the Lord's speedy coming to right all wrong (James 5:8, Meyrick in Smith's Dictionary). In James 5:14 James writes, "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church"; not some one, as Rome interprets it, to justify her extreme unction. The elders praying for him represent the whole church, "anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." This sign accompanied miraculous healings wrought by Christ's apostles. To use the sign now, when the reality of miraculous healing is gone, is unmeaning superstition. Other apostolic usages are discontinued as no longer expedient (1 Corinthians 11:4-15; 16:20), so unction of the sick: Rome anoints to heal the soul where life is despaired of; James's unction was to heal the body where life is to be preserved. Oil as sign of divine grace was appropriate in healing. Inspiration. In Acts 15:28 he joins with the other apostles, elders, and brethren, in writing," it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us," etc. Peter, the apostle of the circumcision, tacitly confirms the inspiration of the first president of the Jerusalem church, with whose Jewishsympathies he had much in common, by incorporating with his own inspired writings ten passages from James (compare James 1:1 with 1 Peter 1:1; James 1:2 with 1 Peter 1:6; 4:12,13; James 1:11 with 1 Peter 1:24; James 1:18 with 1 Peter 1:3; James 2:7 with 1 Peter 4:14; James 3:13 with 1 Peter 2:12; James 4:1 with 1 Peter 2:11; James 4:6 with 1 Peter 5:5,6; James 4:7 with 1 Peter 5:6,9; James 4:10 with 1 Peter 5:6; James 5:20 with 1 Peter 4:8). The style. Its pure Greek shows it was meant not only for the Jerusalem Jews but for the Hellenists, i.e. Greek-speaking Jews. The style is curt and sententious, gnome succeeding gnome. A Hebraic character prevails, as the poetic parallelisms show (James 3:1-12). The Jewish term "synagogue"(James 2:2. margin) is applied to the Christian "assembly." The images are covert arguments from analogy, combining logic with poetical vividness. Eloquence, terse and persuasive, characterizes this epistle. Its palpable similarity to Matthew, the most Hebraic of the Gospels, is what we might expect from the president of the Jerusalem church when writing to Israelites. In this epistle, the Old Testament law is put in its true relation to Christianity which brings out its inner spirit, love manifesting itself in obedience of heart and life. The Jews were zealous for the letter of the law, but what the gospel insists on is its everlasting spirit. Paul insists on this as much as James (2 Corinthians 3:6-18). The doctrines of grace and justification by faith, so prominent in Paul's teaching to the Hellenists and Gentiles, are in the background in James as having been already taught by that apostle. To the Jewish Christians, who kept the legal ordinances down to the fall of Jerusalem, James sketches the "perfect" man, "continuing" in the gospel "law of liberty" (because it is the law of love). Genesis 46:10; Exodus 6:15; 1 Chronicles 4:24; Numbers 26:12.