Letter of James

Introduction: This letter’s author identifies himself as “James”, and Christian tradition holds that he is the brother of Jesus.  However, the author never claims to be Jesus’ brother, James was a very common name in first century Palestine, and the letter’s level of Greek is well above that of a (probably illiterate) Galilean peasant.  In any case, the letter is probably a product of Jewish Christianity, as it emphasizes works over faith–in contrast to Paul.  In its second half, it has a strong emphasis on social justice and views the law very positively.

James: When you face trials, consider it nothing but joy, for testing of your faith produces endurance.  Let the lowly believer boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low.  Do not be tempted–one is not tempted by God, but by one’s own desire.  Be doers of the word and not merely hearers.  Religion that is pure before God is to care for orphans and widows, to be unstained by the world.  Do not favor the rich–is it not the rich who oppress you and take you to court?  Make sure to fulfill the whole law, not part of it.  What good is faith without works? Can faith save you? Even the demons believe God is one!  Wasn’t Abraham justified by works when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice, and Rahab the prostitute also?

Not many of you should become teachers, because teachers are judged by much stricter standards.  Every teacher makes mistakes, and the spoken word is powerful in its ability to mislead.  Where do the conflicts and disputes among you come from, if not cravings for earthly things?  Friendship with the world is enmity with God!  Submit yourselves to God and resist the devil.  Rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you, for your riches will rot! You have stolen the laborers’ wages, and their cries have reached the Lord.  Be patient, everyone, until the coming of the Lord; it will happen soon.

Commentary:

  • James is comprised of many diverse exhortations.  It is not easy to summarize.
  • James asks in 3:14, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?”  Paul’s viewpoint is quite different: “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (3:28).
  • Interestingly, James uses the example of Abraham to show the importance of works: “Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” (2:23)  Paul also uses Abraham, even quoting exactly the same verse from the Hebrew Bible, but to show the importance of faith over works: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Romans 4:2).
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