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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

James

- James

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The writer of this epistle was evidently the half-brother of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal_1:19) and the brother of Jude, the writer of the epistle that bears his name (cf. Mat_13:55). [Note: See Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 621-26.] This was the opinion of many of the early church fathers and writers. [Note: E.g., The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, 2.23. Eusebius lived about A.D. 265-340. For fuller discussion, see Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James, pp. 7-9; Ralph P. Martin, James, pp. xxxiii-lxi; and Joseph B. Mayor, The Epistle of St James, pp. i-lxv.] This James was not the brother of the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee, who suffered martyrdom early in the history of the church (Mar_1:19; Act_12:2). Neither was he the son of Alphaeus (Mar_3:18) or the father of Judas (Luk_6:16). He was the leading man in the Jerusalem church who spoke at the Jerusalem Council (Act_15:13-21; cf. Act_12:17; Act_21:18; 1Co_15:7). Some commentators believed that the similarities in the Greek of this epistle and James’ speech in Acts 15 support his identification as the writer. [Note: E.g., D. Edmond Hiebert, James, pp. 17-18.] The fact that the writer wrote this epistle in very good Greek should not rule this James out. He would have been fluent in both Aramaic and Greek as a gifted Galilean.

The recipients of this letter were the Jewish Christians of the Diaspora, Jews who had scattered from Palestine and had come to faith in Christ (Jam_1:1). Several Jewish references in the book support the claim that a Jew wrote it to other Jews (e.g., Jam_1:18; Jam_2:2; Jam_2:21; Jam_3:6; Jam_5:4; Jam_5:7).

Josephus said that James died in A.D. 62. [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1.] Josephus did not name the date, but he identified James’ death with that of Portius Festus who died in A.D. 62. So James wrote the letter before that date. Many commentators believed that James’ lack of reference to the Jerusalem Council (A.D. 49) suggests that he wrote before that meeting. This is a very tenuous argument, however, since the issues James dealt with in this epistle are different from those the Jerusalem Council discussed. Reference to the Jerusalem Council in this letter would have been unnecessary. Traditionally James wrote early, however. It seems that his epistle was probably the first divinely inspired one and that James composed it in the middle or late 40s, perhaps A.D. 45-48. [Note: See Donald W. Burdick, "James," in Hebrews-Revelation, vol. 12 of The Expositors Bible Commentary, p. 162.] Many scholars have taken James’ lack of references or allusions to other inspired New Testament epistles as additional support for this position. I believe there is no substantial reason to doubt the traditional early date. [Note: For a thorough discussion of the date, see Mayor, pp. cxliv-clxxvii; or Davids, p. 4, who catalogued the opinions of 64 modern commentators regarding the date of composition.]

Since James lived in Jerusalem most if not all of his Christian life, that city seems to be the most likely place of writing.

SPECIAL FEATURES

There are several unique features of this epistle. It contains no references to specific individuals who were the original recipients. There is no concluding benediction. There is a large number of imperatives in the letter, about one for every two verses. There are many figures of speech and analogies, probably more than in all of Paul’s epistles. [Note: J. Ronald Blue, "James," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 816.] James also alluded to over 20 Old Testament books. He referred to many Old Testament characters including Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah as well as the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses. One commentator observed that this book "has a more Jewish cast than any other writing of the New Testament." [Note: Mayor, p. ii.] There are many references to nature. This was characteristic of the Jewish rabbis’ teaching in James’ day and the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are also many allusions to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. [Note: See Virgil V. Porter Jr., "The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 1," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:647 (July-September 2005):344-60; idem, "The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 2," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:648 (October-December 2005):470-82. See the charts in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, pp. 817 and 818, for James’ references to nature and the Sermon on the Mount.] Yet there are only two references to Jesus (Jam_1:1; Jam_2:1), which led Martin Luther to question whether this book was worthy of being in the New Testament. [Note: William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 28.] The margin of the Nestle Greek Testament version of James identifies 38 references to statements in Matthew. Both books seem to have been written about the same time, namely, in the late 40s.

"Both writers [Matthew and James] seem to have to do with a similar type of community . . ." [Note: E. M. Sidebottom, James, Jude, 2 Peter, p. 14). See also Davids, pp. 47-48, for a chart of similarities between verses in James and those in the Synoptic Gospels, and Martin, pp. lxxv-lxxvi, for common links between Matthew and James.]

Leading themes in James include perfection, wisdom, and the piety of the poor. [Note: Martin, pp. lxxix-lxxxvi.]

"As soon as we read through the letter of James we say to ourselves, ’This man was a preacher before he was a writer.’" [Note: J. Alec Motyer, The Message of James, p. 11.]

"In style it reminds one now of the Proverbs, now of the stern denunciations of the prophets, now of the parables in the Gospels." [Note: Mayor, p. i.]

"The Epistle of James is without doubt the least theological of all NT books, with the exception of Philemon. . . .

"Three doctrines come to the surface more often than any others, and of these the most prominent is the doctrine of God. In keeping with the ethical nature of the epistle is the repeated stress on the doctrine of sin. And, surprisingly, the third most prominent theological theme is eschatology." [Note: Burdick, pp. 164-65.]

"The epistle of James is no more anti-Pauline than is the Sermon on the Mount." [Note: George M. Stulac, James, p. 16.]

PURPOSE

"The design of the Epistle is on the one hand to encourage those to whom it is addressed to bear their trials patiently, and on the other hand to warn them against certain errors of doctrine and practice." [Note: Mayor, p. cxxviii.]

"The purpose of this potent letter is to exhort the early believers to Christian maturity and holiness of life. This letter deals more with the practice of the Christian faith than with its precepts. James told his readers how to achieve spiritual maturity through a confident stand, compassionate service, careful speech, contrite submission, and concerned sharing. He dealt with every area of a Christian’s life: what he is, what he does, what he says, what he feels, and what he has." [Note: Blue, p. 818.]

"The chief aim of the Epistle is to strengthen the faith and loyalty of the Jewish Christians in the face of persecution from rich and overbearing Jews who were defrauding and oppressing them." [Note: A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6:6.]

OUTLINE

I.    Introduction Jam_1:1

II.    Trials and true religion Jam_1:2-27

A.    The value of trials Jam_1:2-11

1.    The proper attitude toward trials Jam_1:2

2.    The end product of trials Jam_1:3-4

3.    Help in adopting this attitude Jam_1:5-8

4.    The larger view of circumstances Jam_1:9-11

B.    The options in trials Jam_1:12-18

1.    The ultimate end of trials Jam_1:12

2.    The source of temptation Jam_1:13-14

3.    The progress of temptation Jam_1:15

4.    The goodness of God Jam_1:16-18

C.    The proper response to trials Jam_1:19-27

1.    The improper response Jam_1:19-20

2.    The essential response Jam_1:21

3.    The complete response Jam_1:22-25

4.    The external behavior Jam_1:26-27

III.    Partiality and vital faith ch. 2

A.    The problem of favoritism Jam_2:1-13

1.    The negative command Jam_2:1

2.    The present improper practice Jam_2:2-4

3.    The inconsistency of favoritism Jam_2:5-7

4.    The Christian’s duty Jam_2:8-9

5.    The importance of partiality Jam_2:10-11

6.    The implication of our own judgment Jam_2:12-13

B.    The importance of vital faith Jam_2:14-26

1.    James’ assertion Jam_2:14

2.    James’ illustration Jam_2:15-16

3.    James’ restatement of his point Jam_2:17

4.    An objection Jam_2:18

5.    James’ rebuttal Jam_2:19-23

6.    James’ final argument Jam_2:24-26

IV.    Speech and divine wisdom ch. 3

A.    Controlling the tongue Jam_3:1-12

1.    The negative warning Jam_3:1

2.    The reason for the warning Jam_3:2

3.    Examples of the danger Jam_3:3-8

4.    The uncontrollable nature of the tongue Jam_3:7-8

5.    The inconsistency of the tongue Jam_3:9-12

B.    Controlling the mind Jam_3:13-18

1.    The importance of humility Jam_3:13

2.    The importance of graciousness Jam_3:14-16

3.    The importance of loving peace Jam_3:17-18

V.    Conflicts and humble submission ch. 4

A.    Interpersonal and inner personal tensions Jam_4:1-10

1.    The source of conflict Jam_4:1

2.    The explanation of the conflict Jam_4:2-3

3.    The nature of the choice Jam_4:4-5

4.    The resources to choose right Jam_4:6-10

B.    Self-exaltation Jam_4:11-12

C.    Self-reliance Jam_4:13-17

1.    The self-centered person Jam_4:13-16

2.    The concluding exhortation Jam_4:17

VI.    Money and patient endurance Jam_5:1-18

A.    Warnings for the rich Jam_5:1-6

1.    The introduction of the problem Jam_5:1

2.    The corrosive effect of wealth Jam_5:2-3

3.    The misuse of wealth Jam_5:4-6

B.    The proper attitude Jam_5:7-12

1.    The exhortation to be patient Jam_5:7-9

2.    Examples of endurance Jam_5:10-11

3.    The evidence of patience Jam_5:12

C.    The proper action Jam_5:13-18

1.    The way of release Jam_5:13

2.    The prescription for help Jam_5:14-16

3.    The power of prayer Jam_5:17-18

VII.    The way back to living by faith Jam_5:19-20

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