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by James Martin Gray
We have now reached that part of the New Testament containing the General or Catholic epistles. They are so called because addressed not to any particular individual or church, but to the church at large. Yet this is not true of all of them, not true of this one, which is addressed to a particular class of Christians named in the first verse.
There are three persons named James in the New Testament. One was the brother of John, another the son of Alpheus, and a third the brother of our Lord, who is commonly supposed to be the author in this instance.
A peculiar interest attaches to the fact that, as the brother of our Lord, he did not believe on Him as the Messiah up until the resurrection perhaps. Compare John 7:5 with Acts 1:13 and 1 Corinthians 15:7 . His conversion may have taken place at the time mentioned in the last named Scripture, which, if so, accounts for his presence with the church as shown in the reference to Acts.
As to his religious character, he was a very strict Jew, a faithful observer of the law, both moral and ceremonial, without, of course, relying upon it as a ground of salvation, he gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship in their work among the Gentiles, but personally he remained attached to the Jewish form of Christianity. His place in the Christian scheme was to win over the Jewish people, and no one probably was better fitted for this than he.
The epistle is addressed “to the twelve tribes scattered abroad,” which proves its Jewish designation; but that they were Christian Jews is shown in the salutation, where James styles himself “a servant of Jesus Christ.”
As to their social condition they seem to have been composed of rich and poor, the tendency of some of the former being to oppress and despise the latter, as we shall see. Like all the other classes of Christians, they were
passing through trial, and like them, too, more or less under the influence of false teachers. The doctrine of justification only by faith was being perverted among them, and from various points of view, their condition was unsatisfactory. The writer comforts them in their trial, but rebukes them for their sins, and seeks to give them instruction concerning the matters in which they were in error.
The style of the epistle is vivid, sententious and yet rich in graphic figure. There is not the logical connection found in Paul’s writings, the thoughts rather arranging themselves in groups strongly marked off from one another; yet the writer goes immediately into his subject, and with the first sentence beginning a section says at once what is in his heart. The first words of each section might almost serve as a title for it, while that which follows is the development, ending usually in a kind of recapitulation.
1. What is the meaning of catholic epistles?
2. Describe the three persons named James.
3. Give a sketch of the supposed author of this epistle.
4. Describe the persons addressed.
5. Describe the style of the epistle.
the Fourth Week after Epiphany