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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

- James

by Editor - William Robertson Nicoll

Chapter 1


THIS book is to treat of the General Epistle of St. James and the General Epistle of St. Jude. According to the most common, but not invariable arrangement, they form the first and the last letters in the collection which for fifteen centuries has been known as the Catholic Epistles. The epithet "General," which appears in the titles of these Epistles in the English versions, is simply the equivalent of the epithet "Catholic," the one word being of Latin (generalis), the other of Greek (καθολικος) origin. In Latin, however, e.g., in the Vulgate, these letters are not called Generales, but Catholicae.

The meaning of the term Catholic Epistles (καθολικαι επιστολαι) has been disputed, and more than one explanation may be found in commentaries; but the true signification is not really doubtful. It certainly does not mean orthodox or canonical; although from the sixth century, and possibly earlier, we find these Epistles sometimes called the Canonical Epistles ("Epistolae Canonicae"), an expression in which "canonical" is evidently meant to be an equivalent for "catholic." This use is said to occur first in the "Prologus in Canonicas Epistolas" of the Pseudo-Jerome given by Cassiodorus ("De Justit. Divin. Litt.," 8.); and the expression is used by Cassiodorus himself, whose writings may be placed between 540 and 570, the period spent in his monastery at Viviers, after he had retired from the conduct of public affairs. The term "catholic" is used in the sense of "orthodox" before this date, but not in connection with these letters. There seems to be no earlier evidence of the opinion, certainly erroneous, that this collection of seven Epistles was called "Catholic" in order to mark them as Apostolic and authoritative, in distinction from other letters which were heterodox, or at any rate of inferior authority. Five out of the seven letters, viz., all but the First Epistle of St. Peter and the First Epistle of St. John, belong to that class of New Testament books which from the time of Eusebius ("H.E.," 3. 25:4) have been spoken of as "disputed" (αντιλεγομενα), i.e., as being up to the beginning of the fourth century not universally admitted to be canonical. And it would have been almost a contradiction in terms if Eusebius had first called these Epistles "catholic" ("H.E.," 2. 23. 25; 6. 14. 1) in the sense of being universally accepted as authoritative, and had then classed them among the "disputed" books.

Nor is it accurate to say that these letters are called "catholic" because they are addressed to both Jewish and Gentile Christians alike, a statement which is not true of all of them, and least of all of the Epistle which generally stands first in the series; for the Epistle of St. James takes no account of Gentile Christians. Moreover, there are Epistles of St. Paul which are addressed to both Jews and Gentiles in the Churches to which he writes. So that this explanation of the term makes it thoroughly unsuitable for the purpose for which it is used, viz., to mark off these seven Epistles from the Epistles of St. Paul. Nevertheless, this interpretation is nearer to the truth than the former one.

The Epistles are called "Catholic" because they are not addressed to any particular Church, whether of Thessalonica, or Corinth, or Rome, or Galatia, but to the Church universal, or at any rate to a wide circle of readers. This is the earliest Christian use of the term "catholic," which was applied to the Church itself before it was applied to these or any other writings. "Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be," says Ignatius to the Church of Smyrna (8), "just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church,"-the earliest passage in Christian literature in which the phrase "Catholic Church" occurs. And there can be no doubt as to the meaning of the epithet in this expression. In later times, when Christians were oppressed by a consciousness of the slow progress of the Gospel, and by the knowledge that as yet only a fraction of the human race had accepted it, it became customary to explain "catholic" as meaning that which embraces and teaches the whole truth, rather than as that which spreads everywhere and covers the whole earth. But in the first two or three centuries the feeling was rather one of jubilation and triumph at the rapidity with which the "good news" was spreading, and of confidence that "there is not one single race of men, whether barbarians or Greeks, or whatever they may be called, nomads or vagrants, or herdsmen living in tents, among whom prayers and giving of thanks are not offered, through the name of the crucified Jesus, to the Father and Creator of all things" (Justin Martyr, "Trypho," 118.); and that as "the soul is diffused through all the members of the body, Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world" ("Epistle to Diognetus," 6.). Under the influence of such exultation as this, which was felt to be in harmony with Christ’s promise and command, {Luke 24:47; Matthew 28:10} it was natural to use "catholic" of the universal extension of Christendom, rather than of the comprehensiveness of the truths of Christianity. And this meaning still prevails in the time of Augustine, who says that "the Church is called ‘Catholic’ in Greek, because it is diffused throughout the whole world" ("Epp.," 52. 1); although the later use, as meaning orthodox, in distinction to schismatical or heretical, has already begun; e.g., in the Muratorian Fragment, in which the writer speaks of heretical writing "which cannot be received into the Catholic Church; for wormwood is not suitable for mixing with honey" (Tregelles, pp. 20, 47; Westcott "On the Canon," Appendix C, p. 500); and the chapter in Clement of Alexandria on the priority of the Catholic Church to all heretical assemblies ("Strom.," 7. 17.).

The four Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul were the Christian writings best known during the first century after the Ascension, and universally acknowledged as of binding authority; and it was common to speak of them as "the Gospel" and "the Apostle," much in the same way as the Jews spoke of "the Law" and "the Prophets." But when a third collection of Christian documents became widely known another collective term was required by which to distinguish it from the collections already familiar, and the feature in these seven Epistles which seems to have struck the recipients of them most is the absence of an address to any local Church. Hence they received the name of Catholic, or General, or Universal Epistles. The name was all the more natural because of the number seven, which emphasized the contrast between these and the Pauline Epistles. St. Paul had written to seven particular Churches-Thessalonica, Corinth, Rome, Galatia, Philippi, Colossae, and Ephesus; and here were seven Epistles without any address to a particular Church; therefore they might fitly be called "General Epistles." Clement of Alexandria uses this term of the letter addressed to the Gentile Christians "in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia" {Acts 15:23} by the Apostles, in the so-called Council of Jerusalem ("Strom.," 4. 15.); and Origen uses it of the Epistle of Barnabas ("Con. Celsum," 1. 63.), which is addressed simply to "sons and daughters," i.e., to Christians generally.

That this meaning was well understood, even after the misleading title "Canonical Epistles" had become usual in the West, is shown by the interesting Prologue to these Epistles written by the Venerable, Bede, cir. A.D. 712. This prologue is headed, ‘Here begins, the Prologue to the seven Canonical Epistles,’ and it opens thus: "James, Peter, John, and Jude published seven Epistles, to which ecclesiastical custom gives the name of Catholic, i.e., universal."

The name is not strictly accurate, excepting in the cases of 1 John, 2 Peter, and Jude. It is admissible in a qualified sense of 1 Peter and James; but it is altogether inappropriate to 2 and 3 John, which are addressed, not to the Church at large, nor to a group of local Churches, but to individuals. But inasmuch as the common title of these letters was not the Epistles "to the Elect Lady" and "to Gaius," as in the case of the letters to Philemon, Titus, and Timothy, but simply the Second and Third of John, they were regarded as without address, and classed with the Catholic Epistles. And of course it was natural to put them into the same group with the First Epistle of St. John, although the name of the group did not suit them. At what date this arrangement was made is not certain; but there is reason for believing that these seven Epistles were already regarded as one collection in the third century, when Pamphilus, the friend of Eusebius, was making his famous library at Caesarea. Euthalius (cir. A.D. 450) published an edition of them, in making which he had collated "the accurate copies" in this library; and it is probable that he found the grouping already existing in those copies, and did not make it for himself. Moreover, it is probable that the copies at Caesarea were made by Pamphilus himself; for the summary of the contents of the Acts published under the name of Euthalius is a mere copy of the summary given by Pamphilus, and it became the usual practice to place the Catholic Epistles immediately after the Acts. If, then, Euthalius got the summary of the Acts from Pamphilus, he probably got the arrangement from him also, viz., the putting of these seven Epistles into one group, and placing them next to the Acts.

The order which makes the Catholic Epistles follow immediately after the Acts is very ancient, and it is a matter for regret that the influence of Jerome, acting through the Vulgate, has universally disturbed it in all Western Churches. "The connection between these two, portions (the Acts and the Catholic Epistles.), commended by its intrinsic appropriateness, is preserved in a large proportion of Greek MSS. of all ages, and corresponds to marked affinities of textual history." It is the order followed by Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, John of Damascus, the Council of Laodicea, and also by Cassian. It has been restored by Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort; but it is not: to be expected that even their powerful authority will avail to re-establish the ancient arrangement.

The order of the books in the group of the Catholic Epistles is not quite constant; but almost always James stands first. In a very few authorities Peter stands first, an arrangement naturally preferred in the West, but not adopted even there, because the authority of the original order was too strong. A scholiast on the Epistle of James states that this Epistle has been placed before 1 Peter, "because it is more catholic than that of Peter," by which he seems to mean that whereas 1 Peter is addressed "to the Dispersion," without any limitation. The Venerable Bede, in the Prologue to the Catholic Epistles quoted above, states that James is placed first, because he undertook to rule the Church of Jerusalem, which was the fount and source of that evangelic preaching which has spread throughout the world; or else because he sent his Epistle to the twelve tribes of Israel, who were the first to believe. And Bede calls attention to the fact that St. Paul himself adopts this order when he speaks of "James, and Cephas, and John, they who were reputed to be pillars". {Galatians 2:9} It is possible, however, that the order James, Peter, John was meant to represent a belief as to the chronological precedence of James to Peter, and Peter to John; Jude being placed last because of its comparative insignificance, and because it was not at first universally admitted. The Syriac Version, which admits only James, 1 Peter, and 1 John, has the three in this order; and if the arrangement had its origin in reverence for the first Bishop of Jerusalem, it is strange that most of the Syriac copies should have a heading to the effect that these three Epistles of James, Peter, and John are by the three who witnessed the Transfiguration. Those who made and those who accepted this comment certainly had no idea of reverencing the first Bishop of Jerusalem, for it implies that the Epistle of James is by the son of Zebedee and brother of John, who was put to death by Herod. But it is probable that this heading is a mere blundering conjecture. If persons who believed the Epistle to be written by James the brother of John had fixed the order, they would have fixed it thus-Peter, James, John, as in Matthew 17:1, Mark 5:37; Mark 9:2; Mark 13:3; Mark 14:33; comp. Matthew 26:37; or Peter, John, James, as in Luke 8:51; Luke 9:28; Acts 1:13. But the former arrangement would be more reasonable than the latter, seeing that John wrote so long after the other two. The traditional order harmonizes with two facts which were worth marking-

(1) that two of the three were Apostles, and must therefore be placed together;

(2) that John wrote last, and must therefore be placed last; but whether or no the wish to mark these facts determined the order, we have not sufficient knowledge to enable us to decide.

How enormous would have been the loss had the Catholic Epistles been excluded from the canon of the New Testament it is not difficult to see. Whole phases of Christian thought would have been missing. The Acts and the Epistles of St. Paul would have told us of their existence, but would not have shown to us what they were. We should have known that there were serious differences of opinion even among the Apostles themselves, but we should have had a very imperfect knowledge as to their nature and reconciliation. We might have guessed that those who had been with Jesus of Nazareth throughout His ministry would not preach Christ in the same way as St. Paul, who had never seen Him until after the Ascension, but we should not have been sure of this; still less could we have seen in what the difference would have consisted; and we should have known very little indeed of the distinctive marks of the three great teachers who "were reputed to be pillars" of the Church. Above all, we should have known sadly little of the Mother Church of Jerusalem, and of the teaching of those many early Christians who, while heartily embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, believed that they were bound to hold fast not only to the morality, but to the discipline of Moses. Thus in many particulars we should have been left to conjecture as to how the continuity in the Divine Revelation was maintained; how the Gospel not merely superseded, but fulfilled, and glorified, and grew out of the Law.

All this has to a large extent been made plain to us by the providence of God in giving to us and preserving for us in the Church the seven Catholic Epistles. We see St. James and St. Jude presenting to us that Judaic form of Christianity which was really the complement, although when exaggerated it became the opposite, of the teaching of St. Paul. We see St. Peter mediating between the two, and preparing the way for a better comprehension of both. And then St. John lifts us up into a higher and clearer atmosphere, in which the controversy between Jew and Gentile has faded away into the dim distance, and the only opposition which remains worthy of a Christian’s consideration is that between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate, God and the world, Christ and Antichrist, life and death.

Chapter 2


THE question of the authenticity of this Epistle resolves itself into two parts-Is the Epistle the genuine product of a writer of the Apostolic age? If so, which of the persons of the Apostolic age who bore the name of James is the author of it? In answering the former of these two questions it is important to put it in the proper way. We have done a good deal towards the solution of a problem when we have learned to state it correctly; and the way in which we ought to approach the problem of the genuineness of this and other books of the New Testament is not, Why should we believe that these writings are what they profess to be? But, why should we refuse to believe this? Have we any sufficient reason for reversing the decision of the fourth and fifth centuries, which possessed far more evidence on the question than has come down to us?

It must be remembered that that decision was not given mechanically or without consideration of doubts and difficulties; nor was it imposed by authority, until independent Churches and scholars had arrived at pretty much the same conclusion. And the decision, as soon as it was pronounced, was unanimously accepted in both East and West-a fact which was ample guarantee that the decision was universally recognized as correct; for there was no central authority of sufficient influence to force a suspected decision upon mistrustful Churches. Eusebius, it is true, classes most of the Catholic Epistles among the "disputed" (αντιλεγομενα), books of the New Testament, without, however, affirming that he shared the doubts which existed in some quarters respecting them. This fact, which is sometimes rather hastily taken as telling altogether against the writings which he marks as "disputed," really tells both ways, On the one hand, it shows that doubts had existed respecting some of the canonical books: and these doubts must have had some reason (whether valid or not) for existing. On the other hand, the fact that the authority of these books was sometimes disputed in the third century shows that the verdict formally given and ratified at the Council of Laodicea (cir. 364) was given after due examination of the adverse evidence, and with a conviction that the doubts which had been raised were not justified; and the universal welcome which was accorded to the verdict throughout Christendom shows that the doubts which had been raised had ceased to exist. If, then, on the one hand we remember that misgivings once existed, and argue that these misgivings must have had some basis, on the other we must remember that these misgivings were entirely abandoned, and that there must have been reason for abandoning them. What reason, then, have we for disturbing the verdict of the fourth century, and reviving misgivings long ago put to rest?

Of course those who gave that verdict and those who ratified it were fallible persons, and no member of the English Church, at any rate, would argue that the question is closed and may not be reopened. But the point to be insisted upon is that the onus probatadi rests with those who assail or suspect these books, rather than with those who accept them. It is not the books that ought, on demand, again and again to be placed on their trial, but the pleas of those who would once more bring them into court, that ought to be sifted. These objectors deserve a hearing; but while they receive it, we have full right to stand by the decision of the fourth century, and refuse to part with, or even seriously to suspect, any of the precious inheritance which has been handed down to us. It may be confidently asserted that thus far no strong case has been made out against any of the five "disputed" Epistles, excepting 2 Peter; and with regard to that it is still true to affirm that the Petrine authorship remains, on the whole, a reasonable "working hypothesis."

Do not let us forget what the epithet "disputed," applied to these and one or two other books of the New Testament, really means. It does not mean that at the beginning of the fourth century Eusebius found that these writings were universally regarded with suspicion; that is a gross exaggeration of the import of the term. Rather it means that these books were not universally accepted; that although they were, as a rule, regarded as canonical, and as part of the contents of the New Testament (ενδιαθηκοι γραφαι), yet in some quarters their authority was doubted or denied. And the reasons for these doubts were naturally not in all cases the same. With regard to 2 Peter, the doubt must have been as to its genuineness and authenticity. It claimed to be written by "Simon Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ" and a witness of the Transfiguration; {2 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:18} but the obscurity of its origin and other circumstances were against it. With regard to James, Jude, and 2 and 3 John the doubt was rather as to their Apostolicity. They did not claim to be written by Apostles. There was no reason for doubting the antiquity or the genuineness of these four books; but granting that they were written by the persons whose names they bore, were these persons Apostles? And if they were not, what was the authority of their writings? The doubts with regard to the Revelation and to the Epistle to the Hebrews were in part of the same character. Were they in the full sense of the term Apostolic, as having been written by Apostles, or at least under the guidance of Apostles? Eusebius says expressly that all these "disputed" books were "nevertheless well known to most people."

And it is manifest that the doubts which Eusebius records were ceasing to exist. Only in some cases does he indicate, and that without open statement, that he himself was at all inclined to sympathize with them. And Athanasius, writing a very short time afterwards (A.D. 326), makes no distinction between acknowledged and disputed books, but places all seven of the Catholic Epistles, as of equal authority, immediately after the Acts of the Apostles. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Lectures, written before his episcopate, cir. A.D. 349, does the same ("Lect.," 4. 10:36). Some fifteen years later we have the Council of Laodicea, and near the end of the century the Council of Hippo, and the third Council of Carthage, giving formal ratification to these generally received views; after which all questioning for many centuries ceased. So that while the classification into "acknowledged" and "disputed" writings proves that each book was carefully scrutinized, and in various quarters independently, before it was admitted-to the canon, the cessation of this distinction proves that the result of all this scrutiny was that the sporadic doubts and hesitations respecting certain of the books of the New Testament were finally put to rest.

And it must not be supposed that the process was one of general amnesty. While some books that had here and there been excluded were finally accepted, some that had here and there been included in the canon, such as the Epistles of Clement and of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, were finally rejected. The charge of uncritical or indiscriminate admission cannot be substantiated. The facts are quite the other way.

When we confine our attention to the Epistle of James in particular, we find that if the doubts which were here and there felt respecting it in the third century are intelligible, the universal acceptance which it met with in the fourth and following centuries is well founded. The doubts were provoked by two facts-

(1) the Epistle had remained for some time unknown to a good many Churches;

(2) when it became generally known it remained uncertain what the authority of the writer was, especially whether he was an Apostle or not. It is possible also that these misgivings were in some cases emphasized by the further fact that there is a marked absence of doctrinal teaching. In this Epistle the articles of the Christian faith are scarcely touched upon at all. Whether the apparent inconsistency with the teaching of St, Paul respecting the relation between faith and works, of which so much has been made since Luther’s time, was discovered or not by those who were inclined to dispute the authority of this Epistle, may be doubted. But of course, if any inconsistency was believed to exist, that also would tell against the general reception of the letter as canonical.

That the Epistle should at first remain very little known, especially in the West and among the Gentile congregations, is exactly what we should expect from the character of the letter and the circumstances of its publication. It is addressed by a Jew to Jews, by one who never moved from the Church over which he presided at Jerusalem to those humble and obscure Christians outside Palestine who, by their conscientious retention of the Law side by side with the Gospel, cut themselves off more and more from free intercourse with other Christians, whether Gentile converts or more liberally-minded Jews. A letter which in the first instance was to be read in Christian synagogues {James 2:2} might easily remain a long time without becoming known to Churches which from the outset had adopted the principles laid down in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. The constant journeys of the Apostle of the Gentiles caused his letters to become well known throughout the Churches at a very early date. But the first Bishop of the Mother Church of Jerusalem had no such advantages.

Great as was his influence in his own sphere, with a rank equal to that of an Apostle, yet he was not well known outside that sphere, and he himself seems never to have traveled beyond it, or even to have left the center of it. With outsiders, who simply knew that he was not one of the Twelve, his influence would not be great; and a letter emanating from him, even if known to exist, would not be eagerly inquired after or carefully Circulated. Gentile prejudice against Jewish Christians would still further contribute to keep in the background a letter which was specially addressed to Jewish Christians, and was also itself distinctly Jewish in tone. Nor would the exclusive class of believers to whom the letter was sent care to make it known to those Christians from whom they habitually kept aloof. Thus the prejudices of both sides contributed to prevent the Epistle from circulating outside the somewhat narrow circle to which it was in the first instance addressed; and there is therefore nothing surprising in its being unknown to Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and the author of the Muratorian Canon. There is no sign that these writers rejected it; they had never heard of it.

And yet the Epistle did become known at a very early date, at any rate to some outsiders, even in the West. It was almost certainly known to Clement of Rome, whose Epistle to the Church of Corinth (written cir. A.D. 97) contains several passages, which seem to be reminiscences of St. James. And although not one of them can be relied upon as proving that Clement knew our Epistle, yet, when they are all put together, they make a cumulative argument of very great strength. So cautious and critical a writer as Bishop Lightfoot does not hesitate to assert, in a note on Clement, chap. 12. "The instance of Rahab was doubtless suggested by Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25; for both these Epistles were known to St. Clement, and are quoted elsewhere." And the Epistle of St. James was certainly known to Hermas, a younger contemporary of Clement, and author of the "Shepherd," which was written in the first half, and possibly in the first quarter, of the second century. Origen, in the works of which we have the Greek original, quotes it once as "The Epistle current as that of James" (τη φερομενη ιακωβου επιστολη)-("In Johan.," 19:6), and once {Psalms 30:1-12} without any expression of doubt; and in the inaccurate Latin translations of others of his works there are several distinct quotations from the Epistle. So that it would seem to have reached Alexandria just as Clement, Origen’s instructor and predecessor, left the city during the persecution under Septimius Severus (cir. A.D. 202).

But the conclusive fact in the external evidence respecting the Epistle is that it is contained in the Peshitto. This ancient Syriac Version was made in the second century, in the country in which the letter of James would be best known; and although the framers of this translation omitted 2 Peter 2:1-22 and 3 John, and Jude, they admitted James without scruple. Thus the earliest evidence for this Epistle, as for that to the Hebrews, is chiefly Eastern; while that for Jude, as for 2 and 3 John, is chiefly Western.

And the evidence of the Peshitto is not weakened by the fact if it be a fact, that there was a still earlier Syrian canon which contained none of the Catholic Epistles. There is no certain allusion to them or quotation from them in the Homilies of Aphrahat or Aphraates (cir. A.D. 335); and in the "Doctrine of Addai" (A.D. 250-300) the clergy of Edessa are directed to read the Law and the Prophets, the Gospel, St. Paul’s Epistles, and the Acts, no other canonical book being mentioned. In all Churches the number of Christian writings read publicly in the liturgy was at first small, and in no case were the Catholic Epistles the first to be used for this purpose.

The internal evidence, as we shall see when we come to examine it more closely, is even more strong than the external. The character of the letter exactly harmonizes with the character of James the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and with the known circumstances of those to whom the letter is addressed, and this in a way that no literary forger of that age could have reached. And there is no sufficient motive for a forgery, for the letter is singularly wanting in doctrinal statements. The supposed opposition to St. Paul will not hold; a writer who wished to oppose St. Paul would have made his opposition much more clear. And a forger who wished to get the authority of St. James wherewith to counteract St. Paul’s teaching would have made us aware that it was either an Apostle, the son of Zebedee or the son of Alphaeus, or else the brother of the Lord, who was addressing us, and would not have left it open for us to suppose that the Epistle was from the pen of some unknown James, who had no authority at all equal to that of St. Paul. And let any one compare this Epistle with those of Clement of Rome, and of Barnabas, and of Ignatius, and mark its enormous superiority. If it were the work of a forger, what a perplexing fact this superiority would be! If it be the work either of an Apostle or of one who had Apostolic rank, everything is explained.

Luther’s famous criticism on the Epistle, that it is "a veritable Epistle of straw," is amazing, and is to be explained by the fact that it contradicts his caricature of St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. There is no opposition between St. James and St. Paul, and there is sometimes no real opposition between St. James and Luther. And when Luther gives as his opinion that our Epistle was "not the writing of any Apostle" we can agree with him, though not in the sense in which he means it; for he starts from the erroneous supposition that the letter bears the name of the son of Zebedee. We must also bear in mind his own explanation of what is Apostolic and what is not. It has a purely subjective meaning. It does not mean what was written or not written by an Apostle or the equal of an Apostle. "Apostolic" means that which, in Luther’s opinion, an Apostle ought to teach, and all that fails to satisfy this condition is not Apostolic. "Therein all true holy books agree, that they preach and urge Christ. That too is the right touchstone whereby to test all books-whether they urge Christ or not; for all Scripture testifies of Christ…That {Romans 3:21} which does not teach Christ is still short of Apostolic, even if it were the teaching of St. Peter or St. Paul. Again, that which preaches Christ, that were Apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod preached it." The Lutheran Church has not followed him in his principle, which places the authority of any book of Scripture at the mercy of the likes and dislikes of the individual reader; and it has restored the Epistles to the Hebrews and of James and Jude to their proper places in the New Testament, instead of leaving them in the kind of appendix to which Luther had banished them and the Revelation. Moreover, the passage containing the statement about the "veritable Epistle of straw" is now omitted from the preface to his translation. And with regard to this very point, his former friend and later opponent Andrew Rudolph Bodenstein, of Karlstadt, pertinently asked, "If you allow the Jews to stamp books with authority by receiving them, why do you refuse to grant as much power to the Churches of Christ, since the Church is not less than the Synagogue?" We have at least as much reason to trust the Councils of Laodicea, Hippo, and Carthage, which formally defined the limits of the New Testament, as we have to trust the unknown Jewish influences which fixed those of the Old. And when we examine for ourselves the evidence which is still extant, and which has greatly diminished in the course of fifteen hundred years, we feel that both on external and internal grounds the decision of the fourth century respecting the genuineness of the Epistle of St. James, as a veritable product of the Apostolic age and as worthy of a place in the canon of the New Testament, is fully justified.

Chapter 3


WE have still to consider the second half of the question as to the authenticity of this letter. Granting that it is a genuine Epistle of James, and a writing of the Apostolic age, to which of the persons in that age who are known to us as bearing the name of James is it to be attributed? The consensus of opinion on this point, though not so great as that respecting the genuineness of the letter, is now very considerable, and seems to be increasing.

The name James is the English form of the Hebrew name Yacoob (Jacob), which in Greek became ιακωβος, in Latin Jacobus, and in English James, a form which grievously blurs the history of the name. From having been the name of the patriarch Jacob, the progenitor of the Jewish race, it became one of the commonest of proper names among the Jews; and in the New Testament we find several persons bearing this name among the followers of Jesus Christ. It would be possible to make as many as six; but these must Certainly be reduced to four, and probably to three.

These six are-

1. James the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of John the Apostle. {Matthew 4:21; Matthew 10:2; Matthew 17:5, Mark 10:35; Mark 13:3, Luke 9:54, Acts 12:2}

2. James the Apostle, the son of Alphaeus. {Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13}

3. James the Little, the son of Mary the wife of Clopas, {John 19:25} who had one other son, named Joses. {Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40}

4. James the brother of the Lord, {Galatians 1:19} a relationship which he shares with Joses, Simon, and Judas {Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3} and some unnamed sisters.

5. James the overseer of the Church of Jerusalem. {Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13, 1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:12}

6. James the brother of the Jude who wrote the Epistle. {Judges 1:1} Besides which, we have an unknown James, who was father of the Apostle Judas, not Iscariot; {Luke 5:16} but we do not know that this James ever became a disciple.

Of these six we may safely identify the last three as being one and the same person; and we may probably identify James the Apostle, the son of Alphaeus, with James the Little, the son of Mary and Clopas; in which case we may conjecture that the epithet of "the Little" (ο μικρος) was given him to distinguish him from the other Apostle James, the son of Zebedee. Clopas (not Cleophas, as in the A.V) may be one Greek form of the Aramaic name Chalpai, of which Alphaeus may be another Greek form; so that the father of this James may have been known both as Clopas and as Alphaeus. But this is by no means certain. In the ancient Syraic Version we do not find both Alphaeus and Clopas represented by Chalpai; but we find Alphaeus rendered Chalpai, while Clopas reappears as Kleopha. And the same usage is found in the Jerusalem Syraic.

We have thus reduced the six to four or three and it is sometimes proposed to reduce the three to two, by identifying James the Lord’s brother with James the son of Alphaeus. But this identification is attended by difficulties so serious as to seem to be quite fatal; and it would probably never have been made but for the wish to show that "brother of the Lord" does not mean brother in the literal sense, but may mean cousin. For the identification depends upon making Mary the wife of Clopas (and mother of James the son of Alphaeus) identical with the sister of Mary the mother of the Lord, in the much-discussed passage John 19:25; so that Jesus and James would be first cousins, being sons respectively of two sisters, each of whom was called Mary.

The difficulties under which this theory labors are mainly these:-

1. It depends on an identification of Clopas with Alphaeus, which is uncertain, though not improbable.

2. It depends on a further identification of Christ’s "mother’s sister" with "Mary the wife of Clopas" in John 19:25, which is both uncertain and highly improbable. In that verse we almost certainly have four women, and not three, contrasted with the four soldiers just mentioned (John 19:23-24), and arranged in two pairs: "His mother, and His mother’s sister; Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene."

3. It assumes that two sisters were both called Mary.

4. No instance in Greek literature has been found in which "brother" (αδελφος) means "cousin." The Greek language has a word to express "cousin" (ανεψιος) which occurs Colossians 4:10; and it is to be noted that the ancient tradition preserved by Hegesippus (cir. A.D. 170) distinguishes James, the first overseer of the Church of Jerusalem, as the "brother of the Lord" (Eus. "H.E.," 2. 23. 1), and his successor Symeon as the "cousin of the Lord" (4. 22:4). Could Hegesippus have written thus if James were really a cousin? If a vague term such as "kinsman" (συγγενης) was wanted, that also might have been used, as in Luke 1:36; Luke 1:58; Luke 2:44.

5. In none of the four lists of the Apostles is there any hint that any of them are the brethren of the Lord; and in Acts 1:13-14, and 1 Corinthians 9:5, "the brethren of the Lord" are expressly distinguished from the Apostles. Moreover, the traditions of the age subsequent to the New Testament sometimes make James the Lord’s brother one of the Seventy, but never one of the Twelve, a fact which can be explained only on the hypothesis that it was notorious that he was not one of the Twelve. The reverence for this James and for the title of Apostle was such that tradition would eagerly have given him the title had there been any opening for doing so.

6. The "brethren of the Lord" appear in the Gospels almost always with the mother of the Lord; {Matthew 12:46, Mark 3:32, Luke 8:19, John 2:12} never with Mary the wife of Clopas; and popular knowledge of them connects them with Christ’s mother, and not with any other Mary. {Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55} "My brethren," in Matthew 28:10, and John 20:17, does not mean Christ’s earthly relations, but the children of "My Father and your Father."

7. But the strongest objection of all is St. John’s express statement {John 7:5} that "even His brethren did not believe on Him"; a statement which he could not have made if one of the brethren (James), and possibly two others (Simon and Judas), were already Apostles.

The identification of James the son of Alphaeus with James the Lord’s brother must therefore be abandoned, and we remain with three disciples bearing the name of James from which to select the writer of this Epistle-the son of Zebedee, the son of Alphaeus, and the brother of the Lord. The father of Judas, not Iscariot, need not be considered, for we do not even know that he ever became a believer.

In our ignorance of the life, and thought, and language of the son of Zebedee and the son of Alphaeus, we cannot say that there is anything in the Epistle itself which forbids us to attribute it to either of them; but there is nothing in it which leads us to do so. And there are two considerations which, when combined, are strongly against Apostolic authorship. The writer does not claim to be an Apostle; and the hesitation as to the reception of the Epistle in certain parts of the Christian Church would be extraordinary if the letter were reputed to be of Apostolic authorship. When we take either of these Apostles separately we become involved in further difficulties. It is not probable that any Apostolic literature existed in the lifetime of James the son of Zebedee, who was martyred, under Herod Agrippa I, i.e., not later than the spring of A.D. 44, when Herod Agrippa died. That any Apostle wrote an encyclical letter as early as A.D. 42 or 43 is so improbable that we ought to have strong evidence before adopting it, and the only evidence worth considering is that furnished by the Peshitto. The earliest MSS. of this ancient Syriac Version, which date from the fifth to the eighth century, call it an Epistle of James the Apostle; but evidence which cannot be traced higher than the fifth century respecting an improbable occurrence alleged to have taken place in the first century is not worth very much. Moreover, the scribes who put this heading and subscription to the Epistle may have meant no more than that it was by a person of Apostolic: rank, or they may have shared the common Western error of identifying the brother of the Lord with the son of Alphaeus. Editors of the Syriac Version in a much later age certainly do attribute the Epistle to the son of Zebedee, for they state that the three Catholic Epistles admitted to that version-James, 1 Peter, and 1 John-are by the three Apostles who witnessed the Transfiguration. The statement seems to be a blundering misinterpretation of the earlier title, which assigned it to James the Apostle. And if we attribute the letter to the son of Alphaeus we get rid of one difficulty, only to fall into another; we are no longer compelled to give the Epistle so improbably early a date as A.D. 43, but we are left absolutely without any evidence to connect it with the son of Alphaeus, unless we identify this Apostle with the brother of the Lord, an identification which has already been shown to be untenable.

Therefore, without further hesitation, we may assign the Epistle to one of the most striking and impressive figures in the Apostolic age, James the Just, the brother of the Lord, and the first overseer of the Mother Church of Jerusalem.

Whether James was the brother of the Lord as being the son of Joseph by a former marriage, or as being the son of Joseph and Mary born after the birth of Jesus, need not be argued in detail. All that specially concerns us, for a right understanding of the Epistle, is to remember that it was written by one who, although for some time not a believer in the Messiahship of Jesus, was, through his near relationship, constantly in His society, witnessing His acts and hearing His words. This much, however, should be noted, that there is nothing in Scripture to warn us from understanding that Joseph and Mary had other children, and that "firstborn" in Luke 2:7, and "till" in Matthew 1:25, appear to imply that they had; a supposition confirmed by contemporary belief, {Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55} and by the constant attendance of these "brethren" on the mother of the Lord; {Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:32; Luke 8:19; John 2:12} that, on the other hand, the theory which gives Joseph children older than Jesus deprives Him of His rights as the heir of Joseph and of the house of David; seems to be of apocryphal origin (Gospel according to Peter, or Book of James); and like Jerome’s theory of cousinship, appears to have been invented in the interests of ascetic views and of a priori convictions as to the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin. The immense consensus of belief in the perpetual virginity does not begin until long after all historical evidence was lost. Tertullian appears to assume as a matter of course that the Lord’s brethren are the children of Joseph and Mary, as if in his day no one had any other view ("Adv. Marc.," 4. 19.; "De Carne Christi," 7.).

According to either view, James was the son of Joseph, and almost certainly was brought up with his Divine Brother in the humble home at Nazareth. His father, as St. Matthew tells us {Matthew 1:19} was a just or righteous man, like the parents of the Baptist, {Luke 1:6} and this was the title by which James was known during his lifetime, and by which he is still constantly known. He is James "the Just" (ο δικαιος). The epithet as used in Scripture of his father and others, {Matthew 1:19, Luke 1:6; Luke 2:25; Luke 23:50, Acts 10:20, 2 Peter 2:7} and in history of him, must not be understood as implying precisely what the Athenians meant when they styled Aristides "the Just," or what we mean by being "just" now. To a Jew the word implied not merely being impartial and upright, but also having a studied and even scrupulous reverence for everything prescribed by the Law. The Sabbath, the synagogue worship, the feasts and fasts, purification, tithes, all the moral and ceremonial ordinances of the Law of the Lord-these were the things on which the just man bestowed a loving care, and in which he preferred to do more than was required, rather than the bare minimum insisted on by the Rabbis.

It was in a home of which righteousness of this kind was the characteristic that St. James was reared, and in which he became imbued with that reverent love for the Law which makes him, even more than St. Paul, to be the ideal "Hebrew of Hebrews." For him Christ came "not to destroy, but to fulfill." Christianity turns the Law of Moses into a "royal law," {James 2:8} but it does not abrogate it. The Judaism which had been his moral and spiritual atmosphere during his youth and early manhood remained with him after he had learned to see that there was no antagonism between the Law and the Gospel.

It would be part of his strict Jewish training that he should pay the prescribed visits to Jerusalem at the feasts; {John 7:10} and he would there become familiar with the magnificent liturgy of the Temple, and would lay the foundation for that love of public and private prayer within its precincts which was one of his best-known characteristics in after-life. A love of prayer, and a profound belief in its efficacy, appear again and again in the pages of his Epistle. {James 1:5; James 4:2-3; James 4:8; James 5:13-18} It was out of a strong personal experience that the man who knelt in prayer until "his knees became hard like a camel’s" declared that "the supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working."

Strict Judaism has ever a tendency to narrowness, and we find this tendency in the brethren of the Lord, in their attitude both towards their Brother, and also towards Gentile converts after they had accepted Him. {Galatians 2:12} Of the long period of silence during which Jesus was preparing Himself for His ministry we know nothing. But immediately after His first miracle, which they probably witnessed, they went down with Him, and His mother, and His disciples to Capernaum, {John 2:12} and very possibly accompanied Him to Jerusalem for the Passover. They would be almost certain to go thither to keep the feast. It was there that "many believed on His Name, beholding His signs which He did. But Jesus did not trust Himself unto them, for that He knew all men." He knew that when the immediate effect of His miracles had passed off the faith of these sudden converts would not endure. And this seems to have been the case with His brethren. They were at first attracted by His originality, and power, and holiness, then perplexed by methods which they could not understand, {John 7:3-4} then inclined to regard Him as a dreamer and a fanatic, {Mark 3:21} and finally decided against Him. {John 7:5} Like many other’s among His followers, they were quite unable to reconcile His position with the traditional views respecting the Messiah; and instead of revising these views, as being possibly faulty, they held fast to them, and rejected Him. It was not merely in reference to the people of Nazareth, who had tried to kill Him, {Luke 4:29} but to those who were still closer to Him by ties of blood and home, that He uttered the sad complaint, "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house". {Mark 6:4}

The fact that our Lord committed His mother to the keeping of St. John harmonizes with the supposition that at the time of the Crucifixion His brethren were still unbelievers. The Resurrection would be likely to open their eyes and dispel their doubts; {Acts 1:14} and a special revelation of the risen Lord seems to have been granted to St. James, {1 Corinthians 15:7} as to St. Paul; in both cases because behind the external opposition to Christ there were earnest faith and devotion, which at once found their object, as soon as the obstructing darkness was removed. After his conversion, St. James speedily took the first place among the believers who constituted the original Church of Jerusalem. He takes the lead, even when the chief of the Apostles are present. It is to him that St. Peter reports himself, when he is miraculously freed from prison. {Acts 12:17} It is he who presides at the so-called Council of Jerusalem Acts 15:13; (see esp. ver. 19). And it is to him that St. Paul specially turns on his last visit to Jerusalem, to report his success among the Gentiles. {Acts 21:17} St. Paul places him before St. Peter and St. John in mentioning those "who were reputed to be pillars" of the Church, {Galatians 2:9} and states that on his first visit to Jerusalem after his own conversion he stayed fifteen days with Peter, but saw no other of the Apostles, excepting James, the Lord’s brother; {Galatians 1:18-19} a passage of disputed meaning, but which, if it does not imply that James was in some sense an Apostle, at least suggests that he was a person of equal importance. {Comp. Acts 9:26-30} Moreover, we find that at Antioch St. Peter himself allowed his attitude towards the Gentiles to be changed in deference to the representations of "certain that came from James," who had possibly misunderstood or misused their commission; but the narrowness already alluded to may have made St. James himself unable to move as rapidly as St. Peter and St. Paul in adopting a generous course with Gentile converts.

Unless there is a reference to St. James in Hebrews 13:7, as among those who had once "had the lead over you," but are now no longer alive to speak the word, we must go outside the New Testament for further notices of him. They are to be found chiefly in Clement of Alexandria, Hegesippus, and Josephus. Clement ("Hypotyp.," 4. ap. Eus. "H.E.," 2. 1:3) records a tradition that Peter, James, and John, after the Ascension of the Savior, although they had been preferred by the Lord, did not contend for distinction, but that James the Just became Bishop of Jerusalem. And again ("Hypotyp.," 7.), "To James the Just, John, and Peter, the Lord, after the Resurrection, imparted the gift of knowledge (την γνωσιν); these imparted it to the rest of the Apostles, and the rest of the Apostles to the Seventy, of whom Barnabas was one. Now, there have been two Jameses-one the Just, who was thrown from the gable [of the Temple], and beaten to death by a fuller with a club, and another who was beheaded." The narrative of Hegesippus is also preserved for us by Eusebius ("H.E.," 2.23. 4-18). It is manifestly legendary, and possibly comes from the Essene Ebionites, who appear to have been fond of religious romances. It is sometimes accepted as historical, as by Clement in the passage just quoted; but its internal improbabilities and its divergencies from Josephus condemn it. It may, however, contain some historical touches, especially in the general sketch of St. James; just as the legends about our own King Alfred, although untrustworthy as to facts, nevertheless convey a true idea of the saintly and scholarly king. It runs thus: "There succeeds to the charge of the Church, James, the brother of the Lord, in conjunction with the Apostles, the one who has been named Just by all, from the time of our Lord to our own time, for there were many called James. Now, he was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink; nor did he eat animal food. No razor ever came upon his head; he anointed not himself with oil; and he did not indulge in bathing. To him alone was it lawful to go into the Holy Place; for he wore no wool, but linen. And he would go into the Temple alone, and would be found there kneeling on his knees and asking forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became dry and hard as a camel’s, because he was always on his knees worshipping God and asking forgiveness for the people. On account, therefore, of his exceeding justness, he was called Just and Oblias, which is in Greek ‘bulwark of the people’ and ‘justness,’ as the prophets show concerning him. Some, then, of the seven sects among the people, which have been mentioned before by me in the ‘Memoirs,’ asked him, What is the Door of Jesus? And he said that He was the Savior. From which some believed Jesus is the Christ. But the sects aforesaid did not believe, either in the Resurrection or in One coming to recompense to each man according to his works. But as many as believed did so through James. When many, therefore, even of the rulers were believing, there was a tumult of the Jews and scribes and Pharisees, who said, It looks as if all the people would be expecting Jesus as the Christ. They came together, therefore, and said to James, We pray thee, restrain the people, for it has been led astray after Jesus, as though He were the Christ. We pray thee to persuade all that come to the day of the Passover concerning Jesus; for to thee we all give heed. For we bear witness to thee, and so do all the people, that thou art just, and acceptest not the person of any. Do thou, therefore, persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus; for all the people and all of us give heed to thee. Stand, therefore, upon the gable of the Temple, that thou mayest be visible to those below, and that thy words may be readily heard by all the people. For on account of the Passover there have come together all the tribes, with the Gentiles also. Therefore the aforesaid scribes and Pharisees placed James upon the gable of the Temple, and cried to him and said, O just one, to whom we ought all to give heed, seeing that the people is being led astray after Jesus, who was crucified, tell us what is the Door of Jesus. And he answered with a loud voice, Why ask ye me concerning Jesus the Son of man? Even He sitteth in heaven, at the right of the Mighty Power, and He is to come on the clouds of heaven. And when many were convinced, and gave glory on the witness of James, and said, Hosannah to the Son of David, then again the same scribes and Pharisees said unto one another, We have done ill in furnishing such witness to Jesus. But let us go up and cast him down, that they may be terrified, and not believe him. And they cried out, saying, Oh! oh! even the Just has been led astray. And they fulfilled the Scripture, which is written in Isaiah, Let us take away the Just One, for he is troublesome to us; therefore shall they eat the fruit of their deeds. So they went up, and cast down the Just, and said to one another, Let us stone James the Just. And they began to stone him, seeing that he was not dead from the fall, but turning round, knelt, and said, I pray Thee, Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But whilst they were thus stoning him, one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, son of Rechabim, to whom Jeremiah the prophet bears testimony, cried, saying, Stop! what are ye doing? The Just One is praying for you. And one of them, one of the fullers, took the club with which clothes are pressed, and brought it down on the head of the Just One. And in this way he bore witness. And they buried him on the spot by the Temple, and his monument still remains by the Temple. This man has become a true witness, to both Jews and Gentiles, that Jesus is the Christ. And straightway Vespasian lays siege to them." That is, Hegesippus regards the attack of the Romans as a speedy judgment on the Jews for the murder of James the Just, and consequently places it A.D. 69. This is probably several years too late. Josephus places it A.D. 62 or 63. His account is as follows:-"Now, the younger Ananus, whom we stated to have succeeded to the high-priesthood, was precipitate in temper and exceedingly audacious, and he followed the sect of the Sadducees, who are very harsh in judging offenders, beyond all other Jews, as we have already shown. Ananus, therefore, as being a person of this character, and thinking that he had a suitable opportunity, through Festus being dead, and Albinus still on his journey (to Judea), assembles a Sanhedrin of judges; and he brought before it the brother of Jesus who was called Christ (his name was James) and some others, and delivered them to be stoned, on a charge of being transgressors of the law. But as many as seemed to be most equitable among those in the city, and scrupulous as to all that concerned the laws, were grievously affected by this; and they send to the king [Herod Agrippa II], secretly praying him to order Ananus to act in such a way no more; for that not even his first action was lawfully done. And some of them go to meet Albinus on his journey from Alexandria, and inform him that Ananus had no authority to assemble a Sanhedrin without his leave. And Albinus, being convinced by what they said, wrote in anger to Ananus, threatening to punish him for this. And for this reason King Agrippa took away the high-priesthood from him after he had been in office three months, and conferred it upon Jesus the son of Damnaeus" ("Ant.," 20. 9:1).

This account by Josephus contains no improbabilities, and should be preferred to that of Hegesippus. It has been suspected of Christian interpolation, because of the reference to Jesus Christ, whom Josephus persistently ignores in his writings. But a Christian who took the trouble to garble the narrative at all would probably have done so to more purpose, both as regards Jesus and James. In any case Hegesippus and Josephus agree in confirming the impression produced by the New Testament, that James the Just was a person held in the greatest respect by all in Jerusalem, whether Jews or Christians, and one who exercised great influence in the East over the whole Jewish race. We shall find that this fact harmonizes well with the phenomena of the Epistle, and it leads directly to the next question which calls upon us for discussion

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