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Bible Commentaries

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

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Chapter 5

Book Overview - James

by Heinrich Meyer



































I N the new revision of this Commentary the following works have been chiefly examined. H. Bouman, Comment. perpet. in Jac. ep., ed. 1863, the exposition of the Epistle by Lange (second edition, 1866) in Lange’s Bibelwerk, and the third edition of de Wette’s exposition edited by Brückner. Whilst in the first of these works a deep and thorough examination of the thoughts of the Epistle is awanting, the work of Lange is too defective in exegetical carefulness, which alone can lead to sure results. In order to comprehend the Epistle historically, Lange proceeds from the most arbitrary hypotheses, which often mislead him into very rash, and sometimes strange explanations. It is to be regretted that, with all his spiritual feeling and acuteness, he has not been able to put a proper bridle upon his imagination. The second edition of de Wette’s Handbook, containing the exposition of the Epistles of Peter, Jude, and James, had been previously prepared by Brückner. When in the preface to the third edition he says that he has subjected this portion of the Handbook to a thorough revision, and, as far as possible, has made the necessary additions and corrections, this assertion is completely justified by the work. Although the remarks of Brückner are condensed, yet they are highly deserving of attention, being the result of a true exegetical insight. It were to be wished that Brückner had been less trammelled by “the duty to preserve the work of de Wette as much as possible uncurtailed.” Of the recent examinations on the relation of the Pauline view of justification to that of James, I will only here mention the familiar dissertation of Hengstenberg: “the Epistle of James,” in Nos. 91–94 of the Evangelical Church Magazine, 1866; and the explanation of James 2:24-26, by Philippi in his Dogmaties, vol. I. pp. 297–315. Both, without assenting to my explanation, agree with me in this, that there is no essential difference between the doctrines of Paul and James. Hengstenberg arrives at this result by supposing, on the assumption of a justification gradually developed, that James speaks of a different stage of justification from that of Paul; whilst Philippi attributes to δικαιοῦν with James another meaning than that which it has with Paul. I can approve neither of the one method nor of the other; not of the former, because by it the idea of justification is altered in a most serious manner; nor of the latter, because it is wanting in linguistic correctness, and, moreover, thoughts are by it given which are wholly unimportant. I will not here resume the controversy with Frank, to which I felt constrained in the publication of the second edition, only remarking that after a careful examination I have not been able to alter my earlier expressed view of James’ doctrine of justification, the less so as it had not its origin from dogmatic prepossession, but was demanded by exegetical conviction. Moreover, I am no less convinced than formerly that in the deductions made by me nothing is contained which contradicts the doctrine of the church regarding justification.

With regard to the question whether the author of this Epistle, the brother of the Lord, is or is not identical with the Apostle James, I have not been able to change my earlier convictions. If in more recent times the opposite view has been occasionally maintained, this is either in the way of simple assertion, or on grounds which proceed from unjustified suppositions. This present edition will show that I have exercised as impartial a criticism as possible with regard to my own views, as well as with regard to the views of others.

The quotations from Rauch and Gunkel refer to their reviews of this commentary published before the second edition; the one is found in No. 20 of the Theol. Literaturblatt of the allgem. Kirchenzeitung of the year 1858; and the other in the Göttingen gel. Anz., Parts 109–112 of the year 1859. I have occasionally quoted Cremer’s biblischtheol. Wörterbuch des neutest. Gräcität. The more I know of the value of this work, the more I regret that it does not answer to its title, inasmuch as those words are only treated which the author considers to be the expressions of spiritual, moral, and religious life. A distinction is here made which can only with difficulty be maintained. I have quoted Winer’s Grammar, not only according to the sixth, but also according to the seventh edition, edited by Lünemann.

I again close this preface with the hope that my labour may help to make the truly apostolic spirit of the Epistle of James more valued, and to render its ethical teaching more useful to the church.






T HE author of this Epistle designates himself in the inscription ἰάκωβος, θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ δοῦλος, and thus announces himself to be, though not an apostle in the narrower sense of the term, yet a man of apostolic dignity. From this, as well as from the attitude which he takes up toward the circle of readers to whom he has directed his Epistle ( ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ), it is evident that no other James can be meant than he who, at an early period in the Acts of the Apostles, appears as the head of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13 ff; Acts 21:18); whom Paul calls ἀδελφὸς τοῦ κυρίου (Galatians 1:19), and reckons among the στύλοις (Galatians 2:9), and whom Jude, the author of the last Catholic Epistle, designates as his brother (Jude 1:1); the same who in tradition received the name δίκαιος (Hegesippus in Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. ii. 23, iv. 22), who was regarded even by the Jews as an ἀνὴρ δικαιότατος (Joseph. Antiq. xx. 3. 1), to whom a higher dignity than that of the apostles is attributed in the Clementines, and who, according to the narrative of Josephus, suffered martyrdom about the year 63; according to that of Hegesippus (Euseb. ii. 23), not long before the destruction of Jerusalem.1(1)

As regards the question whether this James is to be considered as identical with the Apostle James the son of Alphaeus, as is maintained in recent times by Lange, Bouman, Hengstenberg, Philippi, and others, or as a different person, the data given in the N. T. are more favourable to the idea of non-identity than to the opposite opinion. 1. When mention is made in the N. T. of the ἀδελφοί of Jesus, they are represented as a circle different from that of the apostles. Thus they are already in John 2:12 distinguished from the μαθηταῖς of Jesus; the same distinction is also made after the choice of the twelve apostles (Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:21; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3), and in such a manner that neither in these passages nor in those where the Jews mention the brethren of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3(2)) is there the slightest indication that one or several of them belonged to the apostolic circle: rather their conduct toward Jesus is characterized as different from that of the apostles; and, indeed, it is expressly said of them that they did not believe on Him (John 7:5). Also after the ascension of Christ, when His brethren had become believers, and had attached themselves to the apostles, they are expressly, and in the same simple manner as before, distinguished from the Twelve (Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5). 2. In no passage of the N. T. is it indicated that the ἀδελφοί of the Lord were not His brothers, in the usual meaning of the word, but His cousins; and, on the other hand, James the son of Alphaeus is never reckoned as a brother of Jesus, nor is there any trace of a relationship between him and the Lord. Certainly the Mary mentioned in John 19:25 ( τοῦ κλωπᾶ) was the mother of the sons of Alphaeus (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40), as ἀλφαῖος and κλωπᾶς are only different forms of the same name ( חלפי); but from that passage it does not follow that this Mary was a sister of the mother of Jesus (see Meyer in loc.). 3. According to the lists of the apostles, only one of the sons of Alphaeus, namely James, was the apostle of the Lord. Although the Apostle Lebbaeus (Matthew 10:3), whom Mark calls Thaddaeus (Mark 3:18), is the same with ἰούδας ἰακώβου in Luke (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13), yet he was not a brother of James; for, on the one hand, if this were the case he would have been called so by Matthew, who expressly places the brothers among the apostles together; and, on the other hand, ἀδελφός is not to be supplied to the genitive ἰακώβου in Luke,—contrary to all analogy—but υἱός (see Introduction to Commentary on Jude, sec. 1). According to Matthew 27:26 and Mark 15:40, Alphaeus, besides James, had only one other son, Joses. If the apostles Judas and Simon were also his sons, his wife Mary in the above passages would have been also called their mother, especially as Joses was not an apostle. From all these data, then, the brothers of the Lord, James, Judas, and Simon, are not to be considered as identical with the apostles bearing the same names. 4. There are, however, two passages, Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 15:7, which appear to lead to a different conclusion. In the first passage εἰ ΄ή appears to indicate, as many interpreters assume, that Paul, by the addition for the sake of historical exactness, remarks that besides the Apostle Peter he saw also the Apostle James. But on this supposition we cannot see why he should designate him yet more exactly as τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου, since the other Apostle James was at that time dead. The addition of this surname indicates a distinction of this James from the apostle. Now εἰ μή does certainly refer not only to οὐκ εἶδον (Fritzsche, ad Matth. p. 482; Neander, Winer), but to the whole preceding clause; still, considering the position which James occupied, Paul might regard him, and indeed was bound to regard him, as standing in such a close relation to the real apostles that he might use εἰ ΄ή without including him among them.(3) It is evident that Paul did not reckon James among the original apostles, since in Galatians 2 he names him and Cephas and John together, not as apostles, but as οἱ δοκοῦντες εἶναί τι, οἱ δοκοῦντες στύλοι εἶναι.(4)

In the other passage, 1 Corinthians 15:7, the word πᾶσιν may be added by Paul, with reference to James formerly named, in the sense: “afterwards Christ appeared to James, and then—not to him only, but—to all the apostles,” from which it would follow that James belonged to the apostles. But this reference is not necessary, as πᾶσιν may as well be added in order simply to give prominence to the fact that all the apostles, without exception, had seen the Lord.(5) 5. All the other reasons for the identity, which are taken from the N. T., as adduced by Lange, are too subjective in character to be considered as conclusive; as, for example, that Luke in Acts 12:17 would have felt himself obliged to notice that the James mentioned by him here and further on, is not the same with the James whom he had called an apostle in Acts 1:13;(6) that only an apostle could have written such an epistle, and have attained to that consequence which James possessed in the Church;(7) and that it is improbable that, besides the Apostles James, Judas, and Simon, there should be three of the brothers of Jesus bearing the same names.(8)

The testimonies of the post-apostolic age are much too uncertain to decide the controversy; for whilst Clemens Alexandrinus (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. ii. 1 : δύο δὲ γεγόνασιν ἰακώβοι· εἷς δίκαιοςἕτερος δὲ καρατομηθείς) and Jerome declare for the hypothesis of identity, the Apostolic Constitutions (2:55, 6:12, 14; in the latter passage, after the enumeration of the twelve apostles, there are yet named: ἰάκωβής τε τοῦ κυρίου ἀδελφὸς καὶ ἱεροσολύμων ἐπίσκοπος καὶ παῦλος τῶν ἐθνῶν διδάσκαλος) and Eusebius (commentary on Isaiah 17:5 in Montfaucon, coll. nova patr. II. p. 422; Hist. Eccl. i. 12, vii. 19) definitely distinguish the brother of the Lord from the apostles. The statement of Hegesippus (in Euseb. iv. 22), to which Credner appeals against, and Kern and Lange for the identity, is not in favour of it;(9) also the extract of Jerome from the Hebrew gospel cannot with certainty be quoted for it (Hieron. dc vir. illustrib. chap. ii.); and still less the passage in the Clementine Homilies, xi. 35, where the words τῷ λεχθέντι ἀδελφῷ τοῦ κυρίου μου annexed to ἰακώβῳ admit of the explanation that the designation ἀδελφ. τ. κύρ. was his familiar surname. The opinions of the later Church Fathers are evidently of no weight either for or against the identity.

On the assumption of identity, the word ἀδελφός cannot be understood in its usual sense. The opinion, obtaining most favour since the time of Jerome, is that the so-called ἀδελφοί were the cousins of Jesus, namely, the sons of the sister of His mother, who was also called Mary, and was the wife of Clopas (= Alphaeus). This view is supported by the interpretation of John 19:25, according to which the words ΄αρία τοῦ κλωπᾶ are taken in apposition to the preceding ἀδελφὴ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ; and so the passage is explained by Theodoret: ἀδελφὸς τοῦ κυρίου ἐκαλεῖτο μέν, οὐκ ἦν δὲ φύσειτοῦ κλωπᾶ μὲν ἦν υἱός, τοῦ δὲ κυρίου ἀνεψίος· μητέρα γὰρ εἶχε τὴν ἀδελφὴν τῆς τοῦ κυρίου μητέρος. The correct interpretation of that passage removes all ground for this opinion. Accordingly Lange (in Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädic, and repeated in his Commentary, Introduction, p. 10), instead of this view, has advanced the theory, that as Clopas, according to Hegesippus, was a brother of Joseph, the so-called brethren of Jesus were properly His step-cousins, but after the early death of Clopas were adopted by Joseph, and so actually became the brothers of Jesus. But this opinion is destitute of foundation; for even although the narrative of Hegesippus is correct, yet tradition is silent concerning the early death of Clopas and the adoption of his children by Joseph, and as little “does history know that the sons of Alphaeus formed one household with the mother of Jesus, and were prominent members of it,” as Lange maintains. By the denial of identity, ἀδελφός is to be understood in its proper sense. Thiersch (Krit. d. ncu. test. Schriften, pp. 361, 430 ff.) adopts the opinion contained, according to his conjecture, in the Gospel of the Hebrews, and already advanced by Origen (on Matthew 13), that the brothers of Jesus were the children of Joseph by a former marriage; but against this Wiesinger rightly insists on the fact that this opinion of Origen “was by no means prevalent in his time.” It owed its origin apparently to a delicacy to deny the perpetual virginity of Mary, as Thiersch confesses that “it is not to him a matter of indifference whether the mother of the Lord remained ἀεὶ παρθένος.” The evangelists, however, have not this feeling, for otherwise Matthew and Luke would not have said of Mary: ἔτεκε τὸν υἱὸν αὑτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον, which points to the birth of later children not only as a possible, but as an actual fact. If it were otherwise, there would be some indication in the N. T. that Joseph was a widower when he married Mary, or that the ἀδελφοὶ ἰησοῦ were not her children. According to the N. T., the brothers of Jesus, to whom James belonged, are the children of Mary born in wedlock with Joseph after the birth of Jesus; as is correctly recognised by Herder, Credner, Meyer, de Wette, Wiesinger, Stier, Bleek, and others.

In what the evangelists relate of the brothers of Jesus, James is not particularly distinguished. Accordingly we are not to consider his conduct as different from that of the rest. Although closely related by birth to Jesus, His brothers did not recognise His higher dignity, so that Jesus with reference to them said: οὐχ ἔστι προφήτης ἄτιμος, εἰ μὴ ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὑτοῦ, καὶ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὑτοῦ (Matthew 13:56). Lange incorrectly infers from John 2:12, where the brothers of Jesus are first mentioned, that “even at the commencement of the ministry of Jesus they were spiritually related (that is, by faith) to the disciples;” for at that time the brothers had not attached themselves to the disciples, but went with them from Cana to Capernaum that they might accompany Mary. At a later period we find them separated from the disciples (see Mark 3:21; Matthew 12:46; Luke 8:19);(10) they go with Mary to the house where Jesus is, because, thinking that He was mad, they wished to bring Him home with them, which was evidently no sign of their faith, but rather of their unbelief.(11) After the miracle of the loaves, when the feast of Tabernacles was at hand, they are with Jesus in Galilee; but that even at this period they did not believe on Him, is expressly asserted by John (John 7:5). Only after the ascension do we find them as disciples of the Lord in close fellowship with the apostles. We are not informed when this change took place, but from the fact that Jesus on the cross resigned His mother, as one forsaken, to the care of John, we may conjecture that even then they did not believe. It is probable that our Lord’s appearance after His resurrection to James (1 Corinthians 15:5) decided his belief, and that his conversion drew his brothers along with him, as may be inferred from the force of his character. So Bleek, Einl. in d. N. T. p. 546. James at an early period obtained in the church of Jerusalem such a position that he appears as its head (about A.D. 44); yet this position is not that of a bishop in distinction from presbyters, but he was one of the presbyters (Acts 15:22-23), whose loftier dignity was not derived from any special official authority, but only from his personality. In the conference at Jerusalem (in the year 50, Acts 15) James not only took an important part, but his voice gave the decision. We cannot call his advice, in accordance with which the definite resolution was arrived at, a compromise; for the question whether believers among the Gentiles were obliged to be circumcised could only be affirmed or denied. James decided the question in the negative, grounding his opinion not on his own experience, nor on the communications of Paul and Barnabas, but on the divine act narrated by Peter, wherein he recognised the commencement of the fulfilment of the definite λόγοι τῶν προφητῶν. When he imposed upon the Gentile Christians ἀπέχεσθαι ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλισγημάτων τῶν εἰδώλων καὶ τῆς πορνείας καὶ τοῦ πνικτοῦ καὶ τοῦ αἵματος, he does so, not in the same sense as that in which the Judaizers imposed on them the observance of the law; and when as a reason he appeals to the reading of Moses every Sabbath in the synagogues even of Gentile cities, he intimates that he wished to draw the boundary to the freedom of the Gentile Christians, within which they must keep themselves, if it were to be possible for the Jewish Christians to live in brotherly fellowship with them. That James not only recognises Gentile Christianity, but also the ἀποστολή of Paul, is apparent from Galatians 2:7 ff.; yet it does not follow that he entered entirely into Paul’s views. According to Galatians 2:12, the persons there called τινὲς ἀπὸ ἰακώβου were offended because Peter and the other Jews did eat μετὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν. We are not told in the narrative of Paul that these did not come directly from James, but only from Jerusalem, at least that they had not been sent by James, or that they had expressed themselves more strongly than the views of James warranted. The influence which they exerted on Peter, and even on Barnabas and the other Jewish Christians at Antioch, would rather seem to indicate that their words were regarded as those of James, who, when he declared himself against συνεσθίειν μετὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν,(12) did not contradict his view expressed in the convention at Jerusalem. It is clear from Acts 21:17-26 that James attached great importance to the point that every ἀποστασία of the Jews from Moses should be avoided, and that the Gentile Christians should remain by that fourfold ἀπέχεσθαι; he even demanded from Paul a proof that he had not ceased to observe the law ( τὸν νό΄ον φυλάσσειν). From the fact that Paul complied with this demand, it follows not only that he was not hostilely opposed to the view of James, but that he respected it, and recognised in it nothing essentially opposed to his own principles. He could not have done so had James insisted on the observance of the law in the same sense as did the Judaizing Christians, against whom Paul so often and so decidedly contended. According to James, the law was not a necessary means of justification along with and in addition to faith, but the rule of life appointed by God to the people of Israel, according to which believing Israel has to conform in the free obedience of faith. Thus James was and continued to be in his faith in Christ a true Jew, without, however, denying that Christianity was not only the glorification of Judaism, but also that by it the blessing promised to Israel was imparted to the Gentiles without their being subject to the law of Israel.(13) The position of James toward the Mosaic law was accordingly different from that of Paul. For whilst the latter was conscious that in Christ he was dead to the law ( μὴ ὢν ὑπὸ νόμον, 1 Corinthians 9:20), so that he felt himself at liberty to be ὧς ἰουδαῖος to the Jews but ὡς ἄνο΄ος to the ἀνό΄οις, though always ἔννο΄ος χριστῷ, the former esteemed it to be a sacred duty in Christ to observe the law which God had given to His people through Moses.(14) In this legal obedience James showed such a strict conscientiousness, that even by the Jews he received the name of “the Just.” And considering this his peculiar character, it is not at all to be wondered at that the Judaistic Christians leant chiefly on him, and that Judaistic tradition imparted additional features to his portrait, by which he appeared as the ideal of Jewish holiness. According to the description of Hegesippus (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. ii. 23), he was by birth a Nazarite, he led an ascetic life, he never anointed with oil nor used the bath, he never wore woollen but linen clothes, he was permitted to enter into the sanctuary, and he prayed constantly on his knees for the forgiveness of the people, and continued in his devotions so long that his knees became hard as camels’. This description may contain a few genuine traits, yet, as will be generally admitted, it cannot be acquitted of “suspicious exaggeration” (Lange). The statements of the Ebionites proceed further; in the Clementines, James is raised above all the apostles, and exalted to the episcopacy of all Christendom; indeed, according to Epiphanius (Haeres. xxx. 16), his ascension to heaven was a matter of narration; and Epiphanius himself thinks that he not only went yearly into the holy of holies, but that he also wore the diadem of the high priest.


The contents of the Epistle prove that it was addressed to Christians. Not only does the author—who by the designation κυρίου ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ δοῦλος plainly announces himself to be a Christian—address his readers throughout as his “brethren” (also as his “beloved brethren”), but in several places he distinctly affirms that they stand with him on the same ground of faith; in chap. James 1:18 he says that God has begotten them ( ἡμᾶς) by the word of truth; in chap. James 2:1 he reminds them of their πίστις τοῦ κυρίου . χριστοῦ τῆς δόξης; in chap. James 2:7 he speaks of the goodly name (that is, the name of Jesus Christ) which was invoked upon them; in chap. James 5:7 he exhorts them to patience, pointing out to them the nearness of the coming of the Lord; and in chap. James 2:16 ff. he evidently supposes that they had one and the same faith with himself. Add to this, that if the author as a δοῦλος of Christ had written to non-Christians, his Epistle could only have had the intention of leading them to faith in Christ; but of such an intention there is not the slightest trace found in the Epistle, so that Bouman is completely unjustified when he says: vult haec esse epistola estque revera christianae religionis schola propaedeutica. Certainly the designation of the readers, found in the inscription of the Epistle as αἱ δώδεκα φυλαὶ αἱ ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ, appears at variance with this view, as such a designation properly applies to Jews dispersed among the Gentiles beyond the boundaries of Palestine. By this name cannot be meant Christians in general (Hengstenberg), inasmuch as they are the spiritual Israel (in contrast to ἰσραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα, 1 Corinthians 10:18; comp. Galatians 6:16), and still less the Gentile Christians (Philippi), because it stamps the nationality too distinctly (much more than the expression ἐκλεκτοὶ παρεπιδημοι διασπορᾶς, 1 Peter 1:1), particularly as nothing is added pointing beyond the limits of nationality. The apparent contradiction is solved by the consideration of the view of James, according to which the Christians to whom he wrote not only had not ceased to be Jews, but it was precisely those Jews who believed in the Messiah promised to them and manifested in Jesus who were the true Jews, so that he regarded believing Israel as the true people of God, on whom he could therefore without scruple confer the name αἱ δώδεκα φυλαί,(15) pointing to the fathers to whom the promises were made; and, besides, it is not to be forgotten that the sharp distinction between Christianity springing up in Judaism, and Judaism called to Christianity, did not at first arise, but was only gradually developed by subsequent historical relations; yet it is not—on account of the above adduced reasons—to be inferred, as Bouman and Lange assume, that the Epistle was not only written to the converted, but also to the unconverted Jews.(16) The destination of the Epistle to Jewish Christians follows from chap. James 2:2, where the place of assembly of the congregations is called συναγωγή; from James 2:26, where Monotheism is prominently brought forward; from James 5:12, where swearing according to forms customary among the Jews is forbidden; and from James 5:14, where the custom of anointing with oil is mentioned. But, besides, all the ethical faults which the author reproves are of such a nature that they have their root in the carnal Jewish disposition (Wiesinger, Schaff, Thiersch, and others(17)).

The indolent reliance, prevailing in the congregations, on a faith without works, cannot be adduced as a feature opposed to the Jewish character; for in its nature it is nothing else than the pharisaical confidence on the superiority over all other nations, granted by God through the law to the people of Israel. As the Jews thought that in their law they had a guarantee for their salvation without the actual practice of the law (comp. Romans 2:17 ff.), so these Christians trusted to their faith, though defective in works.(18) That in later times the Jews also placed a false confidence on their knowledge of God, Justin testifies when he says: οἱ λέγουσιν, ὅτι κἂν ἁμαρτωλοὶ ὧσι, θεὸν δὲ γινώσκουσιν, οὐ μὴ λογίσηται αὐτοῖς ἁμαρτίαν (Dial. p. 370, ed. col.).

It is true it is not prominently mentioned in the Epistle that the readers were solicitous about a scrupulous observance of the rites of the Mosaic law, but a false estimate of an external θρησκεία was, according to James 1:22 ff., not wanting among them, with which also was united, as among the Jews, a fanatical zeal ( ὀργή).

The condition of these Jewish-Christian congregations, as described in the Epistle, was as follows: They were exposed to manifold temptations ( πειρασμοῖς ποικίλοις), whilst their members as poor ( ταπεινοί, πτωχοί) by reason of their faith (chap. James 2:5-6) were oppressed by the rich. But they did not bear these persecutions with that patience which assures the true Christian of the crown of life; on the contrary, these persecutions gave rise to an inward temptation, the blame of which, however, they sought not in themselves, in their ἐπιθυμία, but in God. Instead of praying in faith for the wisdom which was lacking to them, they gave way to doubt, which placed them in opposition to the principle of Christian life. Whilst they considered their ταπεινότης as a disgrace, they looked with envy at the glitter of earthly glory, and preferred the friendship of the world to that of God, in consequence of which, even in their religious assemblies, they flattered the rich, whilst they looked down upon the poor. This worldly spirit, conducive to the friendship of the world, was likewise the occasion of bitter strife among them, in which they murmured against each other, and in passionate zeal contended with violent words. These contentions were not “theological discussions” (Reuss) or “doctrinal dissensions” (Schmid), for the Epistle points to none of these, but concerned practical life, especially the Christian’s demeanour in the world.(19) As the Jews imagined that it belonged to them to be the ruling people of the world, to whom all the glory of the world belonged, so also many in these congregations wished to possess even on the earth in a worldly form the glory promised to Christians, and therefore they quarrelled with “the brethren of low degree,” who on their part were carried along in passionate wrath against those of a proud disposition. In serving the world they certainly did not wish to cease to be Christians, but they thought to be certain of justification ( δικαιοῦσθαι) on account of their faith, although that faith was to them something entirely external which produced among them a fanatical zeal (as the law among the Jews), but not that work of faith which consisted, on the one hand, in τηρεῖν ἑαυτὸν ἀπὸ τοῦ κόσμο υ, and, on the other, in the practice of compassionate love. Yet all were not estranged in this manner from the Christian life; there were still among them disciples of the Lord who were and wished to be ταπεινοί; yet worldliness was so prevalent in the midst of them that even they suffered from it. Hence the admonitory and warning nature of the Epistle to all, yet so that it is addressed chiefly sometimes to the one party and sometimes to the other, and is in its tone now mild and now severe. All, however, are addressed as ἀδελφοί, except the rich, who are distinctly stated as those who stand not inside, but outside of the congregations to whom the Epistle was addressed. These faults in the congregations were the occasion which induced James to compose his Epistle. The Epistle itself is opposed to the opinion of Lange, that its occasion can only be understood when it is recognised that the Jewish Christians were infected by the fanaticism of the Jews, in which the revolutionary impulse of independence and revenge was united with enthusiastic apocalyptic and chiliastic hopes, and which was excited by the antagonism of the Gentile world to Judaism; in the Epistle only in an arbitrary manner can references and allusions to these “historical conditions” be maintained.

The churches to which the Epistle is addressed are, according to the inscription, outside of Palestine, chiefly in Syria and the far East, whilst in the West there were hardly any Jewish Christian churches; yet it is possible that the author also included, by the expression employed, the churches in Palestine only outside of Jerusalem (Guericke).

sec. 3.—contents and character of the epistle

The Epistle commences with a reference to the πειρασμοί which the readers had to endure, exhorting them to esteem them as reasons for joy, to prove their patience under them, to ask in faith for the wisdom which was lacking to them, to which a warning against doubt is annexed. To the rich the judgment of God is announced; whilst to the lowly, who endure patiently, the crown of life is promised (James 1:1-12). Directly upon this follows the warning not to refer the internal temptations which arose from their own lusts ( ἐπιθυμία) to God, as from God, on the contrary, cometh every good gift, especially the new birth by the word of truth (James 1:13-18). To this is annexed the exhortation to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. This exhortation forms the basis for the following amplifications. The first, “swift to hear,” is more precisely defined: to receive with meekness the word which is able to save the soul, in such a way as there shall be no failure in the doing of the word by works of compassionate love, and by preserving oneself from the world (James 1:19-27). With special reference to the flattery of the rich and the despising of the poor occurring in their assemblies, the sin of respect of persons is brought before the readers and pressed upon them; that whosoever shall transgress the law in one point, he is guilty of all, and that to the unmerciful a judgment without mercy will be meted out (James 2:1-13); whereupon it is strongly affirmed that it is foolish to trust to a faith which without works is in itself dead. Such a faith does not profit; for by works a man is justified, and not by faith only, as also the examples of Abraham and Rahab show (James 2:14-26).

Without any transition, an earnest warning follows against the vain desire of teaching, which evidently refers to “slow to speak, slow to wrath.” The warning is founded on the difficulty, indeed the impossibility, of bridling the tongue. Heavenly wisdom is then commended in contrast to the wisdom of this world, which is full of bitter envy (James 3:1-18). The author severely reprimands his readers for their strifes arising from the love of the world, and exhorts them to humble themselves before God, and not to judge one another (James 4:1-12). He then turns to those who, in the pride of possession, forget their dependence on God, points out to them the fleeting nature of human life, subjoins a severe apostrophe against the rich, to whom he announces the certain judgment of God (James 4:13 to James 5:6), and, pointing to the Old Testament examples, exhorts his readers to a persevering patience in love, as the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7-11). After a short warning against idle swearing (James 5:12), the author gives advice as to how the sick are to behave themselves, exhorting them to mutual confession of sin, and, referring to the example of Elias, to mutual intercession; he then concludes the Epistle by stating the blessing which arises from the conversion of a sinner (James 5:13-20).(20)

This Epistle was not addressed to a single church, but to a circle of churches (namely, to the Jewish-Christian churches outside of Palestine or of Jerusalem), on which account, when received into the canon, it was classed among the so-called ἐπιστολαῖς καθολικαῖς, by which, however, nothing is determined concerning its peculiar design.(21) For, even although the seven Catholic Epistles received this name with reference to the already existing collection of the Pauline Epistles, yet the opinion of Kern (Commentary, Introduction), that the collection of these epistles under that name indicates an internal relationship with reference to the doctrine and tendency of Paul, is not justified. As an encyclical epistle, the Epistle of James considers only congregational, but not personal relations. With regard to its contents, it is decidedly ethical, not dogmatic, and that not merely because it treats only of the ethical faults in the congregations referred to, but also because it contemplates Christianity only according to its ethical side.(22) It is peculiar to this Epistle that the gospel—the word of truth by which God effects the new birth, and of which it is said that it is able to save the soul—is designated νό΄ος. This νό΄ος, more exactly characterized as τέλειος τῆς ἐλευθερίας, is certainly distinguished from the O. T. νό΄ος, which only commands, without communicating the power of free obedience; but, at the same time, in this very designation the conviction is expressed of the closest connection between Judaism and Christianity, whilst the same νό΄ος βασιλικός, which forms the essence of the law in the O. T. economy, is stated as the summary of this N. T. νό΄ος. Taking these two points together, it follows, according to the view of the author, that, on the one hand, the Christian by means of πίστις, which is implanted in his mind by the word of truth, has stepped into a new relation with God (and in so far Christianity is a new creation); and, on the other hand, the chief point of Christianity consists in this, that in it such a ποίησις is possible, by which a man is ΄ακάριος, and may be assured of future σωτηρία (and in so far Christianity is glorified Judaism). Hence the author can ascribe no importance to a πίστις which is without ἔργα, and hence it is natural to him to place all the importance on the ἔργα, that is, on the works which proceed from faith; yet he does this neither in the sense that man by his ἔργα is placed in this new relation to God, for it is only in this relation that he can do these works, nor yet in the sense that by them he can merit σωτηρία or δικαιοῦσθαι in the judgment ( ἐν τᾷ κρίνεσθαι), for James does not deny that the believer continues a sinner, and that therefore he can only be acquitted in judgment by the mercy of God.

The reticence on christological points is another peculiarity of this Epistle. Yet there is not wanting in it a decidedly Christian impress. This is seen in two ways: First, ethical exhortations are enforced—though not, as is often the case in other N. T. Epistles, by a reference to the specific points of Christ’s salvation—by a reference both to the saving act of regeneration by the gospel, and to the advent of the Lord, so that as the foundation of the Christian ethical life subjectively considered is πίστις, so objectively it is the redemption of God in Christ. Secondly, the same dignity is attributed to Christ in this Epistle as in the other writings of the N. T. This is seen from the fact that the author calls himself a δοῦλος of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is here to be observed that God and Christ are placed in juxtaposition, and that the same name is given to Christ as to God, namely κύριος, by which He is placed on an equality with God, and specifically distinguished from man. The circumstance that the author directly unites the divine judgment with the coming of the Lord, indeed designates the Lord Himself as the Judge, also points to this higher dignity of Christ. See Dorner, Lehre von der Person Christi, 2d ed. part I. p. 94 ff.; Kern, Komment. p. 40; Schmid, Bibl. Theol. part II. § 57. 1. Nor are christological points wanting in the Epistle; though the fact that they are more repressed than is the case elsewhere in the N. T., and that specific acts of redemption, as the incarnation of Christ, His death, His resurrection, etc., are entirely omitted, forms a peculiarity of this Epistle which distinguishes it from all the other writings of the N. T. The view of the author is directed less to the past than to the future, as this corresponds to his design, which aimed at the practical bearing of Christianity; see James 1:12, James 2:5; James 2:14, James 3:1, James 5:1; James 5:7; James 5:9. See on the contents of the Epistle, Weiss, Bibl. Theol. des N. T. pp. 196–219.

It is undeniable that there is a connection between this Epistle and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount; Kern calls it a counterpart of the same, and Schmid (Bibl. Theol. ii. § 60) says that James had it for his model. Yet this is not to be understood as if the Sermon on the Mount, as transmitted by Matthew, was influential for the conception of this Epistle; it is not even proved that the author was acquainted with that writing; and not only do we find in each of these two writings many references which are foreign to the other, but also where they coincide there is a difference of expression in the same thoughts. The relationship consists rather in the fact that the ethical view of Christianity, as seen in the Epistle, is in perfect accordance with the thoughts expressed by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as in His other discourses, and which, before they were reduced to writing, were in their original form vividly impressed on the Church by oral tradition. Embued with the moral spirit of Christianity announced in these words of Jesus, the author of the Epistle regards Christianity chiefly as a moral life, so that even the person of Christ, in a certain measure, steps into the background; just as Christ Himself, where He treats of the ethical life, is comparatively silent with reference to His own person. The parallel passages from the Sermon on the Mount are the following: chap. James 1:2, Matthew 5:10-12; chap. James 1:4 ( ἵνα ἦτε τέλειοι), Matthew 5:48; chap. James 1:5, James 5:15 ff., Matthew 7:7 ff.; chap. James 1:9, Matthew 5:3; chap. James 1:20, Matthew 5:22; chap. James 2:13, Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 5:7; chap. James 2:14 ff., Matthew 7:21 ff.; chap. James 3:17-18, Matthew 5:9; chap. James 4:4, Matthew 6:24; chap. James 4:10, Matthew 5:3-4; chap. James 4:11, Matthew 7:1 f.; chap. James 5:2, Matthew 6:19; chap. James 5:10, Matthew 5:12; chap. James 5:12, Matthew 5:33 ff. There are also parallel passages from the other discourses of Jesus: chap. James 1:14, Matthew 15:19; chap. James 4:12, Matthew 10:28. Compare also the places where the rich are denounced with Luke 6:24 ff.

But as these parallel passages do not prove the use of the synoptical Gospels, so neither is a use of the Pauline Epistles demonstrated.(23) The few places where the author coincides with the First Epistle of Peter are to be explained from an acquaintance of Peter with this Epistle. On the other hand, it is worthy of remark that not only is there frequent reference to the expressions and historical examples of the O. T., but that the idea “of the contrast, running through the spirit of Israel, between the externally fortunate but reprobate friendship of the world, and the externally suffering but blessed friendship of God” (Reuss), pervades this Epistle.

Several passages are evidently founded on corresponding passages in the Apocrypha of the O. T.

As, on the one hand, the Epistle is a letter of comfort and exhortation for the believing brethren, so, on the other hand, it is a polemical writing; but its polemics are directed not against dogmatic errors, but ethical perversions. Only one passage, chap. James 2:14-26, appears to combat a definite doctrine, and that the doctrine of justification of the Apostle Paul. But whatever view may be taken of this, the polemics are here introduced for the sake of ethical Christian life, namely, only with the object of showing that Christians are not indolently to trust to a πίστις without works, but are to prove a living faith by good works, so that the proposition ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος, καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως μόνον is by no means employed to confute the Pauline principle, οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ, in the application in which Paul made the assertion. Here, then, as everywhere, we see that the author is a man whose attention is entirely directed to practical life, and who both for himself and for others has in view, as the aim of all striving, a τελειότης which consists ill the perfect agreement of the life with the divine will, which the law in itself was incapable of producing, but which to the Christian is rendered possible, because God, according to His will, has by faith implanted His law as an inner principle of life, and therefore is to be aimed at with all earnestness.

In recent times, the peculiar tendency of this Epistle has often been designated as that of a Jewish Christianity. It is true that there is not the slightest trace of an agreement with the view expressed in Acts 15:1 : ἐὰν μὴ περιτέμνησθε τῷ ἔθει ΄ωϊσέως, οὐ δύνασθε σωθῆναι; neither is circumcision, nor the ritual observances of the Mosaic law, anywhere mentioned; but the supposition of the unity of the Old and New Testament law which lies at the foundation of the Epistle, as well as the peculiar importance assigned to ποιήσις τοῦ ἔργου, with the reticence on the christological points of salvation, point certainly to a Jewish-Christian author, who occupies a different position to the law from that of the Apostle Paul. So far, there is nothing to object to in this designation; only it must not be forgotten that, apart from the heretical forms into which Jewish Christianity degenerated, it might assume, and did assume, special forms different from that presented in this Epistle. If, in later Jewish-Christian literature, there are many traces of a relationship with the tendency of this Epistle, yet there is to be recognised in this fact not less the definite influence of the person of the author than its Jewish-Christian spirit.

As regards the style and form of expression, the language is not only fresh and vivid, the immediate outflow of a deep and earnest spirit, but at the same time sententious and rich in graphic figure. Gnome follows after gnome, and the discourse hastens from one similitude to another: so that the diction often passes into the poetical, and in some parts is like that of the O. T. prophets. We do not find logical connection, like that in St. Paul; but the thoughts arrange themselves in single groups, which are strongly marked off from one another. We everywhere see that the author has his object clearly in sight, and puts it forth with graphic concreteness. “As mild language is suited to tender feeling, so strong feelings produce strong language. Especially, the style acquires emphasis and majesty by the climax of thoughts and words ever regularly and rhetorically arrived at, and by the constantly occurring antithesis,” Kern (Commentary, p. 37 f.).

Also the mode of representation in the Epistle is peculiar: “The writer ever goes at once in res medias; and with the first sentence which begins a section (usually an interrogative or imperative one), says out at once, fully and entirely, that which he has in his heart; so that in almost every case the first words of each section might serve as a title for it. The further development of the thought, then, is regressive, explaining and grounding the preceding sentence, and concludes with a comprehensive sentence, recapitulating that with which he began” (Wiesinger).


According to the inscription, the Epistle is written by James, who styles himself δοῦλος of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ; but this designation is neither in favour of nor against the apostolate of the author. Still it is evident from the whole contents of the Epistle, addressed to the Jewish-Christian churches of the Diaspora, that no other James is meant than “the brother of the Lord,” who is not identical with the Apostle James (see sec. 1). Eusebius expresses himself uncertainly concerning its authenticity; he reckons it among the Antilegomena (Hist. Eccl. iii. 25), and says of it: ἰστέον ὡς νοθεύεται μέν, that not many of the ancients have mentioned it, but that nevertheless it is publicly read in most of the churches (Hist. Eccl. ii. 23). Of the ancient Fathers, Origen is the first who expressly cites it (tom. xix. in Joan.: ὡς ἐν τῇ φερομένῃ ἰακώβου ἐπιστολῇ ἀνέγνωμεν); in the Latin version of Rufinus, passages are often quoted from the Epistle as the words of the Apostle James (ed. de la Rue, vol. ii. Hom. viii. in Exod. p. 158: “sed et Apostolus Jacobus dicit;” comp. pp. 139, 191, 644, 671, 815). The Epistle is not mentioned in the writings of Clemens Alexandrinus, Irenaeus, and Tertullian; yet, according to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. vi. 14), it was known and commented on by Clemens Alexandrinus. Dionysius Alexandrinus expressly mentions it; and Jerome (Catalog. c. iii.) directly calls James, the Lord’s brother, the author of the Epistle, yet with the remark: quae et ipsa ab alio quodam sub nomine ejus edita asseritur. It is of special importance that this Epistle is found in the old Syriac version, the Peshito, in which are wanting the four smaller Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse. Guericke (Einl. p. 442) with truth remarks: “that this testimony is of the greater importance, as the country from which the Peshito proceeded closely bordered on that from which the Epistle originated, and as that testimony was also repeated and believed in by the Syriac Church of the following age.” The early existence of the Epistle appears by many similarities to single passages in the earliest writings. The agreement which subsists between some passages of First Peter and this Epistle is undeniable; compare 1 Peter 1:6-7 with James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 2:1 with James 1:21; 1 Peter 4:8 with James 5:20, and 1 Peter 5:5-9 with James 4:6-7; James 4:10. (See author’s Comm. on First Peter, Introd. sec. 2.) That Clemens Romanus, in his Epist. ad Corinth. chap. x. xii. xvii. xxxviii., alludes to corresponding passages in this Epistle, is not so certain as Kern (in his Commentary), Guericke, Wiesinger, and others assume; for that Clemens in chap. x adduces, among the pious men of the Old Testament, Abraham, referring to Genesis 15:6, is not surprising; also the words φίλος προσαγορευθείς do not prove an acquaintance with the Epistle, as Abraham was already so called by Philo; his offering of Isaac is indeed mentioned, but not as an ἔργον, on account of which he was justified. Similarly with reference to the mention of Rahab, of whom it is said in chap. xii: διὰ πίστιν καὶ φιλοξενίαν ἐσώθη ῥαάβ, πόρνη, whereupon follows the history.(24) Still less is the connection between chap. xvii and James 5:10-11. It seems more certain that James 3:13 lies at the foundation of the words in chap. xxxviii: σοφὸς ἐνδεικνύσθω τὴν σοφίαν αὐτοῦ ΄ὴ ἐν λόγοις ἀλλʼ ἐν ἔργοις ἀγαθοῖς. Some similarities to the Epistle likewise occur in Hermas; thus III. simil. 8: nomen ejus negaverunt, quod super eos erat invocatum (comp. James 2:7); yet here the discourse is not concerning the rich and an invective upon them. Further, the passages II. mand. xii. 5 : ἐὰν οὖν ἀντιστῇς αὐτὸν ( τὸν διάβολον), νικηθεὶς φεύξεται (comp. James 4:7); and II. mand. xii. 6: φοβήθητι τὸν κύριον, τὸν δυνάμενον σῶσαι καὶ ἀπολέσαι (comp. James 4:12). Of greater importance than this coincidence in single expressions is the fact that, with Hermas, a view generally predominates which agrees in many respects with that of the Epistle; Christianity is also with him mostly considered in its ethical sense; the christological points step into the background; the distinction of rich and poor is strongly emphasized; and in the exhortation to prayer, πίστις is expressly insisted on, and διψυχία (II. mand. 9) is warned against; so that an acquaintance of the author of this writing with the Epistle can scarcely be denied. Also the Clementine Homilies, apart from their speculative contents, exhibit an acquaintance with the tendency of this Epistle. Kern has collected a great number of parallel passages, yet it cannot be denied that in individual cases both the connection and the expression of thought are different. In Irenaeus (adv. haer. iv. 16. 2) the union of the words: Abraham credidit Deo et reputatum est illi ad justitiam, with those which directly follow: et amicus Dei vocatus est, points to James 2:23; also, in Clemens Alex. Strom. vi. p. 696, ed. Sylb., a similarity to James 2:8 can scarcely be denied; whilst the designation of Abraham in Tertullian (adv. Judaeos, cap. 2) as amicus Dei, proves nothing. Cyrill of Jerusalem (Catech. iv. c. 33) reckons all the seven Catholic Epistles among the canonical writings; and since his time the Epistle has been unhesitatingly reckoned an apostolic writing belonging to the canon.(25)

According to the above data, a certain dubiety undoubtedly prevailed in tradition, which, however, proves nothing against the authenticity, as it is easily accounted for from the peculiar nature of the Epistle. For, on the one hand, James the Lord’s brother had, it is true, obtained an apostolic importance, so that Paul numbered him among the pillars of the church; yet he was not an apostle, and the more closely the Jewish-Christian churches attached themselves to him, so the more estranged must he have become to the other churches; and, on the other hand, the Epistle was directed only to the Jewish-Christian churches, and the more these, by holding to the original type, distinguished and separated themselves from the other churches, the more difficult must it have been to regard an epistle directed to them as the common property of the church, especially as it appeared to contain a contradiction to the doctrine of the Apostle Paul. These circumstances, as Thiersch (Krit. p. 359 f.) and Wiesinger have rightly remarked, would hinder the universal recognition of the Epistle; but the more this was the case, so much the more valuable are those testimonies of antiquity, although isolated, in favour of its genuineness.

Whilst, in the Middle Ages, the canonicity of the Epistle was not questioned, in the sixteenth century objections to it of various kinds were advanced. It is well known that Luther did not regard the Epistle as apostolical. In his preface to it (1522) he thus expresses his opinion: “In my opinion, it was some good pious man who got hold of and put on paper some sayings of the disciples of the apostles, or perhaps another has made notes from his preaching.” In the preface to the N. T. (1522) he calls the Epistle, compared with the best books of the N. T. (which he names as the Gospel and First Epistle of John, the Pauline Epistles, particularly the Romans, the Galatians and the Ephesians, and First Peter), “a right strawy Epistle, for it has in it no true evangelical character.” In his sermons on the Epistles of Peter (1523), Luther says that one may discern that the Epistle of James is “no genuine apostolical epistle;” and in his Kirchenpostille (delivered in the summers of 1527 and 1528), he again says that it “was neither written by an apostle, nor has it the true apostolic ring, nor does it agree with the pure doctrine” (Luther’s Works, edited by Plochmann, vol. VIII. p. 268). So also, in a sermon on the day of Epiphany, he says, “James and Jude many think are not writings of the apostles.” The reasons with which Luther supports his depreciatory judgment of the Epistle, and which he gives in his preface to it, are the following:—(1) That it “proclaims the righteousness of works, in flat contradiction to Paul and all other scripture;” it is true “a gloss (or explanation) of such righteousness of works may be found; but that the Epistle adduces the saying of Moses (Romans 4:3), which speaks only of Abraham’s faith and not of his works, in favour of works, cannot be defended.” (2) That it “makes no mention of the sufferings, the resurrection, and the Spirit of Christ.” Besides, he objects to the Epistle, that this James does nothing more than urge men to the law and its works, and “confusedly passes from one subject to another.”(26) Assuming that some passages are borrowed from First Peter, and that chap. James 4:5 is from Galatians 5:17, he comes to the conclusion, that as James was put to death by Herod before Peter, he could not be the author of the Epistle, but that the real author must have lived long after Peter and Paul.(27)

With the opinion of Luther agree the Magdeburgh Centuries, Hunnius, Althamer, and others; and also Wetstein.(28) On the other hand, with evident reference to this opinion, Calvin defends the Epistle; in his introduction to his commentary he says: Quia nullam ejus (epistolae) repudiandae satis justam causam video, libenter eam sine controversia amplector; he repudiates the assertion that the Epistle contradicts the Apostle Paul; against the reason: quod parcior in praedicanda Christi gratia videtur, quam apostolo conveniat, he asserts: non est ab omnibus exigendum, ut idem argumentum tractent; and he then gives his own judgment: Nihil continet Christi apostolo indignum; multiplici vero doctrina scatet, cujus utilitas ad omnes Christianae vitae partes late patet. On the other hand, the Epistle did not remain unattacked even in the Catholic Church; not only Erasmus, but also Cajetan (on account of the unapostolic salutation, chap. James 1:1), expressed doubts of its apostolic origin. But neither these doubts nor the attacks of Luther deprived the Epistle of its ecclesiastical authority; on the contrary, it was regarded in the Protestant not less than in the Catholic Church, as the work of the Apostle James the Younger, who was considered as identical with “the Lord’s brother.”

Afterwards Faber (Observatt. in Ep. Jac., Coburg 1770), Bolten (Uebers. der neut. Briefe), Schmidt (Einl. ins N. T.), and Bertholdt advanced the untenable opinion, that the Epistle of James was originally written in Aramaic, and afterwards translated by another into Greek; de Wette, in his Introduction to the New Testament, asserted that the composition of this Epistle by the Lord’s brother—whom he also regarded as the same with James the son of Alphaeus—was doubtful. De Wette advances the following reasons for his doubts:—(1) That we cannot see what should have induced James to write to all the Jewish Christians in the world; (2) that the misplaced contradiction to Paul seems unworthy of James; (3) that if James 2:25 is to be regarded as a reference to Hebrews 11:31, this would betray an author of a later day; and (4) lastly, that it is incomprehensible that James should have attained to such a use of the Greek language. If de Wette at a later period somewhat modified his opinion, still he remained true to his doubts, which he did not deny even in his exeget. Handbuch. Against these reasons it is to be observed,—1. The occasion of the writing is clearly to be recognised from the Epistle itself, namely, the ethical faults in the churches referred to; that only the Jewish Christians in Palestine had separate churches for themselves, is an unfounded assumption of de Wette. 2. The opinion of a contradiction to Paul is destitute of all sure exegetical reasons; see explanation of James 2:14 ff. James 2:3. It cannot be proved that the example of Rahab is taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews 4. It cannot be perceived why James should be less skilled in the Greek language than must be assumed from this Epistle.

When de Wette in his exeget. Handbuch thinks that the author has appropriated to himself from Paul (out of his Epistles) the free moral spirit, but not his contemplative believing view, and that it is very doubtful whether he ever reached such a standpoint, it is to be observed that such subjective suppositions form no sure basis for criticism.

Schleiermacher (in his Introduction to the N. T., edited by Wolde) judges of the Epistle even more unfavourably than de Wette. He not only agrees with Luther that the author “is confused,” and is destitute “of the true evangelical character,” but he also objects that the transitions are “either ornate and artificial, or awkward;” that the artificial character of the diction shows that the author was a stranger to the Greek language; that much therein is bombast. Schleiermacher, indeed, acknowledges that the Epistle is addressed to Jewish Christians, that possibly, in the section James 2:14-26, “no reference to the Pauline theory lies at the foundation;” that, if the writing is to be placed in the canonical period of the apostolic writings, it must be put at an early period, as there is no reference to the relation between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians; that it indicates a view of Christianity out of which afterwards Ebionite Christianity may have arisen. But, on the other hand, in opposition to these admissions, Schleiermacher thinks that if the Epistle belongs to the early period, it could not have been addressed to churches outside of Palestine; that we would expect it to have been written in Aramaic; that, considering the idea of Christianity which predominates in it (namely, that it is the fullest development of monotheism), we can with difficulty imagine that “this James was the same person who was the immediate disciple of Christ and the apostles, who afterwards became bishop of Jerusalem, and was so earnest (?) for the diffusion of Christianity among the Gentiles.”

Finally, Schleiermacher arrives at the conclusion that the Epistle is a later production and fabrication, i.e. not founded on fact, and not intended by its author for any particular circle of readers. The explanation of the origin and composition of the Epistle which he most favoured was, that “some one wrote it in the name of the Palestinian apostle James, and collected reminiscences from his discourses not in the happiest manner, and in a language which was not familiar to him.” This criticism wants a sure ground to rest upon, as much as the criticism of de Wette.

Also the recent Tübingen school, in conformity with their view of the development of Christianity, have denied the authenticity of the Epistle. They place its origin in the period when the two antagonistic principles of Jewish Christianity and Paulinism already began to be reconciled, in order to be united together in Catholicism. Baur, both in his Paulus (p. 677 ff.) and in his Christenthum der 3 ersten Jahrhunderte (p. 96 f.), has attempted to prove that the Epistle belongs to a period when Jewish Christianity had already made an important concession in relinquishing the necessity of circumcision to Gentile Christianity, and that it proves itself to be a product of the post-Pauline period, in that it opposes δικαιοῦσθαι ἐξ ἔργων to the Pauline δικαιοῦσθαι ἐκ πίστεως, but, on the other hand, does not deny the influence of Paulinism; for, in accordance with the Pauline idea of making the law an inward thing, “it not only speaks of the commandment of love as a royal law, but also speaks of a law of liberty.”

Schwegler (das nachapost. Zeitalter, vol. I. p. 413 ff.) has attempted to justify this view of Baur by an examination of particulars. The following are the reasons which he assigns for the composition of the Epistle in the post-apostolic period:—1. Its want of individuality; 2. The want of acquaintance of Christian antiquity with it, and its late recognition as a canonical writing; 3. The form of a mild Ebionitism which pervades it; 4. The internal congregational relations presupposed; 5. Its acquaintance with the Pauline Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Gospel of the Hebrews. The Ebionitical character of the Epistle is proved—(1) from the name of James attached to it; (2) from the designation of the readers as the δώδεκα φυλαὶ κ. τ. λ., by which not the Jewish-Christian churches, but entire Christianity is meant; (3) from the retention of the old Jewish name συναγωγή instead of ἐκκλησία; (4) from the statement of the Christian life as the fulfilling of the law, united with reticence upon the doctrine of the person of Christ; (5) from the relation of the Epistle to the Shepherd of Hermas and the Clementine Homilies; (6) from the use of the Apocrypha; (7) from the polemic against the Pauline doctrine of justification; and (8) lastly, from the antagonism to the Gentile Christians, who under the name πλούσιοι are put in opposition to the Jewish Christians, i.e. to the πτωχοῖς. The conciliating tendency seeking an adjustment of the antagonism is alleged to be manifest—(1) from the antagonism of the rich and the poor being discussed with the design of paving the way for an approximation of these parties by influencing the former (the Gentile Christians, regarded as the rich) (!), and by bringing about a change of sentiment in them (toward the Jewish Christians, regarded as the poor); (2) from there being found in the Epistle a doctrinal approximation to the Pauline ideas and principles, particularly in the idea of the law as νόμος ἐλευθερίας, of Christianity as a new creation, of πίστις as “an internal and confident apprehension of the doctrine of salvation,” and even in the matter of justification itself; whilst to the Pauline doctrine is not plainly opposed the δικαίωσις ἐξ ἔργων, but the δικαίωσις ἐξ ἔργων, οἷς πίστις συνεργεῖ, or the δικαίωσις ἐκ πίστεως, τελειοῦται διὰ τῶν ἔργων; and (3) from the fact that by the words: σὺ πιστεύεις, ὅτι θεὸς εἷς ἐστι· καλῶς ποιεῖς, the agreement of the Gentile-Christian and the Jewish-Christian tendencies in this principal and fundamental doctrine of Christianity is prominently brought forward. Schwegler has evidently most carefully searched out and employed all those points which can in any way be made to support his hypothesis; but it is perfectly clear that many of the points adduced by him are pure fictions, and that from others the most arbitrary inferences are drawn. The result is a view which is manifestly self-contradictory. Whilst Schwegler adopts the fancy that by the “rich” are meant the Gentile Christians, he subjoins to this the inference that the Gentile-Christian cause (i.e. the cause of the πλούσιοι) represents itself to the Ebionitic writer as “a proud conceit of wisdom,” as “loquacious controversy,” as “the love of the world and its lusts, covetousness, insolence, uncharitableness,” as “a false and perverted tendency,” and that “to attack on all sides these tendencies in their forms, disguises, and appearances is the object of the Epistle;” but in spite of this, he says at the conclusion of the inquiry: “Thus, then, it is with a call to εἰρήνη that the author turns himself to the opposite Gentile-Christian faction, such is the watchword and leading practical thought of his Epistle.” The most glaring internal contradiction of such a criticism would not hinder us from placing the most arbitrary fiction in the place of history.(29) Ritschl (d. Entst. der altkathol. Kirche, p. 150 ff.) occupies a different position with reference to the Epistle than Schwegler. He asserts expressly that the similarities and points of contact between the Epistle and the Clementine Homilies are too vague to declare that, on account of them, the Epistle must be regarded as post-apostolic, or that a continuity of design in these writings can be discerned. He considers, indeed, that the Epistle belongs to the Jewish-Christian tendency, particularly on account of its polemic against the Pauline doctrine of justification; but it is a matter of surprise to him that there is in it no reference to the principles according to which the intercourse of Jewish with Gentile Christians was arranged (namely, the compliance of the latter with the four prohibitions expressed in the decree of Jerusalem), and also that the view of the Epistle is pervaded by an element essentially Pauline (namely, by the idea of the new birth; but which is understood, in a manner entirely original, as an implantation of the law). Thus Ritschl is constrained to confess that the Epistle, viewed on every side, remains as a riddle in the development of the oldest Christianity. This unsatisfactory result points to the incorrectness of his suppositions. Ritschl does not only over-estimate the importance of the decree of Jerusalem in the view of James (he likewise overlooks the fact that James, in an Epistle addressed to Jewish Christians, had no occasion to refer to the necessity of keeping to the articles of that decree), but he is also wrong in deriving the ideas of the law and regeneration, contained in this Epistle, from Paul: as if these ideas were not contained in Christianity itself. Ritschl also, as Schwegler, maintains that chap. James 2:14-26 is not designed to combat a perversion of Paul’s doctrine; and in this he is correct; but he assumes too hastily that the polemic is directed against Paul. Ritschl’s judgment on the Epistle contains the correct decision, that the reasons adduced by Schwegler do not contradict its authenticity. Kern had already, in a treatise in the year 1835 (Tübinger Zeitschr.), partially adduced the same arguments against the authenticity; but at a later period he regarded them as unsatisfactory, and asserted this in his commentary in the year 1838—of which fact Schwegler, who often appeals to him, takes not the slightest notice. After a careful review of the historical relations, Kern, in his commentary, says not only that the Epistle bears internal evidence that it originated rather in the apostolic age than in any other period, but also that he cannot but consider it as the production of him to whom it is ascribed in the inscription—of James the Lord’s brother, who is called, along with Peter and John, a pillar of the church, and under whose superintendence the church of Jerusalem was placed. Kern arrived at this conclusion even although he regarded James 2:14-16 as a direct attack upon the Pauline doctrine of justification. But this opinion is at variance with the authenticity of the Epistle. For how can it be supposed that James—after he had declared himself on the side of Paul in the transaction at Jerusalem (Acts 15), or, if the narrative of Luke regarding that transaction cannot be reckoned as true, after he had given to Paul the right hand of κοινωνία (Galatians 2:9(30))—could have argued, not against an objectionable application of the doctrine of Paul, but against that doctrine itself? Add to this, that such an attack, in a writing devoted to Jewish Christians, was certainly not necessary in their case. It is true Kern thinks that “James might consider it possible that his Epistle might come into the hands of Gentile Christians, with whom the Jewish Christians were at variance upon the doctrine;” but this is a mere arbitrary hypothesis: in the Epistle there is not the slightest indication that the author, in James 2:14, addresses others than those to whom he directed his Epistle. But if the polemic of the Epistle is not directed against the Pauline doctrine of justification, there are no reasons, either external or internal, which constrain us to deny that James was the author, and to consider it as the production of a later period. The late recognition of the Epistle, as has already been remarked, is sufficiently explained from the position of the author and his readers: the want of personal references; from the encyclical form of the Epistle; the frequent references to the Old Testament and to examples there represented, as well as to the Apocrypha; from the individuality of James; and, lastly, the facility in the use of the Greek language from the acquaintance with the Hellenistic idiom which prevailed in Palestine. The organization of the Church does not here appear such as was only appropriate to a later period; if Paul, in his first missionary journey, made it a point to establish the office of presbyters in the then existing Gentile churches (Acts 14:23), and if, at a still earlier period, such an office was formed at Jerusalem (Acts 11:30), its existence in the Jewish-Christian churches, to which the Epistle is directed, cannot certainly be regarded as anything surprising; and the function which is here attributed to the presbyters entirely corresponds to the relation in which they stood to individual members of the church. The opinion that chap. James 2:15 refers to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and chap. James 5:12 to the Gospel of the Hebrews,(31) is anything but certain; and as little is a use of the Epistle to the Romans made out from, chap. James 1:2 (compared with Romans 5:3), chap. James 1:18 (compared with Romans 8:23), chap. James 1:21 (compared with Romans 13:12), chap. James 1:22 (compared with Romans 2:13), chap. James 4:1 (compared with Romans 7:23), chap. James 4:4 (compared with Romans 8:7), chap. James 4:12 (compared with Romans 2:1), for the agreement is found here only in single expressions, which would as naturally present themselves to James as to Paul (comp. Brückner in de Wette’s Commentary, p. 188 f.). It may certainly appear surprising, that in the Epistle the permanent importance for the readers of the Mosaic law, according to its ritual side, is not prominently brought forward, especially as James was such a careful observer of it; but this objection is completely removed when we consider that no doubt of that importance was supposed to exist among the readers. James here proceeds in the same manner as Christ, who, although He Himself observed the law of His nation, yet did not inculcate on His disciples so much the observance of its separate ritual enactments, as point out to them the way by which the law was observed in its innermost nature. Thus, then, there is no reason in the Epistle to assign its origin to the post-apostolic age, or to ascribe it to another author than to him who is named in the superscription. Reuss (sec. 146) with truth observes: “His official importance gave to James the right to come forward as the common leader of all the Christians of the circumcision; and what we know or conjecture of his religious disposition is strikingly in unison with the contents of this Epistle.”

The authenticity of the Epistle, in spite of the supposition of a difference between the doctrine of justification of James and that of Paul, has in recent times been generally recognised.(32) Reuss, indeed, expresses himself very cautiously, that the genuineness of the Epistle is not raised above all doubt because a definite ecclesiastical tradition does not exist; however, he grants that nothing can be inferred from this against its authenticity. Other critics and interpreters have, however, expressed themselves more decidedly in favour of the authenticity of the Epistle, agreeing with one another that the authorship is to be ascribed to James, “the Lord’s brother,” who stood at the head of the Church of Jerusalem, and only differing in this, whether he is identical with (so Hottinger, Schneckenburger, Theile, Guericke, Lange, Bouman, and others) or different from the Apostle James (so Credner, Kern, Neander, Thiersch, Schaff, Brückner, Wiesinger, Bleek, and others).

The integrity of the Epistle in its separate portions has never been doubted; only Rauch (Wiener and Engelhardt’s neues krit. Journal der theolog. Lit. 1827, vol. VI. part 3) has thought that the conclusion, chap. James 5:12-20, proceeds from another author; but the reasons which he assigns for this have already been refuted by Schneckenburger (Tüb. Zeitsch. f. Theol. 1829, part 3), Kern (in his Kommentar), Hagenbach (Winer’s krit. Journ. VI. 395 ff.), and Theile.


The place of composition is not mentioned in the Epistle; but from the position which James occupied to the Church of Jerusalem, and from the fact that he has addressed his Epistle to the churches in the diaspora, it cannot be doubted that this is Jerusalem. The supposition of Schwegler, that the actual place of composition was Rome, requires no refutation. It is more difficult to determine the time of composition. It is only certain that it must have been before the destruction of Jerusalem; but it is a matter of dispute whether it was written before or after the ever-memorable labours of Paul among the Gentiles, or, more precisely, whether it was written before or after the council at Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.(33) If there is in the Epistle a reference to the Pauline doctrine of justification,—whether the attack be directed against the doctrine itself, or a perversion of it,—then it could only be written after that transaction, as Bleek, among others, assumes. But on the other supposition, both opinions are possible. Schneckenburger, Theile, Neander, Thiersch, Hofmann, Schaff suppose it to be composed before, and Schmid and Wiesinger after the council at Jerusalem.(34)

The former opinion is the more probable; for after that time the Pauline proposition, that man is justified not ἐξ ἔργων, but only ἐκ πίστεως, was not only generally known, but so powerfully moved the spirits in Christendom, that it seems impossible to suppose that James could have in perfect ingenuousness asserted his principle: ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος, καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως κόνον, without putting himself in a definite relation to the doctrine of Paul, whether misunderstood or not. Wiesinger, for the later composition of the Epistle, appeals “to the form of the Christian life of the readers,” whilst, on the one hand, they are treated “as those who are mature in doctrine,” and, on the other hand, “the faults censured in their conduct are such as can only be understood on the supposition of a lengthened continuance of Christianity among the readers.” But, in opposition to this view, it is to be observed that a Christian church without such maturity as is indicated in James 1:3, James 2:5, James 3:1, James 4:1, can hardly be imagined; and that in Jewish-Christian churches such faults as are here represented in the Epistle would arise at an early period from the unsubdued Jewish carnal disposition, especially us the transition to Christianity, particularly among the Jews, might easily occur without any actual internal transformation. The inquiry of Wiesinger: Where, outside of Palestine, before the apostolic council, shall we look for the Jewish-Christian churches which will satisfy the postulates of the Epistle? is of less importance, as it cannot be proved that Wiesinger is correct in his undemonstrated assertion, “that the Jewish-Christian church, precisely in the ten years after that council, both inside and outside of Jerusalem, obtained a great accession to their numbers.” That during this period it extended its limits is certainly to be granted, but it cannot be proved that at that period it first gained such an extension that James could only then write to ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ διασπορ . On Wiesinger’s view, that James was acquainted with the Epistle to the Romans, but wrote James 2:14-26 without reference to the doctrine of Paul, James must bear the reproach of having at least acted very inconsiderately in using the Pauline mode of expression known to him, and in enunciating propositions which in form expressed the opposite of what Paul taught, with the design of saying something which had no reference to Paulinism, which contained neither an antithesis against it nor an agreement with it, and which was directed neither against Paul himself nor against Paul misunderstood. If the reasons assigned by Wiesinger for the later composition of the Epistle were convincing,—if, particularly, an acquaintance of James with Paul’s mode of thought and expression, and especially of his doctrine of justification, followed from the points of similarity to the Epistle to the Romans, or from chap. James 2:14-26,—it would result from this, that James in his polemics had this in view, and that thus Wiesinger’s denial of any reference to it is unjustifiable. If, then, we are not to involve ourselves in contradiction, we must in this denial maintain that the Epistle was composed before the apostolic council; and to this view nothing in the Epistle stands opposed.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
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