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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
James Epistle of
This is called by Eusebius the first of the Catholic Epistles. As the writer simply styles himself James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, doubts have existed, both in ancient and modern times, respecting the true.
Author of this Epistle.—It has been ascribed to no less than four different persons, viz. James, the son of Zebedee; James, the son of Alphaeus (who were both of the number of the twelve Apostles); James, our Lord's brother (); and to an anonymous author who assumed the name of James in order to procure authority to a supposititious writing.
It is highly improbable that James the son of Zebedee is the author of this epistle, for it is not credible that so great progress as the epistle implies had been made among the dispersed Jews before the martyrdom of James, which took place at Jerusalem about A.D. 32; and if the author, as has been commonly supposed, alludes to St. Paul's Epistles to the Romans (A.D. 58) and Galatians (A.D. 55), it would be a manifest anachronism to ascribe this epistle to the son of Zebedee.
The claim to the authorship of the epistle, therefore, rests between James 'the Lord's brother,' and James the son of Alphaeus. In the preceding article the difficult question, whether these names do not, in fact, describe the same person, has been referred to: it suffices, in this place, to state that no writer who regards James 'the Lord's brother' as distinct from James the son of Alphaeus, has held the latter to be the author of the epistle: and therefore, if no claim be advanced for the son of Zebedee, James 'the brother of the Lord' remains the only person whom the name at the head of this epistle could be intended to designate.
Hegesippus, cited by Eusebius, acquaints us that James, the brother of Jesus, who obtained the surname of the Just, governed the church of Jerusalem along with, or after the apostles. Eusebius relates that he was the first who held the episcopate of Jerusalem (Jerome says for thirty years); and both he and Josephus give an account of his martyrdom. To him, therefore, is the authorship of an epistle addressed to the Jewish Christians with good reason ascribed.
The other opinion, which considers the epistle as written by an anonymous writer, we shall consider in treating of its author.
Eusebius observes that 'James, the brother of Jesus, who is called Christ,' is said to have written the first of the Catholic Epistles; but it is to be observed that it is considered spurious. Not many of the ancients have mentioned it, nor that called the Epistle of Jude…. Nevertheless we know that these, with the rest, are publicly read in most of the churches.' It is, however, cited by Clemens Romanus in his first or genuine Epistle to the Corinthians. It seems to be alluded to in the Shepherd of Hermas, 'Resist the devil, and he will be confounded and flee from you.' It is also generally believed to be referred to by Irenaeus, 'Abraham believed God, and it was,' etc. Origen cites it in his Comment. on John, i. xix. iv. 306, calling it, however, the reputed epistle of James. We have the authority of Cassiodorus for the fact that Clemens Alexandrinus commented on this epistle; and it is not only expressly cited by Ephrem Syrus (51, 'James the brother of our Lord says “weep and howl,”' together with other references), but it forms part of the ancient Syriac version, a work of the second century. But though 'not quoted expressly by any of the Latin fathers before the fourth century,' it was, soon after the time of the Council of Nice, received both in the Eastern and Western churches without any marks of doubt, and was admitted into the canon along with the other Scriptures by the Councils of Hippo and Carthage. Nor (with the above exceptions) does there appear to have been a voice raised against it since that period until the era of the Reformation, when the ancient doubts were revived by Erasmus. The latter objected to it principally on the ground that it 'directly opposes St. Paul and the other Scriptures in ascribing justification to works.' This opinion, however, has been successfully combated by Neander, who maintains that there is no discrepancy whatever between St. Paul and St. James; that it was not even the design of the latter to oppose any misapprehension respecting St. Paul's doctrine, but that they each addressed different classes of people from different standing points, using the same familiar examples. 'Paul,' he says, 'was obliged to point out to those who placed their dependence on the justifying power of the works of the law, the futility of such works in reference to justification, and to demonstrate that justification and sanctification could proceed only from the faith of the Gospel: James, on the other hand, found it necessary to declare to those who imagined that they could be justified in God's sight by faith in the Jewish sense… that this was completely valueless if their course of life were not conformed to it.'
By those who consider James the Just, bishop of Jerusalem, to have been the author of this epistle, it is generally believed to have been written shortly before his martyrdom, which took place A.D. 62, six years before the destruction of Jerusalem, whose impending fate is alluded to in James 5. Neander fixes its date at a time preceding the separate formation of Gentile Christian churches, before the relation of Gentiles and Jews to one another in the Christian Church had been brought under discussion, in the period of the first spread of Christianity in Syria, Cilicia, and the adjacent regions. It is addressed to Jewish Christians, the descendants of the twelve tribes; but the fact of its being written in Greek exhibits the author's desire to make it generally available to Christians.
Contents and Character of the Epistle.—This epistle commences with consolations addressed to the faithful converts, with exhortations to patience, humility, and practical piety (). Undue respect to persons is then condemned, and love enjoined (James 2). Erroneous ideas on justification are corrected (), the temerity of new teachers is repressed (); an unbridled tongue is inveighed against, and heavenly wisdom contrasted with a spirit of covetousness (). Swearing is prohibited (). The efficacy of prayer is proved by examples, and the unction of the sick by the Presbyters, together with prayer and mutual confession, are enjoined as instruments of recovery and of forgiveness of sins (). The approaching advent of the Lord is foretold ().
The style of this epistle is close and sententious. The general manner of the writer, says Jebb, 'combines the plainest and most practical good sense with the most vivid and poetical conception; the imagery various and luxuriant; the sentiments chastened and sober; his images, in truth, are so many analogical arguments, and if, at the first view, we are disposed to recreate ourselves with the poet, we soon feel that we must exert our hardier powers to keep pace with the logician.' Seiler designates the style of this epistle as 'sometimes sublime and prophetical, nervous, and full of imagery.'
The eloquence and persuasiveness of St. James's Epistle, as an ethical composition, are such as must command universal admiration.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'James Epistle of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/j/james-epistle-of.html.