The Book of James
A FOUR WEEK BIBLE STUDY - 1 HOUR EACH WEEK
The Epistle of James is the first in a group of epistles customarily called General Epistles, which includes James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. They are designated as general or “catholic” epistles in the sense that they are universal, not being addressed to any particular individual or church, but to the church as a whole.
The problem of authorship is a major one. There is no question that James wrote the Epistle of James, but which James was the author? Some find at least four men by the name of James in the New Testament. I believe that you can find three who are clearly identified:
1. James, the brother of John and one of the sons of Zebedee. These two men were called “sons of thunder” by our Lord (see Mark 3:17). He was slain by Herod who at the same time put Simon Peter into prison (see Acts 12:1–2).
2. James, the son of Alphaeus, called “James the less” (see Mark 15:40). He is mentioned in the list of apostles, but very little is known concerning him. I automatically dismiss him as the author of this epistle.
3. James, the Lord’s brother. He was a son of Mary and of Joseph, which made him a half brother of the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 13:55 we read: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” In the beginning, the Lord’s brethren did not believe in Him at all, but the time came when James became head of the church at Jerusalem.
In Acts 15 James seems to have presided over that great council in Jerusalem. At least he made the summation and brought the council to a decision under the leading of the Holy Spirit. I believe it was this James whom Paul referred to in Galatians 2:9, “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” This James is the man whom we believe to be the author of this epistle.
This epistle was written about A.D. 45–50. There have been those who have said that James wrote his epistle to combat the teachings of Paul; they argue that James emphasizes works while Paul emphasizes faith. However, the earliest of Paul’s epistles, 1 Thessalonians, was written about A.D. 52–56. Therefore, even Paul’s first epistle was not written until after the Epistle of James, which was the first book of the New Testament to be written.
It is clear that James’ theme is not works, but faith—the same as Paul’s theme, but James emphasizes what faith produces. Both James and Paul speak a great deal of faith and works. They give us the two aspects of justification by faith, both of which are clear in the writings of Paul.