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Jesus Fish 3

New Testament Survey: The Book Of James

Written By: Steve Shirley

The Book Of James


  • James (Jas 1:1) (Greek “Iakobos” Hebrew “Yaakov” should be literally translated “Jacob”)
  • There are four men named James in the Bible:

1. James, Jesus’ half-brother (same mother: Mary, different father: Joseph vs God)(Mt 13:55)(Mk 6:3)(Gal 1:19)
*** He was likely the 2nd oldest child of Mary since he is listed first in the names of Jesus’ brothers.

2. James (son of Zebedee, brother of John, disciple of Jesus)(Mt 4:21)(Mt 10:2)(Mt 17:1)(Mk 3:17)(Mk 10:35)(Mk 13:3)(Lk 9:54)(Acts 1:13)
*** He was martyred about 44 A.D. by King Herod (Acts 12:2).

3. James (son of Alphaeus, disciple of Jesus)(Mt 10:3)(Mk 3:18)(Lk 6:15)(Acts 1:13)
*** He was also called “the less” (Mk 15:40).

4. James (father of Judas [not Iscariot], who was a disciple of Jesus)(Lk 6:16)(Acts 1:13)

  • Nearly all scholars believe that James, the Lord’s brother, wrote this Epistle, with some citing a number of similarities in language between the Book of James, and the speech of James as found in (Acts 15).
  • It seems clear from (Jn 7:3-5) that James was not a believer in Jesus during His life on Earth. This is certainly why Jesus turned the care of His mother Mary over to John in His dying words on the cross (Jn 19:25-27). (Also indicating that Mary’s husband Joseph was no longer living.) However, Jesus appeared to James during one of His post-resurrection appearances (1 Cor 15:7), and James became a believer, and an apostle (one who had seen the risen Christ).
  • After Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to him, we find James at Jerusalem in the “upper room” during Pentecost, praying with the disciples, his brothers (who also became believers: 1 Cor 9:5), and his mother Mary (Acts 1:14). (His younger brother Jude later wrote the Epistle of Jude: Jude 1:1.)
  • Shortly after this, James presided over the church at Jerusalem (probably for the rest of his life). Paul called him, along with Peter and John, “pillars of the church” (Gal 2:9), and it appears he was revered by both Christians and Jews, including Peter and Paul: see (Acts 12:17)(Acts 21:18)(Gal 1:19)(Gal 2:9 – Paul listed James’s name before Peter and John)(Gal 2:12). In fact, Peter paraphrased a number of passages from James when he wrote 1st Peter. Compare:
(James 1:1) / (1 Pet 1:1) (James 4:1) / (1 Pet 2:11)
(James 1:2) / (1 Pet 1:6, 4:12-15) (James 4:6) / (1 Pet 5:5-6)
(James 1:11) / (1 Pet 1:24) (James 4:7) / (1 Pet 5:9)
(James 1:18) / (1 Pet 1:3) (James 4:10) / (1 Pet 5:6)
(James 2:7) / (1 Pet 4:14) (James 5:20) / (1 Pet 4:6)
(James 3:13) / (1 Pet 2:12)  
  • In (Acts 15:1-29), we find James presiding over the “Council at Jerusalem” (app. 49 A.D.) which was called to decide whether Gentile converts to Christianity had to undergo circumcision to be truly saved.
  • The New Testament is silent about the later years of James, the Lord’s brother, and apart from the references above, the Bible tells us nothing else about him. However, tradition tells us a few more things:

1. He was called “old camel knees” (his knees were hard like a camel’s) because he spent so much time on his knees in prayer.

2. He was called a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” because of his faithful observance of all the ritual regulations of the Jewish faith.
(While he did not require Gentile Christians to obey these regulations [as per the “Council at Jerusalem”] he did continue to teach their observance to Jewish Christians [see: Acts 21:18-25].)

3. Josephus tells us that James was martyred (about 62 A.D.) when Ananias the High Priest ordered that he be stoned to death. (Because James was so popular, a revolt occurred, and Ananias was deposed after only a 3 month rule.) However, Hegesippus said that James was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple, stoned because he was not killed in the fall, and finally was beaten over the head with a fuller’s club.

  • Because of the controversy surrounding the Epistle of James (i.e. the emphasis on works), it was not made a part of the Canon until the 4th century. Therefore, it was not quoted by any church father until Origen in the 3rd century, followed by Eusebius.
  • This was the 1st book of the New Testament to be written, and the 1st of the 8 “General Epistles” (James, Hebrews, 1 & 2 Peter, 1,2,3 John, Revelation), so called because they were addressed to the “universal” (catholic) church, and not to a certain individual or church.

The Stats:

  • Chapters: 5
  • Verses: 108

Date Written:

  • 44-45 A.D.
  • Some have argued for a later date, but several strong factors point to this early dating:
    • 1. Since there is no mention of the “Council at Jerusalem” (app. 49 A.D.), it was likely written before this event.
    • 2. There is no mention of Gentile Christians.
    • 3. The use of words such as “assembly” (Gr. “Sunagoge” = Synagogue)(Jas 2:2) and “sabaoth” (Hebrew for Lord of Hosts)(Jas 5:4), as well as a church structure apparently based on elders (Jas 5:14) and teachers (Jas 3:1), points to an early period when Jewish Christians were taught in synagogues by elders and teachers.
    • 4. There was an expectation that the Lord would soon return (Jas 5:7-8) which coincides with other early books such as 1 & 2 Thessalonians.
    • 5. There is very little teaching on nearly all of the essential Christian doctrines (i.e. grace), which are strongly emphasized in later Epistles.
    • 6. In all early manuscripts, James stands before the Epistles of Paul.

Place Written:

  • Likely Jerusalem (from which James never seems to have left)

Written To:

  • “The twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (Jas 1:1) (Jews who were believers [Jas 2:1] [Jas 5:7-8] in Christ.)

Key Verses:

(Jas 1:2-3,12-15)(Jas 2:5,10,14-19)(Jas 3:1)(Jas 4:3-7,17)(Jas 5:12-16,19-20)


  • To encourage and exhort the new and “scattered” Jewish Christians in the face of oppression and persecution. (This came not only from the Romans, but also by their unsaved Jewish countrymen.)
  • To teach the practical duties of the Christian life.

Special Emphasis:

  • More than half of the verses in James are commands, about one-quarter of the verses use references from nature to illustrate a spiritual truth, and about one-third of the verses allude to the Old Testament.
  • The word “works” is used 13 times in James (12 times in Ch. 2). Only in John and Revelation is this word used more. As mentioned previously, because of this controversial emphasis James placed on works, James was not made a part of the Canon until the 4th century. However, centuries later, it was still controversial. Martin Luther refused to preach from the book of James and referred to it as, “an Epistle of straw and destitute of an evangelistic character.”
  • These controversies were based on the mistaken belief that James was opposing the doctrine of justification by faith alone. However, James was simply saying that if you are a Christian, your faith must produce good works to prove it is true faith. If it does not produce good works, you do not have saving faith, and you are not a Christian at all.
  • Therefore, in contrasting the viewpoint of Paul with that of James, it can be said that Paul is speaking about the justification of the sinner before God, while James is speaking about demonstrating that justification before men.
  • It is also interesting to note that the Book of James contains numerous parallels to Jesus’ “Sermon On The Mount” (Mt Ch. 5-7). Compare:
(James 1:2) / (Mt 5:10-12) (James 3:11-12) / (Mt 7:16-20)
(James 1:4) / (Mt 5:48) (James 3:17-18) / (Mt 5:9)
(James 1:19-20) / (Mt 5:22) (James 4:11-12) / (Mt 7:1-5)
(James 2:8) / (Mt 5:43-44) (James 5:2) / (Mt 6:19)
(James 2:13) / (Mt 5:7) (James 5:12) / (Mt 5:33-37)


  • The divisions are five:

1. The testing of faith, 1:1-2:26.

2. The reality of faith tested by the tongue, 3:1-18.

3. The rebuke of worldliness, 4:1-17.

4. The rich warned.

5. Hortatory.

(Survey from Scofield Reference Notes [1917 ed.]: Public Domain)

Copyright: © Steve Shirley