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Renewing Your Mind


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New Testament Survey




Key Verse(s):

Key Chapter(s):

Key Word(s) or Concept(s)


            Who is the author?

            Who is the audience?

            Does James conflict with Paul?

            How is Jesus presented?

Suggested Reading beyond the Key Chapter(s):


True religion is both a moral religion and a social religion. This letter is a compact guide on practical religion – the Proverbs of the New Testament – a study on how to live in the kingdom. Its primary theme is spiritual maturity, growth in God’s Word, not in age. It is a book about the process of sanctification.

And you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.,br />James 1:4b, Phillips

This is a book characterized by its hard-hitting, practical religion. The epistle reads like a sermon and, except for a brief introduction, has none of the traits of an ancient letter. Each of the five chapters is packed with pointed illustrations and reminders designed to motivate the wills and hearts of believers to grasp a truth once taught by Jesus: “A tree is known by its fruit” (Matt. 12:33).


The Epistle of James gives few hints by which it might be dated. Estimates range from A.D. 45 to 150, depending on how one regards its authorship. If James, the Lord’s brother, is its author, then it must have been written before A.D. 62 (the approximate time of his death). The epistle may have been written after Paul’s letters were in circulation, because James’ emphasis on works may be intended to offset Paul’s emphasis on faith. This would date the epistle around A.D. 60. But because of the strong reliance upon the “theology” of Christ, particularly the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), it is more likely that the letter dates to around A.D. 45 making it the first of the epistles to be written. James lives in a period when the sayings of Christ are “in the air” so they do not need to be quoted.

The Author

James is the Greek form of the Hebrew Jacob meaning supplanter. The epistle is “Jewish” in its arguments and approach. It is a letter from an early Christian Jew.

The letter is written by one who is an able master of Koine Greek. There is an abundance of unusual New Testament words in the letter. Of the 63 word which make their first appearance in the New Testament, 13 are in James.

Who is James?

There are some “scholars” who see the letter written much later in time, thus, doubting it is written by any of the “James” of the Bible. The choices are:

  1. James, the son of Zebedee, John’s brother -- James is never mentioned apart from his brother John in the New Testament, even at his death (Acts 12:2). This occurred relatively soon after the death of Stephen so it is impossible for him to be the writer.
  2. James the Less – son of Alphaeus, his mother was Mary wife of Cleopas. This James is a little known Apostle without any recorded leadership roles. Tradition is that he is the brother of Matthew and Salome who was the wife of Zebedee. One tradition says that he looked like Jesus and was a Nazarite.
  3. James the father of Judas the apostle Luke 6:16 is otherwise unknown
  4. James the brother of Christ – known as James the Just
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas [Jude]?
Matthew 13:55

In the third and fourth centuries A.D., when the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary gained ground, a number of church fathers argued that James was either a stepbrother to Jesus (by a former marriage of Joseph) or a cousin. But both options are forced. The New Testament records that Mary and Joseph bore children after Jesus (Matt. 1:25; 12:47; Luke 2:7; John 2:12; Acts 1:14) and that their second oldest was James (Matt. 13:55–56; Mark 6:3). The Gospels reveal that Jesus’ family adopted a skeptical attitude toward His ministry (Matt. 12:46–50; Mark 3:31–35; Luke 8:19–21; John 7:5). James apparently held the same attitude, because his name appears in none of the lists of the apostles, nor is he mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels.

An unbeliever during the days of Christ’s earthly ministry (John 7:5), James saw the risen Lord (1 Cor 15:7). James emerged as a leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13; Gal 1:19). This James is probably the author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament.


The most important argument against authorship by the Lord’s brother is that the Epistle of James was virtually unknown in the ancient church until the third century. It remains an unsolved mystery why it was neglected and then accepted into the New Testament Canon at a relatively late date if James, the Lord’s brother, were its author. Although this consideration cannot be overlooked, it does not overrule the Lord’s brother as the most probable author of the epistle.


Early tradition says James was a man of great prayer. The nickname for him which is preserved by history is “Old Camel Knees.”


The Audience

“Brethren” is used 19 times clearly showing that James wrote to Christians. This is an important conclusion when one attempts to interpret some of the teachings of this book. It is a letter written to those who have already found salvation!


But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
James 1:22

Many do not see James as having a unified theme. But, there is an pattern to James with themes covered and then returned to –

A testing

B wisdom

C wealth

Then the reverse, C, B, A

The author sees the church standing at the end of history with the return of Christ occurring before the end of the apostolic age. While this did not occur, it does not detract from the wonderful teachings of the book. His teachings are rich in the ethical application of one’s faith.


The word faith occurs 16 times in this short letter and is the overriding theme. This faith is manifest in a variety of ways as James outlines in this epistle.

Special Considerations

Interestingly, this letter has had a disputed history. Luther denied the place of James in the Canon, calling it a “right strawy epistle.” Calvin, too, felt James conflicted with Paul and, thus, denied its usefulness. The resolution to the “conflict” between James and Paul is to understand the audiences and the purposes of writing. The issue is on the application of justification. Paul’s emphasis is on the cause of justification while James speaks to its affects.

Some Bible scholars suggest that James and Paul differ in their views on the saving significance of faith and works. Paul states, “A man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28), and James says, “A man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:19). A closer reading of the two, however, reveals that they differ more in their definition of faith than in its essence. James writes to readers who are inclined to interpret faith as mere intellectual acknowledgment (James 2:19). As a consequence he stresses that a faith that does not affect life is not saving faith; hence, his emphasis on works. Actually, this is quite close to Paul’s understanding. For Paul, faith is the entrusting of one’s whole life to God through Christ, with the result that one’s life becomes renewed with the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22).

Paul’s justification is one before God. James’ justification is one before men. Paul, then, stresses the root of justification while James stresses the fruit. For James, faith should produce spiritual growth and maturity. Such growth is what the Bible calls sanctification. Such growth produces the fruits of good works. Such growth comes from a submission to God.

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
James 4:7, 8


I.         Introduction - 1:1

II.        Patience in Temptation - 1:2-18

III.       The test and conduct of true religion - 1:19-27

IV.      True faith is impartial - 2:1-13

V.        True faith is evidenced by works - 2:14-26

VI.      True faith is evidence by words - 3:1-12

VII.     The difference between true and false wisdom - 3:13-18

VIII.    Friendship and humility - 4:1-10

IX.      Slander and false confidence - 4:11-17

X.        Miseries of the rich - 5:1-6

XI.      Patience of the saints - 5:7-12

XII.     Prayer and confession - 5:13-20

There is a definite similarity between James and the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

James and Jesus

A Comparison of the Epistle

and the Sermon on the Mount


Comparison of James and Matthew



















The single eye



The Law

Mere profession

The Royal Law


Faith & works

True wisdom

Root & fruit


Judging others

Rusted treasures


















There are other, more general parallels which have been identified between James and both the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Can you find them?



Do people know you are a Christian?

                     How do they know this?

Are you a doer of the Word?

Can a local church have dead faith?




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