The Letter of James
The author of the Epistle of James is commonly identified as James the Less, the son of Alpheus and the Bishop of Jerusalem (also sometimes identified as the Lord’s brother). Internal evidence (contents of the Epistle, its style, address, date, and place of composition) points unmistakably to James as the author. Although many scholars give it a later date of 65-80 AD, there is much evidence to suggest that it was written much earlier at about 47 AD. Examples include the reference to persecutions in verse 2:6 given in the present tense and which seem to indicate a recent ongoing suffering which has not yet healed. This most likely refers to the persecution inflicted by Herod Agrippa in 44 AD, under which, James, the son of Zebedee, was murdered (Acts 12:1). The author also must have written before the Council of Jerusalem (51 A.D.) where James presided, because he makes no mention of the unanimous decision reached there (Acts 15:4). Another indication is an allusion to the hungry and naked poor of Jerusalem in verse 2:15, which is most likely a reference to the famine foretold by Agabus (Acts 11:28-30) and mentioned by Josephus (Antiq., XX, 2:5) that occurred in 45 AD.
In the sixteenth century its inspired nature was contested by Martin Luther, who called it the “letter of straw”, and “unworthy of the apostolic Spirit”. This was solely for dogmatic reasons, as the epistle clearly refutes his heretical doctrine that Faith alone is necessary for salvation. However, Luther would point to the first centuries of the Church, where the authenticity of the author of the Epistle was doubted by some. It is not listed in the Muratorian Canon, and because of the silence of several of the Western Churches regarding it, Eusebius classes it amongst the Antilegomena or contested writings (Church History III.25 and II.23); St. Jerome says the same (Illustrious Men 2), but adds that with time its authenticity became universally admitted.
Its later recognition in the Church, especially in the West, must be explained by the fact that it was written for Jewish Christians, and therefore not widely circulated among the Gentile Churches. In the Latin Church it was known by St. Clement of Rome (before A.D. 100), the Pastor Hermas (about A.D. 150), St. Irenæus (125-202), Tertullian (d. about 240), St. Hilary (d. 366), St. Philaster (d. 385), St. Ambrose (d. 397), Pope Damasus (in the canon of about A.D. 382), St. Jerome (346-420), Rufinus (d. 410), St. Augustine (430), and its canonicity is unquestioned by them. In the Greek Church, Clement of Alexandria (d. 217), Origen (d. 254), St. Athanasius (d. 373), St. Dionysius the Areopagite (about A.D. 500), etc., considered it undoubtedly as a sacred writing. In the Syrian Church, the Peshito, although omitting the minor Catholic Epistles, does include the Epistle of St. James. St. Ephraem uses it frequently in his writings and Nestorius considered it canon.
Excerpts from James:
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The Letter of James:
Doers of the Word.
- [1:3–8] The sequence of testing, perseverance, and being perfect and complete indicates the manner of attaining spiritual maturity and full preparedness for the coming of Christ (Jas 5:7–12; cf. 1 Pt 1:6–7; Rom 5:3–5). These steps require wisdom (Jas 1:5).
Sin of Partiality.
- [2:4] When Christians show favoritism to the rich they are guilty of the worst kind of prejudice and discrimination. The author says that such Christians set themselves up as judges who judge not by divine law but by the basest, self-serving motives.
- [2:14–26] The theme of these verses is the relationship of faith and works (deeds). It has been argued that the teaching here contradicts that of Paul (see especially Rom 4:5–6). The problem can only be understood if the different viewpoints of the two authors are seen. Paul argues against those who claim to participate in God’s salvation because of their good deeds as well as because they have committed themselves to trust in God through Jesus Christ (Paul’s concept of faith). Paul certainly understands, however, the implications of true faith for a life of love and generosity (see Gal 5:6, 13–15). The author of James is well aware that proper conduct can only come about with an authentic commitment to God in faith (Jas 2:18, 26). Many think he was seeking to correct a misunderstanding of Paul’s view.
Power of the Tongue.
- [3:1–12] The use and abuse of the important role of teaching in the church (Jas 3:1) are here related to the good and bad use of the tongue (Jas 3:9–12), the instrument through which teaching was chiefly conveyed (see Sir 5:11–6:1; 28:12–26).
Causes of Division.
Warning against Presumption.
Warning to the Rich.
Patience and Oaths.
Anointing of the Sick.
Confession and Intercession.
Conversion of Sinners.
- [5:14] In case of sickness a Christian should ask for the presbyters of the church, i.e., those who have authority in the church (cf. Acts 15:2, 22–23; 1 Tm 5:17; Ti 1:5). They are to pray over the person and anoint with oil; oil was used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world (see Is 1:6; Lk 10:34). In Mk 6:13, the Twelve anoint the sick with oil on their missionary journey. In the name of the Lord: by the power of Jesus Christ.
- [5:15] The results of the prayer and anointing are physical health and forgiveness of sins. The Roman Catholic Church (Council of Trent, Session 14) declared that this anointing of the sick is a sacrament “instituted by Christ and promulgated by blessed James the apostle.”