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Introduction to James


Introduction to the Book of James
Commentary by Pastor Timothy H. Burdick


James is believed by many to be the earliest book in the New Testament. Legitimate scholars have dated it anywhere from 45 to 60 A.D. Tradition has it that it was written by Jesus Christ’s half brother, James. But you may ask: How can we be reasonably sure of its authorship? There were four men in the New Testament named “James.”

Norma Becker, who wrote “Thoughts About God,” speaks about this in her study: "He could not have been the apostle named James, the son of Zebedee, and brother of John the Apostle, because according to Acts 12:2, he was martyred by King Herod Agrippa I.” This was about ten years after Jesus death, so it was too early for this book to have been written.” She continues: “this leaves James the brother of Jesus, as the probable author” of the Book of James.

Some reasons to accept this decision are: James was one of several brothers of Christ, and was probably the oldest since he heads the list in Matthew 13:55, where we read, "Isn't this the carpenter’s son and his mother is named Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?" At first, James didn't believe in Jesus, challenging his authority and mission.

We can see this in John 7 25. In 1st Corinthians 15:7, Paul mentioned James as one of the first individuals to whom Christ first appeared to after his resurrection. In Galatians 2 9, Paul calls him a “pillar” of the church. In Acts 21 18, Paul also records that he saw “James” and the other elders of the church. In Acts 12, Peter asks the others to tell James that he (Peter) had been delivered from prison. Despite these strong points, however, James almost didn't make it into the canon of the formal body of Scripture, the Bible. Martin Luther called James “an epistle of straw,” not understanding his concept of faith and works. Hence The Book of James has been a Book of controversial nature. We'll get to that in more depth in the second chapter of James. For now, it is enough to say that when one examines this Book there is no conflict. I have heard it said that later in his life, Martin Luther himself came to embrace this book.

In Acts 15:12 through 19, James is shown as a leader in the Jerusalem council. For an example of this, let me quote chapter 15:12-15; "Brothers listen to me, Simon has described to us how God had first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. It is my judgment therefore that we shouldn't make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God." In the little book of Jude, verse 1, Jude aligns himself with James. This was probably because he was so popular in the Early Church.

We can only say that, while James wasn't with the twelve apostles for three years, and didn't go to Arabia, like the Apostle Paul to learn from the Lord (Galatians 1:17), he had overwhelming presence and prestige and had a great deal of knowledge. James was writing originally to the twelve tribes which had been scattered by Emperor Claudius of the Roman Empire. It is important to note that these tribes were not “lost” - James says they were “scattered.” We are not given any geographical clues about this. Some think that they were those who were forced from Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen. "On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

The main thing that I like about James is that it is a practical book. It is closely related to the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. It is in my opinion, the most practical book in the New Testament. James shows in detail, how true faith is shown and how we should live.

Christian conduct. The following is an outline of James which I hope will be helpful:

1:1 – The Salutation
1:2 – 1:18 The Test of Faith
1:1-12 – The Value of Trials and Temptations
1:13-18 – The Source of Temptations
1:19:5:6 – The Characteristics of Faith –
                Exhortations & Warnings
1:19-27 – Faith Obeys the Word
2:1-13 – Faith Removes Discrimination
2:14-26 – Faith Proves Itself by Works
3:1-12 – Faith Controls the Tongue
3:13-18 – Faith Brings Wisdom
4:1-12 – Faith Produces Humility
4:13-5:6 – Faith Brings Dependence Upon God
5:7-20 – The Triumph of Faith
5:7-12 – Faith Awaits Christ’s Return
5:13-18 – Faith Prays for the Afflicted – The Power of Prayer
5:19-20 – Faith Confronts the Erring Brother

Timothy H. Burdick, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
PO Box  92131
Long Beach, CA
90809-2131 USA

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