James is a book with which many Christians have struggled. Its presentation of faith and works seems at first glance to contradict the foundational doctrine of justification by faith. As a result, some have studied this epistle only with the aim of dispelling and “problem texts.” A closer examination will show great riches of spiritual teaching within this book.


This is a book which is rich in spiritual dynamics. It will be motivating and sobering in its message. It is a book of faith, a book of promise and a book of warning.





The opening salutation identifies the writer as James. The Greek text describes him as IakwboV -- or as we would say, “Jacob.” The problem is that there are a number of different men in the New Testament possessing this name.


·        James the brother of John and son of Zebedee (Matthew 10:2).

·        James the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3).

·        James the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19).

·        James the son of Mary (Matthew 27:56).

·        James the father of Jude (Acts 1:13).


Early church tradition points to the writer of this epistle being James, the half-brother of Jesus. This James is first mentioned as coming with his mother and his other brothers to meet Jesus as He was preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth.


And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers? 55 Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matthew 13:54-56).


Mary had been a virgin when she became pregnant with that which was from the Holy Spirit. She had remained a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus. But there is no evidence that she remained a virgin after His birth. To the contrary, the evidence is strong that she and Joseph had four more sons and several daughters. We do not know much about the half-sisters of Jesus, but we are told that His half-brothers did not believe in Him while He was on earth.


For not even His brothers were believing in Him (John 7:5).


Imagine this! These men grew up in the same house with Jesus They were daily witnesses of His holy and righteous character. Yet they did not believe in Him. They chose to reject Him.


When did James finally come to believe and accept Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah of Israel? When did his unbelief turn to belief. I think that the answer is seen in the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.


For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).


After Jesus had risen from the dead, He appeared to a number of people. One of those appearances was to James, His unbelieving half-brother. James saw the evidence of the resurrection. He was confronted by the risen Lord. I think this is what turned James from an unbeliever into a believer.


We read in the book of Acts that in the day immediately after Jesus had ascended into heaven all of the brothers of Jesus began to meet with the disciples in the upper room.


And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:13-14).


Over the course of the next several years, James rose to prominence as a leader within the Jerusalem church.


Paul refers to James as one of the leaders of the church with whom he met during his first visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19).


When an angel broke Peter out of prison, he directed that James be told of the news (Acts 12:17).

James stood up at the Council of Jerusalem and hammered out a workable compromise in bringing the Gentile Christians into the church (Acts 15:13-21). Following that council, James was one of the three leaders in the church who commissioned Paul and Barnabas to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9).


It was a delegation from James that stirred up the controversy between Paul and Peter concerning whether a Jew ought to eat with Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:12).


When Paul presented himself before the Jerusalem elders after having planted churches in Europe, James is mentioned in a way that suggest his role as leader within the Jerusalem church. In Acts 21:18 we read that Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.


As James writes this epistle to the Israelites who are scattered among the nations, he does so as one of the leaders of the Christian church.





It is commonly thought that this epistle was written around 45-50 A.D., making it one of the first epistles to be written. It contains no mention of Gentile believers or the controversy that eventually arose in the church concerning Gentile Christians and the Law. It was evidently written before this had become an issue in the church.


The first of Paul’s missionary journeys had not yet taken place and the church was made up almost entirely of either Jews or Jewish proselytes -- Gentiles who had undergone circumcision and who had become Jewish.





There are some notable similarities between this epistle and the statements of James made at the Jerusalem Council and the letter that was written by that Council.


·        The phrase “beloved” (James 1:16, 19; 2:5 and Acts 15:25).

·        The exhortation, “Listen, my beloved brethren” (James 2:5 and Acts 15:13).

·        The use of the infinitive salutation, “Greetings” as the opening of the letter (James 1:1 and Acts 15:23).

·        The idea of a man turning back to the truth (James 5:19-20 and Acts 15:19).

·        The use of the word “soul” (James 1:21; 5:20 and Acts 15:24).


Even greater similarities can be seen when we compare the epistle of James with the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gave in Matthew 5-7.


Epistle of James

Sermon on the Mount

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (1:2).

Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:12).

And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (1:4).

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (1:5).

Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).

But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position (1:9).

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).

For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away (1:11).

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19).

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God” (1:13).

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 7:13).

For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (1:20).

Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court (Matthew 5:22).

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (1:22).

Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24).

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well (2:8).

Therefore however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (2:10).

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment (2:13).

But if you do not forgive men, then your heavenly Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:15).

But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18).

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (2:24).

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21).

Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh (3:11-12).

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? (Matthew 7:16).

And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (3:18).

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9).

You lust and do not have; so you commit murder (4:2).

You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” (Matthew 5:21).

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4).

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24).

Be miserable and mourn and weep (4:9).

Blessed are those who mourn (Matthew 5:4).

He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law (4:11).

Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged (Matthew 7:1-2).

Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten (5:2).

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy (Matthew 6:19).

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath (5:12).

But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by earth (Matthew 7:34-35).

...but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment (5:12).

But let your statement be, “Yes, yes” and “No, no”; and anything beyond these is of evil (Matthew 5:37).

Let him pray (5:13).

Pray then in this way (Matthew 6:9).


It is interesting that, in all of these instances, James does not once say that he is quoting the words of Jesus. Perhaps this is because his readers would not be familiar with the Sermon on the Mount or with any of the other sayings of Jesus.


It is entirely possible that James is written before any of the other Gospel accounts had been composed. The stories of Jesus had up to this time been circulated only by word of mouth.





There are a number of characteristics that set the Epistle of James apart from the other New Testament epistles.


1. A Lack of Personal Notes.


James makes no mention of any personal contact between himself and any of his readers. This is not a personal letter. Rather it is an official exhortation to the early church that was spreading through the ancient world.


2. Little Mention is made of Christ.


Although Christ is mentioned both in James 1:1 and James 2:1, there is no mention of His death or His resurrection. James gives us the teachings OF Jesus rather than teachings ABOUT Jesus.


3. Absence of Gentiles in the Church.


There is no mention of Gentiles being within the church. In fact, James does not mention Gentiles at all. It is likely that this epistle was written before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 and that Gentiles had not yet been accepted into the church.


4. Christianity and Judaism.


Christianity is not presented in contrast with Judaism. There is no “us versus them” mentality. Instead Christianity is presented in a distinctly Jewish setting. The only distinction is that Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, the Lord of glory.





The message of the book of James is that faith must include a living reality. James writes that faith cannot exist without works.


Many people have misunderstood James to say that he contradicts the teachings of Paul -- that he is teaching a gospel of works for salvation. This is not so. James does not teach works for salvation. He teaches works WITH salvation.


When you come to Jesus Christ in faith, trusting Him as your Savior and Lord, a process begins. The Bible calls it SANCTIFICATION. The Holy Spirit begins to do a work within you, producing His fruit in your life and molding you into the character of Jesus Christ.


This process is not finished in this life. It is not complete until Graduation Day. Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker that announces, “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet!” That is true. But the message of the book of James is that your life ought to show a certain degree of progress if you really belong to the Lord.


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