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By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2017


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Over 50 Interpreters

Explain the Book of James











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Roland H. Worth, Jr.




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The primary text of this work is the traditional King James Version.  More modern renditions are included from the New King James Version of selected words and phrases and occasionally others.


Scripture taken from the New King James Version.  Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  All rights reserved.






List of All Sources Quoted At End of File





2017 Preface


            Those who have already used the entry in this series on the gospel of Luke may recall that the strong majority of that text had already been researched when I decided to finish that lengthy work—after years of not checking to see how many sources I had accumulated.  That turned out to be far more than I remembered. 

            When I turned to what else I had hidden away in my files--to be candid, basically forgotten about--the results were much closer to what I had anticipated for Luke:  21 entries for James while 1 Peter and 2 Peter/Jude had only 12 entries each.  Since this preparatory work had already been done, it seemed appropriate to complete them and share them with readers as well.  Since the obvious omission in this list--between 2 Peter and Jude--were the epistles of John, I researched those "from scratch."

            A resource that became readily available in the “expansion” phase of these commentaries—and not in the years when the “core” of the current volume was compiled--was the increase in online text versions of a large number of commentaries that are now in the public domain.  Those without the place, publisher, and date information--or only the date--represent my working from a public domain online text of that work or a computerized form of it.  In certain cases, a pdf form of the material was available and the research was done from that source and full publishing data is available—and provided. 

When working from a print edition, efforts have been made to identify the specific author of it; when working from online text editions, I have typically simply identified it by the name of the editor/compiler of the series—sometimes, but not uniformly, specifically identifying him as “editor.”  When feasible, I have been able to provide original publishing information from print editions and have inserted them. 

Individuals quoted are often edited in regard to length but never in a manner to alter the point they intend to make--which will vary to different degrees from one commentator to another.   Alterations on two minor matters also deserve to be noticed.  I typically removed the bulk of the “St.” references describing the apostles because it virtually turns a valid description (“saint”) into a title.  Similarly I often adopted the American way of noticing a quotation—“and”--instead of the British—‘and’ but one will find a mixture of styles on both of these points.     

            As to James in particular, it should be noted that my “Torah” commentaries on the subject were written without reliance on this material except in those rare cases where the same commentaries may have been re-examined.  Each was researched independently of the other.

                                                            Roland H. Worth, Jr.

                                                            July 2017













            The Case for the “James of Jerusalem” in Acts Being the Author [22].  This epistle stands first in order of seven which have been called "General," from a very early period, because of the fact that they were not addressed, like those of Paul, to particular churches or individuals, in most cases, but to the churches generally.  This is directed to "the Twelve Tribes of the Dispersion," a dedication which shows that it was designed for the instruction of Jewish Christians scattered abroad among the Gentile countries. 

            It was particularly appropriate that the man who is shown by the Acts of the Apostles and by the Galatian letter to have attained the highest influence in the churches of Judea should show his profound interest in the Christians of the Hebrew race by addressing this letter to the multitudes of kindred who had their homes in foreign lands.

            Yet there has been some dispute about the personality of the James who wrote this letter.  There are three distinguished disciples which bear that name:

            *  James, the brother of John, one of the sons of Zebedee, one of the Twelve;

            *  James, the son of Alphæus, also an apostle, called James the Less (Mark 15:40);

            *  and James, called by Paul in Galatians “the brother of our Lord,” the man who appears in Acts, chapter 15, as wielding a pre-eminent influence in the church at Jerusalem. 

            The epistle could not have been written by James, the brother of John, as he was slain by Herod (Acts 12:2) before its date.  The authorship must be ascribed either to James, the son of Alphæus, or to James, “the Lord's brother.”

            From the earliest ages the latter has been agreed upon as the writer. To this conclusion all the known facts point. He was a permanent resident of Jerusalem, and pre-eminent in the church; he seems to be the chief figure in “the Council of Jerusalem” described in Acts, chapter 15; he was one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9); hence he could speak authoritatively to the Jewish Christians scattered abroad.

            It has, however, been held by many that he is the same as James, the son of Alphæus, and a cousin of Christ, instead of a brother. The argument in favor of this hypothesis is ingenious: 

            (1.) It is held that Mary never bore any children but Jesus, and hence that “the brethren of the Lord” were her nephews. 

            (2.) That Mary, the wife of Clopas (John 19:25) was sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

            (3.) That Alphæus and Clopas are different forms of the same name.

            (4.) That the brethren of Jesus, “James and Joses and Simon and Judas,” were the cousins of Jesus, and that at least two, James and Judas, were apostles 

            (5.) This is supported by the fact that Jesus on the cross commits the care of his mother to John, which is held to prove that she could have no other sons.

            In answer to this theory it may be said that (1.) it is improbable that the wife of Clopas was sister to Mary, a fact which would require two sisters to be of the same name. John names two pairs, Mary and her sister, and Mary, the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.  The sister was no doubt Salome, the mother of John, named as one of the four women in the other gospels, and whom John omits to name from the same motives which prevented him from ever naming himself.  Hence John was the nephew of Mary, and this in connection with the fact that the brethren of Jesus were not then believers is sufficient explanation of John being assigned the duty of caring for the mother of Jesus.

            (2.) We are told positively that the brethren of Jesus were not believers, and this, too, in the closing portion of the last year of our Lord's ministry, a fact that clearly shows that none of these could have been of the number of the apostles.

            (3.) They are never called cousins of Jesus nor is there any proof that the Greek word which designates them as "brethren" is ever used in the sense of cousins in the New Testament.

            (4.) When these brethren had become believers, after the resurrection, they are distinguished from the Twelve (Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5), a fact which cannot be explained if at least two of the four were of the Twelve.  It is true that in Galatians 1:19

James is spoken of as an apostle, yet neither he nor Paul, the greatest of the apostles, was of the Twelve.  These facts seem to me to clearly indicate that “James, the brother of the Lord,” the author of this epistle, was not of the Twelve, and was a brother to the Lord Jesus in the sense that he was a child of Mary.

            His prominence, however, in the early church may be gathered from the following references:  Acts 12:17; Acts 15:19;  Acts 21:18; Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:12.  
            The New Testament is silent concerning his later history, but Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that shortly before the war that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, about A. D. 63, “Ananias, the high priest, assembled the Sanhedrim, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who is called the Christ, whose name was James, and some of his companions * * * and delivered them to be stoned” (Antiquities xx. 9:1).  He was allowed to remain until not long before the overthrow of the Jewish state, and was then removed.



            What relationship of him to Jesus is intended by the label of “brother” [38]?   So far, then, we have reached a fairly firm standing ground, and may take a fresh start on the assumption that the Epistle was written, not by the son of Zebedee, nor by the son of Alphæus, but by James the brother of the Lord.  A question of great difficulty, however, once more meets us on the threshold.  What kind of relationship did that description imply?  Very different answers have been given to that question.

            (1) We have the view that the “brethren of the Lord” were the sons of Joseph and of Mary, and therefore His younger brothers.  This has in its favor, the common and natural, though not, it must be admitted, the necessary, meaning of the Greek word for “brethren,” perhaps, also, the primâ facie inference from Matthew 1:25.

It was adopted by Helvidius, a Latin writer of the 4th century, and has been revived by some recent scholars of high reputation, among whom are Dean Alford and Canon Farrar.  It has against it the general consensus of the Fathers of the third and fourth century, resting on a wide-spread belief in the perpetual virginity of the mother of the Lord, and the fact that Helvidius was treated as propounding a new and monstrous theory. 

It may be admitted that the word does not necessarily mean that those who bore it were children of the same mother, and that Matthew 1:25 does not necessarily imply what, at first sight, it appears to mean.  It is scarcely likely, however, with such words at hand as the Greek for “sister’s son” (Colossians 4:10) or “cousins” (Luke 1:36), that it would have been used to express either of those relationships.

Slightly weighing against it, perhaps, are (1) the action and tone of the brethren in relation to our Lord (Matthew 12:46; John 7:3-5), which is that of elder rather than younger relatives, and (2) the fact that the mother of our Lord is commended to the care of John, the son of Zebedee and Salome (John 19:26), and not to those who, on this view, would have been her more natural protectors.  It is probable, however, as stated above, that the wife of Zebedee may have been the sister of the Virgin, and if so, then there were close ties of relationship uniting St John to the latter.  All that can be said is that the New Testament writers, if their language does not exclude the alternative theories, are, at least, not in any measure careful to exclude this.  

(2) There is the theory that the “brethren” were the children of Joseph by a former marriage.  It need scarcely be said that there is nothing in the New Testament to prove such a theory.  Indirectly it falls in with what has just been said as to their tone towards our Lord, and the preference of a sister’s son (assuming Salome to have been the “mother’s sister” of John 19:25) to step-sons as a guardian and protector, would be sufficiently in harmony with the practices of common life.

In the second, third, and fourth centuries this appears to have been the favorite view.  It met the reverential feeling which, rightly or wrongly, shrank from the thought that the wedded life of the mother of Jesus was like that of other women.  It gave to the word “brethren,” without any violence, an adequate or natural meaning.

It was maintained by Epiphanius (a.d. 367), by Origen (in Joann. ii. 12, in Matthew 13:55), Eusebius (Hist. ii. 1), Hilary of Poitiers (a.d. 368), Gregory of Nyssa (a.d. 394), Cyril of Alexandria (in Gen. vii. p. 221), and with the modification that Joseph’s first marriage was with the widow of his brother Clôpas, by Theophylact (Comm. On Matthew 13:55, Galatians 1:19).  It has been revived in our own time by Canon Lightfoot (Excursus on “The brethren of the Lord” in Commentary on Galatians), and maintained as against the third hypothesis now to be mentioned, with arguments which seem to the present writer to admit of no satisfactory answer.

(3) Lastly, there is the theory already alluded to, that the “brethren” were the sons of the wife of Clôpas, who is identified with the sister of the Virgin, and that they were thus called “brethren” in the wider sense in which that word may be used of “cousins.”  Clôpas is held (though this was an after-thought of writers later than Jerome, who was the first to propound this view) to be identical with Alphæus, and James the brother of the Lord is held to be identical with James the son of Alphæus, in the list of the Apostles, and “Jude of James” to be another of the brethren, and Simon, a third brother, is identified with Simon Zelotes, or the Canaanite.

The theory was first stated by Jerome (Catal. Vir. Illustr.; Adv. Helvid.) in his eagerness to vindicate the perpetual virginity of Mary against what seemed to him the heresy of Helvidius, but though maintained vehemently at first, was afterwards treated by him as a matter of comparative indifference (Lightfoot’s Excursus, ut supra). His influence, however, gave currency to the theory in the Western Church, and it was probably received by Ambrose (whose language, however, is consistent with the Epiphanian theory) in his treatise De Institutione Virginis, and by Augustine (in Joann. xxviii., Enarr. in Ps. cxxvii., Contr. Faust. xxii. 35).  The Western Church, accordingly, in her Calendar has recognized only two Saints of the name of James, and has naturally been followed in this respect by the Church of England, which gives July 25 to the son of Zebedee, and May 1st to St Philip and the son of Alphæus.  The choice of the Epistle for that day implies his identification with the brother of the Lord.



Character of James of Jerusalem [24].  Of the personality of this great man we can form a tolerably clear idea from the New Testament and early Church tradition.  Re-fusing to accept Christ as Messiah during His earthly life, he was converted by a special appearance to him of the Risen Lord (1 Corinthians 15:7).

            We can well believe that in the Nazareth home he was carefully trained in all the precepts and practices of the Jewish faith, and to that faith he clung with deep devotion all through his life.  We must picture him to ourselves, not as one of those false Jews whose observances were merely formal and external, but as one of those true and earnest Jews whose obedience to the Law was a joy and an inspiration—whose life was lived in the spirit of Psalms 119.

            His sincere and spiritual Judaism would be a guide to lead him to Christ, the 'fulfiller' of the Law (Matthew 5:17).  The good Jew would make a good Christian.  And in those early days it was possible to combine observance of the Law with obedience to the 'Royal Law' of Christ.  To St. James Christianity presents itself primarily as a Law (James 1:25; 2:12; 4:11-12).  This idea is found elsewhere in the New Testament (Romans 8:2; Hebrews 8:7-13). The time had not yet come when (as in the crisis which called forth the Epistle to the Hebrews) it was necessary to choose between Judaism and Christianity.

            And so, even as 'bishop' of Jerusalem, St. James went on keeping the whole Law, although he was ready to grant the fullest liberty to those Gentile converts who had never been Jews by religion (Acts 15).  He combined strong personal convictions with the widest sympathy with the views of others.  Hence, although himself a strict Jew, he could act cordially with St. Paul, the champion of Gentile liberty. At the end of each of his three missionary journeys the Apostle of the Gentiles went up to Jerusalem to report progress to St. James (Acts 15, 18:22; 21:18), and it was at his suggestion that St. Paul undertook the Nazirite vow in the Temple which led to the attack on him of the unbelieving Jews.                                  

            At this point the narrative of the Acts leaves St. James; but from the Jewish historian Josephus, and the converted Jew Hegesippus, we get accounts of his death which, though they differ in details, agree in their main facts.  From them we learn that he was held in great esteem by his fellow-countrymen, and even permitted to enter the Temple. 

            A Sadducean high priest, Ananus, brought him before the Sanhedrin, and caused him to be put to death by stoning, in spite of the remonstrances of all the better sort of Jews.  James 'the Just' (as he was called by his fellow-countrymen) died praying, like St. Stephen, for his murderers, a few years before the final overthrow of Judaism by the Romans.  In very truth he was taken away from the evil to come.  Some have seen in St. James the Restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2:7, after whose removal the Jewish apostasy would stand revealed and receive its due reward in the overthrow of the nation and the religion of the Jews.



            Analysis of the case for James the apostle being the author [38].  The hypothesis that the son of Zebedee, the brother of the beloved disciple, was the writer of the Epistle, has commonly been dismissed as hardly calling for serious consideration.  It is not, however, without a certain amount of external authority, and has recently been maintained with considerable ability by the Rev. F. T. Bassett in a Commentary on the Epistle (Bagsters, 1876).  It may be well therefore to begin with an inquiry into the grounds on which it rests.

            (1) The oldest MSS. of the earlier, or Peshito, Syriac version, ranging from the 5th to the 8th century, state, in the superscription or subscription of the Epistle, or both, that it is an Epistle “of James the Apostle.”  Printed editions of the Syriac Version state more definitely that the three Epistles (James, 1 Peter, and 1 John) which that version includes, were written by the three Apostles who were witnesses of the Transfiguration, but it is uncertain on what MS. authority the statement was made.

As far then as this evidence goes, it is of little or no weight in determining the authorship. It does not go higher than the fifth century, and leaves it an open question whether “James the Apostle” was the son of Zebedee, or the son of Alphæus, or the brother of the Lord, considered as having been raised to the office and title of an Apostle.

(2) A Latin MS. of the New Testament, giving a version of the Epistle prior to that of Jerome, states more definitely that it was written by “James the son of Zebedee,” but the MS. is not assigned to an earlier date than the ninth century, and is therefore of little or no weight as an authority.  Neither this nor the Syriac version can be looked on as giving more than the conjecture of the transcriber, or, at the best, a comparatively late and uncertain tradition.

(3) Admitting the weakness of the external evidence, Mr. Bassett rests his case mainly on internal.  It was, he thinks, à priori improbable that one who occupied so prominent a place among the Apostles during our Lord’s ministry, whose name as one of the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17) indicates conspicuous energy, should have passed away without leaving any written memorial for the permanent instruction of the Church.  It is obvious, however, that all à priori arguments of this nature are, in the highest degree, precarious in their character, and that their only value lies in preparing the way for evidence of another kind.

(4) The internal coincidences on which Mr. Bassett next lays stress are in themselves so suggestive and instructive, even if we do not admit his inference from them, that it seems worth while to state them briefly.

(a) There is, he points out, a strong resemblance between the teaching of the Epistle and that of John the Baptist, as is seen, e. g., in comparing:

James 1:22, 27 with Matthew 3:8

James 2:15-16 with Luke 3:11

James 2:19-20 with Matthew 3:9

James 5:1-6 with Matthew 3:10-12.

(b) There are the frequently recurring parallelisms between the Epistle and the Sermon on the Mount, which strike the attention of well-nigh every reader:

James 1:2 compared with Matthew 5:10-12

James 1:4 compared with Matthew 5:48

James 1:5; 5:15 compared with Matthew 7:7-12

James 1:9 compared with Matthew 5:3

James 1:20 compared with Matthew 5:22

James 2:13 compared with Matthew 6:14-15; 5:7

James 2:14 compared with Matthew 7:21-23

James 3:17-18 compared with Matthew 5:9

James 4:4 compared with Matthew 6:24

James 4:10 compared with Matthew 5:3-4

James 4:11 compared with Matthew 7:1-5

James 5:2 compared with Matthew 6:19

James 5:10 compared with Matthew 5:12

James 5:12 compared with Matthew 5:33-37.

It is urged that the son of Zebedee was certainly among our Lord’s disciples at the time the Sermon on the Mount was delivered, while there is no evidence that the son of Alphæus had as yet been called, and a distinct statement, assuming the brother of the Lord not to be identical with the son of Alphæus, that he at this time did not believe in Jesus as the Christ. (John 7:5.)

(c) The writer finds in St James’s description of Jesus as “the Lord of Glory” a reference, parallel to those of 2 Peter 1:16-18 and John 1:14, to the vision on the Mount of Transfiguration which had been witnessed by Peter and the two sons of Zebedee.

            (d) In the emphasis with which the writer of the Epistle condemns the sins of vainglory and rivalry and self-seeking ambition Mr. Bassett finds a reference to the disputes and jealousies which during our Lord’s ministry disturbed the harmony of the Apostolic company (compare James 1:9-12, 3:14-16 with Matthew 18:1, Mark 9:34); in his protests against the “wrath of man” (James 1:19-20), a reminiscence of his own passionate desire to call down fire from heaven, as Elijah had done of old (Luke 9:54).  With this and with Elijah’s loss of patience (1 Kings 19:4-10), he connects the statement that “Elias was a man of like passions with ourselves” (James 5:17).

            (e) Stress is laid on the language of the Epistle as to the “coming of the Lord” as agreeing with what our Lord had said on the Mount of Olives in the hearing of the sons of Zebedee and of Jona (Mark 13:3). Compare:

            James 2:6-7 with Mark 13:9

            James 4:1 with Mark 13:7

            James 4:13-14 with Mark 13:32

James 5:9 with Mark 13:29

James 5:7 with Matthew 24:27.

It is inferred that here also he was reproducing what he had himself heard.

(f) The not unfrequent parallelisms between this Epistle and 1 Peter are next brought to bear on the question. They are given as follows:—

James 1:2 with 1 Peter 1:6-9

James 1:10 with 1 Peter 1:24

James 1:21 with 1 Peter 2:1

James 4:6, 10 with 1 Peter 5:5

James 5:20 with 1 Peter 4:8.

It is urged that these coincidences of thought and phrase are just what might be expected in those who like the son of Zebedee and the son of Jona had been friends and companions in the work of disciples and Apostles.

            (5) Interesting and suggestive as each of these lines of thought beyond question is, the evidence does not appear, on the whole, to warrant the conclusion which has been drawn from it.  It would be a sufficient explanation of (a) and (b) that the writer of the Epistle had been one of the hearers of the Baptist and of our Lord, or had read or heard what we find recorded in St Matthew’s Gospel.

Of (c) it must be said that the epithet “of glory” was far too common (Acts 7:2; Ephesians 1:17; Colossians 1:27; Hebrews 1:3, 9:5) to prove what it is alleged to prove.

The faults mentioned under (d) were too much the besetting sins of the whole people to sustain any conclusion based on the supposition that they applied specially to the writer.

It is obvious that the teaching of our Lord as to His “Coming,” under (e), must, from a very early period, have become, at least to the extent to which the Epistle deals with it, the common property of all believers.

Lastly, as to the parallelisms of (f) it must be remembered that there is as much evidence that another James was for many years in constant communication with St Peter, as there is for the earlier friendship of that Apostle with the son of Zebedee.

            On the whole, then, it is believed that this hypothesis, interesting and ingenious as it is, must be dismissed as not proven.






Date of Writing



            The case for a date in the sixties of the first century.  One presentation of the approach [1].   Two views are held--(1) that the epistle was written before the council at Jerusalem 50 (A.D.); (2) that it should be dated shortly before the death of James (63 A.D.).  The former view makes it the earliest written book of the New Testament, and is based upon the following reasons; exclusively Jewish Christian communities did not exist outside of Judaea after that time; the lack of fully-developed Christian doctrine points to an early date; and the trials referred to were probably incidental to the persecution in the days of Herod Agrippa.  But these are not conclusive.

            The errors combated point to the later date, since they indicate a perversion of the doctrine of free grace and a lax morality resulting from this, amounting to dead orthodoxy.  Such a tendency, though most readily developed among Jewish Christians, would require time to reach the form of error opposed in the epistle.  While this date (between 60-63 A.D.) places the letter after the earlier group of Pauline epistles, it does not necessarily involve any reference to them by James.  It is generally admitted that Jerusalem was the place of writing.



            A case for a pre-Jerusalem Council dating [8].  It is more difficult to determine the time of composition.  It is only certain mater of dispute whether it was written before or after the ever-memorable labors of Paul among the Gentiles, or, more precisely, whether it was written before or after the council at Jerusalem recorded in Acts xv.  If there is in the Epistle a reference to the Pauline doctrine of justification,--whether the attack be directed against the doctrine itself, or a perversion of it,--then it could only be written after that transaction; as Bleek, among others, assumes.  But on the other supposition, both opinions are possible.  Schneckenburger, Theile, Neander, Thiersch, Hofmann, Schaff, suppose it to be composed before, and Schmid and Wiesinger after,  the council at Jerusalem.

The former opinion is the more probable; for after that time the Pauline proposition, that man is justified not [by works but by faith] was not only generally known, but so powerfully moved the spirits in Christendom, that it seems impossible to suppose that James could have in perfect ingenuousness asserted his principle [in James 2] without putting himself in a definite relation to the doctrine of Paul, whether misunderstood or not. 

Wiesinger, for the later composition of the Epistle, appeals “to the form of the Christian life of the readers,” whilst, on the one hand, they are treated “as those who are mature in doctrine,” and, on the other hand, “the faults censured in their conduct are such as can only be understood on the supposition of a lengthened continuance of Christianity among the readers.”  But, in opposition to this view, it is to be observed that a Christian church without such maturity as is indicated in 1:3, 2:5, 3:1, can hardly be imagined. 



            A longer case for a pre-50 A.D. date rather than a post 58 A.D. writing [50].  With reference to the date of the Epistle we need refer but to two views.  There are some who maintain that this Epistle shows an intimate acquaintance with the writings of Paul, especially of his controversial Epistles (Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans), and that therefore this Epistle must have been written after the year A.D. 58.  On the other hand, we have the strongest evidence to prove that this Epistle was written before A.D. 50, and that it is the oldest of all the New Testament writings.  We may given the following reasons for an early date:

            (1)  It was written to churches composed exclusively of Jewish Christians.  It was not until A.D. 44 that any number of Gentiles were admitted into the Church (Acts 11:20-21).  The letter must have been written shortly after this time.

            (2)  There is no allusion whatever to the great controversy concerning circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic law.  This proves that this question had not yet arisen.   

            If the letter had been written after the Council of Jerusalem (A.D. 50), James would most assuredly have referred to the decree, and urged the Jews of the Dispersion to observe the conditions laid down, for the points at issue in the controversy were of such a burning character that James, on a later visit of Paul to Jerusalem in 58 A.D., called his attention to the matter (Acts 21:20-25), and the furious assault of the Jews on Paul turned on this very question (Acts 21:27-29).

            (3)  The Judaic tone of Epistle (so strongly emphasized by Luther) is in favor of an early date.  So far as this consideration goes, we should be led to assign the Epistle to the earliest possible date after the day of Pentecost.

            (4)  The description given of Church organization and search discipline implies an early date of the Epistle.  No mention is made of bishops, but only of teachers and elders (3:1; 5:14), which were also recognized in the Synagogue.  The congregation or church (5:14) still worshipped in the synagogue (2:2), for we know from the Acts that the Christian Jew frequented the Temple and Synagogue worship and for a long time observed the Jewish ritual.

            We conclude then with Gloag that we have in this Epistle of James “an inspired document of primitive Christianity, allied to the simple teaching of the Master—before the religion of Christ was developed by the doctrinal statements of Paul and the profound intuitions of John.”                     



            Case against an early dating [39].  A decisive objection to the early date is the late recognition of the epistle by the Church.  If it were really written by James the brother of Jesus from Jerusalem to the general body of Hebrew Christians, in the Greek language, so early as A.D. 45, it would have obtained an early circulation, a general notoriety, and an established authority among the earliest documents of the New Testament canon.  On the other hand, if published shortly before the overthrow of Jerusalem, we easily understand how, amid the tumults of the times, it should have failed of early general recognition.  

            A second objection to the early date is its assumption of a wide-spread and well-established Christian public already existing in the Jewish “dispersion.”  Where was this ecumenical audience in A.D. 45?  Alford’s reply that it appears in Acts 11:19, and following verses, is entirely insufficient.  A few scattered clusters of converts in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, are very far short of meeting the demand.  The whole air of the epistle presupposes a large body of Christian Hebrews scattered throughout the civilized world, with Jerusalem for its spiritual capital.  

            Apparently in this epistle, as in Hebrews and the Pastoral and Catholic epistles, the discussions and strifes about circumcision and ritual are long past.

            As to the state of things apparent in the epistle, we may readily concede that the mention of “church” and “elders” by no means proves a late period, for these appear at the very origin of Christianity.  But in James the Churches are world-wide; they have their regular-built synagogues; they have generally fallen into fixed habits, such as obsequiousness to the rich, an antinomian perversion of the Pauline doctrine of faith, and a too great loquacity of would-be teachers and “masters.”  The eloquent denunciatory apostrophe to “rich men” implies their established relations to the Church, while the woes pronounced upon them intimate the impending doom overhanging the city in which it was written.

            As we see a probable allusion to the martyrdom of James in Hebrews 13:7, so Hebrews must have appeared after this epistle.  How long this epistle was written [before the destruction of Jerusalem], though certainly not long, can only be a guess.  We put in conjecturally at A.D. 60.






Place of Writing



            Evidence for a geographic Palestinian setting from internal references [2].   The epistle was probably written from Jerusalem, where James would be likely to become acquainted with the condition of the Jews, through those who came up at the feasts.  Certain allusions in the epistle go to confirm this.  The comparison of the double-minded man to a wave of the sea (1:6), and the picture of the ships (iii. 4), might well be written by one dwelling near the sea and familiar with it.  The illustrations in iii. 11, 12—the figs, the oil, the wine, the salt and bitter springs--are furnished by Palestine, as are the drought (v. 17, 18), the former and the latter rain (v. 7), and the hot, parching wind (1:11), for which the name [in Greek] was specially known in Palestine.


            Evidence from the authorship of the book and its destination [8].  The place of composition is not mentioned in the Epistle; but from the position which James occupied to the Church of Jerusalem, and from the fact that he has addressed his Epistle to the churches in the Diaspora, it cannot be doubted that this is Jerusalem.  The supposition of Schwegler, that the actual place of composition was Rome, requires no refutation.






Style of Writing [2]


            The style and diction of the epistle are strongly marked.  Links connecting them with the historic individuality of the writer, which are so numerous in the case of Peter, are almost entirely wanting.  The expression, “Hearken, my beloved brethren” (ii. 5), suggests the similar phrase, Acts xv. 13; and the ordinary Greek greeting, hail (Acts xv. 23), is repeated in Jas. 1.1; the only two places where it occurs in a Christian epistle. 

The purity of the Greek, and its comparative freedom from Hebraisms, are difficult to account for in a writer who had passed his life in Jerusalem.  The style is sententious and antithetic; the thoughts not linked in logical connection, but massed in groups of short sentences, like the proverbial sayings of the Jews; with which class of literature the writer was evidently familiar.  His utterance glows with the fervor of his spirit; it is rapid, exclamatory, graphic, abrupt, sometimes poetical in form, and moving with a rhythmical cadence.  “It combines pure and eloquent and rhythmical Greek with Hebrew intensity of expression.”






Target Audience



            The anticipated readers were Jewish Christians rather than traditionalist, non-believing Jews [31].  “The twelve tribes which are in the dispersion,” or of the dispersion (ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ en tē diaspora) [1:1].  This word occurs only here and in 1 Peter 1:1, and John 7:35.  It refers properly to those who lived out of Palestine, or who were scattered among the Gentiles.

            There were two great “dispersions;” the Eastern and the Western.  The first had its origin about the time when the ten tribes were carried away to Assyria, and in the time of the Babylonian captivity.  In consequence of these events, and of the fact that large numbers of the Jews went to Babylon, and other Eastern countries, for purposes of travel, commerce, etc., there were many Jews in the East in the times of the apostles.

            The other was the Western “dispersion,” which commenced about the time of Alexander the Great, and which was promoted by various causes, until there were large numbers of Jews in Egypt and along Northern Africa, in Asia Minor, in Greece proper, and even in Rome.  To which of these classes this Epistle was directed is not known; but most probably the writer had particular reference to those in the East.

            The phrase “the twelve tribes,” was the common term by which the Jewish people were designated, and was in use long after the ten tribes were carried away, leaving, in fact, only two of the twelve in Palestine.  Many have supposed that James here addressed them as Jews, and that the Epistle was sent to them as such. But this opinion has no probability; because:

            (1)  If this had been the case, he would not have been likely to begin his Epistle by saying that he was “a servant of Jesus Christ,” a name so odious to the [traditionalist] Jews;

            (2)  and, if he had spoken of himself as a Christian, and had addressed his countrymen as himself a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, though regarding them as Jews, it is incredible that he did not make a more distinct reference to the principles of the Christian religion; that he used no arguments to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah; that he did not attempt to convert them to the Christian faith.

            It should be added, that at first most converts were made from those who had been trained in the Jewish faith, and it is not improbable that one in Jerusalem, addressing those who were Christians out of Palestine, would naturally think of them as of Jewish origin, and would be likely to address them as appertaining to the “twelve tribes.”   



            The earlier the date we attribute to the epistle, the less likely there were Gentiles—at least many of them—included in the intended targeted audience [50].  Some suppose that the Epistle was addressed to Christians in general, to all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles.  They take the expression “twelve tribes” in a figurative sense to denote the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), in contrast to “Israel after the flesh” (1 Corinthians 10:18).  But such an opinion is inadmissible and without any support in the Epistle.  A literal interpretation of the expression is by far the best.  There is no allusion whatever to Gentile converts, and it is highly probable that when this letter was written no Gentile Christian Churches had been regularly formed and fully organized.

            As all the congregations established by Paul, especially after the council of Jerusalem (50 A.D.), were mixed congregations, in which Gentiles, as a rule, largely predominated, we must seek these Jewish Christian churches among those founded before Paul began his missionary labors.  That there were many such congregations we learn from Acts 2:9-11; 4:36; 9:2, 10, 14, 19, 25; 11:19-20, and this is confirmed by the statement made by James in 58 A.D. as recorded in Acts 21:20.



            The targeted audience was neither traditionalist Jews (as contrasted with Christians), nor a church composed of a heavily ethnically integrated combination of Jews and Gentiles, but a strongly Jewish Christian body.  [51]  As the [identity] of the author has been the subject of much dispute, so likewise have been the persons to whom this Epistle was primarily addressed.  They are designated ‘the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad;’ but very different meanings have been attached to these words.

            Some suppose that the Epistle was addressed to Christians in general.  They take the expression ‘twelve tribes’ in a figurative sense to denote ‘the Israel of God’ Galatians 6:16), in contrast to ‘Israel after the flesh’ (1 Corinthians 10:18).  But such an interpretation is wholly inadmissible.  There is not the slightest intimation in the Epistle that a figurative sense is to be given to these words; and we must beware of assigning a metaphorical sense to the words of Scripture when no such sense is indicated by the context or required by the passage.  Moreover, James speaks of Abraham as ‘our father’ (James 2:21), thus indicating that as a Jew he wrote to the Jews.

            Others suppose that the Epistle was addressed to Jews generally—to non-Christian as well as to Christian Jews.  This is an opinion which possesses considerable plausibility, and has found many able supporters.  The Epistle, it is affirmed, is addressed ‘to the twelve tribes,’ without any recognition of the Christian faith of the readers; they are described merely according to their nationality.  Besides, it contains various statements which can hardly apply to Christians, and can only be true of unconverted Jews (James 2:6-7, 5:6).

But the general contents of the Epistle are opposed to this opinion.  The readers, whoever they were, were at least professing Christians; their Christianity is taken for granted.  James rests his authority upon being ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (James 1:1). 

His readers, without distinction, are such as God hath begotten by the word of truth, that is, the gospel of Christ (James 1:18).  He speaks of their possessing the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory (James 2:1).  He mentions those who blasphemed that worthy name, namely, the name of Christ, by which they were called (James 2:7).  And he exhorts them to patience because of the advent of Christ:  ‘Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord’ (James 5:7).

            Hence, then, we conclude that this Epistle was primarily addressed to Jewish Christians.  To this, indeed, it has been objected that there are portions in it which are inapplicable to Christians:  the severe invectives of the writer (James 3:9, 4:1, 4:4), and especially his denunciation of judgment upon the rich (James 5:1-6), can only refer to unbelievers.  But we do not know the state of moral corruption which prevailed among the Jewish Christians; and certainly, if we were to judge of them by the conduct of many professing Christians of the present day, we would not regard those invectives as too strong.  And with regard to the attack upon the rich in the fifth chapter, it is so worded that it may be regarded as an apostrophe addressed to rich unbelievers—the proud oppressors of the Jewish Christians; though it is not impossible that there existed in the Christian Church rich professors to whom these words of stern reproof were not inapplicable.

            They were the Jews of the dispersion—Jews resident beyond the boundaries of Palestine.  In almost every country at that time Jews of the dispersion were found; but there were especially two great dispersions—the Babylonian and the Greek.  The Epistle being written in Greek, it would seem that the Greek dispersion (John 7:35) was primarily intended.

Accordingly the persons to whom it was addressed would be such as had passed over to Christianity from among those who are called Hellenists or Grecians in the Acts of the Apostles, i.e. Christian Jews who resided out of Palestine and who spoke the Greek language.  The churches addressed were in all probability those in the countries in the closest proximity to Judea, namely, Phoenicia, Syria, Cilicia, and Proconsular Asia.  The members of these churches were, it is supposed, chiefly composed of Jewish Christians; not like those churches founded by Paul, which were chiefly composed of Gentile Christians.        





Core Purpose of the Epistle



            The epistle is “utilitarian”/everyday behavior centered rather than “theological”/doctrinal [50].  The whole character of the Epistle is purely practical.  James is writing in the interest of morality, and his warnings are directed not so much against errors of doctrine as against errors of life.  There is no polemical design in it, for there is no direct or indirect reference to the teaching of Paul.  The Epistle is pre-eminently ethical and practical.



            The epistle encourages believers to imitate God’s holiness and character in everyday life [24].  It is not easy to give an analysis of an Epistle which, at first sight, seems to be rather a collection of ethical precepts than a connected whole.  But, if we look closer, we shall find one great leading thought underlying the whole and binding together its various sections.  And that thought is the central doctrine of the Old Testament, 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord' (Deuteronomy 6:4). 

            That was the creed of every devout Jew, and that is the text of St. James's homily.  If God is one—one in Himself as well as the one true God—then His children, made in His image (Genesis 1:26), must strive to be like Him.

            In God there is no change (James 1:17).  He is 'the same yesterday and today and for ever' (Hebrews 13:8).  He is wholly good.  He demands from His children complete sincerity and whole-hearted love and obedience; hence the heinousness of sins like want of faith (James 1:6), hearing without doing (James 1:22), inconsistency in religious observances (James 1:26; 2:1), partial obedience (James 2:10), using the tongue for cursing as well as blessing (James 3:9), the attempt to combine the service of God with the service of the world (James 4:2).






Reliance on the Teaching of Jesus [2]


            The language of [the Sermon on the Mount] it reflects more than any other book of the New Testament.  It meets the formalism, the fatalism, the hypocrisy, the arrogance, insolence, and oppression engendered by the sharp social distinctions of the age, with a teaching conceived in the spirit, and often expressed in the forms of the Great Teacher’s moral code.  “The epistle,” says Dr. Scott, “strikes the ear from beginning to end as an echo of the oral teaching of our Lord.  There is scarcely a thought in it which cannot be traced to Christ’s personal teaching.  If John has lain on the Saviour’s bosom, James has sat at his feet.”

            The following correspondences may be noted:


                        Matthew                                   James


                        v. 3                                          i. 9; ii. 5

                        v. 4                                          iv. 9

                        v. 7, 9                                      ii. 13; iii. 17

                        v. 8                                          iv. 8

                        v. 9                                          iii. 18

                        v. 11, 12                                  i. 2; v. 10, 11

                        v. 19                                        i. 19 seq., 25; ii. 10,11

                        v. 22                                        i. 20

                        v. 27                                        ii. 10, 11                      

                        v. 34 seq.                                 v. 12

                        v. 48                                        i. 4

                       vi. 15                                         ii. 13

                       vi. 19                                         v. 2 seq.

                       vi. 24                                         iv. 4

                       vi. 25                                         iv. 13-16

                      vii. 1 seq.                                    iii. 1; iv. 11 seq.

                      vii. 2                                           ii. 13

                      vii. 7, 11                         i. 5, 17

                      vii. 8                                           iv. 3                 

                      vii. 12                                         ii. 8

                      vii. 16                                         iii. 12

                      vii. 21-26                                   i. 22; 11. 14; v. 7-9






Possible Reference to James in Other Epistles



            In the Book of Hebrews [24].  Probably the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews alludes here and elsewhere to St. James:  compare Hebrews 11:31; Hebrews 12:11 with James 3:18; James 2:26.  Possibly Hebrews 11 starts with a definition of faith because of the difficulties raised by James 2:14-26.  Hebrews 13:7 is supposed by many to contain an allusion to the death of St. James.






Canonicity [37] 


            The  Epistle of St. James has not been admitted into the Canon of the New Testament without dispute.  The most important early testimony in regard to its authenticity is found in Eusebius, H.E. II. 23, where, after citing accounts of James the Lord’s brother from various authorities, the historian adds that to him is attributed the first of the Epistles called Catholic, but that it is regarded by some as spurious, not many of the ancient writers having mentioned either this Epistle or that which is attributed to Jude, although they were both publicly read in the Churches. 

            Further on, in another passage containing a list of the Scriptures which are acknowledged as well as of those whose authenticity is disputed, the Epistle of St. James is included in the latter group:  Eusebius, H.E., III. 25.

            On this testimony it may be remarked that the doubt as to the authenticity of the Epistle seems to have arisen not from any improbability of the alleged authorship, or from erroneous doctrine contained in it, but from the absence of citation by succeeding writers.  But this is a fact quite capable of explanation in the case of an Epistle singularly free from controversial subjects and addressed to Jewish Christians, a community which shortly afterwards was either absorbed into the Churches of Gentile Christians, or became discredited by a lapse partly into Gnosticism, partly into a form of Christianity hardly distinguishable from Judaism.

            In the catalogue of the Canonical books called the Muratorian Fragment, a document belonging to the second century, the Epistle of St. James is omitted.  It is however found in the Syrian and Egyptian versions and in the lists of Origen (A.D. 254), Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 348), Gregory of Nazianzus (c. A.D. 381), Athanasius in his 39th Festal Letter (A.D. 367), in those of the Councils of Laodicea (A.D. 363) and Carthage (A.D. 397), and of the so-called Apostolic Canons.  The authenticity of the Epistle is also recognized in the writings of St. Jerome and St. Augustine.      

            More important than the testimony cited above are the undoubted traces of this Epistle to be found in Clement of Rome (Epistle to Corinthians, A.D. 95; see c. 23, c. 30, c. 33), in the Didache, written probably early in the second century (see ii. 4, iv. 3, iv. 14 and other passages), and in Hermas, who wrote his allegorical work not much later.  The presence of St. James’ influence in Hermas appears in a most interesting way, not so much by direct quotation as by a pervading sense of his teaching which penetrates the whole book, together with a constant use of his most characteristic terminology.  No one can read The Shepherd without feeling how great an impression the Epistle of St. James had made on the writer’s mind.

            References to the Epistle are also discernible in the writing of Barnabas (c. A.D. 95), Ignatius (c. A.D. 115), and Polycarp (c. A.D. 155).

            Such evidence enables us to trace the Epistle to the beginning of the post-Apostolic age.  And if this be so it is hardly conceivable that at that early epoch any Christian writer would have ventured to put forth a forged epistle in the name and with the authority of St. James.  On the whole the external evidence leads us to infer that the Epistle, at first better known in the East than in the West, gradually won its way into full recognition by the Church, and in the fourth century was placed without question in all the authorized catalogues of the Canonical books.     






Application of the Term “Catholic” to This and Certain Other Epistles  [51]


            This Epistle is the first in that division of the books of the New Testament known by the name of the Catholic Epistles.  To this division belong seven Epistles: the Epistle of James, the two Epistles of Peter, the three Epistles of John, and the Epistle of Jude.

            The term Catholic was applied by Origen in the third century to First Peter and First John; but it was not until the fourth century that it was used to distinguish this group of Epistles.  In this application we first meet with it in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, who speaks of ‘the seven Catholic Epistles’ (H. E. ii. 23).

Various meanings have been attached to the term.  Some regard it as synonymous with canonical, and as used to denote those Epistles which were universally recognized.  Others understand the term as opposed to heretical, and as employed to denote those writings which agree with the doctrines of the universal church.  And others think that, after the Gospels and the Acts were collected into one group, and the Pauline Epistles into another, the remaining Epistles were called catholic to denote the common or general collection of all the apostles.

But all those meanings are defective; they do not distinguish this group of Epistles; they are as applicable to the other writings of the New Testament [as well].  The most appropriate and approved meaning of the term is general, in the sense of circular; used to denote those Epistles which are addressed, not to any particular church or individual, as the Pauline Epistles, but to a number of churches.  It is true that the Second and Third Epistles of John form an exception, as they are addressed to individuals; but they are attached to the larger Epistle of the same author, and may be considered as an appendix to it.

Although the term Catholic is given to these seven Epistles primarily to distinguish them from the Epistles of Paul, yet, taken in the above sense, it appropriately distinguishes them.  Thus the Epistle of James is a catholic or circular Epistle:  it is not addressed to any particular church or individual, but generally to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.  Corresponding to this general address, the references in it are general, not personal; there are no salutations appended to it, as is the case with many of the Epistles of Paul.








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