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By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2014







A Torah Commentary on James,

Chapters 1-2:


Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots



Roland H. Worth, Jr.

Richmond, Virginia


© 2014




Reproduction of this book for non-profit circulation by any electronic or print media means is hereby freely granted at no cost—provided the text is not altered in any manner. 


If accompanied by additional, supplemental material—in agreement or disagreement—it must be clearly and visibly distinguishable from the original text.









Introduction 1:

Preface and Survey of Introductory Issues





            My two favorite New Testament epistles are an odd match.  First there is the book of Jude because it is, well--odd.  The strange and unexpected references to noncanonical writings leaves one wondering just what was going on in the mind of the very consciously and passionately “orthodox” writer of that short epistle.

            More conventional and down to earth is the book of James.  It describes people who are not particularly disturbed by any abstract doctrinal issues nor besieged by one type of heresy or another.  Just John Q. and Sally Q. Christian, attempting to live out their lives and finding themselves challenged by their own personal weaknesses and those of their fellow believers:  anger, self-advancement, bias (either giving or receiving), and social ill-treatment by the powerful of the weak.  James has no political ideological axe to grind; he simply wants to assure that his listeners survive the pressures of life that can warp their faith and their attitudes.  He knows those pressures exist and no amount of fantasizing will remove them.  Not even the fact that many of those pressures come not from the external world but from within the fellowship of fellow Christians. 

            Hence James’ message is one that never loses its relevance.  Indeed, one finds it impossible to even exist without encountering the difficulties he describes.  It is an epistle for all ages and all times.

            It is incredibly paradoxical that a book written so conspicuously without overt doctrinal concerns should become the center of the storm of the Reformation debate of faith versus works.  One does not require a vivid imagination to picture James as indignant in the afterlife:  he wished to unify faith and its works into a unity, while later generations sought to separate them.  James viewed them as properly functioning as a synthesis; later theorists thought it fare to abstractly elevate one to the exclusion of the other.  In some very abstract, ultra-intellectualized form perhaps one can do so.  But [Page 3]   James was concerned not with theorizing for intellectuals but over what faith meant and required in everyday behavior.

            It is this practical element of James that so appeals to me.   I suppose my many years of preaching in the earlier part of my life encouraged that attitude as well.  When it comes to sermonizing there are hardly better texts!   Yet James wasn’t written to provide the “pulpiteer” with appropriate fodder either, though it lends itself quite naturally to that usage.  Indeed, James provides vigorous warnings to individuals who would exercise that role in the church assembly (chapter 3) for he recognizes that they are just as human and subject to failure as everyone else.

            To James no one escapes caution, admonition, and even warning.  Perhaps that is also why the book so appeals to me.  It teaches me that I have just as much to learn as those I would teach.  That I can fall into the very same traps and commit the very same mistakes and transgressions.  That I have no more reason for pride and arrogance than they.  A tad scary for those whose specialty is Biblical exegesis.  But painfully true. 


* * *

            The original of this book was written perhaps about 1998 and intended as the next volume after my two exhaustive analyses of the seven churches of Asia in their historical and social setting.  The editor was unable to consider the volume because he had already committed himself to another major commentary on the subject.

This led to the first two versions (or was it three?) of my Torah Commentary on First Corinthians.  At that time it was a “mere” three volumes and far shorter than what is [Page 4]   now available online.  Unfortunately by when it was completed and it seemed to meet what the publisher was interested in, he felt compelled to make the (quite legitimate) decision that I simply lacked sufficient name recognition to gain buyers for such a lengthy work.  An effort to reduce the material to one volume—by leaving the bulk of it out—simply did seem adequate to the subject even in my own eyes so I laid it aside indefinitely.

Hence, chronologically, this work was originally completed before that of 1 Corinthians.  However I returned to the latter first and the greatly expanded version of that is already available.

            Now, in 2012 to early 2014, I have returned to revise, update, and expand the original James commentary.  The original draft contained only a very modest “Theme Development” section in comparison with the Corinthians material.  Hence this new draft of James encompasses a vastly expanded analysis of this theme to provide it a similar in-depth treatment.

            In Corinthians I utilized a large number of comparative translations and since that seemed to work well in that context, I decided to introduce it here, expanding greatly a far more limited original selection.  Both the Old Testament precedents section and the “Difficult Text” sections have also been expanded with new material not found in the first version of the work.  Hopefully this will further upgrade the usefulness of this to the users.




The Purpose of the “Torah Commentaries”


[Page 5]                      The New Testament represents such “well plowed ground” that it is difficult to imagine a new approach to writing commentaries on the books it contains.  There are “critical,” Greek linguistic studies, edificationary presentations, detailed explanations of each word or phrase, summary analyses and such like.

            Rather than go any of these routes, I believe it would be useful to shift the perspective of this commentary:  Rather than studying the New Testament as an object standing by itself, I would like to set it within the religious perspective and background of the earliest disciples.  That was the Old Testament.  To understand the New Testament anywhere close to how those individuals understood it, it must be from such a standpoint.  Even books that are clearly Gentile-orientated utilize those texts and make repeated use of them.  Hence the usefulness of a series of “Torah Commentaries” on the New Testament writings.   

            Of course, this is verbal short-hand.  Literally, the “Torah” consists merely of the Pentateuch of Genesis through Deuteronomy .  For verbal conciseness, however, it conveys the underlying intent very well.  In my textual studies through several decades, I had never come across a volume that undertook the task from this perspective.  The closest was an interesting rabbinic-centered approach to the gospels I came across a few years before the unexpanded version of the current work.  The most one could hope for were a handful of quotations (usually very few) or a listing of selected Old Testament texts.  Nowadays, though, the topic is finally beginning to get some of the attention it deserves.        

            This volume is typical of how I believe a commentary could be most usefully composed when approached from the direction of fully incorporating the data from the Torah, Prophets, and Writings.  First comes an “Introduction” summarizing the central themes of the book and dealing with such issues as key doctrines and such other matters as the authorship, date, and destination.  In this case we have a separate introductory [Page 6]   chapter for the much contested issue of authorship and another examining the degree of conceptual reliance of the author on the teachings of Jesus.  In the latter we find the conclusion of just about everyone that the only real question is the degree of it and not its existence.     

            Then come the chapter by chapter discussions.  Each has three major divisions:


            (1)  Themes developed—“in which the argument is summarized and a few brief commentary/expository type remarks [presented] to develop the theme.”  That is how I originally wrote it, but in the shaping of the 1 Corinthians material into final draft form, the goal was considerably expanded.  Now each “theme” section functions as a useful “introduction / commentary” in and of itself--for those who are most interested in the broad flow of the argument and far less so in regard to interpretive detail. 


The “themes” section is reminiscent of short “survey” summaries / commentaries that have periodically appeared.  Although a detailed word by word commentary is certainly useful, for most people most of the time this “broad paint brush approach” is quite adequate.  Assuming a moderate knowledge of the scriptural text, the typical individual can grasp the central points being made without having them pounded at dissertation length. 

He (or she) is not concerned so much with making sure the “i’s” are dotted correctly or the “t’s” are crossed neatly.  Not that is unimportant, but that if one has missed the central points, one has missed the intent for which the text was written.  Understanding those points, one can proceed to the details as time and interest permit.

You may find the “themes” section quite adequate for the bulk of your needs.  The other two sections then function as supplementary data that you can look over quickly and concentrate on those parts you wish to pay more attention to.  Parts of each [Page 7]   of these is highly likely to develop the subject in ways you had not anticipated.  But you need use only those parts that are of personal interest to you.  The last thing you need to do (beyond scanning it) is reading every single word when it fails your “personal interest test.” 

In other words, this book is designed to give you more than you probably need.  On the other hand, if you find a particular subject especially fascinating, the material is there for you to have in-depth treatments readily available.  Some people need certain types of information and others different data.  This commentary attempts to provide access to a wide cross-section of those things that might be of special interest and value to the reader—not to all readers, necessarily, but to enough to justify the inclusion of each part of the work.


(2) Old Testament precedent--in which the precedents are developed, as presented under the headings of explicit quotations, conceptual borrowings and allusions, and historical references.  As I got into the Corinthian volumes I found a great deal beyond what I had anticipated.  In contrast, James is a book where the Jewish roots “jump out at you.”  (At least if you take time to search them out.)  So the material covered here obviously requires a great deal of space.

            Again, those subsections that are of most use, will vary from reader to reader.  In some cases they constitute texts that a good cross-reference Bible would have taken you to; in other cases they deal with other ways of making the same point that such sources might easily overlook.  Choose the references that are most useful and feel free to utilize them in your teaching and preaching efforts. 

[Page 8]                      Note carefully that concepts and arguments that could easily appear to be New Testament innovations are revealed to be firmly rooted in the Torah and prophets that preceded it.  This is a major step toward bestowing upon those earlier works the respect they are due and which is easily lost when the New Testament is studied in isolation. 

Furthermore, when it comes to an individual teaching a class on this New Testament epistle, these passages provide a useful collection of citations that can be used to illustrate, explain, and elaborate upon what the epistle is driving at.   Although certain of these passages may be listed in some commentaries, it is far more useful if the reader has the actual text of many of them.  This saves valuable time “flipping through the pages” and allows one to better separate the most useful ones from those of only marginal interest.    

            How much analysis is provided of specific Old Testament texts will vary.  When we are dealing with explicit quotations, the germaneness will sometimes be so obvious that only a brief comment is required.  In other cases, a more detailed analysis will be required as to original intent and setting.   

            Dealing with the Old Testament roots of the New Testament--in both First Corinthians and James--there is just so much available!  Hence we have felt free to go into great detail on a wide variety of precedents.  And yet we have also tried to draw a “mental line in the sand.”  Relevant or not, there does come a point when enough is enough and “overload” time has been reached.  The last trap we want to fall into is being more tedious than enlightening--the very opposite of our goal.  Yet whether brief or detailed, the discussion will always be sufficient to provide the reader with material that [Page 9]   will likely be overlooked in other sources.     


            (3)  Problem texts--in which specific verses posing especially difficult translation or interpretive problems are analyzed.  Sometimes they are “classics” that any commentary will discuss.  Many others, though, are ones likely to get short shrift and minimal (if any discussion). 
            If the apparent difficulty does not immediately jump into one’s own mind, it is likely to be brought to one’s attention when the text is discussed with others.   Hence a guide to a cross-section of the issues involved as well as various means of dealing with them is essential to a work attempting to provide the information a careful reader needs.

            They may not provide you with “the” answer—though I will try to—but they should provide a sufficient array of thought provoking material to help you reach your own conclusion.  As I told my daughters when they were young, “The good Lord gave you a brain; He expects you to use it.”  Merely using what others say leaves you at the mercy of their perceptiveness.  Often it was good, indeed, but none is perfect.  And even the best of commentators will occasionally miss an idea or a thought that would have turned his approach upside down.

            To sum up all we have said, this volume undertakes several complementary goals:   Moderation in  actual commentary text length, problem-solving of difficult and controversial passages, increasing respect for the Torah roots of the New Testament while providing ready access to parallel concepts useful to the teacher. 

            There are several fine translations currently available.  I have selected the New King James Version (NKJV) as my primary text because it is the one I continue to feel [Page 10]   most comfortable with.  (I notice a few cases where I, somehow, utilized the New American Standard Bible in the initial version years ago and apologize if I missed correcting any of these.) 

            In order to hold down the use of copyrighted translations, I have not quoted the text segments in front of each “theme” section, but have left the reader to utilize whatever is his or her favorite translation as their “base text,” jumping off point for the discussion.  An Alternative Translation and Paraphrase of mine is included in its place in conformity with the earlier Torah Commentaries on First Corinthians.  It needs to be stressed that these include a paraphrase element so do not expect “word for word” exactness, but hopefully it will have a certain appeal to those who prefer the latter, as I do. 

For a detailed discussion of the principles behind the ATP, see the in depth discussion in the first volume on First Corinthians.  Here only a few remarks need to be made.  Since the “gender neutral” translation mode is unfortunately now dominant, I have chosen to replace “brethren” when used of all Christians not with “brothers and sisters,” but with a gender neutral term that—like “brethren”—has historically encompassed both genders but where the use of it in a “male” gender context is also firmly established.  Thanks to the fall of international Communism “comrades” has now become available and that, indeed, seems a satisfactory replacement for our purposes here. 

Likewise I have tried to render the rest of the ATP in a similar manner.  One of the more appalling things I have found is that such efforts tend to read unnaturally—it just doesn’t sound right to the ears, at least to one of my generation.  Hopefully the approach I take here will be less open to criticism on that score. 

[Page 11]                    Strangely before the 1970s every reader knew there were times when “man” meant male and other times when it was intended as inclusive of the entire human race.  Only in my own life time has it been decreed that this “can’t” be any longer and therefore won’t be.  To me, the use of “man” to cover both genders testified to what we all share in common as human beings; the grim determination to rule that out of order would seem to more likely encourage inter-gender contempt than the mutual respect feminists insist they seek. 


            A wide variety of translations have been utilized and the contractions utilized for them are listed below:


NKJV             =          New King James Version.  Primary text utilized here,

                                    usually without any designation.


CEV                =          Contemporary English Version

ESV                 =          English Standard Version (2001)


God’s Word    =          God’s Word Translation (1995)

Holman           =          Holman’s Christian Standard Bible

ISV                  =          International Standard Version (2008)

NAB                =          New American Bible [Roman Catholic]

NASB             =          New American Standard Bible (1995)

NIV                 =          New International Version (1984)

NRSV             =          New Revised Standard Version

RSV                =          Revised Standard Version

TEV                =          Today’s English Version      


[Page 12]


ASV                =          American Standard Version

BBE                =          Bible in Basic English           

KJV                =          King James Version

Rotherham     =          Rotherham

WEB               =          World English Bible (a/k/a the Web Bible)

Weymouth      =          Weymouth’s New Testament

Young              =          Young’s Literal Translation





Introductory Issues:  An Overview


            In approaching many of the New Testament writings, the theological assumptions of the critique and the conclusions they reach are intertwined in the proverbial chicken-and-egg question:  which came first?  Did the conclusions as to the date, authorship, and such like, lead to the espousing of a set of assumptions to apply where the evidence is less clear?  Or did the assumptions determine (many/all of) the conclusions that would be reached in the first place?  (In other words, does the evidence create our conclusions or do our pre-existing assumptions determine them?  Or are the two so intermixed that we can’t really tell where one ends and the other begins?) 

[Page 13]   James, though, stands apart from such controversies in its own special way—it is a book where the divisions are profound even within similar theological perspectives.  As one scholar summed it up, “Critics of conservative and liberal persuasion disagree among themselves on such matters as authorship, date, setting, first readers, and literary character.”[1]



1.  The Theme(s) of the Epistle


            The book of James was not written to prove Catholic theology right or Protestant convictions wrong (though it sets in judgment on the excesses of both); rather, it was written to provide practical, down to earth moral guidelines for daily life.  It is the purpose of the current work to examine the basic themes of this book so we can accurately interpret its original intent and its relevance to our own lives.

            In doing this, we divide the individual chapters into major theses and then subdivide it into the supporting arguments invoked to develop each.  This is done so we can grasp the development of the author’s argument and his reasoning behind it.

            But what of the letter as an entirety; what are the core themes he is driving at when we approach the subject from that standpoint?  The epistle we know as “James” is often looked upon as disorganized, as a treatise that drives the person to distraction who wants to lay out a logical development of the text from one subject to another.  This is true.[2]  Some explain the phenomena on the grounds that James consists of the text of an actual oral sermon or is a written sermon that may or may not have been delivered orally.[3]  Others explain the disjointedness on the grounds that, in effect, they are “a collection of sermon notes.”[4]  Another approach is to not be concerned at all with the explanation, but to look at the results.  Looked at this way, James constitutes virtually “a new book of proverbs.”[5]

[Page 14]                    I would suggest that James does such things within an intended interpretive context or structure that can be found in the first chapter.  Rather than use a strictly analytical method of presentation, he lays down three broad themes in that chapter and then develops the application of these to contemporary church problems in the chapters that follow.  As Norman Perrin rightly suggests, James “has no discernible structure.  It simply moves from theme to theme as the mind of the homilist takes him, on the principle of association of ideas or sometimes merely on catchwords.”[6]  Yet even so, these broad themes rise time and again--not as part of some rigid outline, but as concepts and ideas that are so important to his mind that he refers to them repeatedly as these relate to different issues and actions. 

            Oddly enough, the author never explicitly claims the problems he discusses have reached the level of a crisis.  He usually speaks in a low key “tone of voice,” without anathemas or intense vehemence.  Only in the concluding chapter five--where clear anger emerges in the description of the injustice of the wealthy--do we begin to find the fire and vigorous intensity of Paul. 

Yet the situations he so calmly describes carry with them inevitable tensions, if not outright conflict--potentially as explosive as those described in First Corinthians.  Indeed, the situations could not have existed without creating the abiding potential for such.  Hence, in his own manner, James is dealing with the contemporary church problems of his day--either immediately pressing ones or latent ones that could mushroom under the right set of circumstances.

As noted, in the first chapter, he lays the groundwork for these discussions that follow.  The first theme James develops (1:2-4) is the need to endure “trials” (1:2), a term he equates with the “testing of your faith” (1:3)  The person who lacks “wisdom” to understand this fact is to pray to God for the gift and it will be freely granted (1:5-8).  This naturally flows into a topic on which “wisdom” might well be needed:  the fact that [Page 15]   the lower class coreligionist will ultimately receive an “exaltation” while the rich (so far as this life goes at least) “will pass away” (1:9-11)

            The second broad theme is that one must successfully enduring trial/testing because the temptations we face do not come from God but from within (1:12-15).  In reality, only good and desirable gifts come from God (1:16-18).

            The third theme is that the believer must manifest faith by a life of restraint in word and conduct, shunning the destructive and cultivating that which produces positive good (1:19-27).

            These themes are developed in the chapters that follow, in such ways as these.  (Since there are only so many ways to avoid boredom in referring to “theme one” etc. on a repeated basis, we will simply use the contraction #1, #2, #3 in most cases.)  Chapter two begins with the practical intra-church trial of discrimination along class lines:   the wealthy visitor will be given a good place to sit and received with respect while the poor person will only be grudgingly permitted (2:1-7).  To the visiting Christian this double standard of behavior will result in attempted puffery in one case and embarrassment in the other.  From the standpoint of the Christians receiving them it will be ego-massage versus respect for all.

            To avoid this, requires conscious restraint (#3), when one endures it, one needs to be aware that this trial is not originating with anything in God’s plan (#2), and that this is one of the tests one must endure (#3).  From the standpoint of the Christians guilty of receiving others in such a discriminatory fashion, it is a test of their wisdom (#1) and since it is “the way of the world” to act in such a manner, it constitutes a test of their self-control (#3) and ability to overcome the temptation to act in this manner (#1 again).

            Chapter two then develops specific reasons to avoid such discrimination:  It violates the law of love (2:8-9) and the violation of one part of God’s law is just as self-condemnatory as the violation of some other part (2:10-13).   Wisdom is certainly required to admit this (#1) because there is a virtually inherent part of our acquired [Page 16]   human nature that wants us to establish a list of “shalts” and “shalt nots” far shorter in length than that presented in scripture and with a built in ranking of relative priorities as to which may be most safely neglected.  The person on the receiving end of someone exercising such a selective moral code often finds him or herself on the receiving end of some type of trial (#1), which may be felt as even more injurious because it comes from someone who shares our faith.            

            The final section of the chapter (2:14-25) deals with the importance of having an active faith that actually carries out the commitments one knows intellectually.  The discussion is illustrated by the example of the hungry and badly-clad brother or sister who needs “daily food” and all one does is wish them best wishes for the future (2:14-16).  This is a trial or testing (#1) to the well-wisher since it is a chronic temptation to look down on the unfortunate and assume that if they just try harder things will quickly work out.  It is a testing to the one on the receiving end also since immediate assistance is needed and not empty best wishes. 

            It provides the individual denied such necessities a real temptation to blame God for the problem (theme two) when it is really the blindness/lack of wisdom of one’s fellow mortal.  It would be easy to strike out verbally--perhaps physically--to express one’s annoyance rather than to exercise the needed self-restraint (#3).  From the standpoint of the speaker it manifests an amazing lack of wisdom (#1) and a needless putting of a fellow disciple in the way of temptation and provoking them to needlessly violate their obligations of always doing good and of restraint under provocation (#1 and #3).

            Chapter three develops the need for self-control in how we use our tongue in teaching others and illustrates this from the general theme of the difficulty we have in controlling what comes out of our mouths (3:1-12).  The subject of restraint in word (#3)--with a vengeance.  The very stress on how dangerous “fires” can be started (verse 5) and how even “hell” is set on fire by it (verse 6) implies an ease in creating hostile situations that will provide trails for others to endure (the flip side of theme one).

[Page 17]                    The chapter then turns to the kind of conduct that should be avoided, as well as that which is to be encouraged (3:13-18).  Again we have the idea of restraint (#3) and it is explicitly tied in with the demand that we live a life manifesting “wisdom” (3:13, alluding to a subject developed in #1).

            This matter of restraint (#1) is developed at length in chapter four, where the author discusses the origin of conflict among coreligionists and how it can lead to verbally abusing each other (4:1-12).  Since certain of the actions discussed (verse 11 for example) are specifically condemned by scripture, we are faced with the temptation to do wrong (#1) because of our own lack of self-control.

            The remainder of the chapter (4:13-17) involves the confident businessperson who has laid travel plans out for the next few years and is certain of the profits it will bring him.  Here we are concerned with internal restraint (the inward expression of #1).  When the plans fail to work out one may well be tempted to do wrong (#2) and, at the very least, will have to endure heartache and turmoil (#1).

            The final chapter of the book begins (5:1-6) with an indictment of the unjust rich who had cheated their workers out of their wages and, in some sense, “killed the righteous man” (5:6).  They had certainly not exhibited restraint (violating #3)!  It is in this context that restraint (#3) is urged upon those who would endure such things (5:7-12).  Again this was a temptation that might be attributed to God, but as in the underlying second theme of the book, it would not be the case.  It would be their difficult, but necessary, responsibility to endure such stress (#1).

            A positive response (restraint again, #3) is urged consisting of prayer and singing as representative examples (5:13-18).  Yet the door is left open that those who had caused such needless trials might be brought to repentance (5:19-20).


James’ “poverty agenda” in perspective


[Page 18]                    James is not writing a political treatise, though some at both ends of the political spectrum take him as if that were the case.  Right-wingers have been known, in extreme cases, to take James to be a “leveler,” putting everyone on the same level; left-wingers take it as a given.  One scholar provides an example of how, during Pinochet’s Chilean dictatorship half the congregation left one prosperous congregation in annoyance during the reading of the epistle.[7] 

            One would be more than mildly interested in what the text was being used to prove, however.  For to bend James into a political manifesto is to twist the letter into a totally different purpose than its original intent.  And we have the full right to be angry at such a twisted usage of Scripture.  Its purpose is not to tell governments they should be socialists or even the rich that they should be ashamed of their wealth—assuming it was honorably earned and used.

            It was actually aimed at something threatening to all points of the political spectrum:  the obligation to treat the poorer with respect, decency, and helpfulness.  Not the government.  Me.  You.  (In New Testament terms, think of the story of the Good Samaritan.)

            Perhaps this was what drove out those church members:  It was written by a church leader to church members telling church members to treat each other right.  It might have been far easier if the epistle had been instructing the government to act right.  That doesn’t affect you and me a fraction of what James is actually talking about, our individual human obligation to treat others rightly.  Hence it flies in the face of our own arrogant exaggeration of our rights, privileges, and prerogatives.

[Page 19]                    The right winger such as myself often falls into the trap of “rugged independence”—which works for many but not all—and wishes to forget about others not so fortunate.  The left winger wants all kinds of things to be done for such people.  But by the government, not themselves.  By many, these folks are disparagingly called “limousine liberals:”  they are quite happy to spend every last cent of your tax money to provide the help.  Not when it comes out of their own pocket, however.

            And James is not concerned with the poor as an abstract entity, either. Rather with the poor we actually come in contact with—especially church members (chapter 2) and those who work for us (chapter 5).  We don’t come in contact with the bulk of the poorer, but it is the ones we do have association with that is at the heart of his concern.  If there were more alertness on that score, there would be far less argument in regard to the broader category of poor since what we can do we would already be doing.

            Nor is James solely writing on this theme.  He lays before his readers a strong case for the cultivation of the Christian potential for moral excellence—in how we act, in what we say, in how we behave.  His goal is, indeed, revolutionary, but an inner, personal revolution rather than a political one.           

            But, paradoxically, this was nothing new to many—perhaps most—of his readers.  As we shall see in the Old Testament Roots studies, these were pleas firmly rooted in the teachings of the Torah and the Prophets.  And perhaps this is the reason James did not feel the need to insert a lengthy plea not to abandon the gospel in reaction to his words--because they already knew they were supposed to act this way.  The Old Testament had demanded that of them. 

The words they had heard read in the days they were traditionalist Jews demanded the same kind of behavior James was enjoining.  Their challenge lay not in learning something new, but in practicing teaching that was very old indeed.  The same challenge lies with us today.    

[Page 20]


2.  Date of Composition



            There are no internal allusions that require a specific dating for the work.  “There are no references to datable contemporary individuals, events or cultural features (especially people, events or items that passed in[to] obscurity after a given date), partly because we are not dealing with narratives.”[8]  Within that basic reality, individuals have still found enough suggestive evidence to argue for a pre-Jerusalem destruction date (sometimes going decades earlier) and yet also for one that occurred significantly later.



Late Date Indicators

(Post fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70)


Pseudonymity.  If one assumes pseudonymity and a polished Greek style beyond the likely skills of a first century provincial Jew, then one is naturally attracted to a late date for the epistle.[9]  Such a date could be at any point from the closing decades of the first to the middle of the second century. 

            Two factors come into play here in regard to language skills, however:  (1)  an insistence that Greek this fluent was simply not found in first century Palestine and (2) even if it could be found, it was totally unlikely to come from the probable socioeconomic background of the writer.[10]  The more extreme forms of the first assertion have suffered severe blows at the hands of later researchers.[11]

[Page 21]                    Answering the second objection typically involves invoking the reality of Palestine being a region where one was certain to run into copious amounts of Greek and Aramaic, not to mention Hebrew in the synagogue—and perhaps in religious discourse outside it as well (the Hebrew of the Talmud certainly argues for its widespread use independently of preserving the ancient manuscripts).

            It is hard to imagine any education that was received as a child not including at least some Greek since it was an international language they would inevitably come in contact with in business affairs and, even more so, if they were expected to do any significant traveling inside or outside the region.  This would be enhanced by practical experience speaking it in business matters.  As W. Wueliner has cynically summed up the real life situation:  “there is more rhetoric to be experienced in one hour in the marketplace (or even in the nursery) than in one day in the academy.”[12]

            Assuming that this “James” came from Nazareth—whether he was the physical brother of Jesus or someone who shared the same name--their shared living in Nazareth made them specially susceptible to a greater contact with Greek speakers than many others.  Nazareth was only five miles from Sepphoris—the second largest city in Galilee and once its capital.  It was undergoing a major building boom in the 20s and it takes no great feat of imagination to picture both men regularly working in the city and discoursing with its people.[13]  Not a “literary” education in Greek, but a quite practical immersion in how the language was used in everyday speech. 

            In light of the heavy number of Gentiles in Galilee, one would expect Jews to have to learn their language as a matter of everyday survival and business.  Whether it was a Gentile majority throughout the region or only in certain cities,[14] the end result [Page 22]   would have been much the same:  To get by on a long-term basis, you needed a working knowledge of Greek.

            The argument that a religious epistle to Christians could not have been written from geographic Palestine before the destruction of Jerusalem seems a lost cause.  Are we to seriously believe that the leading figures were totally without written (and verbal) communication throughout the region and into the surrounding world?  Are we really to believe that they abandoned them to the “wolves” by having no communication with them? 

The inter-related problem, however, is the quality and skill of the writing.  In all candor, whichever “James” we attach the epistle to, we simply do not know enough of his specific background to prove that he had such a literary capacity.  The reverse, however, is also true:  we do not have enough specific background data to prove (or give probability) that it would have been beyond his capacity either.  We are working with extremely skimpy data.

            We do have one indirect evidence however.  There are repeated and varied indications of the kind of “Semitic intrusions” one would expect from someone who has a Jewish background but is working in a different language.  In other words, he has a bicultural backround and the primary one is not Hellenistic.

            To avoid this conclusion some have argued that our “James” is a translation of an Aramaic original by a person well grounded in a Hellenistic (but still Jewish) background.  In some variants, this involves the assumption that the translator has added a polished “coat” to the rhetoric that it simply lacked in the original.[15] 

[Page 23]                    This really does sound like a case of Occam’s razor needing to be invoked:  don’t multiply hypotheses needlessly.  Especially since, for the scenario to work, the translator essentially reworked the language so drastically that it now has the kind of word play that one would expect in a composition originally composed in Greek.[16]  This would not be translation; it would be like gutting a car and rebuilding it entirely.    


            Anointing elders.  The reference to the work of elders in anointing the sick could be read as an indication that “elders” had become a very formal position in the church with superior authority and prerogatives unique due to their “clerical” status.  However, the text of James points out that the confession a penitent believer should make could be made to any person and not just to them (5:16).  Furthermore, the position of elder is documented in Acts in the very early church (Acts 11:30; Acts 15:2) and an anointing with oil had been carried out at least by the apostles during Jesus’ life time (Mark 6:13).  These firm precedents existed in the very early years.[17]  Nor is there any attempt by this “James” to assert a position of superior authority;[18] none of his arguments hinge upon such a self-conception. 

Hence their existence and actions could just as easily fit an early date for the epistle.  Nothing requires them to be evidence for a post-Jerusalem dating.  Indeed, nothing actually even encourages them to be.


Doctrine of faith.  If the doctrine of faith assailed by James is that of Paul,[19] then a Pauline era (or post-Pauline era) date is natural.  Yet when we read the actual text of James 2, the argument centers not on the essentiality or even centrality of faith to salvation, but upon the folly of resting it on that alone.  It is not that faith is not vital or central to redemption, it is that it must be manifested in everyday life through our behavior and conduct.  Paul might well have worded the concept differently, but it is hard [Page 24]   to see how he would have had difficulty with the root concept.  Hence an early Pauline or even pre-Pauline date is quite reasonable

            The Pauline doctrine objection is developed by some with the addendum that the question of the relationship of works and faith is simply not “understandable from Jewish presuppositions alone.”[20]  On the other hand John the Baptist is described as facing individuals who came to him to be baptized who lacked any desire to set their lives right.  He threw at them the rebuke that being children of Abraham alone was inadequate; God could create more of those from the stones of the desert if He wished (Matthew 3:7-9).

The rebuked thought that only the proper action was all that was required; John stressed that it had to come out of the right motive as well.  So the relationship between internal conviction and external behavior was not one alien to the Jewish mind, at least not to John as he is pictured in the New Testament.  


Number of congregational faults.  The variety and number of faults specified in the epistle has led to the speculation that, “If the Christian congregations in any part of the empire answered to the description [found here], an early date for the epistle is scarcely possible.”[21]  James does not assert that all of these faults were found in any one place.  At the most, he knew they existed somewhere among those groups he wrote to.  Lumping them all together allowed him to denounce a wide variety of evils rather than limiting himself to the difficulties in one particular location.  And if anyone really believes that even a modest number of congregations couldn’t accumulate all these problems within their number, they are a hopeless (and unrealistic) optimist.  


Indicators that Could Point in Either Direction


[Page 25]                    Their religious name.  If the “name” they were called was Christians (James 2:7), that was already in use by the time of Paul’s conversion (Acts 11:26).[22]  One does not have to venture very far into the history of the early church to account for the phenomena.             


            Their own meeting place. The fact that the assemblies the Christians met in were distinctly their own rather than the traditional Jewish synagogue (chapter 2) has been argued as implying a later rather than earlier date.[23]  Of course there is the question whether at a later date they would even have called it a “synagogue” rather than some other label. 

That they would have wanted and sought their own meeting places when the level of tension reached a certain level with traditionalist Jews would have been an inevitable human response to the situation—removing oneself from where the problem is.  Hence their use of a place rented by or through a member on behalf of the group—or even owned by such a person—seems both a natural and early development. 

If we know that “specialized” synagogues existed—in Jerusalem we read of “the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia)” (Acts 6:9)—does it seem all that improbable that tensions with traditionalists would eventually (and at a comparatively early date) result in “synagogues of the Christians” (or a conceptual equivalent) popping up in the Diaspora as opportunity and finance permitted? 

Or de facto “synagogues,” at least, in that rented or loaned facilities were utilized?  A step above “house congregations” and below a congregationally owned facility in the fully developed sense.  Think “warehouse space” perhaps.  Falling out of the third floor window at Troas argues for such a location since it would be extraordinary to find a private home with three stories (Acts 20:7-12).

Furthermore since the distinctively Christian day of worship was Sunday (Acts 20:7) and traditionalist synagogues were hardly likely to wish to “loan” their facilities for such a purpose(!), the development of locations of their own would have had to occur at a [Page 26]   fairly early date when and where private homes could no longer meet the space requirements of the group. 

Of course one could argue for such an extremely early date that this sense of alienation—on both sides—had not yet developed or been generally recognized among the synagogues.  Especially among those outside of Judaea and Jerusalem in particular.  (See Point 2 under “Early Date Indicators,” below.)  But that itself would constitute further evidence against any proposed late date.


              Persecution.  Some have read the text as reflecting a climate of persecution.[24]  There is nothing  in the text clearly pointing to them suffering per se for their faith, however.  (The one possible exception is 2:7.)  There was suffering, certainly, but it was—at least primarily--the abuse of the powerless by the powerful (chapter 5).  If faith enters the picture at all, it probably was as balm to the souls of the guilty who rationalized away their conduct on the grounds that not only did such lowly creatures “deserve” their treatment but they were believers in Jesus as well.

            Furthermore persecution was hardly post-70 in origin.  Indeed, due to their presence in Jerusalem prior to the Jewish Revolt, the Christian community would have been a tempting target for anger that would be dangerous to expose to the Romans.  In other words, they would have served as ideal scapegoats.  And there is, of course, the early persecution specifically targeting them (Acts 8:1-4).


            Before moving from late date to early date indicators, we should note the effort to weave both together through a scenario of multi-stage composition.  In this view, the contents were written in the forties and were circulated for an unknown period of time when an editor wove together from the various writings what we have today as the book of James.[25] 

[Page 27]                    James is not that long a book to begin with (a modest five chapters).  One wonders why sections--to be blunt, sections little more than mere fragments--would enjoy a separate existence for decades before being woven together into a composite work.  Why would they continue to be reproduced, without format or pattern, during the earlier period?  And if regarded as satisfactory in that form, one would anticipate some major external event motivating the compilation of it all into one work--of which there is no obvious or compelling hint in the book.


Early Date Indicators

(Pre-fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70)


                        In contrast to the failure of the “late date” indicators, there is significant internal evidence that points toward an early date.


            (1)  The description of the recipients as members of “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (1:1).  If there were significant number of Gentile (or even Samaritan converts) at this time, the ethnic reference would be improbable.[26]  One would anticipate either the description of the readers as “beloved,” “called,” “believers” or some similar term that would encompass both Greek and Gentile.  Alternatively one would expect a geographic location as to the designated recipients.  To take the expression as only meaning the total community of Christians worldwide[27] surely strips the expression of the ethnic element inherent in the expression. 

            Although considering the church the new Israel is not without New Testament precedent (Romans 2:25-29; possibly, Galatians 6:16), a “tribal” division of believers is unknown in such texts.  Likewise, what would the Christian “dispersion” consist of?  To speak in terms of the expression meaning “the hostile world in which they live”[28] would be true only if the term means the entire world.  The expression had traditionally carried [Page 28]   the element of contrast between where they had been (geographic Palestine) versus where they now were (scattered everywhere else).  If this approach is to be taken, it would be better to make the contrast one between their currently diverse homes in this world and their true, ultimate “heavenly homeland.”[29] 

            First Peter (1:1) is written to the “pilgrims,” the same Greek word rendered “scattered abroad” in James.  This is used to justify interpreting the Diaspora in James as equivalent to believers.  On the other hand, Peter goes on to make this a dispersal among “Pontus, Galatia” and three other provinces (1 Peter 1:1).  Unlike James 1:1, he does not use it as an all encompassing term but in the sense of believers in a very specific area.  Nor is there any allusion to a tribal division.[30]  Even in Peter, there is nothing to preclude a literal dispersion due to local persecution, scattering Christians into a wider section of the area then they otherwise would have gone.      

            The marking of early Christians to protect them from destruction is described in Revelation 7:4-8 as occurring to the twelve tribes and this has been cited as proof that the image can be applied to Christians in general.[31]  In Revelation, however, the tribes conspicuously do not match the traditional list of tribal identifications.  In addition not all of the tribes but only a certain number from each tribe, i.e., the Christian minority of the ethnically Jewish population.  Hence we are again forced to blend the ideas of ethnicity and Christian faith. 

Furthermore, the emphasis on the strictly Jewish roots of the Christians argues for an earlier date for the Apocalypse than is often given.  To the extent that Revelation 7 can be introduced at all, it would provide further evidence that at the time James wrote Christians were exclusively—or overwhelmingly—still of Jewish ethnicity.  The mushrooming of Gentile converts had not yet occurred.   


[Page 29]                    (2)  The description of the meeting place of believers as a “synagogue” (“assembly,” in the NKJV of 2:2).  This may easily argue for a period when Christians were still so close to Judaism in their mental outlook that they voluntarily (instinctively?) adopted the vocabulary of the place of worship to their own usage.[32]  The breach with traditional Judaism had not reached the point where the use of the conventional Jewish term did not seem incongruous. 

            Alternatively (and pointing toward an even earlier date), the language could reasonably point to groups of Jesus believers still meeting in Jewish synagogues.[33]  This is not as incongruous as it might sound:  since the Christians worshipped on the first day of the week (Sunday) (Acts 20:17; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4) rather than the seventh day (Sabbath/Saturday) in the early years they might well be permitted in certain places to utilize the facility on their own special day.  Just as we read in Acts of Christians utilizing the facilities of the temple for years after their conversion.  In Jerusalem alone there were three hundred or more synagogues at the time of the destruction in AD 70.[34] 

The larger the number of synagogues in a given community, the more likely for a limited period of time in which such was acceptable procedure.  Especially the further away from Jerusalem you got.  But can we realistically expect such generosity to have gone on for more than five or ten years after Jesus’ death or for it to have been so general a practice that James considered “your synagogue” as applicable language to all Christian places of worship as he apparently does?  Could that many possibly been friendly?       

            The argument that the incident being described in chapter two represents an illustration from contemporary traditional synagogue practice[35] does not fit with the description  your synagogue” (2:2).  Furthermore, it is introduced by a warning not to “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (2:1).  This also makes us anticipate a discussion of something that would happen in the meeting of believers in Jesus.    

            Nor is the situation improved by claiming that the term “synagogue” is used ironically:  You are acting like people in the synagogue do and you know full well such behavior should not characterize believers in Jesus.[36]  Yet the very wording of the verses [Page 30]   that follow seems to argue that they took such behavior for granted; they were not aware that it was irreconcilable with their faith in Christ.  Nor that their Jewish roots should have prohibited it.


            (3)  The lack of any reference to the problems of Gentile believers and their relationship to the Jewish law and traditions.  Since this only became a problem as the result of the successes of Paul’s ministry, we would naturally seek a date prior to that, when all Christians were of Jewish ethnicity or were Gentile proselytes to Judaism.[37]  Some would find an answer to this in a reversal of the chronology:  James was written so much later than the Judaizing controversies that it was no longer relevant and hence not mentioned.[38]  If so, then James presupposes Paul’s doctrine of faith--since it had been delivered decades in the past--and one seems forced to consider chapter two a reaction to (rejection of?) it.  Would such an epistle be expected to overcome Paul’s doctrine after it had been so long established?  For that matter is it likely there would have remained a sufficiently strong traditionalist Jewish presence in the church universal to make it a rational goal at such a date?


            These factors point to the epistle being written within the first decade or two of Christianity’s existence.  This commentator’s opinion--and by its nature the issue can not be conclusively proved--a date within about the first ten years after Jesus’ death best fits the subject matter that is included as well as the themes that are omitted.  If written by James the apostle, then one must take a date no later than spring of 44 (see our discussion of authorship in the next chapter). 


            Authorship as determining dating.  If we assume the author was James the brother of Jesus, then we must seek a date no later than AD 62 or 63, since Josephus indicates that he was killed at that time.[39]  Yet the total absence of Gentile issues argues [Page 31]   that the epistle was written prior to the Jerusalem Council meeting of AD 48 or 49 that discussed in detail the question of the relationship of Gentile believers to the Jewish law.[40]  On the other hand, if we are pushed by this chain of reasoning into the Forties, why should there be any a priori difficulty with the epistle being written, say, only five or six years earlier, which would enable it to have an apostolic authorship?[41]

            If one dates the epistle early, there is the tendency to date it very early.  For example, “about the year 45 A.D.”[42] 

James B. Adamson goes beyond this and insists that the work is “unequivocally . . .  the oldest extant uninterpolated document of early first-century Christianity.”[43]  He believes it could date back into the 30s[44] and must be dated prior to Paul’s first missionary journey from Antioch which he dates as 44 A.D.—the controversy over Gentiles only began during/after that missionary tour and the book of James has absolutely no mention of it.[45]  He argues that the Diaspora that he wrote to was that created by Paul’s persecution in Acts 8:1.[46]

Although we normally take the introductory words of James 1:1—“to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”—as a reference to the entire civilized world, it doesn’t explicitly say that (the counter argument, of course, being that was the normal usage and assumes it).  In all fairness, however, it should be noted that  Acts speaks in terms of a more limited Diaspora as well:  “a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (8:1) and “therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (8:4). 

[Page 32]                    A persecution that was this intense could easily result in the kind of economic suppression described.  What better reason to cheat a person of wages than because of them following that “heretical Nazarene”?  This allowed “secular” aims (wealth accumulation) to be accomplished under a “religious” pretext.

Furthermore in such a context would not the “death [of] the righteous man” (James 5:6) be no less than the execution of the martyr Stephen whose  characterization as “righteous” would surely fit a man who, in death, could cry out, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 8:59).        

            Adamson does not give an estimate for the date of the “scattering abroad” in Acts 8 which was, it seems, in the short term after Stephen’s murder.  Most estimates appear to place it in 35 or 36 A.D.   Would this not suggest a date of 37 or 38 for the epistle if James has this limited Diaspora in mind?

            At the other end of the range for James’ life (and just beyond it), it should be noted that economic suppression of the poorer citizens mushroomed in the early 60s prior to the outbreak of the Great Revolt in 66 A.D.[47]  Josephus refers to how the procurator Albinus (62-64 A.D.) “in his official capacity [stole] and plunder[ed] private property and burden[ed] the whole nation with extraordinary taxes.”[48]  “The crimes of Albinus were, for the most part, perpetrated in secret and with dissimulation,” writes Josephus.[49]  But when his successor took over (Gessius Florus, 64-66 A.D.), virtually anything was permitted so long as the procurator got his share of the proceedings.[50] 

Oppression of the unprotected laborers would be rampant in such a social setting and would fit that described by James.  Of course, this “class” would be easy targets for such even under the best of circumstances.  The lawless attitude of the procurators would have simply encouraged the intensification of an existing societal problem.  In other words, the depicted abuse of power by the powerful would fit any time from the 30s through the 60s.

[Page 33]



3.  Destination of the Epistle





            Ethnically, the intended audience consists either exclusively or overwhelmingly of Jews:  “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (1:1).  This was the traditional description of the Jewish Diaspora whether the bulk of Jews still lived in geographic Palestine or not.[51] 

Furthermore, even if one refuses to embrace this as the author’s intention, there was a first century event the expression could allude to:  the literal dispersion of Christians referred to in Acts 8:1, which is the only time we read of them being involuntarily dispersed.[52]  Nor should it be forgotten the even earlier Diaspora of Jewish Christians:  The initial converts, according to Acts 2:9-11, came from a wide range of locations so the faithful would have been voluntarily dispersed in the months and--at most--few years afterwards as these individuals returned to their homelands.[53]

Interpreting the “dispersed” in either the universal traditional (and most probable) sense of the term or by the meaning that might be arrived at from Acts 2 or 8, provides powerful  evidence to an extremely early date for the epistle.  Indeed, if former members of the Jerusalem church, it would be especially appealing for James to wish to steer them in the right direction even after they had set down roots in other communities.[54]  And if not such members, his sense of spiritual obligation would surely have still motivated him to ground them further in proper Christian behavior.

[Page 34]                    Either way, some challenge the Jewish Christians as the (primary or exclusive) designated readers by going to 1 Peter 1:1’s use of the term.  That text provides us with a geographic location attached to the label, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”

            It is commonly argued[55] that this was written to at least predominantly Gentile congregations.  The difference between James and Peter’s “diaspora,” it is argued, is that in the latter’s letter we have clear cut and precise information of such being present.  We should, if you will, “carry over” the assumption that a similar broadness of usage is intended when we find it in James. 

On the other hand, since we lack such evidence in James, isn’t the reverse argument the better one--that the utter silence makes it very improbable that James is writing to anyone but predominantly or exclusively Jewish followers of Jesus? [56]  Furthermore is it good argumentation to reverse the normal usage of Diaspora to make the term refer to overwhelmingly/exclusively Gentile instead of Jewish congregations?  Aren’t we guilty of reversing normal usage in order to prove our point?

            A quick scan through the book shows that there are three texts in 1 Peter that seem to provide potential backing for including Gentiles in the Diaspora or to make them the core allusion in the usage of the term.  The first one is found in 1:14, “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance” and that certainly does sound more like a description made of Gentiles rather than Jews though no concrete ethnicity is expressed. 

[Page 35]                    On the other hand, was desire-preference-self-centered driven behavior really all that uncommon among Jews?  Does it not impose upon Jews the inherent assumption of greater morality than the community often actually had?  (As witnessed by the indictment of everyday behavior in the Old Testament prophets!)

            1 Peter 2:12 speaks of the recipients as “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  The language could either be distinguishing them from the Gentiles (i.e., they are Jews) or encouraging Gentile believers that they will ultimately gain the overdue respect they have earned. 

If they were mainly/exclusively Gentile, would not the expected language not have been an ethnic style reference to “Gentiles” but a broader description along the lines of “among those you live and work”?  An ethnic reference makes better sense if the described group is of different “racial” stock.  

            Finally there are two verses in chapter 3, “(3) For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  (4) In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.” 

This sounds like Gentiles who have changed their lifestyle drastically being reminded of the unpleasant fact that “they [the majority of Gentiles] think it strange” that they have done so.  Alternatively, the wording is compatible with the subject matter being Jews who had once been living like Gentiles and who are now scorned for living how they (as Jews) should have been living in the first place.

Furthermore the writer speaks of how “we have spent enough of our past lifetime [Page 36]   in doing the will of the Gentiles:”  the “we” would normally suggest an author of the same ethnicity as those being described since the author includes himself as being within the group.  (Of course we can opt for it being merely a rhetorical “we” and that is the most likely probability.)

            Although not hostile to there being a predominantly Gentile readership for First Peter, the evidence seems to fall short of conclusive--more into the “very intriguing” than “obligatory” category.  Even if interpreted as conclusively verifying the presence of Gentiles, the very absence of even the hint of such in James surely argues--at least equally strongly--against them being a major element in those congregations. 

Nor should we overlook the fact that James writes to the Diaspora period while 1 Peter is written to the part of it in the specific areas he mentions at the beginning of the epistle.  It is not impossible that these Christians had been “scattered about/dispersed” in their own mini-Diaspora due to regional persecution or adversity, making the language relevant on that ground.   

            Once again we return to the use of the expression “your synagogue” (James 2:2), which argues that we are dealing with individuals who would normally be expected to meet in a synagogue, i.e., Jews.[57]   When Abraham is described as “our father” (5:21), the most natural interpretation is that the readers were, ethnically, his descendants; again, Jews.[58]  

Unlike 1 Peter we have a clear-cut lack of language that provides apparent reference to a Gentile component.  Hence, even if we concede that “Diaspora” includes Gentiles in 1 Peter (due to the texts that make it a reasonable proposition), would we not be compelled to argue that the absence of any such distinguishing language requires a Jewish—overwhelmingly or exclusively—audience in James?   

[Page 37]


Physical Location of the Recipients


            Geographically, there are no significant hints.  The broadness of the wording of the epistle argues that its use was anticipated in more than one location.  Indeed, this has led some to believe that it was literally a “general” epistle, i.e., for all places where there were Christians.[59] Others think it was especially for those in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire[60] or, in a slightly more restricted compass, those “scattered throughout the area east of the Mediterranean Sea.”[61]  

            Some expect a primarily Syrian audience though conceding a possible intended readership in Babylonia as well.[62]  Some suggest the possibility of Syrian Christians in non-urban congregations in particular.[63]  Syria would certainly be near-enough to geographic Palestine to postulate an early epistle since it would be the most immediate area of probable Christian expansion. 

Specifying “non-urban communit[ies]”[64] seems overly specific without clearer data in the epistle itself to fuel the speculation.  The reference to the farmer and the rain (5:7) is an allusion clear to urban as well as rural audiences and, therefore, provides no significant evidence toward the latter as the recipients of the epistle.[65]  A Syrian destination has been argued against on the grounds that the earliest known Syrian canon did not embrace the book of James until the Peshitta version appeared.[66] 

            The city of Antioch has been suggested as the primary destination.[67]  To others, the city of Caesarea has been termed “as a good a guess as any.”[68]  On the other hand, one wonders what would point one toward that specific a location or, for that matter, any single city destination.

            The scarcity of explicitly “Christian” references--in the sense that they are found in epistles from other New Testament authors--has led to attempts to partly remove the [Page 38]   work from roots in Christianity.  One theory has been that it was originally written to non-Christians but was slightly modified for a audience that believed in Jesus.[69]  On that scenario, one wonders why the adaptations were neither more numerous nor more explicit. 

            Others have thought in terms of an epistle written to Jews and Christianized Jews.[70]  Although that would certainly explain the way the explicitly “Christian” teaching usually seems to be lying just below the surface or just over the horizon, one wonders what type of situation would have allowed one to anticipate that significant number of both groups would be receptive to the document.  The only way this writer can imagine it is one that places it within a handful of years (or less) after Jesus’ death, which does not seem to provide enough time for the amount of gospel spread assumed by the broad description of its designated readers—the Diaspora.  That would seem to require at least a few more years than this “mixed” readership approach permits.  Fast as the gospel spread, we still must leave enough time for it to occur on a geographically widespread basis. 

            It has been argued, however, that even “as late as AD 80/90 in Palestine it was necessary to take special steps to bar believing Jews from the synagogues.”[71]  Even so, the later one dates it after the resurrection, the less inherent probability of having any significant Jewish traditionalist audience as its targeted readers.                                                 



 4.  Place of Writing


            Assuming an early date or an authorship by a kinsman of Jesus or an apostle, then one would suspect it was written in geographic Palestine.  Jerusalem would be the most obvious probability.[72]  If one assumes pseudonymity on the basis of the skill in Greek of the author, then one would be more likely to have found it written in a more cosmopolitan center, with a far greater influence of Hellenism upon its inhabitants.[73]

[Page 39]                    Regardless of authorship, a considerable number of allusions to phenomena that are common in geographic Palestine (though admittedly in other areas of the region as well), point to an origin either in that country or somewhere else in the Roman East,[74]


                        The author’s native land was situated not far from the sea (1:6; 3:4);

and was blessed with valuable productions, such as figs, oil, and wine (3:12). 

The land was much exposed to drought; and there was often scarcity of

[agricultural] products for want of rain (5:17-18).  Sudden devastations of

the vegetative kingdom were occasioned by a fiery wind (1:11).  The early

and latter rains were familiar (5:7). 


            The reference to early and latter rains--a phrase often found in the Old Testament--is perhaps the strongest argument explicitly pointing to either Palestine or the southern section of adjoining Syria.[75]  As noted, if written from geographic Palestine, the automatic assumption would be from Jerusalem.[76]  


The Antioch option.  Antioch has been suggested due to the belief that James indicates knowledge of materials utilized by the gospel of Matthew:[77]  quite a few Matthewean allusions have been pointed to.[78]  And that gospel in particular is often associated with Antioch. 


The Roman option.  Rome is proposed based on the book’s alleged usage in 1 Peter and by First Clement.  The latter (possibly the former as well) came from that city.[79]  The alleged use of Shepherd of Hermas, also of Roman origin, has been regarded by some as particularly credible since both use an uncommon Greek term and do so in the same context, that of prayer.[80]  Hermas is sometimes dated in the 90s or, seemingly more [Page 40]   commonly, in the 140s.  First Clement is usually placed in the mid-90s, though a minority view opts for the 60s.  Regardless of exact dating, such usage at the heart of the Roman Empire would have further encouraged the use and acceptance of James by others.     

Neither the epistle’s usage of the Septuagint nor its unusually good Greek require a non-Judaean site at all, however,[81] especially since there is significant evidence that the language was widely used in both Jerusalem and the broader country.[82]  

If the author is James of Jerusalem spoken of in Acts, then this is a man who had to work with Greek speaking Jews from early on--the “Hellenists” who are distinguished from the Hebrews in Acts 6:1.  He was part of a church leadership in that city that could write about circumcision “to the brethren who are of the Gentiles” in Greek (Acts 15:23). 

Furthermore, as a native of a region with so many Gentiles that the area could be called “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15), it is hard to imagine him being raised without a workable and probably in depth knowledge of the language. 

If Jerusalem was his normal residence from early after the resurrection—as is typically assumed—then by the late 40s he already had “up to twenty years experience in a bilingual movement.”[83]  And, to the extent that he was deeply involved in it, that would have required regular usage of the language.  Furthermore, during this period “his literary style would have improved with his frequent need to teach and preach before a variety of groups.”[84]

Assuming a variety of intellectual and skill levels within the Hellenist Jewish Christian community—as within the native Hebrew / Aramaic speakers for that matter—one would have been startled if the movement lacked several or more speakers of Greek [Page 41]   who used it with unusually great capability.  What he learned from their example could hardly have avoided markedly increasing his own knowledge and skill level[85] and prepared him for writing this work.  

Assuming that he used an amanuensis because of his personal limitations—and it is only that, an assumption—one would have expected a trusted helper like this to work out any places where the original text lacked the maximum impact due to it being written by someone more comfortable in a different language.[86]  So a quite “presentable” Greek epistle would make full sense from either approach.        


The Egyptian option.  Other alternatives that have been suggested include Alexandria, Egypt--due to similarities between the writings of the Jewish philosopher-theologian Philo and the book of James.[87]  However, analysts have been known to flat deny the validity of that claim, arguing that any similarities are too superficial to be significant.[88] 

There is also the fact that three pseudo-James works are preserved at Nag Hammadi, an indication of keen interest in the church leader in Egypt.[89]  However connecting the Biblical author James with Egypt by this means works best with the assumption that, like with the other documents, the attribution to the historic James is a mere literary fiction. 

Assuming the work is genuine, however, the evidence would more properly be read as an indication why those in the region would have a special interest in preserving material attributed to that figure, i.e., they had a pre-existing interest in him.  Which would also explain the misattribution of these other works to him in the first place.  (You don’t attribute a work to Paul, for example, if you hate his guts.  But you might if you [Page 42]   regarded him as authoritative and admirable and regarded such fictions as merely being “the kind of things he would have written.”)

For your general historical information, it should be remembered that—writing location aside--there was certainly a strong religious tie between geographic Palestine and Egypt.  Jerome spent over three decades in one or both places and Origen also spent a large chunk of his life divided between the two. [90]  These were Gentiles, but in regard to Jews such a “pull” would also exist.

When things became especially uncomfortable for Palestinian Jews—after the Second Jewish Revolt Jerusalem was stripped of its name and made a Gentile community with the name Aelia Capitolina—many would feel the pull of Alexandria with its huge Jewish population.  Especially with the Gentile segment becoming ever more dominant in a church that began as exclusively “theirs.”  Hence any work that originated among Palestinian Christians would find Alexandria a very natural site for it to be preserved in.[91]  Which is a significantly different matter than being the place it was written.



5.  Reason for Writing


            James does not refer to any specific incident as motivating his letter.  On the other hand, the way he describes the internal bickering of wealthy against poor (chapter two) and over-weening self-confidence of Christian businesspeople (chapter five) argues that he was seeing a pattern developing that alarmed him.  It wasn’t, therefore, so much any one controversy or any one location that called forth his plea for a re-examination of their behavior, but the fear that their fundamental attitudes were improper and desperately needed correction.[92]  


[Page 43]

6.  Canonicity


            The earliest list of New Testament books--the Muratorian Canon--does not include James on its list;[93] c. 180 A.D. is the usual dating.[94]  Similarly the Old Latin translation of the New Testament lacks the work.[95]

            Eusebius spoke of it being among the books whose place in the canon had been questioned, yet quotes as authoritative scripture the words of James 4:11.[96]  In the eyes of his contemporaries, the major problem was that few earlier writers had quoted its contents.[97]

            Yet the lack of as many citations or quotations of its arguments as would be desirable is not necessarily unexpected.  After all, it is a practical book of conduct and not “doctrinally” orientated in the sense that Paul is so often.  Tools in the fight against various “heretical” movements were sought.  There would be limited use of James in such a religio-social context.

            Furthermore the fact that the Apocryphon of James and The Gospel of Thomas advocates were appealing to James of Jerusalem as one of the sources for their “secret teaching” may well have created a certain reserve--among some—even toward anything genuinely originating with him.[98]  In other words “guilt by association” though the very dramatic disparity between his genuine work in the epistle and these exotic speculations should have been adequate to use as a hammer against any theory that such a plain spoken man would, for a moment, have countenanced such a form of teaching.  

[Page 44]                    Furthermore, as a “special” place for Mary began to gain ground, even James as “brother of the Lord” became an embarrassment for those who thought that her special sexual “purity” must have been preserved throughout her marriage to Joseph.[99]  To reconcile “perpetual virginity” and “brothers” took some agile intellectual foot work and not having to deal with it at all by considering the epistle non-canonical eliminated much of the need to explain the situation.  (Alternatively, “that James was a different James than this one” produced the same result.)

            Origen notes the mixed feelings that existed on the canonicity, yet quotes the text of the epistle as well.[100]  Indeed, Origen cites it as by “the brother of the Lord”[101] and cites James 4:7 as from “James the apostle.”[102]  The latter would seemingly guarantee canonicity if the attribution is accepted as accurate.  The apparent conflation of “the apostle” and “the brother” would naturally make it possible to argue that his “confusion” as to which it actually was means the canonicity deduction should be taken with an equal grain of salt as well.    

But since the brothers became disciples at some point, where is the proper a priori objection to that James’ inspiration as well?  It might be challenged as uncertain (unlike an apostles’) but surely not excluded.  (The tension between the two statements would also be removed if one considers the physical “brother of the Lord” to be identical with the James that was an apostle.)      

The surviving writings of Clement of Alexandria contain no quotations from the book, yet Eusebius tells us that this Clement thought sufficiently highly of it to have written a commentary interpreting it.[103]  Furthermore there is the oddity that when Clement discusses Jesus’ prohibition of oaths, he utilizes the formulation as found in James rather than the gospel account.  As Ben Witherington notes,[104]

[Page 45]

James 5:12 has a definite article before the first occurrence of both nai (“yes”) and ou (“no”), and this form of the saying recurs in Justin’s First Apology 16.5 and Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis 5.99.1; 6.67.5.  That these later Christian writers follow the form of the saying in James rather than in either Matthew or Paul suggests perhaps that James preserved the earliest form of the saying or that the homily of James had more widespread influence in the early church than is sometimes thought.


Verbal similarities in the writings of Clement of Rome and Ignatius, as well as other writings of the early centuries, have been introduced as evidence that the epistle had enjoyed a considerable readership and impact[105] regardless of whether any specific endorsement of its canonicity is made.  Of course, in this kind of situation the book is at least being endorsed as reliable, if not inspired.    

            First Clement is especially interesting—whether dating it in the late first century or the early second:[106]

            1.  First Clement 23:3:  “2 So let us not be double-minded; neither let our soul be lifted up on account of His exceedingly great and glorious gifts.   4 Far from us be that which is written, ‘Wretched are they who are of a double mind, and of a doubting heart; who say, These things we have heard even in the times of our fathers; but, behold, we have grown old, and none of them has happened to us.’ ”  Note that what is quoted is “that which is written,” typical euphemism for Scripture.  Applying it to James at this early a day would be especially significant.   

[Page 46]        Compare James 1:  “5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

            2.  First Clement 30:2 quotes Proverbs 3:34 in the same way as 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6:  “For God," says [the Scripture], "resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

            James 4:6:  “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ ”

            3.  First Clement 38:2:  “Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by [mere] words, but through good deeds.”

            James 3:13:  “Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.”

            The allusion/quotation of James seems reinforced by the very preceding words of First Clement:  “Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor [cf. James 1:27]; and let the poor man bless God [cf. James 3:9], because He has given him one by whom his need may be supplied.”


            If we move forward in time a bit to the Shepherd of Hermas we find a document most likely no later than about the middle of the second century.  Allowing time for his work to become popular, he must be around that time at the latest:  (1)  Irenaeus refers to him and he is dated c. 175.[107]  (2) Similarly the Muratorian Fragment does as well (dated c. 180).[108]

[Page 47]                    Hermas utilizes a Greek word that is found no earlier in Greek literature than James’ epistle and finds a use for it no less than three times in his own work[109]—something that is extraordinarily hard to dismiss as mere coincidence.  The usage surely implies at least reliability and probably inspiration as well for James. 

            In Hermas’[110] Mandates 3.1 (cf. his Similitudes 5.6.5) he refers to “Love truth, and let nothing but truth proceed out of thy mouth, that the Spirit which God made to dwell in this flesh, may be found true in the sight of all men; and thus shall the Lord, Who dwelleth in thee, be glorified; for the Lord is true in every word, and with Him there is no falsehood.” 

That Divinely given spirit/Spirit is an expression that easily brings to mind James 4:5, “Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?”

            In Mandates 2:3 he gives the instruction that, “Slander is evil; it is a restless demon, never at peace, but always having its home among factions.  Refrain from it therefore, and thou shalt have success at all times with all men.”

            The evil nature of such tales brings to mind that James 4:11 enjoins, “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law.  But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

            Of the instability (“restless” nature) of slander (i.e., that it is likely to throw, literally, any charge that may damage) consider James 3:8, “But no man can tame the tongue.  It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”  Instead of “unruly,” “restless” has [Page 48]   been substituted by certain translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, for instance) and both convey that image of instability.  Since it is referred to as being “set on fire by hell” (3:6) the demonic imagery of Hermas would be a quite logical development.

            In the Mandates 5.2.3 Hermas speaks of how, “Now this patience dwells with those who have complete faith.”  James 1:4 easily comes to mind, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
            Mandates 8:2 speaks of how, “If you hold back from doing good, you do a great sin.”  James speaks similarly of how, “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

            Mandates 9:1-6 includes the warning, “If you are doubtful in your heart, you will certainly receive none of your requests, for those who are doubtful toward God are double-minded, and they never get their requests.”

            It is hard to read this without immediately recalling James 1:6-8, “5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”            

            Referring to the Devil, Mandates 12.5.2 speaks of how, “If you therefore resist him, he will, being conquered, flee from you.”  This “being conquered” certainly sounds like a verbal allusion and a fascinating interpretive gloss on James 4:7, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

[Page 49]        Hermas utilizes reasoning similar to James as well.  He speaks (Mandates 5.2.4) of how one evil “evolves” out of another, making one ever worse; James speaks (3:17; cf. 1:14-15) of how one good “evolves” out of another, making one morally better. 



Factors Potentially Limiting

the Widespread Usage of the Book


It has been reasonably speculated that the strictly Judeo-Christian targeted audience for the epistle and the lack of reference to those concerns that primarily occupied the mind of the converted Gentiles, resulted in this book being primarily preserved in the first centuries among those of a Jewish ethnicity.[111]  This certainly makes inherent sense:  a book is most likely to be explicitly appealed to if what it has to say has relevance to some contemporary controversy you are personally interested in.  The lack of such relevance would encourage the omission of reference to the book in the first century or so after its origin,[112] and once that pattern was established, it would not be unnatural for it to continue. 

But this need not be read as opposition to the work.  Its orientation toward matters of everyday living would tend to cause it to be neglected rather than opposed.[113] 

If we date the book as in the later 30s or early 40s and, perhaps, as a result of the dispersion of the Jerusalem Christians in Acts[114]--and that they were its targeted recipients--we have a further reason for the slowness of its spread as acceptable religious literature:  it was not even written to all Jewish Christians, it was written for the much smaller group involved in that first persecution.  From them, it would naturally spread among, primarily, other Jewish Christians in the same region.  The “seed” of this manuscript had simply not been widely spread enough to gain it as quick a recognition as other works. 

[Page 50]                    Much the same result would occur if we consider the matter from the standpoint of an early date independent of any linkage with the scattering in Acts.  The most likely place for predominantly Jewish Christian congregations to be were throughout Roman Palestine and Syria.  Hence these would be the first to receive copies of the message  and other congregations in the same region would be the most probable to receive early copies that were forwarded.  Hence the dominant place for surviving copies of the epistle would be Palestine-Syria for many years.   

            With the Roman backlash after both the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 A.D.) and the often overlooked Second Jewish Revolt in the following  century (132-135), many of the congregations in the region surely disintegrated as the members either perished or, more often, fled to more distant and safer regions.  With the scattering, many copies surely perished in the chaos and the surviving congregations left a significantly smaller “pool” within which to preserve the work.[115]     

Personally I would regard the book as written at an early date to first century Jewish Christians but of the traditional Diaspora, i.e., scattered throughout at least the Roman Empire.  However even that would still tend to bestow a special “of Jewish interest” flavor to the work, especially when compared to Paul who so typically orientated his letters toward a predominantly Gentile gospel work.  It would result in not so much opposition to the epistle, but a neglect of it among the growing Gentile majority.

A hint—but no more—of a disproportionate number of manuscripts existing in the Palestine-Syrian region may be suggested by our knowledge of the work of Origen.  While living in Alexandria, no mention is made of the book; only after his move there do we find mention of it.[116]              

[Page 51]                    Another factor that may well have weighed against the book’s acceptance was the questioning of its apostolic origin.[117]  However appealing an origin with a physical kinsman of Jesus might seem to us, that would typically be read as an admission that the author was originally an unbeliever and remained such until after Jesus’ resurrection.  Hence, however prestigious a respect he gained in the Jerusalem church, he could never be counted among the “original” disciples.  Furthermore, even if a belief in his inspiration required respect for his writing, that would not remove the fact that those specifically authorized to bind and loose for Jesus were neither inspired men and women in general nor the kinsfolk of Jesus--but the apostles in particular (Matthew 18:18).  

            (The possible evidence that the “unbelief” of the physical kinsmen may not have been quite what is usually considered will be examined in the authorship chapter.) 

            Certainly there is nothing in the contents (with the possible exception of chapter two) that would have made it objectionable or its orthodoxy questioned.  And even chapter two’s supposed “contradiction” to Paul’s doctrine of salvation by faith is far, far more the result of the Reformation interpretation of Paul’s doctrine than anything James or Paul actually wrote for themselves. 

            George K. Hasselhoff throws out an idea that “other [unidentified] scholars have argued”—that the real cause of hesitation lay in the books hefty criticism of undue veneration for wealth:  “Does its radical critique of wealth—which ought to be opposed by true faith expressed by ethically good behavior—explain the limits of its reception?  The question remains open for further study.”[118]

[Page 52]                    It is hard to imagine this coming into play for the first century or even two after Jesus died.  Whatever varieties of economic levels existed in the church, there would surely have been a severe tilt to moderate status and income ones.  In other words, until one starts encountering a major burst in the upward classes entering the church, where would the bias arise to ignore, overlook, or suppress acceptance of the book? 

Could any of the classes dominating the church in this early period possibly have read chapter 5, for example, and have the audacity to suggest that its picture of the rich was anything but what was all too often actually found in their society?  Hence there seems no good reason to expect the book’s economic teaching had a role in ultimate decisions to utilize or reject using it.  

This could be rebutted, perhaps, by an emphasis on reality versus theory.  Just because its truth could hardly be questioned, does not mean that its indictment would be welcome.  Truth is truth but some truths “are better known than talked about.”  And the wealthier, as a matter of pure practicality rather than ill will, would surely have inevitably had a disproportionate influence on the church.  Not to mention the desire of many (most?) to please them and avoid showing anything that might be perceived as open disrespect.

In such a social context, would the temptation not have been to “quietly pass over”—rather than repudiate or deny—the economic truths James refers to?  Indeed, the entire epistle of which it is part.



7.  Doctrine of God

[Page 53]

            If the importance of Jesus is conveyed by “Lord” imagery (see below) so is the importance of the Father.  He is presented as the answerer of prayer, one who will answer prayer, and one who has the ability to rescue or destroy.   Some of the rhetoric leaves us uncertain whether it is Jesus or the Father who is the intended subject of reference, however.[119]  This may well be intentional in light of the heavy emphasis in the other epistles on Christ’s Deityship. 

An author writing to an ethnically Jewish audience at an early date might well wish to finesse matters in this manner in order to avoid provoking needless offense.  Those writing to a predominantly Gentile audience or after the breach was clearly irrevocable would be more likely to write bluntly where a first generation Jew living within a Jewish environment would tend to “blur the edges,” especially when it was not essential to the points he wished to make. 

            Very likely it is God Himself under discussion in 5:10, where we read of how the prophets “spoke in the name of the Lord.” The assertion of God as the authority behind the prophetic message is standard rhetoric throughout the prophets of the Old Testament.  In verse 11 this Lord is described as “very compassionate and merciful.”       

            The plea to recognize the uncertainty of life by thinking in terms of “if the Lord wills” (4:15) is ambiguous.  The most likely reference is to the “one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy” in verse 4:12--and that could refer to either the Father or Jesus. 

In favor of an identification with the Father is the fact that in the Old Testament the Law is His and He is the ultimate lawgiver (Isaiah 33:22).  Though Moses is pictured as giving the Law, he was simply the human intermediary; it was Yahweh who provided it to him.  In favor of an identification with Jesus would be the fact that He plays a similar pivotal role in the New Testament era (Matthew 28:18).  He was the new Lawgiver for the new age.

[Page 54]                    Less ambiguous is the promise of “the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” since earlier in the verse “God” is specifically identified as the person under consideration (James 2:5). 

The reference in 5:4 to the Lord as “Lord of Sabbaoth” most likely refers to the Father as well.  In spite of Jesus’ Lordship status, when Paul uses the same expression (Romans 9:29) the preceding verses make plain that it is the Father under consideration (verses 25-28).

            James 2:19 is a clear cut reference to the Father and advocacy of monotheism:  “You believe that there is one God.  You do well.”  Note that he then drags the dagger in deep as if to say that their faith is theoretically sound but empty of real substance—“Even the devils believe and tremble!”

            The promise that the Lord will answer prayer (2:7) refers back to “God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach (2:5).  Likewise the humility demanded “in the sight of the Lord” (4:10) almost certainly refers to the need to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (4:8).

            Another reference to prayer is found in 1:5 where the instruction is to “let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach.”  The gift being sought is specifically “wisdom,” which is not so much facts as the ability/capacity to understand the facts and know how to use what one knows.   

Furthermore, “every good gift and every perfect gift” comes down from that source, “the Father of lights,” who is unchanging and unchangeable (1:17)—the “every” surely intended to suggest His generosity.[120]  He is similarly identified as “our God and Father” in 3:9 and His role as Creator suggested by the description in that verse of how humans “have been made in the similitude of God.”


[Page 55]

8.  Christology


No explicit reference to any event of His life is made.  On the other hand, a reference to the judicial murder of Jesus has repeatedly tempted exegetes studying 5:6 (“You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you”).

Jesus is mentioned by name only twice.  In 1:1, James describes himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The linkage of “God” and “Jesus Christ” with James equally the servant of both certainly carries with it an implicit acceptance of Jesus’ unique relationship to “God.”[121]  To be so put on a par with God may be intended to carry the implication of Jesus’ supernaturalness for one would be hard pressed to conceive of what else would justify the paring. 

The second reference to Jesus is found in 2:1, “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Chester Andrew and Ralph P. Martin find the implications of the Lordship spoken of in 2:1 as extremely tantalizing, but regard it as not quite going beyond that, “The most obvious Christological feature is the use of kyrios (Lord:  1:1; 2:1; the use of Christ is really as part of a proper name).  The significance of the use of kyrios in James is not certain, but, since the same term is used in the letter to denote God, and it is at times not clear who is referred to, Christ or God, it represents a potentially important usage.”[122]     

            Unless we consider James to be a theologically sloppy writer—or someone who simply doesn’t know how to express his real thoughts--isn’t that impreciseness very likely intended for us to read supernatural implications into the nature of His lordship?           

            This is reinforced by the fact that in the book we see Jesus in the roles of healer, judge, forgiver of sins, punisher of evil (implicit) and rewarder of good (explicit).   He is referred to as “the Lord of glory” in a verse that unquestionably refers to Him (2:1).  Jesus is also the likely point of reference when we read how the “Lord” has promised [Page 56]   “the crown of life . . . to those who love Him” (1:12).  The bestowal of a crown to believers is also connected with Jesus by both John (explicitly, Revelation 2:11) and Paul (implicitly, 1 Corinthians 9:19-25;  cf.2 Timothy 4:8).   

            Because of His future judgmental coming, they were to wait “patiently” as a farmer does for the rain that he knows ultimately will drop to earth (5:7).  That coming is “at hand” (5:8).  Although the Old Testament utilizes the imagery of Yahweh coming in judgement upon various nations, peoples, and cities, the New Testament emphasis is on the resurrected Jesus playing this role.  Hence this is the most likely frame of reference for these two verses.

            Furthermore, that Lord can both raise up the physically sick and forgive sin of those who seek Him through their prayers (5:15).  The ability to forgive sin and to heal the sick could be an intended allusion to Jesus’ ministry where both actions brought Him in repeated conflict with the religious authorities (cf. the connection of the two phenomena in the healing of the paralytic in Matthew 9:1-8 and. the parallel account in Mark 2:1-12).  If so, the thought would be that just as Jesus had not neglected human needs when in the flesh, He did not do so now after returning to a purely spirit form.

            “The fact that direct reference to Christ is made only twice has misled some to think that there are no Christological ideas in James;” these various alternate means of discussing that reality, however, indicate that Jesus plays a central role in his thinking.[123]  It also inflicts major damage on the scenario that the work began as a strictly Jewish document and was then adopted and adapted by Christians.  The variety of references to Jesus wrap Him too much into the fabric of the epistle for this to be probable.  

[Page 57]                    Andrew and Martin also discuss the possible direct evidence in James 2:1 of Jesus being identified with the language normally attached to the Father, i.e., making the Son enjoy the qualitative nature of the Father Himself.  They conclude that there are no suggestions of such an elevated theology in the remainder of James—the examples above, however, would suggest James would not have had much or any problem with such a close identification of Father and Son, however.  Indeed, one might wonder whether they presuppose the concept—or something extremely close to it.

            As they note, the proper rendering of the verse itself is a highly arguable matter and they present their case in this manner,[124]   


The most interesting Christological usage in James is that at 2:1 and above all the phrase “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory.”  The precise interpretation of this is difficult.  The problem above all lies in how to interpret tes doxes (the glory), which comes as a genitive at the end of the phrase; the difficulty is not least that all the preceding words, following “faith” (pistis) are genitive as well.  It is very improbable that it governs faith (that is, “glorious faith”). 

It could be that tes doxes is in apposition to the preceding genitives, that is, “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory.”  The use of “Glory” as an attribute of God is already clear in the Old Testament, and subsequently within Judaism, the Aramaic word for glory, Yaqara, is increasingly used as a way of describing or speaking of God.

This may be what we have at Luke 22:69.  It would certainly be a very elevated usage, since, although it does not simply identify Jesus with the Shekinah, it would nevertheless come close to making Jesus identical with God.  But, although this remains a possible interpretation, the phrase as a whole is too complex and difficult for there to be any certainty that it is right; and there is no support for such an elevated Christology anywhere else in James.

The other main possibilities are to take tes doxes as defining “Christ” (that is, “Christ of Glory”), or to take it as defining, as a genitive of quality, the phrase as a whole (that is, “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”).  It is awkward in either case, but not impossible.  The latter, “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” is preferable.  The point would then be that Christ is thought to be sharing in the heavenly glory, or the glorious heavenly world.


[Page 58]                    Is there that much conceptual difference with the approach that they reject?  The two approaches certainly seem to come extraordinarily close to representing the same doctrine of full supernaturalness for Jesus.               



9.  Doctrine of the Holy Spirit


            The only possible reference to the Holy Spirit is the enigmatic quotation from “Scripture” in James 4:5, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously.”  If this is an actual reference to the Holy Spirit, it would be an attribution of passionate concern and interest on the Spirit’s behalf.  For a discussion of this verse, see the “problem text” section of chapter 4.



10.  Doctrine of Church and Its Leadership


[Page 59]                    Whatever position James may officially or unofficially hold, he applies no name to it, being content with the simple label of “bondservant” (1:1).  As to others in the church, the discussion of “teachers” in chapter three is so broadly worded it would indicate that a function rather than an office is under consideration.  It is a pointed warning to anyone who teaches in any shape or fashion on spiritual matters, whether holding a recognized church “position” or not. 

Only in chapter five do we find a reference to the existence of “elders of the church” (verses 14-16) and there the emphasis is not on the fact that they are the leading office holders but upon the function they play in the life of the congregation.  They are to attend the sick, upon request, anoint them with oil when sick, and to pray with and for them upon their confession of sin.




11.  Doctrine of Divine Justice:

Rewards and Punishments--Temporal and Beyond


            A vigorous verbal indictment of the unscrupulous rich carries with it the warning that they have prepared themselves for “a day of slaughter” (5:5).  A few verses later, in a reference that seems to have a logical application to this theme--even though the specific matter being discussed has shifted--is the warning/promise that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (verse 8).  So close is it, that it is as if “the Judge is standing at the door” (verse 9). 

            The reference could be to an approaching temporal catastrophe, such as the fall of Jerusalem that would burst the hopes and delusions of the unjust rich.  If the concept of a final judgement of the human species is intended (such as in Matthew 25), it is odd that [Page 60]   no point is made that the other moral and spiritual transgressors discussed in the book are similarly facing that ultimate hour of judgement. 

In contrast, a temporal disaster would most brazenly affect the rich whose wealth had enabled them to escape other earthly difficulties but not the violence of domestic/foreign unrest.  It had protected them from the worst of the world’s tribulations until now; in this context, it would make them central targets.  Of course the poor would be hurt and terrified—like always.  These folk weren’t used to being on the receiving end.         

            If God is pictured repeatedly in the Old Testament as coming in temporal judgment upon particular cities and countries, why would it be so odd if Jesus—ruling as King on behalf of His Father—does the same?  Jewish readers would have understood the language as readily applicable to intervening judgements without compromising their conviction of His final/second coming at the time of physical resurrection.  (See chapter 5 for a detailed discussion of the nature of the approaching Divine intervention and of the nearness language attached to it.)   





[1] C. Milo Connick, The New Testament:  An Introduction to Its History, Literature, and Thought (Encinco, California:  Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., 1972), 355.   


[2] Cf. Addison H. Leitch, A Reader’s Introduction to the New Testament (Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971), 137.


[Page 61]   [3] John W. Bowman, The Letter to the Hebrews . . . James . . . Letters of Peter, in the Layman’s Bible Commentary series (Richmond, Virginia:  John Knox Press, 1962), 94, and Rea McDonnell, The Catholic Epistles & Hebrews, in the series Message of Biblical Spirituality (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, 1986), 20.


[4] Quoted and embraced by James D. Yoder, “James,” in the Asbury Bible Commentary, ed. Eugene E. Carpenter and Wayne McGown (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 1170.


[5] Title for Chapter 3 in Earl F. Palmer, The Book that James Wrote (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans  Publishing Company, 1997), 13.  Cf. the somewhat similar comparison of Paton J. Gloag, Introduction to the Catholic Epistles (Edinburgh:  T. & T. Clark, 1887), 57.  George M. Stulac, James, in the IVP New Testament Commentary series (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1993), 120-121, raises the issue in regard to James 3:1-12 where he notes the paradox between the “proverbial sound” of much of what is said with “the deliberate unity and the cohesive line of thought” that James incorporates the material within.         


[6] Norman Perrin, The New Testament:  An Introduction--Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History (New York:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1974), 256.  On the use of catchwords also see Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament:  An Interpretation (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1986), 455.


[Page 62]   [7] Alicia Batten, “Ideological Strategies in the Letter of James,” in Reading James with New Eyes:  Methodological Reassessments of the Letter of James, edited by Robert L. Webb and John S. Kloppenborg, in the Library of New Testament Studies / Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 342 (London:  T&T Clark International, 2007), 7.


[8] Peter H. Davids, “Palestinian Traditions in the Epistle of James,” in James the Just and Christian Origins, edited by Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (Leiden, Netherlands:  Brill, 1999), 35.


[9] Perrin, 256; Pheme Perkins, Reading the New Testament:  An Introduction, Second Edition (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1988), 297.  


[10] Todd C. Penner, The Epistle of James and Eschatology:  Re-reading an Ancient Christian Letter, in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 121 (Sheffield, England:  Sheffield Academic Press, Ltd., 1996), 36-37.


[11] Ibid., 37-38.

[12] As quoted by Ibid., 42


[13] Caig L. Blomberg, Caig L., and Mariam J. Kamell, James, in the  Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan, 2008), 33.


[Page 63]   [14] Dan G. McCartney, James, in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Academic, 2009) 28.


[15] For a consideration of Semiticisms and how they are treated, see Penner, 42-43, and attached lengthy footnotes.


[16] See the brief discussion in Patrick J. Hartin, James, in the Sacra Pagina series (Collegeville, Minnesota:  Liturgical Press/A Michael Glazier Book, 2003), 22.


[17] Bernhard Weiss, A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament, translated from the German by A. J. K. Davidson, Volume Two (New York:  Funk & Wagnalls, Publishers, 1889), 105-106.


[18] Vanderwaal, 24.    


[19] As commonly held, such as by Dibelius, Fresh Approach, 227-228.


[20] Eduard Lohse, 204. 


[21] McNeile, 205-206.


[Page 64]   [22] Weiss, 106.


[23] Referred to but rejected by Davidson, 322.


[24] J. Merle Rife, The Nature and Origin of the New Testament (New York:  Philosophical Library, 1975), 134.


[25] Arthur G. Patzia, The Making of the New Testament:  Origin, Collection, Text & Canon (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1995), 96.


[26] Robinson, 122.


[27] Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament?  The Making of the Christian Myth (San Francisco, California:  Harper San Francisco:  An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 1995), 213; William M. Ramsay, The Layman’s Guide to the New Testament (Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1981), 199; Robert A. Spivey and D. Moody Smith, Anatomy of the New Testament:  A Guide to Its Structure and Meaning, Fourth Edition (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989), 390.


[28] Connick, 357.


[29] Archibald M. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament, Third Revised Edition (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1972), 169.


[Page 65]   [30] Guthrie, 759.


[31] Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (New York:   Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963), 220.


[32] Burdick, 161 (cf. 178.), uses this as one of several arguments to establish a date between 45 and 50 A.D.  In this commentator’s judgement an even earlier composition is even more likely.


[33] Yoder, 1170.  


[34] Gerald H. Rendall, The Epistle of St. James and Judaic Christianity (Cambridge:  At the University Press, 1927), 26.


[35] Weiss, note 4, pages 101-102.


[36] Harold S. Songer, “James,” in General Articles/Hebrews-Revelation; Volume 12 in the Broadman Bible Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman Press, 1972), 115.


[37] Cf. Richard Heard, An Introduction to the New Testament (London:  Adam and Charles Black, 1950), 167.


[Page 66]   [38] Robert H. Horton, The Growth of the New Testament:  A Study of the Books in Order (Boston:  Pilgrim Press, [19--]), 336-337.


[39] Thiessen, 277.  Yoder, 1171, although attributing the epistle to the brother of Jesus, dates it as “within a few years after the resurrection.”  


[40] Thiessen, 277.


[41] Thiessen, 278, dates the epistle “between A.D. 45 and 48” yet, oddly, regards it as “unlikely” that it could have been written a year or two earlier (page 274), which would permit an apostolic authorship.


[42] Harold H. Buls, adapted from his Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost (Fort Wayne, Indiana:  Concordia Seminary Press, 1987).  As reprinted at  [July 2012.]  


[43] James B. Adamson, James:  The Man & His Message (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989) viii.


[44] Ibid., 255.


[45] Ibid., 253.


[Page 67]   [46] Ibid., 470.


[47] David H. Edgar, Has God Not Chosen the Poor?  The Social Setting of the Epistle of James, in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 206 (Sheffield, England:  Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 227.


[48] As quoted by Ibid., 228.


[49]   As quoted by Ibid.


[50]  Ibid.


[51] For an extended argument that the Jewish people were no longer “dispersed” and therefore the term can not be applied in this manner see the older work of  Zahn, 74-77.


[52] Stulac, 15, 30, considers this event to be the disporia under discussion. 


[53] Gloag, 48.


[54] Burdick, 163. 


[Page 68]  [55] “Most scholars,” notes Brent Kercheville, Brent, “To Whom Was 1 Peter Written?”  Part of the Christian Monthly Standard website.  At:  [December 2012.]


[56] Blomberg and Kamell, James, 28.


[57] Reginald H. Fuller, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament (Letchworth, Hertfordshire, [Great Britain]:  Duckworth, 1971), 152.


[58] Cf. Burdick, 184; Carson, 567.   Also see Carson’s other evidences that a Jewish audience is assumed (567-568). 


[59] John H. Kerr, An Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament, Second Edition, Revised (New York:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1892), 258.


[60] Thiessen, 276.


[61] Burdick, 163.


[62] Carson, 569. 


[63] Martin, 364.


[Page 69] [64] Ibid.


[65] A. F. J. Klijn, An Introduction to the New Testament, translated from the Dutch by Mrs. M. van der Vathorst-Smit, Second, revised edition (Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1980), 151. 


[66] Connick, 356; Harrison, 360.


[67] Carson, 569. 


[68] Connick, 357.


[69] For a brief history of such views, see Songer, 103. 


[70] Carson, 569. 


[71] Ibid. 


[72] Cartledge, 161; Carson, 569; Leahy, 370.


[73] As to the latter view see Johnson, 454, and Ernest F. Scott, The Literature of the New Testament (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1932), 211-212.


[Page 70]   [74] Davidson, 320.  With a similar reservation that the descriptions would be applicable to other nearby countries also see Eugene C. Caldwell, The Epistle of James (Richmond, Virginia:  Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1931), 33-34.  For a detailed examination of the pros and cons of James 1:11 as indicating an exclusively Palestinian setting see Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James:  A Commentary on the Greek Text, in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 78.  On the early and latter rains see David’s remarks (183-184), where he is clearly impressed with the text implying personal knowledge of Palestinian conditions.


[75] Robinson, 120.


[76] Plumptre, 43.  


[77] Harrison, 370.


[78] For nineteen see Guthrie, 743-744.


[79] Ibid., 370; Edgar J. Goodspeed, An Introduction to the New Testament (Chicago, Illinois:  University of Chicago Press, 1937; 1945 reprinting), 295; T. Henshaw, New Testament Literature in the Light of Modern Scholarship (London:  George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1952), 357.


[Page 71]   [80] Davids, “Palestinian Traditions,” 37, who rejects the Roman origin approach though conceding the strength of this particular argument.


[81] Ibid.


[82] Ibid., 42-43.


[83] Ibid., n. 27, page 43.


[84] Ibid.


[85] Cf. Ibid


[86] Ibid., n. 28, page 43.


[87] Harrison, 370.


[88] Davids, 38.


[89] Ibid.


[90] Cf. Ibid.


[91] Ibid., 39.


[Page 72]   [92] Cf. Johnson, 455.


[93] Thiessen, 272.


[94] McCartney, 20.


[95] Burdick, 163.


[96] Thiessen, 272.  Cf. the discussion in Guthrie, 737.


[97] Ecclesiastical History 2.23 as cited by Burdick, 163.


[98] McCartney,24.


[99] McCartney, 24.


[100] Guthrie, 736-737; Robinson, 132.


[101] McCartney, Origen’s commentary on Romans (4:8).


[102] Ibid., specifying Hom. Exodus 3:3 in particular.


[103] Kerr, 249.


[104] Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James and Jude (Downer’s Grove, Illinois:  IVP Academic, 2007), 541-542.


[Page 73]  [105] For a listing of a number of possible allusions, see Thiessen, 272-273.  For a discussion of possible allusions and also the limits of their usefulness see Sidebottom, 11-13.


[106] The citations are the one suggested by  McCartney, 21.  The text utilized, however, is the more complete full text rather than his brief quotes:  Clement of Rome, First Clement, Roberts-Donaldson translation.  At: 1clement-roberts.html.  [December 2012.]  The verse divisions come from the translation of Charles Hoole, at the same web site.  The Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version.


[107] McCartney, n. 35, page 21.



[108] Ibid.


[Page 74]   [109] Ibid., 21.


[110] For these and other varied parallels, see McCartney, 21-22.  The Biblical quotations come from the NKJV and those from this McCartney except for Mandates 3:1 and 2:3, which come from Hermas, Shepherd of Hermas:  Visions, J. B. Lightfoot translation.  Part of the Early Christian Writings website.   At:  http://www.earlychristianwritings. com/text/shepherd.html.  [December 2012.]. 


[111] Weiss, 111.


[112] Sidebottom, 20.


[113] Douglas Moo, The Letter of James, in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 4.


[114] Ibid., 10-11, is very receptive toward this as a specific date though he notes that famines and economic problems of the middle-first century would have motivated yet others to move as well.


[115] In vaguer terms, see Ibid., 4.


[116] Ibid.


[117] Johnson, 453; McNeile, 203.


[Page 75]   [118] Gorge K. Hasselhoff, “James 2:2-7 in Early Christian Thought,” in Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society, edited by Susan R. Holman (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Academic, 2008), 55.


[119] Cf. Johnson, 457; McNeile, 206.


[120] Hartin, 32.


[121] Leon Morris, 1 Timothy-James, in the Scripture Union Bible Study Books series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), 79.  Cf. Williams, 97.


[122] Chester Andrew and Ralph P. Martin, The Theology of the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1994), 43.


[123] William R. Baker, Personal Speech-Ethics in the Epistle of James (Tubingen, Germany:  J. C. B. Mohr, 1995), 17, who provides a more concise summary of various texts.


[124]  Chester and Martin, 43-44.