The author of this epistle (letter) is James, also called James The Just, who is thought to be the brother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3). James was not a believer (John 7:3-5) until after the resurrection (Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 1:19). He became the head of the Jerusalem church, and is mentioned first as a pillar of the Church (Galatians 2:9).
Date of Writing: The Book of James is probably the oldest book of the New Testament, written perhaps as early as A.D. 45, before the first council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50. James was martyred in approximately 62 A.D.
Purpose of Writing: Some think that this epistle was written in response to an overzealous interpretation of Paul’s teaching that was never intended. This extreme view, called antinomianism, held that through faith in Christ one is completely free from all Old Testament law, all legalism, all secular law, and all the morality of a society. James was felt to be intensely Jewish and this epistle is directed to Jewish Christians scattered among all the nations. In this context the dissonance with Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and his teachings fade. Martin Luther, who detested this letter and called it “the epistle of straw,” failed to recognize this very important context. While Pauline teachings concentrate on our justification with God, James’ teachings concentrate on our discourse and justification amongst each other. James was writing to Jews to encourage them in their continued growth in this new Christian faith. James emphasizes that good actions will naturally flow from those who are filled with the spirit and questions whether someone may or may not have a saving faith if the fruits of the spirit cannot be seen, much as Paul describes in Galatians 5:22-23.
Key Verses: "Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow" (James 1:2-3).
"Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry" (James 1:19).
"It isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is not faith at all—it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, 'Some people have faith; others have good deeds.' I say, 'I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds'” (James 2:17-18).
"The tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do" (James 3:5).
"The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results" (James 5:16).
Brief Summary: The Book of James outlines the faith walk through Genuine Religion (1:1-27), Genuine Faith (2:1-3:12) and Genuine Wisdom (3:13-5:20). This book contains a remarkable parallel to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. James begins in the first chapter by describing the overall traits of the faith walk. In chapter two and the beginning of chapter three he discusses social justice and a discourse on faith in action. He then compares and contrasts the difference between worldly and Godly wisdom and asks us to turn away from evil and draw close to God. James gives a particularly severe rebuke to the rich who hoard and those who are self-reliant. Finally he ends, albeit abruptly, upbeat with encouragement to be patient in suffering, praying and caring for one another and bolstering our faith through fellowship.
Practical Application: We see in the Book of James a challenge to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” of a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. While our faith walk, to be certain, requires a growth of knowledge about the word, James exhorts us to not stop there. Many Christians will find this reading challenging as James presents us with 60 obligations in only 108 verses. It is hard-hitting as he asks us in verse 1:23 to look at ourselves in the mirror and then straighten ourselves up. He focuses on the truths of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount and motivates us to act upon what He taught.
An unknown author has stated, “Faith is not believing in spite of the evidence; faith is obeying in spite of the consequences.” Read James and go forth with a faith rooted in love, and evidenced by action.