James Overview

From Peter Kreeft’s You Can Understand the Bible:

The author of the Epistle of James was probably not the James who was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, John’s brother. That James was martyred very early, probably in 44 AD. The author was probably the James mentioned in Mt 13:55, one of Jesus’ cousins.

James’ Epistle is addressed to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, rather than any one local church. Jame’s letter is like the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament: full of maxims and practical advice about living.

It’s most unifying theme is 1:22: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers.” James emphasizes the practicality of Christ.

The most famous and important passage is 2:14-26, about faith and works. Faith and works are not opposite, they are complementary. Jame’s point is that a faith that does not produce good works is not true faith, but dead faith (2:17), like a tree that produces no fruit.

We do not see a living plant’s roots, only its fruits. Others cannot see your faith, for it is invisible. They only see your actions, which show your faith as a tulip flower shows you that a tulip bulb has taken root.

Paul’s context for justified by faith is in the relationship between the believer and God. Jame’s context for justified by works is in the relationship between believer and his neighbor.

Also, James’ means by faith – intellectual faith (2:19). But Paul means by faith something more than belief – he means accepting Christ into your soul and thus into your life, where it produces good works as its fruits.

Paul is contrasting faith with law as a way to be justified. James is contrasting faith without works with a faith with works as a way to be sanctified. Paul is asking how to be saved; James is asking how to be holy. Paul is asking how to get to Heaven, James is asking how to live on earth.

James never teaches works vs. faith or works instead of faith. The letter is a tribute to faith, but a faith that works.

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