Letter of St. James

Author:James-the-Just

  • James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas 1:1).

  • Uncertain who James is. Some possibilities:
    1. Could be an author that wrote pseudonymously—that is, in the name of James. Scholars do not think this letter reads like a work produced by a Galilean peasant because it is written in elegant Greek (cf. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary). Also, makes no reference to the personal life of Jesus (odd for a work by Jesus’ own brother).
    2. Could be James, the brother of the Lord (Gal 1:19) who governed the Jerusalem community of Christians after Peter (Acts 12:17; 15:13–21) and who was martyred in Jerusalem in a.d. 62 by order of the Jewish high priest. –> most popular among scholars – James could have relied upon a scribe who put his thoughts into words (elegant Greek words to be exact).
  • Regardless, the author clearly was a Jewish Christian and wrote with authority. [ Hahn, S. (Ed.). (2009). In Catholic Bible Dictionary (p. 415). New York; London; Toronto; Sydney; Auckland: Doubleday. ]

Date:

  • Determining the date of the letter’s composition is difficult, as it depends in large measure on the assumed authorship. If the epistle was written by James, the brother of the Lord, then it had to be composed before his death in a.d. 62. The exact date is impossible to know, but a tentative time period might extend from around a.d. 49 to the early sixties. Some scholars who maintain that the letter was written by an anonymous Christian suggest a later date, between a.d. 80 and 100. [ Hahn, S. (Ed.). (2009). In Catholic Bible Dictionary (p. 415). New York; London; Toronto; Sydney; Auckland: Doubleday. ]

Outline:

From: Ignatius Catholic Study Bible pg. 438

  1. Opening address (1:1)
  2. Introduction of Themes (1:2 – 27)
    1. Patience in Trials and Temptations (1:2-15)
    2. Being Born of the Word (1:16-25)
    3. True Religion (1:26-27)
  3. Discussion of Themes (2:1 – 5:18)
    1. Partiality and the Law of Charity (2:1-13)
    2. Faith and Works (2:14-26)
    3. Taming the Tongue (3:1-12)
    4. Wisdom and Worldliness (3:13 – 4:17)
    5. The Coming of the Lord (5:1-12)
    6. Anointing and Prayer for the Sick (5:13-18)
  4. Conclusion (5:19-20)

Summaries:

Purpose & Themes:

  • From: Hahn, S. (Ed.). (2009). In Catholic Bible Dictionary (pp. 416–417). New York; London; Toronto; Sydney; Auckland: Doubleday.
    • James wrote his epistle to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (Jas 1:1), which may indicate an audience of Christian converts from Israel spread out across the Mediterranean world. The letter uses a variety of literary forms, and in particular it models itself after the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. It is written in excellent Greek, but also uses Jewish terms and OT allusions that give it a Semitic flavor (2:21–26; 5:10, 11, 17).
    • James shows himself familiar with the Synoptic Gospel traditions (especially Matthew) when he alludes to many elements of the Lord’s teachings, such as joy in suffering (1:2), the place of the Father (1:17), the poor and the kingdom (2:5), love of neighbor (2:8), the tree and its fruit (3:12), humility and exaltation (4:10), the prohibition against oath swearing (5:12), and confidence in our prayer life (5:17).
    • The letter is an elegant teaching on Christian spirituality, justification by faith and works, confession, and anointing of the sick. James focuses on the pressures and challenges faced by Christians as they spend their lives in a pagan world, and so writes as a spiritual father giving direction and encouragement in the faith. The discourse is concerned, then, with practical Christian living, admonitions, and encouragement and is less preoccupied with matters of doctrine. Echoing the Sermon on the Mount, James urges Christians to find joy in suffering (1:2–12). God, James reminds his readers, is not the cause of temptations—they spring from our wounded nature: “but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (1:14). God is the source only of good, and he “brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (1:18).
    • Exhorting Christians to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (1:22), James urges them to be impartial in viewing rich and poor equally (2:1–3) and exhibiting charity toward others (2:14–26) because “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). James goes on to command control of the tongue (3:1–12), which must be trained to serve and bless the Father. Authentic Christian wisdom pursues peace and humility: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (3:17).
    • Against this wisdom is discord, which must be avoided (4:1–12). Rather, all Christians should readily submit themselves to God’s care and providence (4:13–17) and live in awareness of God’s coming judgment (5:1–12). Prayer is the means of overcoming suffering and the mark of the true Christian: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power” (5:16).
    • Finally, James writes, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (5:14–15). This passage is a witness to the sacrament of the anointing of the sick as it was administered in the earliest days of the Church; according to the Council of Trent (Session 14, November 25, 1551), Catholic teaching on that sacrament is grounded on this passage. (See also Anointing of the Sick; Repentance.)

Favourite Verses:

  • “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (1:12).
  • “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22).
  • “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24).
  • “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (3:17).
  • “The harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace” (3:18).
  • “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you” (4:10).
  • “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (5:16).
  • “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (5:16).
  • “Whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:20).

 

Bibliography:

  • Hahn, S. (Ed.). (2009). In Catholic Bible Dictionary. New York; London; Toronto; Sydney; Auckland: Doubleday.
  • Powell, M. A. (2011). James, Letter of. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition). New York: HarperCollins.
  • Ignatius Catholic Study Bible pg. 438

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