Listen to Deuteronomy

General

Addressees

Author

As does his brother Jude (author of the epistle of Jude) James calls himself very humbly servant and not brother of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1).

Time of Writing

Canonicity

Martin Luther’s negative judgment on the epistle is known. Luther called it an “epistle of straw”. Erasmus the great humanist also disapproved of the epistle. The main reason for Luther’s objection was James’ teaching of justification. James’ teaching seemed to contradict Paul’s teaching on the subject. And Paul’s teaching was so very decisive for Luther. Compare James 2:21 with Romans 3:28.

The Eastern Church confirmed that the epistle of James belonged to the canon of Holy Scriptures at the synod of Laodicea (around 360 AC). The west accepted the epistle in the known synods in Rome (382 AC), Hippo (393 AC) and Cartago (397 AC). This is also where the writings of the NT (inspired by the Holy Spirit) found final acceptance for the protection from false doctrines being propagated at the time.

  1. Subject and purpose of writing

In contrast to many epistles of the NT James’ epistle does not have a logical structure. The epistle contains many diverse admonitions. Of total 108 verses 54 contain an imperative. These admonitions refer to the correct behaviour in trials of faith, in speaking, in respect to our neighbour and the world and in sufferings. Faith (which appears 16 times) and works (15 times) are the main thought going through the whole epistle.

As the subject changes constantly the epistle reminds us a little of Ecclesiastes or the Proverbs in the OT and also of the so called Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5; Matthew 6; Matthew 7.

The epistle is also lacking an underlining teaching structure as most epistles do have and especially so the ones by the apostle Paul. Neither the teaching of Christ’s redemption work, nor the Christian’s position towards God, nor God’s assembly as body of Christ are treated.

And yet the epistle teaches the following Christian truths:

the triune God has revealed Himself (chap. 1:1.27; 2:19; 4:5);

man can be born again by the Word of God (chap. 1:18);

Jesus Christ is our Lord (chap. 1:1)

…in whom we believe (chap. 2:1)

His return is imminent (chap. 5:7-8).

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is also known (chap. 4:5).

James speaks little of the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s name is mentioned twice only (chap. 1:1; 2:1). But one can say that James often speaks like the Lord Jesus. We already alluded to the Sermon on the Mount. The Lord Jesus in his discourses often spoke to a mixed audience of believing and unbelieving Jews telling them what practical faith must consist of. Thus James’ epistle is a very practical one also admonishing to a life of faith in the spirit of Christ. Such a life is marked by good works. So far the epistle is not in contradiction to Paul but is even an addition to his epistles.

  1. Peculiarities

a) Justification in James

James’ teaching of justification is only apparently in contraction to Paul’s teaching in the epistles to the Romans and Galatians. With this however Martin Luther especially had a problem. But as Paul in Romans 3:28; Romans 5:1 and Galatians 2:16 speaks of justification by faith he speaks of the relationship between man and God . No man can be justified by good works or by works of the Law before God. As sinner man is not able to fulfil one single good work before God. Faith in the Lord Jesus only can be the way to justification before God. This

justification is of God .

Against that James sees a totally different side of justification by works (chap. 2:21.24). He does not look at the sinner but at the believer . Works are not works of the Law but works of faith . Justification is not given before God but before men. These works are the fruit of faith. As there cannot be truly good works without faith so there cannot be true faith without works. Paul looks at our position whereas James at our practice .

b.) Reminiscences of Words of the Lord Jesus

(A comparison of James’ epistle with the gospel by Matthew)

James vs. Matthew

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