Faith without works cannot be called faith. Faith without works is dead, and a dead faith is worse than no faith at all. Faith must work; it must produce; it must be visible. Verbal faith is not enough; mental faith is insufficient. Faith must be there, but it must be more. It must inspire action. Throughout his epistle to Jewish believers, James integrates true faith and everyday practical experience by stressing that true faith must manifest itself in works of faith.
Who Wrote James?
Four men are named James in the New Testament:
2. James, the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13), elsewhere called James the Less (Mark 15:40), was one of the twelve disciples. Apart from being listed with the other disciples, this James is completely obscure, and it is doubtful that he is the authoritative figure behind the epistle.
3. James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John (Matthew 4:21, 10:2, 17:1, Mark 3:17, 10:35, 13:3, Luke 9:54, Acts 1:13), was one of Jesus’ intimate disciples, but his martyrdom by AD 44 (Acts 12:2) makes it very unlikely that he wrote this epistle.
4. James, the Lord’s brother (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Galatians 1:19), was one of the “pillars” in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17, 15:13-21, 21:18, Galatians 2:9-12). Tradition points to this prominent figure as the author of the epistle, and this best fits the evidence of scripture. There are several clear parallels between the language of the letter drafted under his leadership in Acts 15:23-29 and the epistle of James.
It has been argued that the Greek of this epistle is too sophisticated for a Galilean such as James, but this assumes that he never had the opportunity or aptitude to develop proficiency in Greek. As a prominent church leader, it would have been to his advantage to become fluent in the universal language of the Roman Empire.
The brevity and limited doctrinal emphasis of James kept it from wide circulation; and by the time it became known in the church as a whole, there was uncertainty about the identity of the James in 1:1. Growing recognition that it was written by the Lord’s brother led to its acceptance as a canonical book.
Finding Jesus in James
In 1:1 and 2:1 James refers to the “Lord Jesus Christ” and in 5:7-8 he anticipates the “coming of the Lord.” Compared to other New Testament writers, James says little about Christ, and yet his speech is virtually saturated with allusions to the teachings of Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is especially prominent in James’s thinking (there are about 15 indirect references). This epistle portrays Christ in the context of early Messianic Judaism.
Key Phrase: Faith that Works
Throughout his epistle, James develops the theme of the characteristics of true faith. He effectively uses these characteristics as a series of tests to help his readers evaluate the quality of their relationship to Christ. The purpose of this work is not doctrinal or apologetic but practical. James seeks to challenge these believers to examine the quality of their daily lives in terms of attitudes and actions. A genuine faith will produce real changes in a person’s conduct and character, and the absence of change is a symptom of a dead faith.
Key Verse: James 1:19-22
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.“
Key Chapter: James 1
One of the most difficult areas of the Christian life is that of testings and temptations. James reveals our correct response to both: to testings, count them all joy; to temptations, realize that God is not their source.