This brief letter, written towards the end of the first century (around 90 AD), by an anonymous author who wrote in James’ name, and to Jewish Christians scattered around the Roman Empire, has had a remarkable influence on the history of Christianity. For some, like Luther, it is an "epistle of straw". For others, Like Adolf Schlatter, it is the earliest Christian document, written around 40 AD! Some take it to be a genuine letter from the brother of the Lord, while others describe it as a commentary on the sermon on the mount. Amidst all this discussion, the truth lies somewhere.
The careful reader of James will notice that it has great similarity to the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Like Proverbs, then, James is an example of "wisdom literature"; a type of literature which seeks to impart wisdom for daily living. Because of this, it is difficult to outline the book as it follows no strict structure. Rather, it is made up of short, pithy sayings intended to make one wise.
A glance at the topics discussed in this letter will show us its major concerns:
1- Greeting (1:1)
2- Trials and Temptations (1:2-18)
3- Deeds (1:19-27)
4- Impartiality (2:1-9)
5- Keep the Law (2:10-13)
6- Faith and Works (2:14-26)
7- The Tongue (3:1-12)
8- Wisdom as God’s Gift (3:13-18)
9- Lust (4:1-10)
10- Judging (4:11-12)
11- Arrogance (4:13-17)
12- Warning to the Rich (5:1-6)
13- Patience (5:7-11)
14- Right Behavior (5:15-20)
The central section, number 7 above, is the central idea of the letter. If one can control one’s tongue, one can control one’s whole self. The concerns of James, then, are the very same concerns demonstrated by the wisdom writers of the Old Testament: the tongue, right behavior, relations with the rich, patience, arrogance, etc.
ASSIGNMENT: Read 1 Peter, and Brown’s Introduction, chapter 33.
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