Friday, July 4, 2014

A Brief Survey of James, Part 1

A Brief Survey of James, Part 1


In the Greek, his name is Ἰάκωβος, Jacob, rather than James.  The name change occurred as the New Testament underwent translations from Greek to Latin and Latin to English.  In fact, all individuals in the New Testament named James are actually Ἰάκωβος in Greek.

The author of this Epistle was without doubt James, the brother of our Lord.  There are three distinguished persons in the New Testament who bear the name James: James, the son of Zebedee, John’s brother – one of the Twelve; James the son of Alphaeus, also of the Twelve, called James the Less[i]; and James, called by Paul in Galatians "the brother of our Lord,”[ii] the man who appears in Acts 15 as wielding a paramount influence in the church at Jerusalem. The epistle could not have been written by James, the brother of John, for he was martyred by Herod[iii] before its date. Therefore the authorship must be ascribed either to James, the son of Alphaeus, or to James, "the Lord's brother."

From the earliest days of the Church the latter has been agreed upon as the author.  All known facts about him point to this conclusion as well.  He was a permanent resident of Jerusalem and preeminent in the church.  He was the chief figure in the Jerusalem Council: it was his judgment that once for all settled the circumcision debate.  St. Paul calls him one of the, “pillars of the church.”[iv]  It is for these reasons that he could authoritatively address the entire community of Jewish Christians scattered around the Roman world.

Some commentators have assumed the author to be James, the son of Alphaeus, a cousin of the Lord, instead of a brother.  This theory usually hinges upon the supposed “perpetual virginity” of Mary.  If she had no other children than Christ, his “brothers” could not be literal siblings.  There are four facts that militate against this theory:
  • It is highly unlikely Clopas’ wife was Mary’s sister – this would entail two sisters with the same name.  John names two pairs: Mary and her sister, and Mary the wife of Clopas.  The sister, no doubt, was Salome, John’s mother.  Hence, John was Mary’s nephew.  Since at the times of the Crucifixion none of Christ’s brothers were believers, it is in this connection that Jesus assigns the care of his mother to John instead of his own brothers.
  • We are explicitly told that Jesus’ brothers were not believers.  Consequently none of them could have been of the number of the apostles.
  • They are never called cousins of Jesus nor is there any proof that the Greek word which designates them as "brethren" is ever used in the sense of cousins in the New Testament.
  • After the Resurrection, when these brothers had become believers, they are distinguished from the Twelve[v].  This fact cannot be explained if at least two out of four of them were of the Twelve.  It is true that in Galatians 1:19 James is spoken of as an apostle, yet neither he nor Paul – the greatest apostle, was of the Twelve.

These facts seem to me to clearly indicate that James, Christ’s brother, the author of the Epistle, was not one of the Twelve and was a brother to our Lord in the sense that he was a child of Mary.

James’ prominence in the early church can be seen in the following references: Acts 12:7; 15:19; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9; 2:12.  The New Testament is silent concerning his later history but Josephus, the Jewish historian says “[Ananias] assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”[vi]


The date of the Epistle is difficult to ascertain.  Based on internal evidence most commentators place it in the period between Paul’s two imprisonments in Rome – i.e., about A.D. 62.  Since James resided in Jerusalem, this would be the place of writing.  Nevertheless, there are a few commentators who place the Epistle as early as 39 A.D.  The main internal support for this view comes from the fact that James calls the saints’ assembly a sunagwgh instead of an ekklhsia.  The reasoning employed is that the saints had not yet been completely expelled from the synagogues yet and forced thereby to form their own congregations henceforth called churches.


In the early Patristic age there was some questions as to its canonicity, but these passed away rather soon.  Clement of Rome quotes it.[vii]  Hermas quotes 4:7.[viii]  Irenaeus is thought to refer to 2:23.[ix]  According to Cassiodorus, Clement of Alexandria commented on it.[x]  Ephraim the Syrian quotes 5:1.[xi]  A strong proof of its authenticity is that it formed part of the old Syriac version, which contains no other of the disputed books, except Hebrews.[xii]

James’ inspiration as an apostle is expressly referred to in Acts 15:19, 28: "My sentence is…It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us."  His ecclesiastical authority is implied by the deference paid to him by Peter and Paul.[xiii]  The Lord had appeared specially to him after the resurrection.[xiv]  Peter in his First Epistle (universally from the first received as canonical) implicitly confirms the inspiration of James's Epistle by incorporating with his own inspired writings no less than ten passages from James.  The "apostle of the circumcision," Peter, and the first bishop of Jerusalem, would naturally have much in common.[xv]  The fact that it was written in the purest Greek would seem to show that it was intended not only for the Jews at Jerusalem, but also for the Hellenistic Jews.


The recipients of this letter were the Jewish Christians who were part of the Diaspora, i.e., the Dispersion of the Jews throughout the world.  This would seem to explain why, when in Chapter 2, in his discourse against favoritism, he calls their assembly a συναγωγὴ - a synagogue, instead of ἐκκλησία.


James’ object was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian life.  This largely accounts for the Epistle’s conspicuous lack of doctrinal statements.  The Epistles of Paul are usually an even balance: one half theology, one half application.  For instance, the first three chapters of Ephesians are purely theological pronouncements.  Chapters 4-6 however are the application of the foregoing doctrines.  Galatians is divided the same way as well.  This letter however contains 100% application, insinuating that the theology James is applying was familiar enough to his audience that he could forego repeating it.  He warns against several Jewish vices:
·         Formalism, which made the service of God consist in washings and outward ceremonies.  He therefore reminds them (1:27) that it consists rather in active love and purity.
·         Fanaticism, which, under the cloak of religious zeal, was tearing Jerusalem in pieces (1:20).
·         Fatalism, which threw its sins on God (1:13).
·         Callousness, which crouched before the rich (2:2).
·         Falsehood, which had made words and oaths play-things (3:2-12);
·         Partisanship (3:14);
·         Evil speaking (4:11);
·         Boasting (4:16);
·         Oppression (5:4).

The grand lesson he teaches them as Christians is patience:
  • patience in trial (1:2),
  • patience in good works (1:22-25),
  • patience under provocation (3:17),
  • patience under oppression (5:7),
  • patience under persecution (5:10);
  • the ground of their patience is that the coming of the Lord draws near, which will right all wrong (5:8).

[i] Mark 15:40
[ii] Galatians 1:19
[iii] Acts 12:2
[iv] Galatians 2:9
[v] Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5
[vi] Antiquities 20.9.1
[vii] Clement of Rome, 1 Corinth XI
[viii] Hermas, The Shepherd
[ix] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.16.2
[x] Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary: Introduction to James
[xi] Ephraim the Syrian, Against the Greeks
[xii] Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary: Introduction to James
[xiii] Acts 12:17; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9
[xiv] 1Cor. 15:7
[xv] Compare James 1:1 with 1 Peter 1:1; James 1:2 with 1 Peter 1:6; 4:12, 13; James 1:11 with 1 Peter 1:24; James 1:18 with 1 Peter 1:3; James 2:7 with 1 Peter 4:14; James 3:13 with 1 Peter 2:12; James 4:1 with 1 Peter 2:11; James 4:6 with 1 Peter 5:5, 6; James 4:7 with 1 Peter 5:6, 9; James 4:10 with 1 Peter 5:6; James 5:20 with 1 Peter 4:6

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