ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Religion and Philosophy»
  • Christianity, the Bible & Jesus

Epistle of James - Study Guide

Updated on January 13, 2015
Source

Authorship and Historical Background

With some four or five early church figures named James, identifying the author of the epistle James initially proves a daunting task. Luckily, biblical scholars from a myriad of times and backgrounds have concluded that “James the Just” (named for his advocacy of piety and righteous living) is the mostly likely candidate for authorship. Students of the Gospels are apt to recognize this James as the earthly brother of Jesus Christ.

The consensus among the majority of biblical scholars regarding James’ authorship derives from several factors. Foremost, church traditions unilaterally point to Jesus’ sibling as the author of the epistle. Next, the letter “fits” what is known about the personality and pedigree of James. The text exhibits a refined Greek that would have been required of a Christian Jew who preached to Gentiles entering Jerusalem for sundry festivals and holy days.

Most importantly, the epistle’s traits match those of James as found in Luke’s records of the early church leader. According to the book of Acts, James showed particular concern for instructing young Christians, especially Gentile converts, in Godly practices. As the epistle concentrates on applying the principles of Christianity to everyday life, James proves an ideal contender for authoring the work. Finally, if the work had been scribed by a follower or other figure merely adopting James’ name, it is likely they would have given themselves more “pomp” or status than the epistle’s actual salutation (“servant”).

Discerning an exact audience for the work proves a thornier issue. As the style of the epistle is deliberately “encyclical” (intended for wide circulation to a number of diverse congregations), no precise locale or addressees can alone be divined from internal evidence. However, it is safe to assume the readers and listeners of the epistle were familiar enough with Jewish practices to recognize references to the “Diaspora” and other Semitic ideas.

One last historical note: the book of James long received a “second class citizenship” due to its facile contradiction with Pauline teachings concerning salvation by faith. Martin Luther explicitly rejected the epistle for its lack of cohesion with established Pauline doctrine. Recent studies in James have endeavored to reconcile the mistakes of such readings and have even begun to champion the epistle’s subtle but no less sophisticated literary style. Regardless, the book of James remains a vibrant work to both young and old believers.

TheEpistle of James

Form and Style

The tone of James betrays a singularly “oral” composition. This means that the letter has clearly been written to be read aloud for congregations of believers. Given the premise that “James the Just” authored the work, this technique should come as no surprise. James was known to have been a preacher of the Gospel and his prior understanding with Gentile Christians points to some experience as a fervent orator.

Those interested in the literary pedigree of the work should pay careful attention to the text’s rich exploitation of alliteration and word play. Where such devices become lost to translation, it is still possible to uncover the epistle’s use of “kinship” language in regards to Christian community. Terms like “Lord,” “servant” “brothers” and other phrases signify a clear tie to early Christian doctrines concerning community and faith.

Of course, most students of Old Testament or other Semitic works will recognize the tradition of Jewish Wisdom literature within the book of James. In particular, some have made comparisons between the epistle and the Old Testament Proverbs. This relationship primarily derives from the emergence of practical guidelines for holy living in both works. While many Jewish religious works concentrated on ritual observance and cultic practice, Proverbs and James describe ways that the faithful can exude their righteousness through everyday acts of prudence and mercy.

One thing the epistle does have in common with the Pauline epistles—diatribe. For first century readers, this was more than mere “rant” on a particular topic. Rather the primitive diatribe was an extended argument that evolved over several topics. The durability of the argument among several examples demonstrated its importance to the reader. After all, the monetary value of parchment often required authors to demonstrate concision; concentrating on a single argument for a protracted duration represented its value in more than one way. Examples of diatribe in James include Christian faith, trials and brotherhood.

An Understanding of "Desire" in The Epistle of James

Why would a gracious and loving God want to test his own children? Many seekers have trouble reconciling the temptations believers face with a benevolent creator even though James cautions against this very sentiment. To appreciate the emergence of temptations in our lives and God’s role in overcoming such “lusts” it may help to investigate James’ understanding of sinful desire.

One of the corner stones of progressive Jewish theology in the first century AD was the teaching of yeser or “inborn desire.” Yeser, according to rabbis and Jewish wisdom literature, represented the legion yearnings to be found in every person. These desires included simple and everyday needs in addition to complex aspirations. For Jews, a well observed, righteous life found ways to pursue these desires within the boundaries of the law.

Unchecked, such desires could lead individuals to pursue unhealthy “lusts” to gross proportions. Satisfying one’s desires apart from the will of God ran counter to the religious precept of Judaism. To do so proved that the individual was “unfit” for a sanctified life; the wayward believer had out their desires before those of God.

But without the capacity to choose between our own desires and righteous living, one could never achieve “perfection” (a word found more in James than any other epistle). Refinement required “testing.” Certainly the most well-known examples of faithful living—Abraham, Job, Jesus Christ—used personal trials to wait upon God for strength.

Readers of the epistle of James would also have been aware of those in Jewish tradition who failed to find their yeser in God’s plans. It is perhaps no accident that James refers to his listeners as the “Diaspora,” the rebellious Israelites who were handed into captivity for following their idolatrous and sinful desires.

Legacy of Wisdom

Which of the following scriptures offers the most durable teaching from the Epistle of James?

See results

Brother and Saint

Know any other online resources for studying the Epistle of James? I look forward to your comments and thank you in advance for any kind words. Check out my other Hub Pages for additional suggestions for navigating college assignments by working smart instead of merely working hard.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)