Survey of James

Book Type: One of the New Testament's General Epistles; the twentieth book of the New Testament; the fifty-ninth book of the Bible.

Author: James, the half-brother of Jesus, as identified in James 1:1. James was known as a pillar of the faith (Galatians 2:9). James was the also the brother of Jude, the author of the book of Jude (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). The speech given by James in Acts 15 is similar to the points made in this letter. Additional church traditions credit this book to the half-brother of Jesus Christ. Tradition says James died in AD 62 as a martyr for the faith.

Audience: As a General Epistle, James was written "to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion" (James 1:1). The context indicates the audience was Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. These believers would be encouraged by a letter from the leader of the Jerusalem church and half-brother of Jesus Christ. These believers faced various trials (James 1:2) and needed encouragement to live out the full expression of the gospel (James 1:22).

Date: The book of James would have been written prior to his death in AD 62. This letter makes no mention of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) which occurred around AD 49. As a result, many believe James was written between AD 44 and 49. However, any time between the AD 40s and AD 62 is possible. This opens the possibility for James to be the earliest-written book of the New Testament.

Overview: The five chapters of James address many smaller teaching sections, which can be grouped in many different ways. However, five key themes can be identified. The first theme involves enduring trials (James 1:1–18). James teaches his readers to endure trials with joy (James 1:2–4), asking God for wisdom (James 1:5–8), with the right perspective (James 1:9–11). Believers must also understand the power of temptation (James 1:12–15) and be thankful for God's goodness (James 1:16–18).

The second section focuses on living out God's truth (James 1:19–2:26). This includes handling anger well (James 1:19-21), being actual "doers" of God's words (James 1:22–27), not showing favoritism (James 2:1–13), and showing faith by righteous actions (James 2:14–26).

The third section focuses on wisdom and controlling one's words (James 3). The tongue is said to be powerful, yet also dangerous (James 3:1–12). James also distinguishes between heavenly and human wisdom (James 3:13–18).

The fourth section emphasizes humility (chapter 4). Many live opposed to the Lord as His enemy (James 4:1–6). In contrast, believers are to draw near to God and humble themselves before Him so they may be lifted up (James 4:7–17).

The fifth section emphasizes patience and prayer (James 5). James speaks against rich oppressors (James 5:1–6), extols patience (James 5:7–12), encourages faithful prayer (James 5:13–18), and teaches the need to show love to those in error (James 5:19–20).

Key Verses (ESV):

James 1:2–3: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."

James 1:19: "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger."

James 2:17–18: "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

James 3:5: "So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!"

James 5:16: "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."