This is intended as the introduction portion of our study in James. In it, I will cover (a) information about the author, (b) touch briefly on significant points and characteristics of the letter, and (c) establish a basic outline of the subsequent parts of the study.
So Who’s James?
As you read through the New Testament, you’ll notice that there are several men named “James” along the way. So how can we know which one wrote this epistle? Well, the apostle James (the brother of the apostle John, son of Zebedee) is thought to have been martyred a bit too early (Acts 12:2, early/mid 40’s AD) for it to have been from him, as this epistle is thought to have been written between ~50-66 AD. In Acts 15, we read about the council in Jerusalem — apparently the “leadership group” of the church at that time — and James, the half-brother of Jesus (i.e. one of the several sons that Joseph and Mary had “the normal way” after Jesus’ immaculate conception and birth), is seen there as a prominent leader at that time. It is generally recognized that the half-brother of Jesus is the James who wrote “The Epistle of James”.
Some mentions of this James that speak of his prominence in the early church:
- Peter told his friends to tell James that he’d been rescued from prison (Acts 12:17)
- James was mentioned as a leader in the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:13)
- Paul met with James on his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion (as mentioned in Galatians 1:19), as well as on his last visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:18)
- He was one of the select people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection (as mentioned in 1st Corinthians 15:7)
- Paul called him a “pillar” of the church (Galatians 2:9)
- Jude, in his epistle, identifies himself as a “bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and brother of James” — in a time when people typically introduced themselves by parental lineage, introducing one’s self as a “brother of” someone indicates that someone must have great enough significance to warrant it (Jude 1)
Significant Points and Characteristics
There are some points of significance that are useful to talk about, and others that generally only will appeal to a more “scholarly” type of study (such as taking note of the exceptional use of the Greek language). Since our purpose is a practical one, I’ll stick to the useful points and leave the more “scholarly” ones for you to seek out, should you so desire to jump into that pool later.
The epistle of James is sometimes referred to as “the New Testament ‘Proverbs'”, as it is rich with practical wisdom regarding righteous living, morality, dealing with temptation, prayer, “walking the talk”, and keeping one’s tongue on a tight leash. It is probably best known for its call for believers to match their talk about their faith with genuine action. The early parts of chapter 2 also suggest a great familiarity with Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, as it directly talks about points made there before “fleshing out” what exactly the heart the Lord was speaking about looks like in everyday life.
If you are using a study Bible, it will likely have some sort of outline preceding each book. Looking through several study Bibles and commentaries of my own in preparation for this study has given me no less than five general outlines — none of which are “right” or “wrong”, they simply group things together in different ways, depending on (a) the simplicity or thoroughness with which they are attempting to outline (the simplest used in the materials I possess had only five outline points, while the most thoroughly broken down one had ten outline points + 11 sub-points) as well as (b) what particular focus or topical emphasis each material delved into the most.
Look at it like the gospels: different perspectives on the same events give us harmonized, yet differentiated accounts of what happened that paint a “higher resolution” picture for us than if they’d been exact photocopies of each other. Likewise, don’t be discouraged or confused if your study Bible has a different outline than what we’ll follow here. The purpose of the simple outline I’m drawing up matches our immediate purposes, which is a plain “first run through” study of the book of James with sections that are large enough to focus on and learn from without being so big that we get lost in too much information. It will often follow the natural divisions within the fairly short chapters, and more or less breaks into about half a chapter for each part of our study (similar to what you’d find in the “Half-Chapter a Day” sections of Scripture I try to post daily).
I. Instruction Regarding Trials and Tribulations (1:2-1:18)
II. The Difference Between a Hearer and a Doer (1:19-1:27)
III. The Folly and Consequence of Favoritism (2:1-2:13)
IV. The Intersection of Faith and Works (2:14-2:26)
V. Taming the Tongue (3:1-12)
VI. Two Kinds of Wisdom (3:13-18)
VII. The Dangers of Pride (4:1-10)
VIII. The Dangers of Pride, Undercover (4:11-17)
IX. “To Whom Much Is Given…” (5:1-12)
X. The Prayer of Faith and Chasing Down the One (5:13-20)
This should be a real fun study, breaking down sections of this very practical book into daily, “bite sized” portions that we can then more easily incorporate into practical living. With ten sections, assuming that you read through one a day, even if you took the weekends off you could still complete a “first run through” study of the epistle of James in two short weeks. I pray that it would be as helpful and practical for you as getting ready for it has been for me.