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New Testament Survey
Lesson Seventeen


This epistle is "to the twelve tribes scattered abroad", which is the reason most feel it has the Jewish flavour.  The recipients were Christians, who happened also to be Jews, and is addressed to Christians everywhere.  In the salutation James calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ and the recipients as brethren.

It would appear that the audience were made up of both rich and poor. The rich seemed to have a tendency to oppress the poor.  The Christians he was writing to were experiencing trials and the influence of false teachers.  They had come to know the doctrine of justification by faith, but it was being perverted among them.  This left them in an unsatisfactory state and needed correction.  James comforts them in their trials but rebukes them for their sins.  He aims to give them instruction to correct the erroneous issues.

They seemed in danger of losing their patience in the face of oppression by the rich.  They also seemed to be moving toward an intellectual faith and forsaking the practice of Christian virtues.  The writer seems to have a sense of his authority for of the 108 verses in the book 54 are imperatives.

The style of the author is simple. He draws images from the realm of nature much like Jesus did.  He deals with the ethical aspects of Christianity.  He, like Amos of the Old Testament, rebuked social injustice, and so he has been called the Amos of the New Testament.  He is concerned that the redeemed recipients of his letter demonstrate their faith in deed, then word and finally thought.  He also desires that they remain faithful in the midst of trials and temptations, until the coming of the Lord.

Some suggest that James was an opponent of Paul. They reach this conclusion by an erroneous interpretation of Gal. 2:12.  James observed Old Testament ordinances but he was not a Judaizer.  He did not require the Gentiles to live by them.  Rather than opposing Paul he fought for his cause in the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-29).  He was a friend of Paul's to the end (Acts 21:18-25). James deals with a different issue than does Paul.  He values genuine faith (1:3;,6; 2:1,5,22-24; 5:15), but condemns dead orthodoxy and demons (2:29).  Paul would join him in this condemnation.  Paul also taught that good works is a necessary fruit of faith (Rom. 2:6-10; 2 Cor. 9:8; Eph. 6:23; Col. 1:4; 1 The. 1:3; 2 The. 2:17).

Certainly this epistle could not be an adverse reply to Paul's writings as some have suggested, for as we shall see below Paul's writing did not yet exist.

1. The book contains 5 chapters consisting of 108 verses.

2. The author of the book is a man called James.  The name James occurs forty times in the New Testament so there needs to be a determination of which James is meant here.  When a comparison is made it shows that there were three men named James in the New Testament.
a.  James the son of Zebedee, and the brother of the apostle John. He was martyred by Herod (Acts 12:2) around A.D. 42 and was not the writer of the epistle.

 b. James the son of Alphaeus.

c. James the brother of our Lord.    

The book is traditionally said to be written by James the brother of our Lord, (Mk.6:3).  He was an unbeliever during the earthly ministry of Jesus (Jn. 7:3-10) and after the crucifixion apparently he remained in Jerusalem with his mother.  Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7).  He had either been converted or was converted at this appearance because he is among those in the upper room (Acts 1:14).  Paul, when he came from Arabia, visited him in Jerusalem around A.D. 35 or 36 (Gal.1:18,19).

He was leader of the church in Jerusalem by A.D. 44 (Acts 12:17) and was the pastor or head of the first church council (Acts 15:13,19; Gal.2:1,9-10) and was overseeing the Jewish church there (Gal. 2:12). Josephus and Eusebius claim that James was martyred at Jerusalem in A.D. 62 or 63.

James was raised in the same environment as Jesus and was in close touch with Him during the years leading up to His ministry. Therefore his background was the same as that of Jesus..    

3. The dating of the book of James has a uniqueness about it.  It is probably the earliest written of all the New Testament books.  There seems to be a fine line between Judaism and Christianity.  Christian phraseology is absent and there is very little Christian doctrine in the book.  Gentile Christianity is not referred in the writing.  In the oldest manuscripts it is the first of the "Hebrew Christian epistles" which as a group precede the writings of Paul.

We then can put the date of the book around A.D. 45.  The date may not be provable conclusively.  The contents of the book fit that era very well.

4. Assuming that our conclusions are correct as to authorship and date, the book would have been written from Jerusalem by James the chairman or leader of  the Christian elders and assembly.


The theme of the book is faith is proven by good works.


Christ is seen as the unchangeable Father, the Wisdom of God, the coming Lord and the husbandman.

Key Words

The key words are works and faith(ful).  Other important words are doer(s), hearer(s), and righteous.

Key Verse

Jas. 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Jas. 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.


1. The main purpose for the epistle was to encourage them in their trial and tribulations.

2. It was given to correct erroneous practices that came from a false view of faith and works.

3. It was written to warn against the struggle for position rather than service.

4. It was given to show that patience is needed if we are to be successful in the Christian life.


Events and Characters

1. He begins by stating that we are to rejoice when we face trials and tribulations.  We can receive wisdom if we ask in faith and not waver.  Wavering means we are unstable.  Temptation comes from our own lusts because God only brings us good things.  Therefore we are to hear the word and do it.  Part of the doing of pure religion is to help those in need. The Christian is not to give precedence to the rich and despise the poor. Very often it is the rich who persecute and oppress those less fortunate then themselves.  Therefore if one has faith he will not just "pray" for the brother or sister in need but will do what he can to assist them. It is these works that show our justification just as Abraham's obedience demonstrated his righteousness.  It takes works and faith together to produce life.

2. A Christian is not to seek position because there is a greater responsibility and judgment if they fail.  The tongue is the area where most fail and cannot be tamed, and sets a fire that is very difficult to quench. We are saved and should not have this bitter and sweet water flowing from the same well.  Each one who is wise will have a good lifestyle that is gentle and peaceable.  Wars and strife come out of our own carnal nature.  Even when we ask we do so often out of wrong motives and so do not receive.  This is divided loyalties.  Lust and envy is friendship with the world which is the enemy of God.  Therefore we are to submit to God and resist these things of the devil and we will have victory. As we drawn near to God He draws near to us.  When we humble ourselves He lifts us up.

3. We are not to speak evil of one another because God is the judge and will deal with His own.  We are to go about our business, making plans, but leaving them in the hands of God. When we know to do good and don't then we are sinning.

4. Rich people have a special responsibility especially if they have gotten rich by treating others unjustly.  They will be judged at the coming of the Lord for their activity.  Those who have been the object of their injustices are to be patient. God will deal with them in His time.  In the meantime we are to honour one another, follow the example of the prophets who joyfully endured the attacks of the enemy.  We are to maintain our integrity, letting a yes mean yes and a no mean no.  When one is sick we can anoint with oil and pray, his sins will be forgiven and he will be healed.  We are not to despise what God has given for Elijah was just a man like us yet his prayers were effective in the nation.  When a brother strays from the truth we are to work for his restoration.  To save a sinner from error is to save him from death and obliterate a whole multitude of sins.

Lessons to Remember

1. Temptation and trials are a part of the Christian life so we are to rejoice that we can identify with His sufferings.

2. If we desire to receive from God we must act in unwavering faith.

3. Temptation comes from our own lustful natures.

4. God intends that we act on the Word He has given us not simply be hearers of it.

5. Pure and acceptable religion is to help those in need.

6. It is a sin to show respect to a person in the church simply because he is rich.

7. The seeking of position is dangerous, we must seek to serve instead.

8. A little thing like the tongue can cause untold harm and change the course of things.

9. Envy and strife bring confusion and every evil work.

10. Wars and fightings come from our own carnal nature.

11. God will resist the proud so we must humble ourselves before Him.

12. All our plans must be submitted to the will of God.



I. Faith Tested    1 - 2

    A. By Trials        1:1 - 8
    B. By Position        1:9 - 11
    C. By Temptation        1:12- 18
    D. By Action of the Word        1:19  -  27
    E. By Our Attitude to Fellow man        2:1  -  13
    F. By Good Works        2:14  -  26

II. The Tongue and Wisdom    3

III. Worldliness    4

IV. Admonitions    5

Outline (Alternative)

I. Salutations    1:1  

II. The Nature of True Religion    1:2  -  27

    A. Stability        1:2  -  11
    B. Endurance        1:12  -  18
    C. Action        1:19  -  27

III. The Nature of True Faith    2:1 -  3:12

    A. Avoidance of Discrimination        2:1  -  13
    B. Avoidance of Inactive Profession        2:14  -  26
    C. Avoidance of Boastful Officiousness        3:1 - 12

IV. The Nature of True Wisdom    3:13 -5:18

    A. Wisdom Defined        3:13  -  18
    B. Wisdom in Spiritual Life        4:1  -  10
    C. Wisdom in Legal Relationships        4:11  -  12
    D. Wisdom in Commercial Plans         4:13  -  17
    E.Wisdom in Labour Problems         5:1  -  6
    F. Wisdom in Waiting for the Lord         5:7  -  11
    G. Wisdom in Language        5:12
    H. Wisdom in Affliction        5:13  -  18

V. Conclusion: The Purpose of Wisdom An Effective Testimony        5:19  -  20

Feed Yourself Students:

Before the next lesson do the following:

1.  Read through the Books of I & II Peter two times each.

2.  Do your own outline of each book.

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