The Book of James Bible Study

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James 1

The writer of James - James 1:1

Purpose of Trials and Temptations - James 1:2-4

Asking for Wisdom - James 1:5-8

The Christian's Attitude in the Midst of Trials - James 1:9-11

The Crown of Life in the Midst of Trials - James 1:12

The Birth of Temptation - James 1:13-14

Disobedience and Death  - James 1:15

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The Christian's Bible - James 1:16-26

The Writer of James

The author's self-identification, as ďa servant of God and Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1,
relates only to his spiritual position. Unlike Jude (Jude 1:1), James obviously felt no need to indicate his family relations. He apparently was so well known that his readers would need no further identification.

Accepting the traditional view of authorship, one may discover from Scripture a modest amount of background information about James. He was the half-brother of Jesus, the child of Joseph and Mary (Galatians 1:19). Because he is mentioned first in the list of the Lord's brothers, it may be concluded that he was next in age after Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). James was presumably still a member of the family circle when Jesus and the family moved from Nazareth to Capernaum shortly after the start of the Lord's public ministry (Matthew 4:13; John 2:12).

During Christ's ministry, James, along with his brothers and mother, tried to visit Jesus (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21). Perhaps they were concerned about His health because of His strenuous activity and the reports that were circulating (Mark 3:21-31). Until at least seven months before the crucifixion, however, James remained an unbeliever in Jesus' mission (John 7:3-5).

When Jesus rose from the dead, James was the recipient of a special post-resurrection appearance (1 Corinthians 15:7). Was this the occasion of his conversion? Later we find him in the upper room at Jerusalem, along with Mary, His brothers, and the disciples who were waiting for the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised (Acts 1:14).

As the Jerusalem church became established, James is found in an increasingly prominent role. Paul visited him on his first post-conversion trip to Jerusalem, and this may imply that James himself was an apostle, at least in the wider sense (Galatians 1:18-19). He calls him one of the "pillars," along with Peter and John (Galatians 2:9). Peter, upon his miraculous release from prison, asked that the news be conveyed specifically to James, as well as to others (Acts 12:17).

James emerges as the leader of the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15:121). When certain tradition-minded Jewish Christians came to Antioch, apparently from the church at Jerusalem, Paul said they were "from James," presumably because they had come from the church where he was the leader (Galatians 2:12). Later, when Paul visited Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, he made his report to James and the elders (Acts 21:18). This manner of referring to James strongly implies that he was the leader of the Jerusalem congregation.

Several references outside the New Testament testify to James' piety and devotion to the Jewish law. In the writings of Hegesippus (ca. A.D. 180), James is depicted as a Nazarite whose times of prayer for his nation were so frequent and prolonged that his knees became calloused like the knees of a camel.

Other traditions identify him as the first "bishop" of Jerusalem. The death of James is recorded by the first-century historian Josephus, who said he was stoned to death on orders of the Sadducean high priest Ananus. Another account of his death is given by Hegesippus, who said James was asked to give his understanding of Jesus. When he said that Jesus was the Son of man, seated at the right hand of God, he was thrown down from the temple, stoned, and then killed with a club.

Aside from the reference to his position as a teacher in James 3:1, the author makes no further direct reference to himself. Yet few writings in the same space reveal more of the person of its author than this letter. He reveals himself as a vigorous personality, strong and assured in his position. His crisp, concise, authoritative tone commands attention. His brief, pointed sentences, like piercing arrows, invariably hit their mark. He uses language, which for forcibleness is without parallel in early Christian literature, excepting the discourses of Jesus.

A keen observer, he was alert to the operations of nature and repeatedly drew lessons from that area. He was also an attentive observer of human nature. He knows the fashions of the world, and he notes with unerring clearness and humorous shrewdness the characters of men; he sees their superficial goodness, their indolent selfishness, their vulgarity and the mischief of their untamed thoughtlessness.

He was a man of strong moral convictions whose deep sense of right compelled him to speak out sharply against wrong wherever he encountered it. His words of rebuke are sharp and incisive, yet he is essentially kindly in disposition. He was openly sympathetic with the poor (James 2:5); his indignation was aroused when they were mistreated (5:4) or scorned and slighted in the Christian assembly (2:2-4). He held that a living faith must manifest itself in a good life (2:17) and in social concern (1:27).

He held deep Christian convictions. He accepted monotheism as a cardinal principle of the faith (2:19). He regards God as the 'eternal changeless One' from whom come all good gifts (1:17), and under whose providence is every detail of life (4:15). He had strong convictions concerning the power and importance of prayer (1:5; 5:14-18) and the indwelling Word (1:18, 21). He was fully aware of the deep roots of sin in human nature (1:13-15), and saw an uncontrolled tongue as a manifestation of indwelling evil (3:6-8). He had a deep, if reserved, love for Christ, whom he called "the Lord of glory" (2:1). He awaited the return of Christ (5:7).

Though a devout Christian, Jamesí thinking is rooted in a Jewish background. Christian ideas are clothed in Jewish forms. Love for the world is condemned in Old Testament terms as adultery against God (4:4). He never uses the word gospel, but its place is apparently taken by what he calls "the law of liberty" or "the royal law" (2:12, 8). Evil speaking he condemns as putting a slight on the Law (4:11). He naturally reverts to the Old Testament for illustrations, yet the letter does not refer to the observance of Jewish rituals and sacrifices.

Next Section - Purpose of Trials and Temptations

Bible Studies by Bob Conway

Unsealing Revelation

Experiencing Exodus

Decoding Daniel

Life and Passion of Christ

The Holy Spirit

How to Study the Bible

Romans Salvation

Life of the Apostle Paul

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