Why The Gaps In Prophecy? By Jack Kelley Scattered throughout the Scriptures are prophecies that…
Book of James – Introduction – Part 2
By Dr. Andy Woods
We started off with authorship. There are four Jameses mentioned in the New Testament, and we believe that the most likely candidate for the author of the book of James is James, the half-brother of Christ.
From there (second), we gave a biographical sketch, albeit fairly brief on who this James, the half-brother of Christ was. Probably the two most important things to remember is that he was the half-brother of Christ, sharing the same mother but not the same biological father, since Jesus was born of a virgin. He also became the pastor of the church at Jerusalem.
The third thing we looked at is the audience. To whom is James, the half-brother of Christ writing? Well, first, his audience is Jewish; we know that because it says “to the twelve tribes.” Second, his audience is persecuted; they are scattered by Saul of Tarsus before he was converted.
Third, where did they go? They either went one of two places because those are the two places that we have knowledge of: the either went to Babylon or to north central Turkey. Of the two, I think the most likely is that James is writing to those in Babylon because Peter is going to address the ones in north central Turkey.
The fourth and most important thing to remember about James’ audience, in order to properly interpret the book of James, particularly James 2 because you have to understand that they are already Christians; already regenerated. I gave you some Scripture on that last time; probably the strongest of those is James 4:5 where James says, ‘the spirit that indwells us earnestly desires us.’ And he can’t make a statement like that unless he is talking to believers. So his audience is Jewish, persecuted in the diaspora, the dispersion; they’ve been kicked out of the land of Israel and they’re probably in Babylon, modern-day Iraq, and they are believers.
The next thing we looked at is from where did James write this book, and we believe that James wrote this book from Jerusalem. He was probably still the pastor of the persecuted church when he wrote this, he lived his entire life in Jerusalem; he was martyred in Jerusalem, thus Jerusalem is the most likely place where he wrote this book from. So he is writing from the land of Israel in Jerusalem roughly to the scattered Jews in Babylon, modern-day Iraq.
I think we left off on the date. The date on this is very interesting. We believe that the book of James is the earliest New Testament book ever written, so all they had prior to this point in time is the Old Testament, and then the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Then the birthday of the Church in Acts 2, and they had no New Testament Scripture yet at all — until this book came along. So the most likely date of this book would be AD 44-47. Now, rather than just tell you what to believe, I am more interested in why we believe this, so let me give you some reasons why we believe that this is the oldest or earliest New Testament book.
Number one, there is no reference to the Temple’s destruction which would happen at the hands of the Romans in AD 70. Therefore, it must have been written before the Temple was destroyed, so the temple in Jerusalem was still functioning at this time, so it had to have been written prior to AD 70.
Number two, James was martyred most likely in AD 62-63, so it is hard to write a book after you’re dead. Thus, he must have written it before he was martyred. That would push the date even earlier.
There is no mention in this book elsewhere of basic Christian doctrines developed elsewhere in Paul’s letters. Paul is the one who is going to talk to us about the Body of Christ; James doesn’t do that; the coming last days apostasy of the Church; James doesn’t do that; the union of the Jews and gentiles in one new man, called the Body of Christ, or the Church — James doesn’t do that. Why doesn’t James do any of these? Because he is preceding Paul; he is writing before Paul.
Go through the book of James and there isn’t a lot of fine-sounding high-level Christology which just means doctrine of Christ as is in Philippians because Paul’s writings aren’t even on the record yet. So that would push the date even earlier, and we have to push the date to before AD 49, because in AD 49, James was a key spokesman at the Council at Jerusalem. You can read about that in Acts 15. That was a big pow-wow that the early church had; the early church was still very Jewish at this point; its leadership was Jewish, and lo and behold, the Lord started saving all of these non-Jews — what a shock! So there was a big meeting in Acts 11, and they asked, ‘can a gentile really get saved?’ because Cornelius had just been saved. Cornelius and his entourage, his family, so they figured out in Acts 11 that God is saving gentiles.
Then Paul goes on his first missionary journey into southern Galatia and gentiles are getting saved like crazy, so now the Jewish early church is trying to figure out if they should make these gentiles come under the Mosaic law and become part of Israel once the gentiles are saved. This big meeting as described in Acts 15 surrounded this and the big ruling on this came down as no. That was a big deal because going back 1500 years to Ruth, a Moabite, when if a gentile wanted to walk with YAHWH, they converted to Judaism. So it would have been logical for these Jewish leaders to put these gentiles under Israel or the law of Moses to join the church; not to be saved; they already knew a gentile could get saved thanks to Cornelius’ salvation, but now they’re ruling on ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church.
So here we would be in 2020 being part of the nation of Israel if that ruling had gone the opposite direction. James, is one of the key spokespersons at that ruling. You will notice that in James’ little epistle that we are beginning to study doesn’t make any reference to that event, which he probably would have given the huge role he played there. So if that ruling happened around AD 49, that would push the date even earlier. So this is a pre-AD 49 book.
There is also no reference at all to the gentiles getting saved in Paul’s first missionary journey — on a map, this is where Paul went on his first missionary journey — into southern Galatia — he probably went there around AD 48-49; that’s when the gentiles started getting saved in droves. James doesn’t mention that in the letter we are studying, so that would push the date even earlier, pre-AD 48,49.
James makes reference to the Sermon on the Mount, recall those passages we examined in James 01. One was in James 4:11,12, where very clearly James is referencing something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1, and then in James 5:12. James is very clearly referencing something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:34-37, but you will notice that when James quotes the Sermon on the Mount, he doesn’t say ‘Matthew 7:1.’ He doesn’t say Matthew 5:34-37; he just gives a quote. Now, why didn’t he quote it in Matthew because Matthew probably hadn’t even been written yet. And yet James, as the half-brother of Christ, was probably on the scene to hear that sermon. If he didn’t hear that exact sermon, being Christ’s half-brother, he probably heard Jesus say a lot of different things like that at different times. So that puts the date to pre-Matthew which pushes it back even earlier.
Take a look at James 2:2; this is very interesting where James says, “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes” and he is condemning the earliest of Christianity because they were showing favoritism to the rich — I’m glad that never happens in 21st century America. So he is coming down on these early Christian assemblies for showing favoritism, and in the process he says, “now if a man comes into your assembly” [now I’ve got the Greek word translated for assembly in brackets, and it is the word, ‘synagōgē’]. So they were still meeting in synagogues. And that would make sense if they were Jewish because that is what they knew; they were just worshiping Yeshua as the Hebrew Bible points to Him. Might we even call it a completed Judaism. But they’re still worshiping in synagogues; James doesn’t use the word, ‘church’ or ‘churches.’ Nor does he use the words, ‘bishops’ or ‘deacons;’ he uses words like ‘masters’ and ‘teachers’ in a synagogue. So the way this worship service here is being described is as a very early, primitive form of Christianity, which would push the date of the book even earlier.
Then when you look at James 1:1, it is very clear that his audience is scattered or dispersed. James says “To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.” Now that is just a matter of looking into the book of Acts as to how these early Hebrew Christians got scattered; we talked it about earlier: who scattered them — Saul of Tarsus, and that occurred very early in the book of Acts. Acts 8:3,4 says, “But Saul began ravaging the Church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered…” [now that’s the same concept that we have in James 1:1]… “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”
So you don’t have any gentile converts yet — all of the converts to the cause of Christ are Jewish, and Stephen, one of the first deacons — I think his name is mentioned second in Acts 6 which mentions the early deacons of the early church in Jerusalem, gave a speech in Acts 7, and it wasn’t exactly what we would call a seeker-friendly speech because in the speech, aimed at the Jewish leaders, he blames them for the death of Christ. He says, ‘you all rejected Jesus and you guys are always wrong the first time out anyway. You have a tendency to get it right the second time, but the first time out you rejected the prophets, you rejected Joseph, you rejected Moses’ and he goes on like this for more than 50 verses. By the time they were finished they didn’t say, ‘wow, that is a great sermon; can we get a round of applause for Stephen?’ The Bible says they were gnashing their teeth at what he said, and Saul of Tarsus heard it and basically assisted by holding the cloaks of those throwing the stones, but he was an aider and abetter in the execution or the first martyr of Christendom, a man named Stephen. Saul of Tarsus didn’t stop there; he didn’t like these people that Stephen was affiliating with — the Hebrew Christians. So he went around and ravaged them from house to house, and they scattered.
When you go to Acts 11:19, it talks about how this wave of persecution continued even though by now, Saul had been converted in Acts 9, but he put into motion in Acts 8, a horrific wave or persecution against Hebrew Christianity. It says in Acts 11:19, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.” So Christ told the church before it had formed in Acts 1 that ‘you’re going to be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria and to the remote parts of the earth.’ The problem was that they had been in Jerusalem as their capital going all the way back to the time of David — a thousand years. The Jewish mindset had never had any thinking about ever leaving Jerusalem. Now that the church had been formed and they are all real comfy in Jerusalem, the Lord said, ‘Ok, it is time to be my witnesses into the remote parts of the earth. Oh and by the way, I never told you how I was going to get you out of Jerusalem, did I?’
It turns out that the Lord strategically used Saul of Tarsus to persecute them; to get them out into fulfilling the Great Commission.
So when James addresses his flock from Jerusalem as the pastor of the Jerusalem church, and he talks about how they had been dispersed abroad, that event connects with the book of Acts, chapter 8, which pushes the date of James to even earlier because that is a very early event in the book of Acts.
So putting all of these pieces of information together, and we learn that James wrote, probably from Jerusalem, to the scattered flock — probably in Mesopotamia in about AD 44-47.
You notice here that Saul of Tarsus, who later became Paul, hadn’t written a single book yet. The very first book that Paul would write would be Galatians. So James pre-dates all of Paul’s letters, predates the book of Galatians and the other 26 New Testament books that we have.
We literally have 39 books in the Old Testament and about 400 years of silence following Malachi. Then, boom! We get into the New Testament era, and this is the first book that the Lord allowed to come into existence. I think this is instructive because a lot of people will say, ‘well, James was upset with Paul and was writing a book to refute Paul because Paul emphasized faith alone and James wanted to write about faith plus works.’ There is that mindset out there. Well, that’s ridiculous because Paul’s writings don’t even exist yet. James is not polemicizing against Paul; Paul is not polemicizing against James. In fact, when you go to the Book of Acts, you will see James and Paul working together. Let me give you a few verses: Acts 15:12,13; Acts 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9;12 — and you will see James and Paul working together. So James and Paul are not adversaries at all; it is like three blind men touching an elephant — one person is touching the trunk and he is saying it feels like a giant tube, the other blindfolded person is touching the foot, and says he feels these five lumps or toes, and then one person is touching the elephant’s side and says it feels like a giant wall. At first glance, all of those testimonies seem to contradict each other until you take the blindfolds off and realize they’re touching different sides of the same animal.
So Paul is going to touch one side of the doctrine of salvation: we are saved by faith alone. James is touching another side of the doctrine of salvation: how our faith can become useful in daily life. So the order of the letters proves that James is not contradicting or attacking Paul.
So the date of this book would be AD 44-47; it is the very first book that we have in the New Testament.
The next issue is the occasion: what were the circumstances that prompted James to write? His audience was in the diaspora, scattered Jews, and we know that from James 1:1; they have been dispersed abroad, and that is in harmony with what we study early in the Book of Acts chapters 8 and 11. His audience is living outside of Jerusalem; they’re not only outside of Jerusalem they’re outside of the land of Israel, probably in that region of Babylon.
Another picture of it: James is writing from Jerusalem to the scattered Jews in Babylon. That would have been a very logical place for James’ audience to flee because that is where most of the Jews were; a lot of them did not come back from the Babylonian Captivity as you read about in the Old Testament. Take a look at the genealogy that are provided in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and you will see that only a very small sliver of them came back. So if they’re kicked out of Jerusalem, then you go to where your kinfolk are, which is mostly likely where they fled. The Jews living in that area did not have the supervision of an apostle.
They did not even have a pastor because their pastor, James, the Lord’s half-brother, was still residing in Jerusalem, we believe. So they can’t ask questions of anyone; they don’t have the Law anymore, because they’re in a new age of time called the church age, and there has been a new work of the Holy Spirit started in Acts 2. So they can’t put themselves back under the Law as they did related to their time as members of Old Testament Israel. The ruling at the Jerusalem Council in and of itself in Acts 15 shows, ‘we are in a new age now where you can’t just go back to the Law to get answers to life as you used to do.’ Why didn’t these folks just read the New Testament? There is no New Testament yet. There are zero New Testament books until James writes his.
And they knew something from their history: they knew from their national history as Jews that God cares about how we live. We call that practical righteousness. They knew from their national history that practical righteousness was a prerequisite towards having fellowship with God, and they knew that from the Mosaic Covenant that God entered into with Israel at Mount Sinai. Part of that Mosaic Covenant were blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. What God said at Mount Sinai going back 1500 years was this: [if Israel disobeyed]: “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.” Now that was articulated at Mount Sinai in Leviticus 26 and it was repeated for the benefit of the next generation on the plains of Moab in Deuteronomy 28. All you have to do is study the Old Testament. God took what He said there very seriously. He told them that when they disobeyed their covenant that God would discipline them through a foreign power. So Solomon went into apostasy at the end of his life, thus God brought discipline as the kingdom was divided between the 10 northern tribes and the 2 southern tribes. The 10 northern tribes continued into apostasy, so God brought the Assyrians against them and scattered them in 722 BC. The remaining southern tribes actually became worse than the northern tribes, so God disciplined them again through the Babylonians.
All of this history is on the books; it is on the record. Jews and Hebrews knew this history backwards and forwards, and they knew that if they lived in a way dishonoring to God that God would bring discipline, but they also knew that if they lived in a way that was honoring to God that God would bring blessing.
So the dominant issue on the minds of these Hebrew Christians in the age of the church now that they’re no longer under the Mosaic Law were issues related to practical righteousness. They weren’t trying to figure out how they could become Christians; they had already become Christians and had the Holy Spirit living inside of them. What they were trying to figure out was how to live right in the age of the church now that ‘we can’t go back to the Mosaic Law to get our primary cues.’ We also know that practical righteousness is a big deal because they have this whole history where God disciplined them over and over again throughout the centuries because of their own unrighteousness. Again, they have no apostle of whom they could ask a question, and probably the person who they would ask is their pastor, but the problem is their pastor was in Jerusalem and these folks were 350 miles to the east in Mesopotamia or Babylon.
So that is the occasion of the book; that is what they’re concerned and thinking about: not positional righteousness, they already had that, but about practical righteousness. Therefore, those are the circumstances. The Germans called this ‘stitz im leben’ which means ‘situation in life.’ The situation in life that gave rise to this letter is what you try to figure out when studying any book of the Bible. What is the situation in life that gave rise to this? Every book of the Bible is like that in that there is some kind of occasion that is occurring behind the scenes whereby a particular book originated, and that is how the book of James came into existence.
So what is the purpose of the book of James, and this answers the why question. Why was this written? James wrote to show his Jewish Christian audience living in the diaspora how to achieve a practical righteousness that pleases God — so here is how you live and here is how you order your life in such a way in the age of the Church that your outward conduct is consistent with your position in Christ. James had the authority to address them because he was their pastor, and he probably knew many of them by name prior to their being dispersed by the apostle Paul. I would think that he knew many of them personally, so that’s why he is writing this particular book.
What is the book about? James wrote in order to show his Jewish Christian readers living in the diaspora how to achieve a practical righteousness that pleases God. Then that takes us to the message. The purpose is why; the message is what? What is this book about, in other words, if you had to summarize its contents in a sentence, how would you do it? Here is my attempt at it: practical righteousness is attainable when believers live by faith; in other words, the faith that saves you is the faith that you keep living by, because what happens to you as a Christian is that you are saved by faith, then you have a problem in your life. God has put that problem in your life because He wants you to trust Him through the problem.
The temptation of the Christian is to try and handle the problem in your own power and the book of Galatians says, ‘are you so foolish having begun in the spirit, are you now trying to be perfected by the flesh?’ So what the book of James is about is that if you want to achieve a conduct in daily life that is pleasing to God, then the faith which saves is the same faith that you rely on and actively live by as you walk through the emergencies of life. As we do that, we are achieving a daily righteousness which is pleasing to God. As we are achieving a daily righteousness pleasing to God, then He no longer has to put us into divine discipline. Because if we become unrighteous in our daily lives as Christians, we cannot forfeit our salvation. But you can go under the rod of chastisement, and James’ readers knew all about chastisement because they knew their Jewish history from the Mosaic Covenant and what God spoke back in Deuteronomy 28:49-50; so that is what they’re thinking about.
How do we achieve a practical righteousness that is pleasing to God so that we don’t go under divine chastisement? The message of the book is that practical righteousness is attainable when believers live by faith. The faith that saves is the faith that you keep resting in and relying upon through life’s emergencies. And you walk by wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge applied. The Greek word for “knowledge” is ‘gnosis;’ the Greek word for “wisdom” is ‘sofia,’ where you are taking knowledge and applying it.
The Hebrew word for “wisdom” is ‘chokmâh’ and that is how you attain a righteousness in daily life that pleases God. I’m not talking about position, I am talking about practice. You keep taking the truths that you are learning, for example, at Sugar Land Bible Church, and we don’t just sit, soak and sour; it doesn’t just stay in a notebook but it gets applied to daily life. So if you’re trusting God through trials, and you are applying knowledge on a moment-by-moment basis, then that is a practical righteousness that pleases God. It isn’t necessary to go back under the Law of Moses to have this. That is basically what the book of James is about.
We talk frequently at this church about the three tenses of salvation:
Justification – past tense of salvation
Sanctification – present tense of salvation
Glorification – future tense of salvation
At justification, I am saved from sin’s penalty at the point of faith alone in Christ alone, and that takes place in a nanosecond.
In the walk of progressive sanctification, I am being gradually delivered from sin’s power as I learn to appropriate the divine resources that God gives me for daily life. In this particular phase of salvation, I don’t become sinless, but I am sinning less. As that happens in our lives, we are growing into growth and progressive sanctification.
Then at glorification either at death or the rapture, we are delivered from sin’s very presence.
So the Scripture will place ‘saved’ in the past tense, the present tense and the future tense. People say, ‘have you been saved?’ The answer is, ‘I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.’
In justification, you move from being a single-natured entity with only one nature — a nature that is at war with God. At justification, God infuses into you a new nature; the old nature does not die and disappear; it has been rendered powerless, but its presence is still there and will remain as long as we are in these physical bodies; until the rapture or our dying day.
So in sanctification, you are dual-natured, and the goal is to yield moment-by-moment to the new nature and its desires, and to reckon dead, based on Christ’s authority (Romans 6), the yearnings and desires of the old nature.
So before justification, single-natured; after justification, dual-natured, but at death or the rapture, you become single-natured. This time the old nature is completely gone.
So the book of James is about the middle tense of salvation. So this is not a book about how to become a Christian. The gospel of John is a book about how to become a Christian. A lot of things Paul says in the Book of Romans is about how to become a Christian. The book of James is not set up that way; it is set up to help the Christian who is already regenerated to mature in the middle tense of their salvation.
So that is why the message of the book of James is practical righteousness, not positional; positional is a justification issue; practical is a sanctification issue, that is, how our practice catches up to our position in daily life. Practical righteousness is attainable when believers live by faith and walk by wisdom. So we are completely here in the book of James in the middle tense of salvation.
What are some themes in the book of James? The transition from being a ‘hearer’ to a ‘doer,’ James 1:22, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” It is easy to come to a Bible church, take notes, fill up your notebook with all kinds of great scriptural insights and then just put it on the shelf where it has no influence over your life whatsoever. That is what you would call knowledge that has not yet translated into wisdom. If we are doing that, then we are hearers only and deluding ourselves. Why are we deluding ourselves? Because the goal of knowledge is to become wisdom. God never gave knowledge just for the sake of knowledge; knowledge is not the end game. Knowledge is not the final step; it has to be translated into practice or the knowledge that God has given us is not of much value.
So what happens to people is that they think that coming and hearing and listening and going through the discipline of reading and listening equals spirituality, but if it isn’t practiced or applied; if ‘gnosis’ doesn’t become ‘sofia’; if it never becomes ‘chokmâh’ or wisdom for life, then we delude ourselves because we misunderstand why God gave knowledge to begin with. God never gave knowledge initially just to be the end game.
So James is about moving from ‘hearer’ to ‘doer;’ moving from belief to behavior; from doctrine to deed. What if they never become doers or change their behavior, or if doctrine never becomes deed? Then they become candidates for divine discipline, which they knew from their history, happened quite frequently, thanks to what God said all the way back to the time of Moses regarding how God would bring discipline against the nation. So if you want to avoid divine discipline in the New Testament sense, then you have to pursue practical righteousness. Thus, the reason why the book of James was written.
So James is the writer of conduct; you can take all of the biblical writers and apostles and probably summarize their emphasis in a single word. Paul’s emphasis is faith; Peter’s emphasis is hope; John’s emphasis is love; Jude’s emphasis is truth. How about James, the half-brother of Christ, who wrote the very first New Testament letter or book, and he only wrote this one book? His emphasis is obviously on conduct.
What are some things in the book of James that are nowhere else in the Bible? James makes a couple of references to the Sermon on the Mount without giving the scriptural address about where to find those passages, so James must have written after the Sermon on the Mount was given, but before Matthew recorded it in written form. There are a lot of references in this book to the Old Testament. That is the only scripture available prior to the book of James to this Jewish audience. There are a lot of illustrations from nature and daily living. James will says things like, ‘well, what is your life; it is like mist that is here today and gone tomorrow. Then you think about mist and an illustration from daily life, and it gives you an example of a great spiritual point regarding the brevity of life.
There is not a lot of Christology or doctrine of Christ here; it is very undeveloped; we have to wait until Philippians, Romans and Ephesians to get all of that. It is probably the least theological book that we have; there is some good theology in it, but the emphasis is not in theology but in practice. In fact, other than Philemon, the book of James is probably the least theological book in the New Testament. James uses a lot of literary devices such as figures of speech and rhetorical questions, ie, a question that assumes its own answer just to get someone to think. For example, when I walk into the house and my wife asks, ‘did you leave the door open?’ She is not asking for information, she can see that the door is open. It is a rhetorical question designed to motivate me to think about getting up and closing the door. James asks rhetorical questions a lot, not to get an answer, but to get them to think about something.
James has a very concise and pithy writing style. Interestingly enough, the Greek in the book of James is very high caliber; that is why that higher critics don’t think that James from Galilee could have written this. James has been called the Proverbs of the New Testament. If you want some things to practice in your life, read the book of Proverbs, written 1,000 years before Christ was born. There are different authors, but the primary author is Solomon, and if you can’t put Proverbs into practice, then you can’t put anything into practice. They are some very terse things about how to live; about gossip, anger, anger management, money, debt, co-signing loans, avoiding temptation to commit adultery. It goes on and on in the book of Proverbs, and James is a kind of New Testament rendition of the book of Proverbs in a shorter form.
He employs a writing style in what is called the wisdom literature. Wisdom literature is ‘chokmâh’ — application; there are certain books of the Hebrew Old Testament that are called wisdom literature; designed to give you terse sayings applied to daily life, such as Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, etc. James is a New Testament rendition of wisdom literature.
James has been called the Amos of the New Testament. Amos did not like it when he saw people getting cheated by the powerful, and you will see that James doesn’t like it either. He speaks very aggressively against it to the point where many see a lot of Amos in the book of James.
James has a lot of commands that we call imperatives. There are 108 verses here, and 54 of the 108 are commands that we as Christians are to follow. That is why the audience has to be saved; the only command given to an unbeliever is to ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.’ James doesn’t say that at all; it is one command after another, assuming that the believers who he is writing to have the power to fulfill these commands because they already have the Holy Spirit inside of them, James 4:5.
This is the oldest New Testament book; the earliest New Testament book, and it isn’t like the book of Romans where you can come up with an outline that makes sense. The book of Romans is much easier to outline than the book of James which is difficult to outline.
So with that being said, let me give you what I think is an outline that works, although it is not easy to come up with. I would organize the book according to two concepts:
Faith (James 1:1-3:12)
Wisdom; ‘sofia,’ ‘chokmâh’ (James 3:13-5:20)
Typically when James says ‘brethren’ or ‘brothers,’ he is switching subjects. So that is kind of a key literary device you can find when trying to outline the book. By the way, he keeps saying ‘brethren’ or ‘brothers,’ because his audience is obviously saved, or else he would not use that term repeatedly in the book.
So let’s talk about faith; a big deal because if you hear what I am saying now, you will avoid confusion on the book of James that haunts most Christians for their entire lives because no one has ever taught them what I am about to teach you in terms of faith. For example, look at James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” So in the first half of the book he is dealing with faith. Something I want you to understand; he is not dealing with saving faith but with serving faith; not with saving faith but with sanctifying faith; he isn’t dealing with the faith that is necessary for a person to be justified before God; he is dealing with the faith that we have as Christians as we keep trusting God through the different emergencies and exigencies of life, eg, being kicked out of your country and your home into some region you know very little about. Think about the trials that this audience was going through, and what James was saying is that you have to keep trusting God through those circumstances; trusting God to help you through those circumstances to achieve a practical righteousness that is pleasing to God. So James is not dealing with a saving faith; he is dealing with serving faith.
It is interesting that Lewis Sperry Chafer drew a distinction between different kinds of faith. He said, ‘In its larger usage, the word faith represents at least four varied ideas: (1) As above, it can be a personal confidence in God. This, the most common aspect of faith, can be subdivided into three features:
1. Saving faith, which is the inwrought confidence in God’s promises and provisions respecting the Savior that leads one to elect to repose upon and trust in the One who alone can save. [So you trust Christ you are a Christian but then comes…]
2. Serving faith which contemplates as true the fact of divinely bestowed gifts and all details respecting divine appointments for service. This faith is always a personal matter, and so one believer should not become a believer for another. That such faith with its personal characteristic may be kept inviolate, “…the apostle Paul writes: “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God.” Great injury may be wrought if one Christian imitates another in matters of appointment for service.
Now if you look, eg, at Romans 12, when it is mentioning spiritual gifts, obviously to save people, because unsaved people do not have spiritual gifts — what is he saying? Romans 12:4,6 “for just as we have many members in one body, (Romans 12:4) and all members do not have the same function” — jumping down to verse 6, “since we all have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise it accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.” See that? It is the same Greek noun, ‘faith,’ (‘pistis’). In other words, it takes faith to get saved. Guess what? It takes faith to serve, and Lewis Sperry Chafer said ‘it takes faith to live for God.’
1. Sanctifying or sustaining faith which lays hold of the power of God for one’s daily life. It is the life lived in dependence on God, working upon a new life principle (Rom.6:4). The justified one, having become what he is by faith, must go ahead living on the same principle of utter dependence on God.’
Did you catch that? ‘The justified one, having become what he is by faith, must go ahead living on the same principle of utter dependence on God.’
So if I trusted in Christ to be saved to serve Christ, I have to keep trusting Him. To grow in Christ, I have to keep trusting Him, or else I can’t achieve a practical righteousness that pleases God. Take the Numbers generation, eg, the Exodus generation who came out of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea. They were clearly believers because it says (Exodus 14:30-31) when they passed through the Red Sea, “they believed in the Lord.”
I give you this comment from Ron Allen showing that’s the same Hebrew structure given in Genesis 15:6 concerning Abraham’s faith. These folks are in the hall of faith so they had faith necessary to be justified. (Hebrews 11:28-29). These were the folks who put the blood on the doorpost in Egypt and avoided plague #10, the death of the firstborn, and yet, track their progress: they went to Sinai, up north, an 11-day journey from Sinai to Canaan per Deuteronomy 1:5. All they had to do was to trust God for 11 stupid days and they would be in the Promised Land. These were the same people who trusted God when they walked through the Red Sea; the same people that put the blood on the doorpost in Egypt and avoided plague #10, same people whose names are recorded in Hebrews 11, the hall of faith; the same people that had saving faith, but not serving faith. They didn’t have sanctifying faith. All of these people will be in heaven, by the way. If they didn’t get to heaven, then we have a big problem because Moses was part of that group, so he wouldn’t have gotten to heaven either. And that wouldn’t make sense because Moses appears on the Mount of Transfiguration. So these people that had trusted in God and got to Kadesh Barnea, and had looked into the land of Canaan, which could have been theirs; they saw giants in the land and what happened to their faith?
Numbers 14:11 happened: “The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” How could God say they don’t believe in Him when they had believed in Him when they passed through the Red Sea? Because Numbers 14:11 is not dealing with saving faith but is dealing with serving faith and sanctifying faith.
The book of James is not dealing with saving faith in the same sense; it is dealing with serving faith and sanctifying faith. So what happens in James 1:1-3:12 is that it is an explanation on how our saving faith can be transferred into serving faith as we keep trusting God through trials, James 1:2-18; as we keep trusting God by obeying His Word, James 1:19-27; as we keep trusting God by not showing favoritism in the synagogue favoring the rich James 2:1-13; and as we allow our faith which is already inside of us to become serving faith, which begins to manifest itself in good works, James 2:14-26. And if your saving faith never becomes serving faith, then your serving faith is dead. ‘Faith without works is dead.’ Now is James making a comment on saving faith? Not at all. But he is making a comment on serving faith. You are going to heaven, but God can’t use you for anything significant here on the earth because you don’t trust Him through different issues of life, just like the Exodus generation didn’t.
And by the way, how do I really know if I am doing well in this area of serving faith and sanctifying faith? I am not only allowing my faith to produce good works that God wants to use to bless other people, but I am actually gaining success in the ultimate good work that someone can do as a Christian, which is to, per James 3:1-12, control the 2×2 slab of mucous membrane between our gums, the tongue. If you can control that, the hardest one to control; if you can get that one in check, you are doing pretty well. It’s like how they used to teach Christian sex education given the power of the sex drive. If you can bring that under discipline and godliness as a young person with their sex drive at its pinnacle; if you can bring that under divine discipline and control that, then anything else in life is easy; you can bring discipline to anything. That is how it is with the tongue because it is the hardest thing to control; yet if that can be controlled through divine resources, then anything else in your life is easy.
So it is how faith transfers into not just saving faith but serving faith in all of these areas. And James also is dealing with wisdom; ‘sofia,’ ‘chokmâh’, which is knowledge applied. So what he does about midway through James 3, after he finishes talking about the tongue is to define wisdom. James 3:13-18; he distinguishes wisdom from above and wisdom from below. Wisdom from heaven and wisdom from hell; wisdom from God and wisdom from satan. Wisdom that is spiritual and wisdom that is of this world, because the world offers wisdom, too. James said what godly wisdom looks like, and by the way, he builds his whole case for godly wisdom there in that paragraph from the book of Proverbs. Every point he makes is from the book of Proverbs because James is the proverbs of the New Testament. So he defines wisdom, and then he says, ‘wisdom has to be applied, or it’s not wisdom, so let’s apply it to spiritual matters’ (James 4:1-12). Let’s apply it to business. The Bible talks about how we should apply God’s wisdom and principles to finances James 4:13-17. Let’s apply it to wealth, James 5:1-6). Let’s apply it to waiting for the Lord’s return, James 5:7-12; to prayer James 5:13-18; let’s apply it to someone who just ticks you off, and you are trying to restore them gently and to educate them on how they offended you. How do you do that? That’s hard. James talks about that at the end of his book.
So this whole book is about the walk of faith: not saving faith, but serving faith, James 1:1-3:12, then he switches to wisdom; ‘chokmâh’; ‘sofia.’ And he does that in James 3:13 where he defines it. And he does this to the very end of the book, so I believe this whole book is about faith, serving faith and wisdom.
In conclusion, who wrote the book? James
What do we know about the author? He is Christ’s half-brother
Who was the audience? Believing Jews in the Diaspora
Where was it written from? Jerusalem
When was the book of James written? AD 44-47, the earliest book in the New Testament
What was the book’s occasion? Hebrew Christians in the Diaspora concerned about practical righteousness
What is the book’s purpose? How to achieve practical righteousness
What is the book about? Practical righteousness
What is the book’s theme? Daily living
What makes the book different? It is probably the most practical book to read in the Bible other than the book of Proverbs
How is the book organized? By its two central divisions of faith (not saving faith but serving faith) and ‘chokmâh’; sofia or wisdom.