Which James wrote this epistle? Two of the twelve apostles were named James (Matt 10:2-4). After the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15:7), James (one of the Lord’s brothers, Mk 6:3-4) believed and became the prominent leader in the kingdom church at Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Gal 1:19). That he replaced Peter as the main leader in Jerusalem was an evidence of the fading out of the kingdom program. All three of the apostles named James ministered to the Jews under the kingdom program. Therefore, knowing which one wrote it does not affect the doctrinal understanding of the epistle.
When was it written? It was probably written shortly after Acts (cf. Jam 1:1) which would date it in the early 30’s AD. If James the son of Zebedee wrote it, the date could be no later than the early 40’s AD (Acts 12:1-2).
To whom was it written? It was written, ”to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” It is obvious from the first verse that James did NOT write this epistle to the Body of Christ wherein there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:26-28). There were believing Jews from all twelve tribes in the kingdom church (Acts 2:14, 22, 36). Prophetically, it is written to the twelve tribes scattered abroad in the tribulation period. It is possible that this letter is written to the 144,000 (Rev 7:1-8) who will preach the gospel of the kingdom in all the world in the tribulation period. They will be the firstfruits of the nation that will be born again at the Second Coming of Christ (cf. Jam 1:18; Rev 14:1-4).
Why, was it written? The keywords are: “faith” (16x’s), “works” (13x’s), and “law” (10x’s). James writes to exhort Jews, whose faith is being tried (Jam 1:3), to have true faith that works according to the law (Jam 2:12) and endures patiently to the end (Matt 24:13-14; Jam 5:7-11).
James teaches “pure religion” (Jam 1:25-27). The word “religion” is only found five times in scripture and it is used in reference to the works of the law. Notice that “pure religion” is to DO and CONTINUE in “the perfect law of liberty.” What is the “law of liberty?” Many think that the law of liberty cannot be a reference to the law of Moses because it was called a “yoke of bondage” by Peter and Paul (Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1). The law was a “yoke of bondage” to those who were required to obey it in order to be saved. Although the law itself cannot save (Rom 3:20), seeking to keep it by faith was at one time required for salvation (Luke 1:5-6).
As a nation, Israel failed under the Old Covenant, but will be saved when God makes a New Covenant with them when the kingdom is set up (Heb 8:6-13). Under the New Covenant, Israel will keep the law from the heart because they will be filled with the Holy Spirit. If the law is kept from the heart it is not a “yoke of bondage,” but a “law of liberty” (Ps 119:32, 45; Jn 8:31-32). The Jews to whom James was writing were filled with the Spirit. The kingdom church of Acts was a preview of Israel in the Kingdom Age (Ezek 36:24-28). The kingdom church lived by the law (Acts 2:1, 46; 3:1; 5:42; 21:20). Christ will rule by the law in the Kingdom Age (Isa 2:1-5).
I. Greeting (1:1)
II. Two kinds of Temptation (1:2-16)
III. Pure Religion (1:17-27)
IV. Justification by Faith that Works (2)
V. The Tongue (3:1-12)
VI. Two Kinds of Wisdom (3:13-18)
VII. Worldliness (4)
VIII. The Last Days (5)
The King taught “pure religion” at the beginning of His ministry when He taught the righteous principles of His kingdom in Matthew 5-7. The “Sermon on the Mount” was pure law (Matt 5:17-20). Compare the following verses and you will easily see that James is a commentary on the “Sermon on the Mount.”
Jam 1:2 vs. Mt 5:10-12
Jam 1:4 vs. Mt 5:48
Jam 1:5, 17, 4:2, 5:15 vs. Mt 7:7-11
Jam 1:9, 2:5 vs. Mt 5:3
Jam 1:25, 2:10-12 vs. Mt 5:19
Jam 1:22, 2:14 vs. Mt 7:21-26
Jam 2:8 vs. Mt 7:12
Jam 2:13 vs. Mt 6:14-15, 7:2
Jam 3:12 vs. Mt 7:16
Jam 3:17-18 vs. Mt 5:9
Jam 4:4 vs. Mt 6:24
Jam 4:8 vs. Mt 5:8
Jam 4:9 vs. Mt 5:4
Jam 4:10 vs. Mt 5:3-4
Jam 4:11-12 vs. Mt 7:1-2
Jam 4:13-16 vs. Mt 6:25, 34
Jam 5:1-3 vs. Mt 6:19
Jam 5:9 vs. Mt 5:22-24
Jam 5:10 vs. Mt 5:12
Jam 5:12 vs. Mt 5:34
The epistle of James is profitable for the Body of Christ to study (2 Tim 3:16). It certainly contains moral principles and spiritual applications for us, but if we fail to rightly divide the epistle of James it will cause us great doctrinal confusion and problems.