The Greek text of James begins “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” The KJV titles it “The General Epistle of James,” reflecting what this introduction says—that it is written to followers of Christ in general scattered throughout the Roman Empire. James is the closest of the New Testament writings to the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. As is typical in the Wisdom literature, readers are urged here to seek God's Wisdom as they go about their lives, especially in times of testing and uncertainty. James has many proverbial sayings used to encourage the faithful to resist such things as temptations and dividedness, prejudice and exclusionary behaviors, pride and speaking ill of others, and to live virtuously, welcoming both poor and rich into the faith community equally.
The general aim of the letter is to teach wisdom and the right kind of living, in which faith is active in love. The author knows Paul's teaching about being justified by the grace of God through faith, but in 2.17-26 wants readers to be absolutely clear that faith must show up in actions if it is real. Faith cannot be mere head-knowledge or mental assent to certain doctrinal beliefs. He says: “show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works” (2.18). Faith that does not lead Christians into charitable works and compassionate actions, James says, is dead or no faith at all. In 5.14-16 James describes the ancient rite for healing the sick, employing prayer and anointing with oil, which has been practiced in the churches since the first century. The closing chapter also advises patience and prayer in the face of hardship and suffering.
“James” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Jacob” and, as such, was common among first century Jews. Church tradition holds that the author of James was Jesus' brother James, a leader in the Jerusalem church (Gal 1.19). The author's literary style and familiarity with broader Greek culture, however, suggest the book was written later in the first century than Jesus' brother was likely to have lived and may have been written by a disciple wishing to honor James.
Seek God's Wisdom in the Face of Temptations (1.1-18)
Show by Your Actions that Your Faith Is Living (1.19—2.26)
Use Your Tongue for Good, Speak Well of Others, and Be Wise (3.1—5.6)
Be Patient, Merciful, and Prayerful (5.7-20)
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