Thoughts on the Epistle of James

Tradition holds that the Epistle of James was written by James, the brother of Jesus whom Catholicism regards as the first Bishop of Jerusalem. John Calvin thought the author may have been James, one of the two apostles of Jesus (both named James), while Martin Luther dismissed the epistle entirely as heretical and contrary to Pauline theology. The letter reads like an addendum to the Epistle to the Hebrews, in that James is addressed to twelve tribes of Israel scattered throughout the nations. In this way, James is perhaps the most broad, public-facing letter of the New Testament.

The theme of James echoes the prison documents of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible. In the New Testament letter, James beckons people to find ‘joy in suffering’ and to persevere through the difficult times. All evil things come from mankind and the world, all good things come down from heaven (1:17). Be listeners, rather than angry people, however listening is insufficient and should be acted upon moreso. Avoid favoritism and always show faith through deeds. Contra Martin Luther, faith alone is not sufficient for James.

Unlike philosophy, theology requires a defense in order to demonstrate to others its superiority. Philosophy strives for the pursuit of wisdom, the love of wisdom, which is a reformulated erotic project. Theology strives for wisdom in order to show good deeds and a good life to others (3:13). In fact, James is devised to widely circulated as a part of the New Testament’s “wisdom literature” a la Proverbs or Ecclesiasticus (“Sirach”).

A second common thread found in James is the utter rejection and resentful spite of wealthy people -only riches in faith will inherit the promised kingdom of Jesus. Rich people’s luxuries will rot and he calls on people with wealth to “weep and wail.” In this way, the letter echoes the frustrations of Jews at the time with the poverty and

As the letter progresses the tone becomes somewhat more belligerent, reminiscent of some of the early books of the Hebrew Bible scourging the “stiff-necked people.” James addresses the listeners as “you adulterous people” and “humble yourselves” and “change your laughter to mourning” and he reminds the listeners that people are a mere “mist” that appears for a while and vanishes -the life of a human being is insignificant.

James closes his letter in Chapter 5 by reminding people that the Lord’s return is nigh, and people should not swear but simply say “yes” or “no.” James encourages people to pray, just like Elijah, a mere mortal, who prayed for an abundant rain.

Unlike some of the other letters in the New Testament, James does not contain any complex Christological claims of Jesus’s divine sonship or other claims of his rising from the dead. It contains numerous direct references to Jesus’s sayings woven throughout the text, unlike in Paul’s letters.

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