Epistle of James
The Epistle of James is a book in the Christian New Testament canon.
The author identifies himself in the opening verse as "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ". From the middle of the third century, patristic authors cited the Epistle as written by James the Just, a relation of Jesus and first Bishop of Jerusalem. Not numbered among the Twelve Apostles, James was nonetheless a very important figure: Paul described him as "the brother of the Lord" in Galatians 1:19 and as one of the three pillars of the Church in 2:9. John Calvin and others suggested that the author was the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus, who was often identified with James the Just. If written by James the Just, the place and time of the writing of the epistle would be Jerusalem, where James was residing before his martyrdom in 62.
Authorship has also occasionally been attributed to the apostle James the Great, brother of John the Evangelist and son of Zebedee. The letter does mention persecutions in the present tense (2:6), and this is consistent with the persecution in Jerusalem during which James the Great was martyred (Acts 12:1). However, some challenge the early date on the basis of some of the letter’s content, which they interpret to be a clarification of St. Paul’s teachings on justification found in his Epistle to the Romans, written c. 54. If written by James the Great, the location would have also been Jerusalem, sometime before 45.
The Catholic Encyclopedia accepts James the Just as the author and dates the writing of the epistle between 47 AD (after a famine in Jerusalem attested to by Josephus) and 52 AD (at which point James made some decision as bishop).
Lastly, many scholars consider the epistle to be written in the late first or early second centuries, after the death of James the Just. Among the reasons for this are:
* the author introduces himself merely as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ", without invoking any special family relationship to Jesus.
* the cultured Greek language of the Epistle, it is contended, could not have been written by a Jerusalemite Jew (though there were many Greek-speakers in Jerusalem and a Greek-speaking scribe could have taken dictation).
* the author fails to mention Jewish ritual requirements such as circumcision, whereas James the Just is known from Galatians and the Acts of the Apostles to have been particularly concerned with ministering to the Jewish and circumcised (however, since it is addressed to a Jewish audience, such requirements would naturally be taken for granted).
* the author fails to mention any details of Jesus's life (however, the doctrines resemble Jesus's own doctrines as recorded in the Gospels, more than Paul's doctrines).
* the epistle was only gradually accepted into the (non-Jewish) canon of the New Testament.
The Epistle was first definitely quoted by Origen, and possibly a bit earlier by Irenaeus of Lyons as well as Clement of Alexandria in a lost work according to Eusebius.
The Epistle of James was included among the 27 New Testament books first listed by Athanasius of Alexandria and was confirmed as a canonical epistle of the New Testament by a series of councils in the fourth century. Today, virtually all denominations of Christianity consider this book to be a canonical epistle of the New Testament. See Biblical canon
In the first centuries of the Church the authenticity of the Epistle was doubted by some, and amongst others by Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia; it is therefore deuterocanonical. It is missing in the Muratorian fragment, and because of the silence of several of the western churches regarding it, Eusebius classes it amongst the antilegomena or contested writings (Historia ecclesiae, 3.25; 2.23). St. Jerome gives a similar appraisal but adds that with time it had been universally admitted. Gaius Marius Victorinus, in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, openly questioned whether the teachings of James were heretical.
Its late recognition in the Church, especially in the West, may be explained by the fact that it was written for or by Jewish Christians, and therefore not widely circulated among the Gentile Churches. There is some indication that a few groups distrusted the book because of its doctrine. In Reformation times a few theologians, most notably Martin Luther, argued that this epistle was too defective to be part of the canonical New Testament. This is probably due to the book's specific teaching that faith alone is not enough for salvation (James 2:24), which seemed to contradict his doctrine of sola fide (faith alone).
The epistle was addressed to the Jews of the dispersion, "the twelve tribes scattered abroad."
The object of the writer was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian life. The vices against which he warns them are: formalism, which made the service of God consist in washings and outward ceremonies, whereas he reminds them (1:27) that it consists rather in active love and purity; fanaticism, which, under the cloak of religious zeal, was tearing Jerusalem in pieces (1:20); fatalism, which threw its sins on God (1:13); meanness, which crouched before the rich (2:2); falsehood, which had made words and oaths play-things (3:2-12); partisanship (3:14); evil speaking (4:11); boasting (4:16); oppression (5:4). The great lesson which he teaches them as Christians is patience, patience in trial (1:2), patience in good works (1:22-25), patience under provocation (3:17), patience under oppression (5:7), patience under persecution (5:10); and the ground of their patience is that the coming of the Lord drawing nigh, which is to right all wrong (5:8).
Main articles: justification (theology), Justification by faith alone, and Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
The letter contains the following famous passage concerning salvation and justification:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? …You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only…? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:14, 24, 26)
This passage has been cited in Christian theological debates, especially against the Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith alone. Gaius Marius Victorinus associated James' teaching on works with the heretical Symmachian sect, followers of Symmachus the Ebionite, and openly questioned whether James' teachings were heretical. This passage has also been contrasted with the teachings of Paul of Tarsus, especially in his Epistle to the Romans (see Romans 3:28). One issue in the debate is the proper rendering of the Greek δικαιωθηναι (dikaiōthēnai). But see also New Perspective on Paul.
James' epistle is also the chief biblical text for anointing of the sick (also called "Last Rites"). James wrote:
"Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And their prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make them well. And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven." (5:14,15).