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The New Testament Letter of James

The letter of James was written to be circulated, not to an individual congregation, but to scattered believers, and is described as a ‘catholic’ letter. There are no references or address to named audiences, but it is more general, and questions about authorship have never been settled. The letter was used from an early period in Church life and citations found in later writings. These point to the letter being widely accepted at an early date, and used as authoritative.


‘James a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ [James 1.1] by tradition was the brother of Jesus, who was converted after Jesus rose from the dead: he was slow to accept Christ [John 7.5]. One of Jesus’ resurrection appearances was to James [1 Corinthians 15.7].

Several people in the Gospel stories are called James: James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, a fisherman, one of the ‘sons of thunder’, in the core team with Jesus, at the Transfiguration, in Gethsemane [Matt 10.2]. James, son of Alphaeus [Matt 10.3]. James, the younger, one of the sons of Mary and Clopas [Mark 15.40, 16.1; John 19.25], and James the brother of Jesus [Mark 6.3; Matt 13.55]. His relationship to Jesus might explain James’ reticence to explain who he is in this letter.

James as leader of the Jerusalem church

James had a position of considerable responsibility, as references in the book of Acts show [12.17; 15.13-21]. He is described as a ‘pillar’ of the church with Peter and John [Gal 2.9] and a teacher [3.1]. This James died in 62AD, of persecution, and conspiracy by the Sanhedrin.

What are the highlights?

Walk the talk: live out your faith in practical wise obedience

Live with personal spiritual integrity, spiritual maturity, unselfishness in relationships; both within the Church, and in the World. James has ‘rules’ for living a full Christian life, ‘pure and undefiled’, and includes 3 brief sermons [2.1-13; 2.14-26; 3.1-12] with practical advice.

Key points about the Teaching of James

There are no references to specific events at the time of writing. The background to the letter is Jewish, but with strong Christian content: intended for both Jew and Christian.

Some special Old Testament (OT) figures are mentioned: Abraham, Isaac, Rahab, Job, Elijah, and ‘prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord’. References to Jesus Christ are few [James 1.1; 2.1], but ‘Lord’ is mentioned many times, sometimes with reference to God, and sometimes with reference to Jesus [1.1,12; 2.1; 5.7-8, 14]. The teaching is full of OT thought, wisdom expressions, and also the teaching of Jesus. There are many parallels to the Sermon on the Mount or allusions to the words of Jesus. See the table below from Chapter 1 of James:


Matt 5.11-12



Luke 6.22-23


Matt 5.48;



John 1.13


Matt 7.7



Matt 5.22


Matt 21.21; Mark 11.24



Matt 7.21


Matt 23.12



John 13.17





Matt 25.36

Structure of the Letter

(NIV translation; Spiritual Formation Bible © 2005 James Earl Massey)




Trials and temptations



Rules for life within the Church




Listening and doing



Favouritism forbidden



Act on what you believe



Taming the tongue



Two kinds of wisdom


Rules for life beyond the Church




Live peaceably with all



Live humbly before God



Deal honestly with all


Concluding remarks




Wait patiently for the Lord



The prayer of faith (care for each other)





Whitewater Bible Studies

We shall enjoy learning from the sermons and home groups if we spend time reading and reflecting in our own quiet times with the Lord.

The version of the Bible we use is not as important as setting aside the time to read and think, and allow God to speak to us. You may find the website: www.biblegateway.com really useful for looking up passages in different translations.

The list below are the studies we have used in the Whitewater Benefice whilst we have been looking at James:

James Chapter 1
James Chapter 2
James Chapter 3
James Chapter 4

The letter of James is about being very practical in our living the Christian life.

The key question to ask ourselves, each time we come to study, is ‘so what?’

What difference will this make to my following Jesus, my church life, my work life… how am I going to follow through with what I am listening to, as I read this with the help of the Holy Spirit?

We all sign up for exercise programmes, and give up after a while.. or start diets… or even begin to read novels… and not finish them… We tend to do better when we make ourselves accountable to someone else. So let us read James together to support and encourage each other. As we read, let us share our reflections, and spur each other on to living faithfully as Jesus’ disciples.

MdQ/ August 2018

The Spiritual Formation Bible © 2005 Harper Collins / 2006 Hodder & Stoughton

New International Bible Reference Edition © 1984 International Bible Society