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The Blue Letter Bible

Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: Notes for James

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WRITER: James. The problem of authorship is a major one. Some find at least four men by the name of James in the New Testament. At least three are clearly identified:

1. James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, called by our Lord “son of thunder” (Mark 3:17). He was slain by Herod (Acts 12:1, 2).
2. James, son of Alphaeus, called “James the less” (Mark 15:40). He is mentioned in the list of apostles, but very little is known concerning him.
3. James, the Lord’s brother (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), in reality a half-brother according to the flesh. He became head of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13). This James is evidently the writer of this epistle (Galatians 2:9).

DATE: A.D. 45-50. This was the first book of the New Testament to be written. Some have taken the position that James wrote to combat the writings of Paul. It is obvious that this is an erroneous position, since none of Paul’s epistles were in existence at the time of this writing.

JAMES AND PAUL: The seeming contradiction between James and Paul can be easily explained when the message of James is considered. James takes the position, as does Paul, that we are justified by faith but that the faith which justifies produces good works. Calvin said, “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.” Justification is shown by works — not justified by, but for, good works. James and Paul present the two aspects of justification by faith.
Paul emphasized both phases:

Faith — not justified by works:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…. (Titus 3:5)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God — not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

Works — justified for works:

…these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they who have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.… (Titus 3:8)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Faith is the root of salvation — works are the fruit of salvation. Faith is the cause of salvation — works are the result of salvation.


But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (James 1:22)

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:20)

THEME: Ethics of Christianity, not doctrine.
The Epistle of James has been compared to the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Both emphasize the practical. In both there is the learning experience for the child of God.
Justification by faith is demonstrated by works. Justification by faith is poured into the test tube of:

Works — Chapters 1, 2
Words — Chapter 3
Worldliness — Chapter 4
Warning to the rich — Chapter 5

General Epistles ← Prior Section
Outline for James Next Section →
Notes for Hebrews ← Prior Book
Notes for 1 Peter Next Book →
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