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Together with the letters of John, Peter and Jude, the letter of James belongs to the so-called 'general epistles'. All these letters are predominantly Jewish in character, which is completely in line with the apostleship of John, Peter and James. They are also letters that were written expressly against the background of the direct expectation of the revelation of Christ. What is particularly striking in the letter of James is the 'straight-forward' use of language. James makes a very direct appeal to the way of life and attitude of his fellow citizens.

Writer, origin and destination

The letter of James was written at an early stage. We probably have to think about the year 45. The writer is not James, who was elected an apostle from among the disciples together with his brother John (Luke 6:14); for this James was put to death by Herod (Acts 12:2). The writer of this letter is James the brother of the Lord (Matt. 13:55 and Gal. 1:19). So he was a half brother of the Lord Jesus and the same one mentioned in Acts 15:13. He was considered one of the pillars of the church in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9). It is nice to see that James knew who his half brother really was: he calls himself a "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1) and calls Him "our Lord of glory, Jesus Christ" (chap. 2:1).

In accordance with the 'division of labor' put forward by Paul in Galatians 2:7-9, it appears that James has a ministry towards his own people. To them, therefore, James addresses: "James . . . greets the twelve tribes that are scattered abroad" (chap. 1:1). When we read in James 2:2 about a "assembly", the word "synagogue" is written there in the original language. So literally this verse says, "For suppose a man entered into your synagogue...". All in all, we are on Jewish soil with this letter! Here is written not just to believers from the Gentiles, but to the twelve tribes of Israel in the diaspora, whereby we even have to ask ourselves whether all readers believed in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. chap. 5:5 and 6).

Whole letter structure

A.1 1:1-4 Perseverance.
A.2 1:5-8 Prayer.
B.1 1:9 and 10a The lowly increased; the rich humiliated.
B.2 1:10b, 11a Life as the grass.
B.3 1:11b The end of the rich.
C. 1:12-16 Desire.
D. 1:17 Good gifts come from above.
E. 1:18-27 God's Word and its effect.
F. 2:1-7 Faith; without bias.
G. 2:8 The royal law.
H. 2:9 and 10 The law of Moses; is broken by one violation.
H. 2:11 The law of Moses; is broken by one violation.
G. 2:12 and 13 The law of liberty.
F. 2:14-26 Faith; without works.
E. 3:1-14 The word of man and its effect.
D. 3:15-18 The wisdom that comes from above.
C. 4:1-5 Desires.
B.1 4:6-10 Resist the proud; the humble exalted.
B.2 4:11-17 Life as a vapor.
B.3 5:1-6 The end of the rich.
A.1 5:7-12 Perseverance.
A.2 5:13-20 Prayer.

Purpose and content

The soon expectation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ predominates in this letter. In view of that coming, James is letting his fellow citizens know that it is of the utmost importance to know whose side you are on. Herein chapter 4:4 is characteristic: "Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity against God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world becomes in effect an enemy of God." 'Adultery' here means apostasy from Israel's position in God's sight. This is a marriage relationship between God and the people. So where Israel goes after other gods, adultery is actually being committed! Something that will be a horrible reality in the end times; think of the worship of the son of perdition who will sit in the temple (2 Thess. 2:4 and Rev. 13:4).

A reference to the time immediately preceding the revelation is found in James's citation of Elijah's history regarding the three and a half years of drought in Israel (chap. 5:17). After all, the second half of the last week of the year also lasts so long.

core text

"...know therefore that whosoever turneth a sinner from his error shall save his soul from death..." (chap. 5:20).