The Book of James, Part 4:
The Jewishness of James


Last lesson, we got to know and understand James and his family.  He was the oldest "normal" son in a Jewish family raised in Nazareth, the oldest of at least six "non-God" siblings.   We will talk more about the Jewishness of James.

Until after the death and resurrection of Jesus, James apparently agreed with his family that Jesus was at least disturbed if not a loony.   Sometime between the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension, probably at the time of his one-on-one meeting with the resurrected Jesus, James saw the light, literally and figuratively.   Whether the one-on-one meeting was because of the human relationship between James and Jesus, as chronologically close siblings or it was because of the assignment that Jesus had for James as head of the church in Jerusalem, that meeting apparently had a very significant effect on James.   Remember that James was not in the inner circle of the followers of Jesus.  He was not a Disciple.   Remember he is not the Disciple James who was one of the four Disciples who Jesus took into his closest confidence.  And yet, this is the James that became the head of the mother church in Jerusalem.  This is the one to whom Paul and others brought the thorny problems for resolution and final decision.

Today: James the Jew:

Now that we know the author, let's look at the timing of this book; when it was written and its relative timing compared to the other books of the New Testament.

Jesus was crucified, was resurrected and ascended when he was 33.  We have been through all of the questions about the true year of the birth of Jesus.   Most scholars now conclude that Jesus was born between 4 B.C. and 2 B.C.   For purposes of our understanding, let's use the 4 B.C. date. Using that assumption, since Jesus was 33 when he was crucified, his crucifixion would have been in 29 A.D.

After his resurrection, Acts 1:3 tells us:

So we know that he did not ascend prior to 40 days after his resurrection, but we know that he ascended before Pentecost, which is 50 days after Passover, which is the time of his crucifixion, so let's assume that it was still the same year, about 29 A.D. As further proof of this, Luke quotes Jesus just before his ascension in Acts 1:4-5: Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would arrive within a few days.  So now we know that the ascension of Jesus was less than 50 days after his crucifixion during Passover, and more than 40 days after his resurrection.   Since he was in the tomb for 3 days, three of the 50 days between Passover and Pentecost, leaving only 47 days after his resurrection, we know that his ascension was between 40 and 47 days after his resurrection.

Any time we deal with the year that something happened relative to the Bible, you have to keep in mind that often the dating depends on the base assumption of the year that Jesus was born, as translated to match our current calendar.   In addition, most dating results in a narrow range of years rather than a specific year.   There is the further confusion of tracing our current calendar back to the calendar being used at the time.   There are two or three big adjustments made during that period to get from the Jewish calendar to the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which is what we use.   Several years ago we went through all of that in this class and concluded that all we need to know is that it is very difficult to determine a specific day and date of an event during the time of Jesus and the New Testament through all of these calendar machinations.  Several scholars have done it and most of them come to slightly different conclusions.

The first question on your homework for this week was:

1. When do you think the book of James was written?  Why do you think that?

We don't know exactly, but we may be able to make an educated guess.  A milestone event for the early church was the council in Jerusalem that we're told about in Acts 15.  Remember, that is where Paul went to Jerusalem to get a ruling on whether or not new believers had to becomes Jews first before they could become a Christian.  The question was not quite in that form, but that was the essence of it.   The question was whether a new believer had to be circumcised.   Remember, at this time almost all believers were Jews who had accepted Jesus.   Pentecost was a Jewish feast where Jews from all over the world came back to Jerusalem for the feast.   When the Holy Spirit arrived, he came to a bunch of Jews.   When they were dispersed, they were Jews being dispersed.   By the time of the Council of Jerusalem, the message was starting to be spread to the Gentiles, mostly by Paul, which raised this question, "Do you have to first become a Jew?"   Prior to this, the question did not come up since the early believers were Jews to start with.

This was a very significant event for Jewish Christians, one in which James played a very important role.  This was a big deal, especially for James, a Jewish believer heading the church in Jerusalem, which would have been made up of all Jewish believers, or virtually all Jewish believers.

Scholars believe this council occurred about 49 A.D.

Since there is no reference to this council or its decisions in James' letter to Jewish Christians, or even a hint of it, then most probably the letter was written before the council was held.

Many scholars suggest a date for the book of James of between 44-49 A.D.

What difference does the date it was written make?

The main reason is because many scholars believe that this date suggests that James was the very first New Testament book written and distributed among believers - even before the Gospels!

Last week the question was asked: "Was the book of James written before the events of the Gospels?  No.  The events of the Gospels and even the first part of Acts, prior to Acts 15 (the council at Jerusalem), happened before James wrote this book.   But the best we can tell, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not compile their notes or memory into a book until somewhat later.  Most scholars think these books were written in the following order and about these dates:
James   48 A.D.
Mark   60 A.D.
Luke   65 A.D.
Acts   65 A.D.
Matthew   80 A.D.
John   85 A.D.

The second question on assignment was:

2. Who is the audience to whom James is writing?   What difference does that make?

James opens the book with:

"To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad..."   --  Remember that we stressed in this class, during our study of Ephesians, and Jimmy De Young has reinforced that, that during the period after Pentecost, there were three kinds of people: Jews, Gentiles, and Christians.   Paul and Jimmy stress that a Christian is not a Gentile or a Jew, he is a new category, a new person.   We can get sloppy with this and talk about the early Christians as being Jews.   After they accepted Jesus, they were no longer Jews, they became Christians.  Jimmy beat this one up last Sunday.  They may call themselves completed Jews, but Paul tells us that that is playing games.  They are a Christian, raised in the Jewish faith.  They still have the Jewish family, the Jewish traditions, the Jewish thought pattern, the tendency to think in terms of the Law and works to earn salvation, but they are no longer a Jew, they just think like one.  We will try to use the term Jewish Christian to denote the Christian who came from the Jewish background.

James is writing to a specific audience, Jewish Christians who are now living in various cities throughout the area.  In Acts, there are two specific references to the "scattering" of Jewish believers:

These verses help us understand two important points about James' letter.  First, we learn that the thousands of Jews who had become Christians in Acts 1-6, had now been scattered to cities throughout the Roman Empire because of this growing persecution.

So we know a major reason why James wrote this letter -- he wrote it out of his concern for these "scattered" believers.  Many probably had very little in the way of spiritual leadership or teaching (remember, this letter was probably the first New Testament book written).  James wrote his letter to keep these Christians going, and growing in Jesus.

A second point we learn from the verses in Acts is why the letter is written just to Jewish believers.  At the time this letter was written, most of the people who were coming to Christ were still Jews.  Notice Acts 11:19:

As the Jewish Christians resettled in other cities, they shared their faith but they were speaking the word to no one except to Jews.   Because James is a book written by a Jewish Christian to Jewish Christians, there is a strong Old Testament emphasis throughout this letter.  In fact, there are four direct quotes from the Old Testament as well as over 40 references to Old Testament teaching and/or events.

The third question on your assignment was to determine why James wrote the letter.

3. What purpose did James have in writing it?   What result did he want?

I want to propose to you the following theme for the book.   Here's a phrase we'll be referring to again and again in our study of James:

"True faith translates into Christ-like living"

In a nutshell, that's the message of the letter of James.  James wants us to understand that true faith is expressed, not just by what we say we believe, but by what we show we believe in our actions, our attitudes and our words.

I think James would have liked our English word "integrity".  It comes from a Latin word meaning "whole".  Integrity and integrate come from the same root word.  Someone has observed that integrity is when your beliefs and your behavior are fully integrated.  That's what we see in the life of Jesus.   And that's what Jesus wants to see in our lives.  That is what we call "walking the talk."

I want to propose a subtitle for this book.   There are a lot of good titles that you could come up with for James.  You could call it "Transforming Faith" because James' letter teaches that true faith in Christ changes us, changing especially the way we live.  But I propose: "Faith at Work" -- I like this title because it includes two very important words found in James.

James' letter teaches us about "faith at work".  In other words, he shows us that true faith is lived out in our daily lives.  I think it's important that we remember that true faith requires work; it's not easy, not always smooth sailing.  Faith is a belief, but it is also acting out that faith, it is a participatory term, an active term, not a passive term.

If there is a key verse, it is the most famous verse and the most debated verse in the book.   There's a passage in James 2:14-26 where James talks about the relationship of works to faith.  I think one verse in particular in this passage expresses the theme of the book:

This theme is a little confusing if you're using the NIV.  In the NIV, the word "works" is translated "actions" and "deeds".


Let's conclude this extended introduction to our series on James.  We need to hear what the Holy Spirit, through James, says to us in this letter.  As we wrap up our introduction to James, let's consider three themes that we will see over and over again in the book:

  1. Real Faith:

    One author said this: "Counterfeiting is a major problem in our society.  Forged money, credit cards, jewelry, works of art, and virtually everything else of value are passed off as genuine.  ...   Consequently, valuable commodities must be carefully examined to determine their genuineness."

    One purpose of James' letter is to help us recognize what real faith looks like.  James wants to make sure that we are not taken in by the many counterfeits found all around us.

  2. Real Lordship:

    An interesting fact about this book is how James refers to Jesus, his brother.  As we've mentioned before, James never refers to Jesus as his brother.  But consider these other names, titles and how often they are found in the book of James:
    Jesus -   2 times (1:1, 2:1)
    Christ -   2 times (1:1, 2:1)
    Savior-   0 times (though the word "save" is used 4 times)
    Lord -   15 times

    Did James believe that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ)?  Yes!  Did James believe that Jesus was our Savior, who died to pay the penalty of our sins?  Absolutely!  But his emphasis in his letter was on the lordship of Jesus -- His authority over us and our complete submission to Him.

  3. Real Love:

    In James 1:12, James talks about loving the Lord.  In James 2:8, James talks about loving people.  Love -- real love, Christ-like love -- is an important theme in James.  In fact, I think you'll find that caring for others is a subject that James brings up directly or indirectly in every chapter.

One last thought:

James knows that we all need to be growing in godliness.  Jesus wants every Christian to be mature; not perfect but mature.  James talks about being mature and being perfect in his letter so we'll have a chance to discuss this further in our study of the letter.

Next week we will dive into the text of the book.   Here is your assignment:   (Do online)

  1. Read through the Book the book of James.   It is only about five pages, so it might take 15 minutes.
  2. List the Jewish aspects of the book.