My series of threads on James has now reached the end of the letter.
Here, then, is the promised Index, to help people find their way around them.
I get the impression that the New Testament letter of James is a compendium of the essential features of James’ teaching.
More than once, in these discussions, I’ve suggested that a passage was already part of his pastoral teaching before being brought into the letter
that we’ve got in front of us.
The connections between the different parts of the letter may sometimes be a little disjointed, and it seems evident that it wasn’t written from
beginning to end as a continuous composition.
Nevertheless, this letter does have an genuine overall theme and a roughly-organised internal structure, as I hope the following summary will be able
The opening verses introduce two of the major themes, Faith and Wisdom.
James warns that Faith will be “tested” and needs to be preserved..
For this purpose, presumably, the believer is advised to ask God for Wisdom, which has a role in this letter similar to the role of the Holy Spirit in
the writings of Paul.
When a man is “steadfast” in his Faith, his reward is to be “the crown of life”.
Do not be deceived
Putting right a possible misunderstanding, James explains that God is not the source of the “testing” which hampers our Faith.
The testing is coming, instead, from the “desire” which we all find within us.
What comes from God is “every good endowment and every perfect gift”.
It seems reasonable to assume that “Wisdom”, which helps us to deal with the testing, is the gift which is uppermost in the writer’s mind.
Hearing the Word
The supreme example of the “good gifts” of God is the fact that “he brought us forth by the Word of truth” (which seems to be James’ version
of the concept “born of the Spirit”, found in other parts of the New Testament).
We are urged to continue hearing the Word ,with meekness, as a remedy for the unrighteousness in our lives.
Doing the Word
James goes on to tell us that we need to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only”, activating and putting into effect the Word which we have
This is the equivalent of Paul’s advice, that if we “live by the Spirit”, we should also “walk by the Spirit”.
The Royal Law
This chapter follows on from the previous chapter, implicitly, by illustrating what is meant by “doing the Word”.
It means, for example, the application among the brethren of the “Royal Law”, the commandment “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
Faith and Works
The famous discussion about “Faith and Works” is a continuation of the same argument.
What James means by “Faith” in this passage is a merely spoken Faith, which equates with “hearing the Word only”.
What James means by “Works” in this passage is activated Faith, Faith which has been put into practical effect, which equates with “doing the
I surmise that James is consciously correcting the kind of teachers who have been distorting Paul’s teaching in the direction of merely spoken
The use of the tongue
James complains about the aggressive use of the tongue.
I’ve suggested that this was primarily directed, in this context, at the problem of intemperate theological controversy.
That is to say, the dogmatic “Faith-alone” teachers that he was criticising in ch2 were the same people who were teaching over-confidently and
aggressively in ch3, and using violent language against their opponents to the extent of cursing them.
The Wisdom from above
The wise man is now advised to “show his works in the meekness of Wisdom”.
James explains the difference between the more natural ,”earthly”, wisdom, and the Wisdom which “comes from above”.
The contrast between them, in their effects, is remarkably similar to the contrast in Galatians between “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit
of the Spirit”.
After James has been criticising the theory of the “Faith-alone” dogmatists, and also, perhaps, their verbal behaviour, this passage has the
effect of offering a better alternative to their “verbal Faith” teaching.
Friends and enemies
This chapter follows on from the previous chapter, implicitly, by illustrating the effects of the wrong kind of wisdom, which allows people to be led
astray by their “passions”.
These passions make them acquisitive, and then start them fighting for the sake of gain.
James gives them a solemn warning that “friendship with the world” has the effect of making them “enemies of God”.
They need to turn themselves back to God and repent.
(I was surprised, incidentally, that this discussion received so much less attention than the following thread, even though “Friends and enemies”
was the better piece. Was it the title again? Why not have another look?)
Not judging the brethren
Echoing the words of Jesus, James warns the brethren about speaking evil against one another, or “judging” the other brethren
This warning is rather loosely attached to the context, but the connection could be that “speaking evil” and “judging” are driven by the
passions, including the theological passions.
The fate of the wealthy
Ch4 vv13-16 & Ch5 vv1-6
Coming back to the acquisitive passions, James is now addressing those absorbed in the pursuit and possession of wealth.
These people, too, are making the wrong choice, disregarding their God.
Waiting for God
Finally, at the end of the letter, James returns to considering the needs of the brethren, focussing upon Faith, with special reference to patience in
suffering and confidence in prayer.
The first part of that theme is covered in this passage.
The suffering brethren need to be steadfast and patient while they are waiting for “the coming of the Lord”
The prayer of Faith
This passage covers the second part of the same theme, dealing with prayer for the benefit of the other brethren.
When they pray for the sick, James assures them, God will respond by healing, and forgiving the sins of, the sick man.
He also encourages them to “bring back” a brother who is “wandering from the truth”- and this, again, may be partly about praying that his
sins will be forgiven
Since the beginning of the letter (implicitly) and the end of the letter (more explicitly) are both about the risk of losing Faith, the letter has now
come round full circle and returns to the starting point.
Incidentally, an Index to the previous series of threads, on Revelation, can be found at this location;
Revelation; Project complete