- Exegesis Of James
Exegesis Of James
The exegete of Holy Scripture in order to properly understand the full meaning of the
passage must have a thorough knowledge of the background of the passage. It is important
to know the author, intended readers and hearers, date, place of writing, occasion and
purpose, and the literary genre of the passage. This paper will do all of these in a way
that will give the reader a clear understanding of all that is necessary and important to
know and understand about the background information on the epistle of James. Also, this
paper will give an outline of James 4:1-10 , a paraphrase and exegetical notes on the
The author of the book of James, Iakobos in the Greek, does not identify himself clearly.
This leaves the task of sorting through the facts known to deductively decide the author
of the book of James. There are four probable James in the New Testament. One James is
James the son of Zebedee. This James was a brother to John and also one of the twelve
apostles of Jesus Christ. A second James is James the son of Alphaeus. Also an apostle,
James the Son of Alphaeus, was mentioned only in the list of the apostles. Some equate
this James with ‘James the younger’ in Mark 15:40 while others consider James
the younger a separate man. A third is James the Father of Judas. This is not Judas
- Iscariot. This James is named as one of the twelve apostles in Luke 6:16. The fourth is
James the Lord’s brother. While Jesus was involved in his earthly ministry his
brothers, including James, were not believers, but after Jesus death James quickly rose
into prominent position in the Jerusalem church (Moo19-20; Lea519-520).
The most likely of the four James mentioned to have written the book of James is James the
brother of the Lord. James, the son of Zebedee, is the only other that is likely to have
written the epistle but he died in A.D. 44 and the epistle is dated by many around A.D. 48
or 49 (Moo 20).
Many Bible scholars believe that the book was written by the Lord’s brother because
of the references to the teachings of Jesus. There are different references especially to
the Sermon on the Mount such as James 4:11 compared to Matthew 7:1-2 and James 1:22
compared to Matthew 7:24-27. In other places there are other references to the oral
teachings of Jesus that help suggest that this book would be written by the brother of
Jesus (Lea 520). There is external evidence also. The early church leaders such as Origen
and Eusebius identified this James as the author of the epistle. This is partly because of
the Jewish flavor of the book. The Jewish atmosphere of the epistle and the references of
the Old Testament present the that the book was most likely written by someone with a
Jewish background such as this James (Davids 14).
Intended Readers and Hearers
- James addressed his letter to “the twelve tribes scattered among the
nations”(1:1). This reference leads one to believe that James was writing to a
Jewish audience that was leaving Jerusalem because of the persecution of Christians found
in Acts 11:19 (Lea 524). James wrote to a generally Jewish audience. This is evident in
the references to the Old Testament and the use of the Greek word for synagogue (Moo
31-32). Also, it is believed that the recipients were poor and oppressed by wealthy
Assuming that James the Lord's brother is the author, he was martyred in A.D. 62 so this
sets the terminus ad quiem at this date. Many scholars favor a date in the forties. There
are two possible reasons indicating an early date around A.D. 45 to 47. The first and most
important is the misunderstanding of the teaching of Paul on ‘justification by
faith’ in Antioch around A.D. 45. James, as the head of the Jerusalem church ,would
attempt to address the misunderstanding in James 2. This indicates then that James would
have been written before A.D. 45. Second, there is no reference to the controversy between
Jews and Gentiles about the need for circumcision. This first surfaced before the
Jerusalem Council of A.D. 48 or 49. The point is that it is difficult to believe that
James would not include this in his letter to the Jews since he was instrumental in the
decision not to require Gentiles to be circumcised in order to obtain salvation. These two
considerations lead to an earlier date around A.D. 45 to 48 (Moo 33-34).
- Place of Writing
The most probable place of writing for the book of James is Jerusalem. One can easily
conclude after discussing the authorship and date of James that the book was written from
Jerusalem. James lived and headed the church of Jerusalem during this time. All of this,
however, is an assumption since there are no direct statements in the scripture. The
reference in James 5:7 to the ‘earlier and latter rains’ seem to confirm the
location of Jerusalem since it is located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea
where the rains come in that sequence. The social problems in the area also correspond to
the area James was writing (Moo 35).
Occasion and Purpose
Harold Bryson says that the occasion and purpose of James is to tell early Christians how
to apply there faith to the lifestyle they live (Lecture Notes). The letter of James is a
practical homily designed to encourage believers to show the reality of their theological
commitment in practice. This in effect shows why James does not contain much theology.
Although, G.E. Ladd says, “It is impossible to include the contents of the epistle
that he was not interested in theology; a theologian can write practical homilies (Davids
18).” The purpose of this letter was to show and assist the early Jewish Christians
in living the Christian life not to discuss and debate theological issues. But, this does
not mean that James was not theologically sound. There are numerous theological topics
such as faith and works, prayer, the nature of God, the origin of sin, and wisdom. These
issues are all well discussed in a practical manner, yet they all stem from a deep
- theological root (Moo 35-36).
The book of James literary genre is an epistle or letter. Like the other letters of the
New Testament, James has the typical identification of the author, address and greeting.
James does not have the personal remarks, references to specific problems or situations,
and closing remarks that the other letters of the New Testament contain. When one looks
more closely at the letter of James it can be observed that it differs from other
epistles. Four features stand out about the specific nature of James. The first and most
evident is the strong tone of pastoral exhortation. James commanded the early Jewish
Christians to live for and serve God. A second widely known feature is the looseness of
the structure of James. It is a book that covers a large number of topics that are not
related to each other. A third feature is that James uses many metaphors and illustrations
to explain the scripture and capture the attention of the reader. Such images as the
billowing sea, the withered flower, the mirror, the horse, the ship, the brush fire, and
others are examples of the reason that many readers enjoy, learn and use in a practical
manner. A fourth feature is that the book borrows from other sources. James borrows from
such sources as the teachings of Jesus, the Old Testament, and the early Jewish books.
Understanding the facts scholars have tried to place James into a specific category of
The book has numerous categories. One such category is a diatribe or a colloquial genre
- used to instruct general audiences and which feature short sentences and repetition of
material. Another category is paranesis or paranetic literature. This is an unstructured
collection of moral admonitions. Harold Bryson equates this type of literature to a string
of pearls (Lecture Notes). Martin Dibelius sites four elements of paranesis: eclecticism,
or the use of traditional material: the unstructured stringing together of moral
exhortations; repetitions of key ideas; and the general applicability of the material. The
last type or category is the early Christian sermon or homily. James is best understood as
a brief sermon or a letter written with material pulled from different sermons sent to
James’ parishioners scattered abroad (Moo 37).
The book of James has a extensive background. The author, intended readers, date, place of
writing, occasion and purpose, and literary genre are all important to know in
understanding the book as a whole and valuable to know to receive the maximum benefit from
the scripture. The book of James is a valuable resource in understanding how to live the
Christian life and is a good source of encouragement (Moo 36-38).
II. Outline of James 4:1-10
1. James identified the cause of worldliness (James 4:1-2)?
A. James identifies the problem of worldliness through questioning (4:1).
B. James enlightens the people of there lack of dependence on God (4:2).
2. James presented the consequences of worldliness (James 4:3-6)?
- A. The peoples prayers are voiced with wrong motives (4:3)
B. The people are living in spiritual adultery and hatred toward God (4:4).
C. The people are envied by a jealous God (4:5).
D. The people are given grace if they humble themselves (4:6).
3. James shared the cure for worldliness (James 4: 7-10)?
A. Come near to God and He will come near to you (4:8)
1. Submit to God (4:7).
2. Resist the Devil. (4:7).
3. Wash your hands, and purify your hearts. (4:8).
4. Grieve, mourn and wail in repentance. (4:9).
5. Humble yourself before the Lord (4:10).
III. Paraphrase of James 4:1-10.
What is the reason that we fight and argue with one another? Is it not because we are full
of selfish desire that war in our members? There is something that you want and you will
do anything necessary to obtain it. You fight and argue and would even kill to get to get
it but you still do not have because you fail to ask God in prayer. But, when you do pray
you still do not receive because God knows you ask with selfish motives.
You people are living in spiritual adultery toward God and are even his enemy because you
love the world. Since you decided to befriend the world then you chose to hate God. The
Scriptures say that God envies greatly to be with us. He extends to us grace because the
“God oppose those who are proud,
But gives grace to those who are humble.”
Surrender fully to God! Resist the Devil and he will run from you. Come near unto God and
He will come near unto you. Clean your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you
people who are unstable in mind. Be sorry, sad and weep in repentance. Let you happiness
be turned to crying. Change your joy to gloom. Be humble before the Lord and he will give
IV. Exegetical Notes on James 4:1-10
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you (NIV)?
James uses a question to introduce the topic of this passage. The topic of discussion here
is worldliness or the pursuit of selfish desires and lust. The word fights used is the
Greek word machai and the word quarrels is the Greek word polemoi both of which are used
to describe physical conflicts between individuals or nations. Metaphorically speaking the
words could mean violent verbal disputes (Moo 138). Both words also resemble their English
counterparts in meaning verbal disputes as well as armed conflicts (Moo 138).
James' use of such words as ‘fights’ and ‘quarrels’ to
characterize or describe Christians is deplorable. The Christian faith is one that claims
to be about love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity. The truth is that some things are