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Epistle of James

The Epistle of James is a book of the New Testament, best known for its teaching that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26 KJV).

Table of contents
1 Authorship
2 Date and Place of Composition
3 Canonicity
4 Contents


The author identifies himself in the opening verse as "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ". Of the several people named James in the New Testament, three have garnered support as being this James:
  1. Tradition holds that the author was James the Just, the brother of Jesus. This James was not one of the Twelve, but Paul described him as "the brother of the Lord" in Galatians 1:19 and as one of the three pillars of the Church in 2:9.
  2. John Calvin and others suggested that the author was James of Alphaeus, apparently the brother of Matthew, aka Levi. It is feasible that James of Alphaeus is the same person as James the Less of Mark 15:40. Since very little is known about this person, this proposal does not tell us very much about the author.
  3. It is rarely but occasionally argued that this James was the apostle James the Great, brother of John, son of Zebedee. However, most conclude that the author was not the apostle James, because he died too early. Specifically, James must have been killed before 44, but the Epistle of James seems to be written in order to clear up misconceptions about Paul's teaching on justification by faith in the 50s.

Many modern, critical scholars consider the epistle to be pseudepigraphical and so the author could have been anyone, but they generally agree that "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" was intended to refer to James the Just.

Date and Place of Composition

If written by James the Just, the place and time of the writing of the epistle would be Jerusalem, where James was residing, before his martyrdom in 62. If pseudepigraphical, then any time from 50 to 200, since it was first definitely quoted by Origen, and possibly a bit earlier by Clement of Alexandria in a lost work if Eusebius is to be believed.


Most branches of Christianity consider this book to be a canonical espistle of the New Testament, but in Reformation times a few theologians, most notably Martin Luther, argued that this epistle was too defective to be part of the canonical New Testament.


The epistle was addressed to the Jews of the dispersion, "the twelve tribes scattered abroad."

The object of the writer was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian life. The vices against which he warns them are: formalism, which made the service of God consist in washings and outward ceremonies, whereas he reminds them (1:27) that it consists rather in active love and purity; fanaticism, which, under the cloak of religious zeal, was tearing Jerusalem in pieces (1:20); fatalism, which threw its sins on God (1:13); meanness, which crouched before the rich (2:2); falsehood, which had made words and oaths play-things (3:2-12); partisanship (3:14); evil speaking (4:11); boasting (4:16); oppression (5:4). The great lesson which he teaches them as Christians is patience, patience in trial (1:2), patience in good works (1:22-25), patience under provocation (3:17), patience under oppression (5:7), patience under persecution (5:10); and the ground of their patience is that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, which is to right all wrong (5:8).

"Justification by works," which James contends for, may be contrasted with the doctrine of "justification by faith", which Paul contends for in his own New Testament epistles. One way that Christians reconcile these perspectives by viewing that of James as a justification before others, that is to say the justification of a Christian's profession of faith by a consistent life; while Paul's emphasis was a justification before God, being regarded and accepted as just by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, which is received by faith. Another way that some Church fathers reconciled the two was to view true saving faith as faith that is energized by love, and that therefore is accompanied by good works, as opposed to a faith that is only intellectual assent to a set of beliefs. An interesting cross-reference is Acts 26:20, where Paul says that he has been preaching "that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance" (NASB, emphasis added). Some use this passage as evidence that Paul agreed with James that all true (or "living") faith is accompanied by works.