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 passage.
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 landowners (5:4-6). Date 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). Literary Genre 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 literature. 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). Conclusion 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).