Epistle of James

General Information

The Epistle of James, the first of the general letters (Catholic epistles) of the New Testament of the Bible, is an exhortation to Christian patience and obedience. The book, more a sermon than a letter, uses 54 imperatives in 108 verses to call its readers to responsible living that accords with what they profess. Traditionally, James, "the Lord's brother," has been accepted as the author, which would date the book between AD 45 and 50 and would account for its primitive Christology. Some scholars, however, claim that it comes much later from the hand of another and date the book from late 1st century to early 2d century.

Although accepted by the church from the 2d century, James was reluctantly admitted into the Protestant New Testament canon. Martin Luther rejected the book as "a right strawy epistle," because he thought that James contradicted Saint Paul's view of justification by faith alone. Paul, however, was emphasizing the inappropriateness of works for salvation whereas James spoke of works that issue from faith. For both, the essentials are the same, and both were probably dealing independently with a traditional topic of Jewish belief.

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Epistle of James

Brief Outline

  1. Comfort (1)
  2. Warnings against specific sins of which they are guilty, such as pride, favoring the rich, misuse of the tongue, believing in Faith without Works (2-4)
  3. Exhortation to patience in suffering and prayer. (5)


Advanced Information

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Epistle of James

Advanced Information

(1.) Author of, was James the Less, the Lord's brother, one of the twelve apostles. He was one of the three pillars of the Church (Gal. 2:9). (2.) It was addressed to the Jews of the dispersion, "the twelve tribes scattered abroad." (3.) The place and time of the writing of the epistle were Jerusalem, where James was residing, and, from internal evidence, the period between Paul's two imprisonments at Rome, probably about A.D. 62. (4.) The object of the writer was to enforce the practical duties of the Christian life. "The Jewish 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 playthings (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, is justification before man, the justification of our profession of faith by a consistent life. Paul contends for the doctrine of "justification by faith;" but that is justification before God, a being regarded and accepted as just by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, which is received by faith.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)


Catholic Information

The questions concerning this epistle are treated in the following order:

I. Author and Genuineness;

II. Tradition as to the Canonicity;

III. Analysis and Contents of the Epistle;

IV. Occasion and Object;

V. To whom addressed;

VI. Style;

VII. Time and Place of composition.


The author is commonly identified with the Lord's brother, the Bishop of Jerusalem (see ST. JAMES THE LESS; the view that the Lord's brother must be identified with James, the son of Alpheus, is by far the most probable). Internal evidence (contents of the Epistle, its style, address, date, and place of composition) points unmistakably to James, the Lord's brother, the Bishop of Jerusalem, as the author; he exactly, and he alone, fulfils the conditions required in the writer of the Epistle. External evidence begins at a comparatively late date. Some coincidences, or analogies, exist between the Epistle and the Apostolic Fathers (Clement of Rome, the Pastor Hermas, St. Justin, St. Irenæus; see Mienertz, "Der Jacobusbrief", Freiburg im Br., 1905, p. 55 sqq.). The literary relation between the Epistle of James and the Epistle to the Romans is doubtful. Its later recognition in the Church, especially in the West, must be explained by the fact that it was written for Jewish Christians, and therefore not widely circulated among the Gentile Churches. From the middle of the third century, ecclesiastical authors cite the Epistle as written by St. James, the brother of the Lord. See the testimonies in the section following. The greater number of the Fathers in the Western Church identify the author with James the Apostle. In the Eastern Church, however, the authority of Eusebius and St. Epiphanius may explain some ecclesiastical doubts about the Apostolic origin of the Epistle, and consequently about its canonicity.


In the first centuries of the Church the authenticity of the Epistle was doubted by some, and amongst others by Theodore of Mopsuestia; it is therefore deuterocanonical. It is wanting in the Muratorian Canon, and because of the silence of several of the Western Churches regarding it, Eusebius classes it amongst the Antilegomena or contested writings (Hist. eccl., III, xxv; II, xxiii); St. Jerome gives the like information (De vir. ill., ii), but adds that with time its authenticity became universally admitted. In the sixteenth century its inspired nature was contested by Erasmus and Cajetan; Luther strongly repudiated the Epistle as "a letter of straw", and "unworthy of the apostolic Spirit", and this solely for dogmatic reasons, and owing to his preconceived notions, for the epistle refutes his heretical doctrine that Faith alone is necessary for salvation. The Council of Trent dogmatically defined the Epistle of St. James to be canonical. As the solution of this question of the history of the canonicity of the Epistle depends chiefly on the testimony of the ancient Fathers, it remains to be seen whether it is quoted by them as Scripture. (a) In the Latin Church it was known by St. Clement of Rome (before A.D. 100), the Pastor Hermas (about A.D. 150), St. Irenæus (125?-202?, 208), Tertullian (d. about 240), St. Hilary (d. 366), St. Philaster (d. 385), St. Ambrose (d. 397), Pope Damasus (in the canon of about A.D. 382), St. Jerome (346-420), Rufinus (d. 410), St. Augustine (430), and its canonicity is unquestioned by them. (b) In the Greek Church, Clement of Alexandria (d. 217), Origen (d. 254), St. Athanasius (d. 373), St. Dionysius the Areopagite (about A.D. 500), etc., considered it undoubtedly as a sacred writing. (c) In the Syrian Church, the Peshito, although omitting the minor Catholic Epistles, gives that of St. James; St. Ephraem uses it frequently in his writings. Moreover, the most notorious heretics of Syria recognised it as genuine. Thus we find that Nestorius ranked it in the Canon of Sacred Books, and James of Edessa adduces the testimony of James, v, 14. The Epistle is found in the Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Armenian versions. Although, therefore, the canonicity of the Epistle of St. James was questioned by a few during the first centuries, there are to be found from the very earliest ages, in different parts of the Church, numerous testimonies in favour of its canonicity. From the end of the third century its acceptance as inspired, and as the work of St. James, has been universal, as clearly appears from the various lists of the Sacred Books drawn up since the fourth century.


The subjects treated of in the Epistle are many and various; moreover, St. James not infrequently, whilst elucidating a certain point, passes abruptly to another, and presently resumes once more his former argument; hence it is difficult to give a precise division of the Epistle. It is doubtful whether the sacred writer intended any systematic arrangement of subject; indeed, it is more probable that he did not, for in the Hebrew Sapiential Books of the Old Testament, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus, to which the present Epistle may in many ways be likened, the order in which the moral sentences stand does not seem to suggest any connection between them. It will therefore be more expedient to give a simple enumeration of the subjects treated in the Epistle:

Inscription (i, 1); persecutions are to be borne with patience and joy (2-4); wisdom must be asked of God with confidence (5-8); humility is recommended (9-11); God is not the author of evil but of good (12-18); we must be slow to anger (19-21); not faith only, but also good works are necessary (22-27). Against respect of persons (ii, 1-13); another exhortation to good works (14-26). Against the evils of the tongue (iii, 1-12); against envy and discord, 13-18. Against wars and contentions (iv, 1-3); against the spirit of this world and pride (4-10); against detraction (11-13a); against vain confidence in worldly things (13b-16). Against the rich that oppress the poor (v, 1-6); exhortation to patience in the time of oppression (7-11), and to avoid swearing (12); of the anointing of the sick (13-15); of prayer (16); we must have at heart the conversion of sinners (19-20).

This enumeration shows that St. James inculcates especially: patience and perseverance in adversity, temptations, and persecutions; the necessity of good works, mercy, and charity. For the question of apparent opposition between St. James and St. Paul with regard to "faith and works" see EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS.


A. Occasion

St. James seems to have been moved to write his Epistle on witnessing that the first fervour of the Jewish Christians had grown cold, and that, owing to various causes, both external and internal, a certain spirit of discouragement had declared itself amongst them.

(1) External Causes. The new Christian converts found themselves at first the object of the indifference only of their fellow townsfolk, the greater number of whom still remained in unbelief; but this attitude very soon changed to one of hostility and even persecution. These early converts, belonging as they mostly did to the poorer classes, found themselves oppressed by the wealthy unbelievers; some were refused employment, others were denied their wages (v, 4); at other times they were mercilessly dragged before the tribunals (ii, 6); they were persecuted in the synagogues, and were, besides, reduced to extreme want and even starvation (ii, 15-17).

(2) Internal Causes. In the midst of these trials the faith of many began to languish (ii, 14, 20, 26), and the evil ways they had abandoned at their conversion were gradually indulged in once more. Thus it came to pass that the poor were despised in the sacred assemblies (ii, 1-9); there were breaches of brotherly charity (ii, 7); some arrogated to themselves the office of teacher who were unfitted (iii, 1, 13); many were guilty of detraction and other sins of the tongue (iii, 1-12; iv, 11-13); there were contentions and lawsuits (iv, 1-2); some indulged in swearing (v, 12); others neglected assiduous prayer (v, 13, 17-18); pride and vainglory were yielded to (iv, 6-10); even some of the sacred rites seem to have been overlooked (v, 14-16). Such were the evils that the Epistle sought to remedy.

B. Object

St. James wrote his Epistle for a moral purpose, and addressed his co-religionists as their pastor, in his quality of Bishop of Jerusalem, in order: (1) to exhort them to constancy in the faith in spite of the persecutions and trials they were undergoing, and to give them comfort in their tribulations; (2) to correct the abuses and extirpate the evils amongst them, by urging them to make their conduct conformable to their faith, and by earnestly reminding them that faith alone would not save them unless they added good works.


St. James wrote his Epistle for the Jewish Christians outside Palestine, who, for the greater part, were poor and oppressed. This we gather with certitude from the inscription (i, 1), and from various indications in the text. A. The words, i, 1, "to the twelve tribes" can mean the whole Jewish nation; but the words following, "which are scattered abroad", designate clearly the Jews of the Dispersion. The Jews in Palestine, surrounded by Gentiles, were not considered as "scattered abroad". That he addressed the Jewish Christians only becomes evident by the fact that the author styles himself "the servant of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ", and by this title he indicates clearly that he writes to the disciples of Christ only.

B. That the readers were Jewish appears still more evidently from the Epistle itself. St. James takes for granted that those whom he addressed were well versed in the writings of the Old Testament. Moreover, he calls them not only his "brethren", which name taken by itself does not remove all doubt, but he so clearly shows them to be Christians that it is incomprehensible how any critics understand unconverted Jews to be the "brethren" to whom the Epistle was written. Thus in i, 18, he writes to those whom God "of his own will hath begotten by the word of truth, that they might be some beginning of his creature"; in ii, 1, he admonishes them as follows: "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with respect to persons"; in ii, 7, he refers to them when he writes of "the good name [of Christ] that is invoked upon you"; in v, 7, they are to be patient "until the coming of the Lord"; etc. Further proof is afforded by the date of composition.

C. The context does not reveal who were the particular Jewish converts, to whom the Epistle was addressed. We gather, however, that St. James appeals to certain Christians, labouring under the stress of particular circumstances, in order to warn them against special perils; no one will easily admit that the vices against which he inveighs and the errors which he condemns were to be met with in each and every community of Jewish converts. Therefore the conclusion that he addressed some particular Churches forces itself upon our minds. As, according to the most probable opinion, the Epistle was not written later than about A.D. 50, we may conclude that it was written to some of the Churches of Syria or of another country not far distant from Jerusalem.


The style is sententious, figurative, often poetical, and may be compared to that of the Prophetical and Sapiential Books of the Old Testament. It is rapid, betrays emotion, and is not wanting in those vehement outbursts of feeling customary with the writers of that period, and which so powerfully set the force of the argument before the reader. It has already been noticed that the different sentences of the Epistle may be divided into hemistichs of parallel meaning; this is quite in keeping with the distinctly Hebraic style of the whole Epistle; it is a well known fact that the classical period is not found in Hebrew, but that the short members of a proposition are continually in juxtaposition.


A. Time

The Epistle was probably written about A.D. 47. The reference to the persecutions (ii, 6) is in the present tense, and indicates a stage of suffering which has not yet receded into the past of history. Now, in A.D. 44 the Churches of Judea were exposed to the persecution inflicted by Herod Agrippa, in which James, the son of Zebedee, was murdered (Acts 12:1 sqq.). Moreover, the author could not have written after the Council of Jerusalem (A.D. 51), where James acted as president, without some allusion to his decision unanimously accepted (Acts 15:4 sqq.). Another indication also derived from indirect internal evidence, is an allusion to the hungry and naked poor (of Jerusalem, ii, 15 sqq.); they suffered probably from the famine foretold by Agabus (Acts 11:28-30), and usually identified with one mentioned by Josephus (Antiq., XX, ii, 5), A.D. 45.

B. Place of Composition

The Epistle was probably written by St. James in Jerusalem; this we may conclude from the study of the life of the author (see SAINT JAMES THE LESS), and this opinion finds favour with nearly all its critics.

Publication information Written by A. Camerlynck. Transcribed by Christopher Nantista. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


Consult Introductions to the New Testament. It will suffice to indicate some recent commentaries and special studies in which the earlier bibliography is mentioned. CATHOLIC WORKS:-ERMONI IN VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible, s.vv. Jacques (Saint) le Majeur, Jacques (Saint) le Mineur, Jacques (Epître de Saint); JACQUIER, Histoire des livres de Nouveau Testament (Paris, 1909); MEINERTZ, Der Jacobusbrief und sein Verfasser in Schrift und Ueberlieferung (Frieburg im Br., 1905); CALMES, Epître catholiques, Apocalypse (Paris, 1905); VAN STEENKISTE-CAMERLYNCK, Commentarius in Epistolas Catholicas (Bruges, 1909). NON-CATHOLIC WORKS:-LIPSIUS, Die apocryphen Apostelgeschichten und Apostellegenden (Braunschweig, 1883-1890); SPITTA, Der Brief des Jacobus (Göttingen, 1896); MAYOR, The Epistle of St. James (London, 1892); IDEM in HASTINGS, Dict. of the Bible, s.vv. James and James, The General Epistle of; PLUMPTRE, The General Epistle of St. James (Cambridge, 1901); EMMETT in HASTINGS-SELBIE, Dict. of the Bible, s.v. James, Epistle of.

St James the Apostle and brother of St John the Theologian

Orthodox Information

Commemorated April 30

St James (Iakovos) was one of the Twelve, like his brother John (commemorated September 26), whom the Lord called "Sons of Thunder", because they became great preachers and because of their profound theology. It was the Saint's boldness in preaching the Gospel that Herod Agrippa, the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great, could not endure, and so he took him into custody during the days of the Passover, and slew him with the sword (Acts 12: 1-2); and thus he drank the cup of which the Saviour had spoken to him prophetically (Matt 20:23). As for Herod, the following year he went down to Caesarea, and, as the Acts of the Apostles records: "Upon a set day, Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration" to the elders of Tyre and Sidon; and the flatterers that surrounded him "gave a shout, saying, 'it is the voice of a god, and not of a man'. And immediately an Angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory; and" like his grandfather (commemorated Dececember 29) "he was eaten of worms and gave up the spirit" (Acts 12:21-23).

Dismissal Hymn (Third Tone)

O Holy Apostle James, intercede with the merciful God that He grant to our souls forgiveness of offences.

Kontakion (Second Tone)

You heard the voice of your God when it called to you, O glorious James; hence, casting off your father's love, you together with John you brother ran straight to Christ the Lord, and with him was granted to see the Lord's most divine Transfiguration.

St James the Apostle, son of Alphaeus

Orthodox Information

Commemorated October 9

Holy Apostle James the son of Alphaeus one of the Twelve Apostles, was the brother of the holy Evangelist Matthew. After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle James Alphaeus and the Apostle Andrew the First-Called (November 30), made missionary journeys preaching in Judea, Edessa, Gaza, Eleutheropolis, and converting many to the path of salvation. In the Egyptian city of Ostrazin, St James finished his apostolic work with a martyr's death on the cross.

Dismissal Hymn (Third Tone)

O Holy Apostle James, intercede with the merciful God that He grant to our souls forgiveness of offences.

Kontakion (Fourth Tone)

The wondrous fisherman that caught in the nations, James, the most venerable of Jesus' disciples, and the companion of the Apostolic choir, dispenses a great wealth of healing to the world, freeing those who rightly acclaim him from adversities. Therefore, we cry to him with one accord: O blest Apostle, save all of us by your prayers.

Saint James the Just

Orthodox Information

Commemorated October 23

The author of the General Epistle of James (62 AD) identifies himself as "James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ " (James 1:1). Early church tradition ascribes this letter to James, the "brother", or kinsman, of our Lord, known as James the Just.

St James was probably converted by a post-resurrection appearance of Christ (1 Cor. 15:7). The Apostles made him the first Bishop of Jerusalem (see Acts 12:7, 18; Gal. 1:18, 19, 2:9), where he presided over the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13).

James was the ideal Bishop for Jerusalem. He lived a strict and holy life, praying in the temple so frequently he was called "camel-kneed". The Jews considered him incorruptible, for he obeyed the Law of Moses better than they. Furthermore, they found no fault with him, except that he confessed Jesus to be the Messiah. It was the Jews who called this bishop of the Church "Just"!

According to tradition, James was executed, around 62 AD, at the prompting of the Sanhedrin, being thrown from the temple walls and then clubbed to death. October 23 is the remembrance of his martyrdom.

Dismissal Hymn (Fourth Tone)

As the Lord's disciple, O righteous One, you received the Gospel, as Martyr, you have unwavering courage, as the Lord's brother, you have forthrightness, as Hierarch, intercession. Intercede with Christ our God, that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion (Fourth Tone)

O wondrous Iakovos, God the Logos, only-begotten of the Father, who dwelt among us in latter days, declared you, the first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem, and faithful steward of the spiritual mysteries. Therefore, we all honour you, O Apostle.

Saint James the Just

Orthodox Information

(This information may not be of the scholastic quality of the other articles in BELIEVE. Since few Orthodox scholarly articles have been translated into English, we have had to rely on Orthodox Wiki as a source. Since the Wikipedia collections do not indicate the author's name for articles, and essentially anyone is free to edit or alter any of their articles (again, without any indication of what was changed or who changed it), we have concerns. However, in order to include an Orthodox perspective in some of our subject presentations, we have found it necessary to do this. At least until actual scholarly Orthodox texts are translated from the Greek originals!)

Saint James the Just, also called James Adelphos and James the Brother of Our Lord (died AD 62), was the first Bishop or Patriarch of Jerusalem. According to the Protoevangelion of James, James was the son of Joseph - along with the other 'brethren of the Lord' mentioned in the scripture—from a marriage prior to his betrothal to Mary. He wrote an epistle which is part of the New Testament. St. James is commemorated on October 23; on December 26 and also on the first Sunday after the Nativity, along with David the King and St. Joseph; and on January 4 among the Seventy Apostles. Contents


Eusebius, quoting from Hegesippus, writes that James was "called the Just by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James."

He is called Adelphos (Greek "brother"). Jesus's 'brothers'—James as well as Jude, Simon, and Joses—are mentioned in Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke 6:14, and by Paul in Galatians 1:19.


Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, quotes Hegesippus' account of James from the fifth book of his lost Commentaries:

"After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels' knees."

Paul further describes James as being one of the persons the risen Christ showed himself to (I Corinthians 15:3-8); then later in I Corinthians, mentions James in a way that suggests James had been married (9:5); and in Galatians, Paul lists James with Cephas (better known as Peter) and John, as the three "pillars" of the Church, and who will minister to "the circumcised" (that is the Jews) in Jerusalem, while Paul and his fellows will minister to the Gentiles (2:9, 2:12).

Acts provides clear evidence that James was an important figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem. When Peter, having miraculously escaped from prison, must flee Jerusalem, he asks that James be informed (12:17). When the Christians of Antioch are concerned over whether Gentile Christians need be circumcised to be saved, they send Paul and Barnabas to confer with the church there, and it is James who utters the definitive judgment (15:13ff). When Paul arrives in Jerusalem to deliver the money he raised for the faithful there, it is James to whom he speaks, and who insists that Paul ritually cleanse himself (21:18). A debated passage, often characterized as a Christian interpolation, in Josephus' Jewish Antiquities, records his death in Jerusalem as having occurred after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus, yet before Clodius Albinus took office (Antiquities 20,9)—which has thus been dated to AD 62. The high priest Ananus took advantage of this lack of imperial oversight to assemble a council of judges who condemned James "on the charge of breaking the law," then had him executed by stoning. Josephus reports that Ananus' act was widely viewed as little more than judicial murder, and offended a number of "those who were considered the most fair-minded people in the City, and strict in their observance of the Law," who went as far as meeting Albinus as he entered the province to petition him about the matter. Their agitations led to Ananus being deposed as high priest.

Eusebius, while quoting Josephus' account, also records otherwise lost passages from Hegesippus (see links below), and Clement of Alexandria (Historia Ecclesiae, 2.23). Hegesippus' account apparently varied from what Josephus reports: the Pharisees, upset at St. James' teachings, first threw him from the summit of the Temple in Jerusalem, then stoned him, and at last broke his skull with a fuller's club.

The Protevangelion of James (or Infancy Gospel of James), a work of the 2nd century, also presents itself as written by James.


Troparion (Tone 4) [1]

As the Lord's disciple you received the Gospel, O righteous James;
As a martyr you have unfailing courage;
As God's brother, you have boldness;
As a hierarch, you have the power to intercede.
Pray to Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion (Tone 4)

When God the Word, the Only-begotten of the Father,
Came to live among us in these last days,
He declared you, venerable James, to be the first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem
And a faithful steward of the spiritual Mysteries.
Therefore, we all honor you, O Apostle.

External links

Apostle James, of the Seventy, the Brother of the Lord, January 4 (OCA)
Apostle James, the Brother of the Lord, October 23 (OCA)
Righteous James the Brother of the Lord, along with Joseph the Betrothed, and David the King, December 30 (OCA)
James the Apostle, brother of Our Lord (GOARCH)
"The martyrdom of James, the brother of the Lord" Quotes from lost writings of Hegesippus in Eusebius.
Flavius Josephus Antiquities of the Jews Book 20, Chapter 9

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