Vincent's Word Studies

Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature in Union Theological Seminary New York.

The Epistle of James


According to the oldest arrangement of the New Testament, the epistle of James stands first in order of all the apostolical epistles. The most competent critics generally agree in designating as its author James, the president of the church at Jerusalem, and known as the Lord's brother.

“No doubt,” says Dean Stanley, “if we look at James' influence and authority from the more general point of view, whether of the whole Jewish Christian world or of the whole Gentile Christian world, it sinks into nothing before the majesty of Peter and Paul;” but within the circle of the purely Palestinian Christians, and in Jerusalem, James is the chief representative of the Christian society. The later traditions of the Jewish Christians invest him with a priestly sanctity. His austerities and devotions are described in extravagant terms. He is said to have kneeled until his knees were as hard as the knees of camels, and to have been constant in prayer in the temple. He went barefoot, and practised abstinence from wine, and wore the long hair, the linen ephod, and the unshorn beard of the Nazarites, and even abstained from washing. He was known as “The Just.” The people vied with each other to touch the hem of his garment; and he is reputed to have called down rain in the drought, after the manner of Elijah. His chair was preserved as a relic until the fourth century, and a pillar in the valley of Jehoshaphat marked the spot where he fell.

The account of his martyrdom is given by Eusebius from the lost work of Hegesippus, by Josephus, and in the Clementine Recognitions. In Hegesippus and the Recognitions, the story is dramatic and deeply tinged with romance. The narrative of the former “is,” says Dr. Schaff, “an overdrawn picture of the middle of the second century, colored by Judaizing traits, which may have been derived from 'the Ascents of James' and other apocryphal sources.” It is, substantially, as follows: Having been asked, “What is the gate of Jesus?” he replied that he was the Saviour; from which some believed that Jesus is the Christ. The Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, becoming alarmed, came to James, and besought him to restrain the people from going after Jesus, to persuade against him all that came to the Passover, and, with this view, to stand on the pinnacle of the temple, where he might be seen and heard by all the people. They accordingly placed him there, and said, “O Just One, to whom we all give heed, inasmuch as the people is gone astray after Jesus who is crucified, tell us what is the gate of Jesus?” He answered, with a loud voice, “Why ask ye me concerning Jesus, the Son of man? He sits in heaven, on the right hand of the mighty power, and he is also about to come in the clouds of heaven.” Many being convinced, and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” the Scribes and Pharisees said, “We have done ill in furnishing so great a testimony to Jesus. Let us go and cast him down.” They went up then and threw him down, and as he was not killed by the fall they began to stone him. And he, turning round, knelt and said, “I beseech thee, Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But while they were thus stoning him, one of the priests, of the sons of Rechab, cried, saying, “Stop! what do ye? The Just One prays for you;” and one of them, one of the fullers, took the club with which he used to press the cloths, and struck it on the head of the Just One. And so he bore witness, and they buried him on the place by the temple.

The epistle was probably written from Jerusalem, where James would be likely to become acquainted with the condition of the Jews, through those who came up at the feasts. Certain allusions in the epistle go to confirm this. The comparison of the double-minded man to a wave of the sea (Jam 1:6), and the picture of the ships (Jam 3:4), might well be written by one dwelling near the sea and familiar with it. The illustrations in Jam 3:11, Jam 3:12 - the figs, the oil, the wine, the salt and bitter springs - are furnished by Palestine, as are the drought (Jam 5:17, Jam 5:18), the former and the latter rain (Jam 5:7), and the hot, parching wind (Jam 1:11), for which the name καύσων, was specially known in Palestine.

The epistle is written from a Jewish stand-point. “Christianity appears in it, not as a new dispensation, but as a development and perfection of the old. The Christian's highest honor is not that he is a member of the universal church, but that he is the genuine type of the ancient Israelite. It reveals no new principle of spiritual life, such as those which were to turn the world upside down in the teaching of Paul or of John, but only that pure and perfect morality which was the true fulfilment of the law” (Stanley). Twice only the name of Christ occurs (Jam 1:1; Jam 2:1); the word “gospel” not at all; and there is no allusion to Redemption, Incarnation, Resurrection, or Ascension. The rules of morality which he lays down are enforced by Jewish rather than by Christian motives and sanctions. The violation of the “royal law” is menaced with the sentence of the law (Jam 2:8, Jam 2:13); and uncharitable judgment is deprecated on the ground of the law's condemnation, and not as alien to the spirit of Christ.

At the same time, the very legalism of the epistle is the outgrowth of the Sermon on the Mount, the language of which it reflects more than any other book of the New Testament. It meets the formalism, the fatalism, the hypocrisy, the arrogance, insolence, and oppression engendered by the sharp social distinctions of the age, with a teaching conceived in the spirit, and often expressed in the forms of the Great Teacher's moral code. “The epistle,” says Dr. Scott, “strikes the ear from beginning to end as an echo of the oral teaching of our Lord. There is scarcely a thought in it which cannot be traced to Christ's personal teaching. If John has lain on the Saviour's bosom, James has sat at his feet.”

The following correspondences may be noted:



Mat 5:3 Jam 1:9; Jam 2:5
Mat 5:4 Jam 4:9
Mat 5:7, Mat 5:9 Jam 2:13; Jam 3:17
Mat 5:8 Jam 4:8
Mat 5:9 Jam 3:18
Mat 5:11, Mat 5:12 Jam 1:2; Jam 5:10, Jam 5:11
Mat 5:19 Jam 1:19 seq., Jam 1:25; Jam 2:10, Jam 2:11
Mat 5:22 Jam 1:20
Mat 5:27 Jam 2:10, Jam 2:11
Mat 5:34 seq. Jam 5:12
Mat 5:48 Jam 1:4
Mat 6:15 Jam 2:13
Mat 6:19 Jam 5:2 seq.
Mat 6:24 Jam 4:4
Mat 6:25 Jam 4:13-16
Mat 7:1 seq. Jam 3:1; Jam 4:11 seq.
Mat 7:2 Jam 2:13
Mat 7:7, Mat 7:11 Jam 1:5, Jam 1:17
Mat 7:8 Jam 4:3
Mat 7:12 Jam 2:8
Mat 7:16 Jam 3:12
Mat 7:21-26 Jam 1:22; Jam 2:14; Jam 5:7-9

The style and diction of the epistle are strongly marked. Links connecting them with the historic individuality of the writer, which are so numerous in the case of Peter, are almost entirely wanting. The expression, “Hearken, my beloved brethren” (Jam 2:5), suggests the similar phrase, Act 15:13; and the ordinary Greek greeting, χαίρειν, hail (Act 15:23), is repeated in Jam 1:1; the only two places where it occurs in a Christian epistle. The purity of the Greek, and its comparative freedom from Hebraisms, are difficult to account for in a writer who had passed his life in Jerusalem. The style is sententious and antithetic; the thoughts not linked in logical connection, but massed in groups of short sentences, like the proverbial sayings of the Jews; with which class of literature the writer was evidently familiar. His utterance glows with the fervor of his spirit; it is rapid, exclamatory, graphic, abrupt, sometimes poetical in form, and moving with a rhythmical cadence. “It combines pure and eloquent and rhythmical Greek with Hebrew intensity of expression.”

List of Greek Words Used by James Only

ἄγε go to Jam 4:13; Jam 5:1
ἀδιάκριτος without doubting Jam 3:17
ἀκατάστατος unstable Jam 1:18; Jam 3:8
ἁλυκός salt Jam 3:12
ἀμάω reap down Jam 5:4
ἀνέλεος unmerciful Jam 2:13
ἀνεμίζω to drive with the wind Jam 1:6
ἀπείραστος that cannot be tempted, or unversed Jam 1:13
ἁπλῶς liberally, simply Jam 1:5
ἀποκυέω bring forth, beget Jam 1:15, Jam 1:18
ἀποσκίασμα shadow Jam 1:17
αὐχέω to boast Jam 3:5
ἀφυστερέω to keep back by fraud Jam 5:4
βοή cry Jam 5:4
βρύω to send forth Jam 3:11
γέλως laughter Jam 4:9
δίψυχος double-minded Jam 1:8; Jam 4:8
εἴκω to be like Jam 1:6, Jam 1:23
ἔμφυτος implanted Jam 1:21
ἐνάλιος in the sea Jam 3:7
ἐξέλκω to draw away Jam 1:14
ἐπιλησμονή forgetfulness Jam 1:25
ἐπιστήμων knowing Jam 3:13
ἐπιτήδειος needful Jam 2:16
ὁ εὐθύνων steersman Jam 3:4
εὐπειθής easy to be intreated Jam 3:17
εὐπρέπεια grace Jam 1:11
ἐφήμερος daily Jam 2:15
θανατηφόρος deadly Jam 3:8
θρῆσκος religious Jam 1:26
ἰός poison, rust Jam 3:8; Jam 5:3
κακοπάθεια suffering Jam 5:10
κατήφεια heaviness Jam 4:9
κατιόω to canker Jam 5:3
κατοικίζω to cause to dwell Jam 4:5
κενῶς in vain Jam 4:5
μαραίνω to fade Jam 1:11
μετάγω to turn about Jam 3:3, Jam 3:4
νομοθέτης lawgiver Jam 4:12
ὀλολύζω to howl Jam 5:1
ὄψιμος latter Jam 5:7
παραλλαγή variation Jam 1:17
πικρός bitter Jam 3:11, Jam 3:14
ποίησις doing Jam 1:25
πολύσπλαγχνος full of pity Jam 5:11
προσωπολημπτέω to have respect to persons Jam 2:9
πρώΐμος early Jam 5:7
ῥιπίζω toss Jam 1:6
ῥυπαρία filthiness Jam 1:21
σήπω to corrupt Jam 5:2
σητόβρωτος moth-eaten Jam 5:2
ταλαιπωρέω to be afflicted Jam 4:9
ταχύς swift Jam 1:19
τροπή turning Jam 1:17
τροχός wheel Jam 3:6
τρυφάω to live daintily Jam 5:5
ὕλη wood, forest Jam 3:5
φιλία friendship Jam 4:4
φλογίζω to set on fire Jam 3:6
φρίσσω to shudder Jam 2:19
χαλιναγωγέω to bridle Jam 1:26; Jam 3:2
χρή ought Jam 3:10
χρυσοδακτύλιος adorned with gold rings Jam 2:2

Taken from: "Vincent's Word Studies" By Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

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