Interested in reading a letter written by the brother of Jesus?
If so, the brief “Epistle of James” may be your only chance to.
And we have its summary.
Who Should Read “The Epistle of James”? And Why?
“The Epistle of James” is the first of the seven catholic epistles – which doesn’t mean that Catholics like it more than the rest, but simply that it’s one of the most general or universal epistles in the Bible.
So, if you can spare half an hour, do read it in its entirety.
Especially if you’re Christian.
Just like many other books in the Bible, not many things are known about the actual author of the Epistle of James, regardless of the fact that he uncovers his identity at the very beginning of the letter.
However, there are six different people who are named James in the Bible, and this guy may even be a seventh, unknown one.
Traditionally, the Epistle is attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just. If so, that is a Byzantine icon of him on the left. Most probably, he looked nothing like it.
The Epistle of James – also known as the Book of James or, simply, James – is (usually) the 15th of the 21 epistles (letters) found in the New Testament, presumably written by James the Just (the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem Church) to “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.”
Now, these twelve tribes are most probably Jewish Christians, because, as is often stated, if not for two generic references to Christ (“the Lord Jesus Christ” and “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”), the Epistle of James would fit rather nicely in the Old Testament.
In fact, this is the only one of the 21 epistles which makes no mention of the death and resurrection of Christ, let alone of his status as the Son of God.
It is a fairly short letter of eclectic nature, which mostly reads as a collection of proverbs and moral exhortations.
However, some authors have tried structuring it in one way or another.
We’ll follow their lead:
I ADDRESS (1:1)
This part consists of merely one verse, the salutation of the author: “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.”
II THE VALUE OF TRIALS AND TEMPTATION (1:2-18)
In this part, the author speaks of many topics, but mostly of faith and wisdom (1:2-8), poverty and riches (1:9-11), and trial and temptations (1:12-18).
He starts by telling the receivers of his letter: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trial, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
After pointing out that money means nothing, he goes back to talking about perseverance yet again, blessing the ones who endure the trials and temptations of this world, since all of them – he explains – come from above and are a test.
III EXHORTATIONS AND WARNINGS (1:19-5:12)
This part forms the bulk of the letter of James, containing many instructions and cautions related to, once again, various topics.
Hearing and Doing the Word (1:19–27)
In one of the earliest occurrences of the “talk the talk, walk the walk” phrase, James writes to the twelve tribes (in a bit more eloquent manner, of course): “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”
He then compares the hearers to people looking at their own faces in the mirror before going off their own ways forgetting how they look like.
Warning against Partiality (2:1–13)
Partiality is a sin, warns James, since everyone who differentiates between those with gold rings and fine clothes on the one side, and the poor people in shabby clothes on the other, are actually playing gods and judges.
And that is a big no-no – because they will be judged too.
So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom,” James concludes. “For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith and Works (2:14–26)
Now, James goes back to the theme of doing the word as well as hearing it, clothing it in a more relatable manner: faith and works go hand in hand.
Even the demons believe in God, he warns, making a person who merely believes and does nothing about it as empty as a body without a spirit.
You need to be like Abraham, completing and justifying your faith through your works, even if this means offering your son upon the altar.
Power of the Tongue (3:1–12)
The tongue, James says, is both as small and as powerful as a ship’s rudder: though merely an insignificant part of the body, it steers the whole body in one direction or another:
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God.
This shouldn’t be so, because a spring doesn’t “gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water” and because a fig tree doesn’t produce two types of olives.
In a nutshell: less cursing, more praying.
The Wisdom from Above (3:13–18)
If someone is wise, he will live a humble life, because humility (as opposed to jealousy and selfishness) is the only viable product of real, divine wisdom.
Friendship with the World (4:1–10)
Here James takes a look at the causes of division, which he thinks must be the passions (the needs and desires) which make war within our members and organs, turning people into adulterers and hypocrites.
The solution: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you!”
Judging a Brother (4:11–12)
Back to judging – this time of an especially serious type: speaking evil of one’s brother.
There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy,” notes James once again. “Who then are you to judge your neighbor?
Warning against Boasting (4:13–17)
If you want to make God laugh,” remarked once Woody Allen, “tell him about your plans.
Better yet, James notes, just start saying “If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.”
Otherwise, you’re merely boasting, and such boasting is evil.
Warning to the Rich (5:1–6)
Just like Jesus, James really doesn’t like the rich.
Don’t believe us?
See for yourself:
1 Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. 2 Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, 3 your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.
Patience and Oaths (5:7-12)
If Job was able to be patient, everyone should be as well. So, follow his examples.
Also, by heaven, stop swearing oaths!
The Epistle of James Epilogue
IV THE POWER OF PRAYER (5:13-20)
The Epistle of James concludes with a beautiful elucidation of the power of prayer.
Anointing of the Sick (5:13-15)
In a nutshell, if someone is suffering and/or is sick, he/she should pray by himself/herself or ask someone else to pray for him/her.
Confession and Intercession (5:16-18)
Also, everyone should confess his/her sins and pray for everyone he/she knows.
Conversion of Sinners (5:19-20)
Finally, “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
So, if you do know someone – you know what to do!
Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app, for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.
“The Epistle of James PDF Quotes”
Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Click To Tweet
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
If the Bible was authored by God, “The Epistle of James” is not His finest hour. It’s too repetitive, hurriedly structured and stylistically not as subtle as some of the other epistles.
Martin Luther even denied it was the work of an apostle, calling it an “epistle of straw.’
Be that as it may, we still think it’s Bible-worthy – if solely as an example of New Testament wisdom literature.
Learn more and more, in the speed that the world demands.