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THE Epistle of St James is among the less read and less studied books of the N.T.; and this for obvious reasons. With one partial exception it has not supplied material for great theological controversies. But moreover it is a book that very few Christians on consideration would place among the most important books. No one wishing to refer to the written records which best set forth what Christian belief and even Christian practice is would turn to it as they would turn to the Gospels or to some, at least, of St Paul’s Epistles. Nay, as we all know, even distinctively Christian language in one sense of the phrase, i.e. such language as no one but a Christian could use, is used in it very sparingly. Thus no wonder that it has been comparatively little valued by Christian readers, and comparatively little examined and illustrated by Christian commentators.

Yet on the other hand it has an important place and office of its own in the Scriptures of the N.T. Its very unlikeness to other books is of the greatest value to us, as shewing through Apostolic example the manysidedness of Christian truth. Our faith rests first on the Gospel itself, the revelation of God and His redemption in His Only begotten Son, and secondly on the interpretation of that primary Gospel by the Apostles and Apostolic men to whom was Divinely committed the task of applying the revelation of Christ to the thoughts and deeds of their own time. That standard interpretation of theirs was ordained to be for the guidance of the Church in all after ages, in combination with the living guidance of the Spirit. But it could not have discharged this office if it had been of one xtype only, moulded by the mental characteristics of a single man, though he were an inspired Apostle. It was needed that various modes of apprehending the one Truth should be sanctioned for ever as contributing to the completeness of the faith. And that mode of apprehending it which we find in St James stamped the comprehensiveness of Apostolic Christianity in a marked manner, being the furthest removed from that of the Apostle of largest influence, St Paul.

That special type of Christianity which is represented by St James had a high intrinsic value apart from its testimony to the various because partial character of Divine truth as apprehended by men. One of the most serious dangers to Christian faith in the early ages, perhaps we may say, in all ages, was the temptation to think of Christ as the founder of a new religion, to invert His words “I came not to destroy, but to fulfil.” St Paul himself was entirely free from such a view of Christianity: but the part which he had to take in vindicating Gentile freedom against Jewish encroachments made him easily appear to be the herald of a new religion. The Divine judgement of the fall of Jerusalem and the Jewish State, and also the bitter hatred with which the Jews long pursued Christians, would all tend to produce the same impression. Thus many influences prepared the way for the influence of Marcion in the second century and long afterwards, and made him seem a true champion of the purity of the Gospel. When he cast off the worship of the Creator, of Jehovah the Lord of Israel, the merely just God of the O.T., as he said, and set up the God of the N.T. as a new God, alone in the strict sense good, alone to be worshipped by Christians, he could not but seem to many to be delivering the faith from an antiquated bondage. And so again and again the wild dream of a “Christianity without Judaism” has risen up with attractive power. But the Epistle of St James marks in the most decisive way the continuity of the two Testaments. In some obvious aspects it is like a piece of the O.T. appearing in the midst of the N.T.; and yet not out of place, or out of date, for it is most truly of the N.T. too. It as it were carries on the line of intermediate xitestimony which starts from John the Baptist, and is taken up by the hymns in Lk. i., ii. (Magnificat, Benedictus, Nunc Dimittis). As they reach forward towards the Gospel, so the Epistle of St James looks upon the elder dispensation as having been in a manner itself brought to perfection by the Gospel.

This distinctive value of St James’ Epistle is closely related to the distinctive value of the first three Gospels. The relation is not merely of affinity, but almost of direct descent. The Epistle is saturated with the matter of those Gospels (or narratives akin to them). No other book so uses them. And though the completeness of Christianity would be maimed if the teaching of the Gospel of St John were away, yet the three Gospels give in their own way a true picture. Many perversions of Christianity could not have arisen if they had in practice as well as theory been taken with the Gospel of St John; and so the combination of St James with St Paul is a safeguard against much error.

Besides this general value of the Epistle as a whole, its details are full of matter of high interest and importance, often by no means lying on the surface. It is also far from being an easy Epistle. Many verses of it are easy, but many are difficult enough, and even in the easier parts the train of thought is often difficult to catch. Much, though not all, of the difficulty comes from the energetic abruptness of style, reminding us of the older prophets. Thus for various reasons the Epistle is one that will repay close examination and illustration.


Two questions arise: (1) What James is intended by Ἰάκωβος in i. 1. (2) Whether the James so intended did really write the Epistle: is it authentic or supposititious?

There is no need to spend much time on this second question, which is almost entirely distinct from the general question of the date of important N.T. books. Some critics of ability still uphold a late date, but on very slight and intangible grounds. One has urged similarity to Hom. Clem., a late book: but such little similarity xiias there is proceeds from the fact that both are by Jewish Christians, though in quite different generations. Others refer to the judicial persecutions, or to the presbyters. Others, with less reference to date, say that though Jewish it is not Jewish enough for the James whom they rightly suppose to be intended: but then this image of James they have constructed out of problematical materials. Again it is said that it contains Orphic language, strange in a Palestinian Jew ( τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως in iii. 6): but this interpretation of the words cannot stand.

A somewhat more tangible ground is the supposed reference to Hebrews and Apocalypse, books apparently (Apoc. certainly) written after St James’ death. In ii. 25 there is a reference to Ῥαὰβ ἡ πόρνη as with Abraham an example of justification by works. It is urged that as Abraham is taken from St Paul, so Rahab is taken from the Pauline Hebrews xi. 31 (cf. Bleek Heb. I. 89 f.). It is quite possible that Rahab may have been cited by St Paul or disciples of his as an example of faith: but the reference to Heb. is unlikely, for there is no question of justification there. She is merely one of a long series (οὐ συναπώλετο). But at all events it is enough that she was celebrated by the Jews as a typical proselyte (Wünsche, Erläuterung der Evangelien, 3 f.). As Abraham was the type of Israelite faith, so Rahab was of Gentile faith. In i. 12, τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς is referred to Rev. ii. 10; and ii. 5, κληρονόμους τῆς βασιλείας to Rev. i. 6, 9; v. l0. “Crown of life” is a striking phrase, not likely to arise independently in two places: but probably of Jewish origin, founded on O.T. (see further, in loc.). Κληρον. τ. βασιλ. comes straight from our Lord’s words Mt. v. 3, 10; Lk. xii. 32, etc. as regards βασιλεία (the poor, as here) and both words Mt. xxv. 34; 1 Cor. vi. 9, etc. These supposed indications, practically all isolated, crumble into nothing.

A striking fact is that Kern, who initiated the more vigorous criticism of the Epistle in modern times by his essay of 1835, then placed it late: yet himself wrote a commentary in 1838 in which he retracted the former view, and acknowledged that he had been over hasty.


It is not necessary at present to say more on authenticity, which will come under notice incidentally. But how as to the James intended? Practically two only come into consideration: James the son of Zebedee and James the Lord’s brother. Who James the Lord’s brother was is another question.

Was it the son of Zebedee? For this there is hardly any external evidence1010   Syr. often cited, on account of a Syriac note common to the three Epistles:
   Of the Holy Apostles
James Peter John
Spectators of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
The several Epistles
printed in the Syriac tongue and characters.

   But this is now understood to be due to Widmanstadt.
. Cod. Corbeiensis, an interesting ms with an Old Latin text, has Explicit epistola Jacobi filii Zebedaei. The date is cent. X (Holder ap. Gebhardt Barn.2 xxiv f.) ; but the colophon is probably much more ancient. The Epistle is not part of a N.T. or of Epistles, but is in combination with three other Latin books all ancient, the four together forming the end (true end) of a vol. of which the first three-quarters (69-93) are lost (Bonnell ap. Hilgenf. in Zeitsch. 1871, 263). Philaster on Heresies (soon after the middle of cent. IV); Novatian (called Tert.) de cibis judaicis (cent. III); and an old translation of the Ep. of Barnabas, next to which (i.e. last) it stands. Thus it is highly probable that the Corb. Ms was copied from one written late in cent. IV, or not much later, i.e. at a time when the Epistle of St James was treated in the West as a venerable writing, but not as part of the N.T. This could hardly have been the case after cent. IV, owing to the authority of Jerome, Augustine and the Council of Carthage (prob. 397).

Another probable trace of this tradition in the West is in Isid. Hisp. de ortu et obitu patrum 71: Jacobus filius Zebedaei, frater Joannis, quartus in ordine, duodecim tribubus quae sunt in dispersion, gentium scripsit atque Hispaniae et occidentalium locorum gentibus evangelium praedicavit etc. It has been suggested that “scripsit” is an interpolation. Apparently the only reason is because (in some MSS (?) not noticed by Vallarsi) Jerome de vir. illust. xivafter Matthew has: J. Zebedaei filius duodecim tribubus quae sunt in dispersione omnibus praedicavit evangelium Dni. nostri J.C. etc. (Martianay, Vulgata, p. 191: cf. Sabat. III. 944). But this may just as easily be a shortened abbreviation of Isidore. This addition in Jerome is by Martianay referred to some Greeks (a Graecis nescio quibus); but what Greeks are meant? The motive probably was to make him an apostle, the identification with the son of Alphaeus not being known to those who gave the title; also the connexion of Peter, James and John. Practically the same motive still exists; but it is not an argument. Plumptre (pp. 7-10) quite sufficiently answers Mr Bassett’s reasons. They all are merely points in which words said in the Epistle are such as might easily have been said by one who saw and heard what the son of Zebedee did, but suit equally the other James in question. Besides Apostleship the other motive is to obtain an early date, on which more hereafter. At all events it is obvious that the existence of recipients such as the Epistle presupposes would be inconsistent with all that we know of the few years before St James’ death. Indeed if he had written, it is most strange that no better tradition should exist; most strange also that there should be no record of such a special position and activity as would lead to his writing in this authoritative tone.

We come therefore as a matter of course to James the Lord’s brother. About him a large literature has been written: it is worth while here only to take the more important points. To take first what is clear and accepted on all hands, he was the James of all but the earliest years of the Apostolic age. Three times he appears in the Acts, all memorable occasions:—(i) xii. 17. When Peter is delivered from the imprisonment which accompanied the death of James the son of Zebedee, he bids his friends go tell the news to “James and the brethren,” which shews that already he was prominent, to say the least. (2) xv. 13. At the conference or council at Jerusalem, arising out of the Judaizers’ attempt to enforce circumcision at Antioch, when Peter has spoken in favour of liberty, and Barnabas and Paul have recounted their successful mission in Asia Minor, James likewise recognises Gentile xvChristianity, but proposes restrictions which were virtually a compromise; finally he refers to the Jews and their synagogues in different cities. (3) xxi. 18. When Paul comes to Jerusalem (for the last time, as it proved) and is welcomed by the brethren, he goes in next day to James, all the elders being present: he greets them and recounts his missionary successes. They (James and the elders) glorify God for what had happened, and then mentioning the great number of Christian Jews at Jerusalem, all zealots for the law, and ill-disposed towards St Paul, suggested his performance of a Jewish rite of purification in the temple to shew that he himself had not abandoned Jewish practice though it was not to be imposed on Gentiles. Thus, again, substantially accepting Gentile freedom, but urging subordinate concession to Jewish feelings.

Now as regards St Paul’s Epistles:—(1) 1 Cor. xv. 7 (to which we must return). Christ was seen by James, then by all the Apostles. (2) Gal. i. 19. Referring to the first visit to Jerusalem after the conversion, “other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” (3) Gal. ii. 9. The second visit to Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians, but apparently the third altogether, and probably identical with that of Acts xv. (see Lightft. Gal.10 pp. 123 ff., 303 ff.). Here James, Cephas, John, of οἱ δοκοῦντες στύλοι εἶ̂ναι, recognising the grace given him, give them the right hand of fellowship, that Paul and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles, they to the circumcision, with a proviso that they should remember the poor (brethren of Judaea), which, he says, for this very reason I made it a point to do. (4) Gal. ii. 12. Certain came from James (from Jerusalem to Antioch). [See Jud. Christ. pp. 79 ff.] Doubtless we must add Jude 1, ἀδελφὸς δὲ Ἰακώβου: but this is of less consequence. Here then we have James as the leading person at Jerusalem from the time of Peter’s imprisonment to Paul’s last visit. Here the N.T. leaves him. More we learn from Hegesippus (Eus. ii. 23; cf. iv. 22) about his way of life (“the Just”), his reputation among the people, and his martyrdom. His death is also mentioned by Joseph. Ant. xx. 9. i, for there is no sufficient reason to suspect the passage to be interpolated.


We now come to matters of question and debate. Was he one of the Twelve? i.e. Was he the son of Alphaeus? Why was he called the Lord’s brother? Without attempting to trace out all the intricacies of the scriptural argument1111Excellently given in Ltft., and summarised (rather too shortly) by Plumptre pp. 10 ff. a word must be said on the cardinal points.

First Gal. i. 19: ἕτερον δὲ τῶν ἀποστόλων οὐκ εἶδον, εἰ μὴ Ἰάκωβον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου. Here, according to the most obvious sense, St Paul implies that James was one of the Apostles, while he directly calls him the brother of the Lord. Is this obvious sense right? i.e. Can ἕτερον εἰ μή reasonably bear another meaning? On the whole, I think not. For the very late exchange of εἰ μή and ἀλλά in N.T. there is no probability whatever. In three other books of the N.T. in less good Greek (Mt. xii. 4; Lk. iv. 25 f.; Rev. ix. 4) the meaning looks like this, but fallaciously. Either the εἰ μή goes with the preceding clause as a general statement, dropping the particular reference, or (more probably) there is a colloquial ellipse of another negative (cf. Mt. xii. 4, οὐδέ τινι εἰ μὴ τ. ἱερεῦσιν μόνοις; Lk. iv. 26, οὐδὲ πρός τινα εἰ μὴ εἰς Σάρεπτα; Rev. ix. 4, οὐδέ τι εἰ μὴ τ. ἀνθρώπους). The force is thus not simply “but,” but “but only.” St Paul himself has some rather peculiar uses of εἰ μὴ. Rom. xiii. 8, εἰ μὴ τὸ ἀλλήλους ἀγαπᾷν; 1 Cor. ii. 11, τίς γὰρ οἶδεν . . . τὰ τ. ἀνθρώπου εἰ μὴ τὸ πνεῦμα κ.τ.λ.; (probably not Gal. ii. 16, οὐ δικαιοῦται . . . ἐὰν μή). Again with an initial ellipse 1 Cor. vii. 17, εἰ μὴ ἑκάστῳ κ.τ.λ. (“only”); Rom. xiv. 14, εἰ μὴ τῷ λογιζομένῳ; Gal. i. 7, εἰ μή τινές εἰσιν κ.τ.λ.. Thus it is not impossible that St Paul might mean “unless you choose to count” etc. But in a historical statement on a delicate matter he would probably with that meaning have hinted it by a particle, as by εἰ μὴ ἄρα, εἰ μή γε. Thus it is much more probable that he did simply accept James as “an apostle,” while yet his mentioning so important a person (see ii. 9) only as an after thought, not with Peter, does suggest some difference of authority or position between them.

Next what did he mean by an apostle? Was it necessarily one xviiof the Twelve? Here we must walk cautiously, and observe carefully the limits of usage. The range of the term in the N.T. is very peculiar. In Mt. and Mk. it is confined to the first mission and return of the Twelve, and is so introduced as to suggest that the previous narratives had it not (Mt. x. i, 2, 5; Mk. iii. 14; vi. 30). In Jn. it is only used in its general sense of envoy (xiii. i6), οὐδὲ ἀπόστολος μείζων τ. πέμψαντος αὐτόν. In these three “the Twelve” or “ the disciples” take its place. But in Lk. it comes in more freely, though still not so commonly as “disciples.”

In Acts (from i. 2) it is the frequent and almost (contrast vi. 2) exclusive designation of the Twelve and of them alone, with one remarkable exception. From xi. 20 Antioch begins to be a centre of Christian life and activity external to Jerusalem. Barnabas is sent (xi. 22) by the Church at Jerusalem to investigate what was going on. He approved it, fetched Paul from Tarsus, and they worked at Antioch together; and together they carried a contribution to the brethren in Judaea (xi. 28 ff.). Then (xiii. 1-4) in a very marked way they are described as set apart by a special command of the Holy Spirit, having hands laid on them and being formally sent forth. This was the first Missionary Journey: on the course of it they are twice (xiv. 4, 14) called “the apostles,” but never after. This usage in xiv. is often urged to shew the latitude of usage. It seems to me to have quite the opposite meaning: it shews that the apostolate of the Twelve was not the only office that could bear the name: but the application is to one equally definite, though temporary, a special and specially sacred commission for a particular mission of vast importance for the history of the Church, being the first authoritative mission work to the heathen (in contrast to sporadic individuals), the first recorded extension of the Gospel beyond Syria, and by its results the occasion of bringing to a point the question of Gentile Christianity and the memorable decision of the Council or Conference of Jerusalem.

1 Pet. i. 1; 2 Pet. i. 1: “an apostle of Jesus Christ” (as in St Paul). 2 Pet. iii. 2; Jude 17: “the apostles” used in a way which neither requires nor excludes limitation. Rev. xxi. 14: twelve xviiinames of twelve apostles of the Lamb on the twelve foundations of the wall of New Jerusalem; xviii. 20 (more indeterminately). But ii. 2, the angel of the Church at Ephesus has “tried them that say they are apostles, and are not, and found them false,” which seems to imply both a legitimate and illegitimate use outside the Twelve. Heb. iii. 1, Christ Himself “apostle and high priest of our profession,” equivalent to “envoy” as in Jn.

St Paul emphasizes his own apostleship in salutations etc., and the energy with which he asserts his own claim as connected with a special mission from Christ Himself on the way to Damascus is really incompatible with looseness of usage. The Twelve were confessedly apostles: so was he: but this was not worth saying if the title might be given to others not having as definite an authority. This comes out clearly when we consider the passages in which he acknowledges the priority of the Twelve in time (1 Cor. xv. 9; Gal. i. 17; cf. 2 Cor. xi. 5; xii. 11). How then about the apparent exceptions in his use? Among these we must not reckon Rom. xvi. 7 (οἵτινες ἐπίσημοι ἐν τ. ἀποστόλοις). The next clause speaks of them (Andronicus and Junius) as having become Christians earlier than himself, so that doubtless they had been at Jerusalem, and so would be, as the words would quite naturally mean1212For this use of ἐπίσημος ἐν, and the opposite ἄσημος ἐν, there is good classical analogy. It is analogous to 1 Cor. vi. 2, εἰ ἐν ὑμῖν κρίνεται ὁ κόσμος., “men of mark in the eyes of the apostles,” “favourably known to the apostles.” The only real passages are 2 Cor. viii. 23 (Titus and others), ἀπόστολοι ἐκκλησιῶν between ἀδελφοὶ ἡμῶν and δόξα Χριστοῦ; and Phil. ii. 25 (Epaphroditus), τ. ἀδελφὸν καὶ συνεργὸν καὶ συστρατιώτην μου, ὑμῶν δὲ ἀπόστολον; both marked by the added words as used in the limited sense of “envoys of churches,” somewhat as in Acts xiv. This throws no light on “other of the apostles,” apparently absolute and equivalent to apostles of God or of Christ.

Thus far we find St Paul’s use not vague at all, but limited to (I) the Twelve, (2) himself, (3) envoys of churches, but in this case only with other words (defining genitives) added. Yet it does not follow that he would refuse it to St James unless he were of the xixTwelve. Supposing he had some exceptional claim like his own, he might allow the name. 1 Cor. xv. 5-8 seems to shew that it really was so:

“seen of Cephas, then of the Twelve,

seen of James, then of all the apostles.”

The use of all implies the Twelve and something more, and it is not unlikely that the relations correspond of single names and bodies.

Whether St James was the only additional apostle, we cannot tell: but probably he was. His early and peculiar authority would be accounted for if he had some exceptional Divine authorisation analogous to St Paul’s. Not to speak of confused traditions about this, St Paul’s mention of Christ’s appearance to him (1 Cor. xv. 7) points to a probable occasion, and the Gospel according to the Hebrews had a story referring to this event (Jerome, de vir. illustr. 2). Such an event as the conversion of a brother of the Lord by a special appearance after the Resurrection might easily single him out for a special apostleship.

Thus Galatians i. 19 is compatible either with his being one of the Twelve, or an additional member of the apostolate by an exceptional title; and 1 Cor. xv. rather suggests the latter.

The details of the “brotherhood” question must be left to the books on the subject. Speaking generally there are four theories:

(1) Helvidian: brothers strictly, sons of Joseph and Mary.

(2) Palestinian or Epiphanian: brothers strictly in scriptural sense, though not the modern sense, sons of Joseph but not Mary.

(3) Chrysostom (confusedly) and Theodoret: cousins, as children of Clopas.

(q.) Hieronymian: cousins, as children of Alphaeus.

The third is of no great historical importance or intrinsic interest: it is apparently founded on a putting together of Mt. xxvii. 56 || Mk. xv. 40 with Jn. xix. 25 (contrast Ltft. Gal.10 pp. 289 f.). But in modern times it is usually combined with the fourth by the (in itself probable) identification of Clopas with Alphaeus.

The Hieronymian, largely accepted in the Western Church, and with rare exceptions in England before Lightfoot, is probably, as xxLightfoot shews, historically only an ingenious scholar’s theory in century iv. Intrinsically it gives an unnatural and for any but patriarchal times unexampled sense to “brethren”1313See Additional Note, p. 102.. It occurs in the Gospels, Acts, and St Paul: nay (Mt. xii. 46-50 || Mk. iii. 31-35 || Lk. viii. 19-21) the original narrative puts it into the mouth of those who told Him that His mother and His brethren sought to speak with Him. It makes the “unbelief” of the brethren unintelligible, and involves various petty difficulties in subordinate details. I mention only one of the details, as deserving more attention than it has received, Jn. xix. 25. The cousinhood theory turns on Mary wife of Clopas being sister to the Virgin, and this on there being only three persons here, not four. Both arrangements are possible: two pairs more natural, “mother” the common word of the first, “Mary” of the second. But more striking is the antithesis of soldiers and women. As Ewald pointed out, the soldiers would be four, or a combination of fours (see Wetst. on Acts xii. 4). Thus St John would evidently have had dwelling in his mind the two contrasted groups of four, the four indifferent Roman soldiers at sport and gain, the four faithful women, two kinswomen, two disciples.

On the whole the biblical evidence, which alone is decisive, is definitely unfavourable to the cousinhood theory; and, as far as I can see, it leaves open the choice between the Helvidian and the Palestinian. Some might say that “brethren,” if less inapplicable than to cousins, would still be unlikely on the Epiphanian view. But the language of Mt. and Lk. is decisive against this predisposition. Joseph was our Lord’s not genitor but pater. Lk. ii. 33, ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ μήτηρ; 48, ὁ πατήρ σου καὶ ἐγώ; 27, 41, 43, οἱ γονεῖς [αὐτοῦ]]; and both Mt. and Lk. carry the genealogy to Joseph. Yet both assert the miraculous conception, and it is impossible on any rational criticism to separate the two modes of speech as belonging to different elements. The birth from the Virgin Mary exclusively and the (in some true sense) fatherhood of Joseph are asserted together; and if Joseph could rightly be called father, his xxichildren could rightly be called “brethren.” Still this leaves neutrality only.

On the other hand the traditional authority is by no means undecided. For the Helvidian we have only the guess of the erratic Tertullian and obscure Latin writers of century iv. For the Epiphanian we have in the earlier times some obscure writings probably connected with Palestine as the Protevangelium Jacobi, the Alexandrian Fathers, Clement and Origen (sic), and various important writers of the fourth century. It was of course possible that such a tradition should grow up, before Jerome’s solution was thought of, by those who desired to maintain the perpetual virginity of Mary. But still the absence of any trace of the other, even among Ebionites, is remarkable, and the tradition itself has various and good attestation. The evidence is not such as one would like to rest anything important upon. But there is a decided preponderance of reason for thinking the Epiphanian view to be right.

Hence the writer of the Epistle was James the Just, bishop or head of Jerusalem, brother of the Lord as being son of Joseph by a former wife, not one of the Twelve, a disbeliever in our Lord’s Messiahship during His lifetime, but a believer in Him shortly afterwards, probably in connexion with a special appearance vouchsafed to him.

Before we leave the person of James, we must speak of his death and the time of it. According to Josephus (Ant. xx. 9. I) the high priest Ananus the younger, “a man of peculiarly bold and audacious character” (θρασὺς τ. τρόπον καὶ τολμητὴς διαφερόντως), a Sadducee, and accordingly, Josephus says, specially given to judicial cruelty, took advantage of the interregnum between Festus and Albinus to gather a συνέδριον κριτῶν, at which “James the brother of Jesus, who is (or, was) called Christ, and some others” were condemned to be stoned to death as transgressors of the law. He adds that the best men of the city were indignant, some wrote to King Agrippa, others met Albinus on the way to point out the illegality of the act, and the result was that Ananus was deposed. An interpolation has been supposed here; but the whole story xxiihangs together, and Lightfoot with good reason supports it, pointing out that in a real interpolation the language is by no means so neutral. The date of these events can be accurately fixed to 62, which must therefore be the date of St James’ death if the passage about him is genuine.

Hegesippus’ account is much more elaborate (see Ltft. Gal.10 366 f.). Dr Plumptre makes a good fight for some of the particulars, on the ground that St James was apparently a Nazarite. But on the whole Lightfoot seems right in suspecting that the picture is drawn from an Ebionite romantic glorification of him, the Ἀναβαθμοὶ Ἰακώβου, part of which is probably preserved in the Clementine Recognitions. Hegesippus ends with the words καὶ εὐθὺς Οὐεσπασιανὸς πολιορκεῖ αὐτούς, which is commonly understood to mean that St James suffered only just before the siege, say in 68 or 69. If so, no doubt this must be taken as an error as compared with Josephus. But a writer of a century later might very well speak of the judgement as immediate even if eight years intervened. At all events we must hold to 62 as the date.

The Readers.

These are distinctly described as the Twelve Tribes in the Dispersion. Nothing is apparently clearer. Some say to the Church at large, as referring to the true Israel. But this comes in very strangely at the head of a letter with no indication of a spiritual sense, and coupled with ἐν τ. διασπορᾷ; and especially so from St James. If Gentile Christians are intended at all, then they are considered as proselytes to Jewish Christians. This however is not likely. Gentile Christians were very numerous, and are not likely to be included in so artificial a way. Nor do the warnings of the Epistle contain anything applicable to them distinctively.

On the other hand with much more plausibility the Readers have been taken as either Jews alone, or Jews plus Jewish Christians. That Jewish Christians were at least chiefly meant seems proved by “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ii. 1), probably also by “the good xxiiiname” (ii. 7), and perhaps “the coming of the Lord” (v. 7); and it is confirmed by the circumstances of those addressed It is neither unnatural nor wrong that St James should regard Jewish Christians positively as the true Israel, the true heirs of Abraham. With Gentile Christians he was not concerned. Jewish Christians were to him simply the only true and faithful Jews. His own position as head of the Jerusalem Church gave him a special right to address Jewish Christians, but no such special right to address others; though doubtless he would not refuse to speak to such as were associated with Christian Jewish communities.

The only question therefore is whether he meant to include unbelieving Jews. If the story in Hegesippus is true, he was honoured by all the people, and even Josephus’ account shews that his death might cause offence to men who were not Christians. Still the Epistle contains no evidence that he had them in view (neither the δώδεκα φυλαῖς, nor the slightness of definitely Christian teaching prove anything), and it is fairly certain that he wrote to Christian Jews and to them alone. [Yet see on iv. 4.]

Next to what Christian Jews? “Those in the dispersion.” Cf. 1 Pet. i. 1; Jn. vii. 35. Certainly therefore not those of Palestine, nor including them. No others probably are excluded; but it does not follow that he sent copies of his Epistle broadcast over the world, to wherever Christian Jews might be found. The distribution might have been by means of returning visitors to feasts. Neither method is unlikely. Perhaps we may go further and say that he would naturally chiefly have in view those of Syria beyond Palestine, and possibly Babylonia. And in Syria especially those of Antioch. Josephus, B.J. vii. 3. 3, speaks of the Jews as sprinkled among the nations κατὰ πᾶσαν τ. οἰκουμένην, but especially mingled with Syria on account of the neighbourhood, and peculiarly numerous at Antioch on account of the size of the city. The Acts shew how important Antioch was in the early Church. In writing in the first instance to Antioch he would be writing to the chief centre of Hellenistic Judaism, from which what he wrote would go forth elsewhere. At the same time he might have a good deal in xxivview the city itself and its circumstances, which he would know by the yearly visitors. This supposition (of course it is not more) agrees with the fact that the Epistle was read in the Syriac Canon at the time when 1 Pet. and 1 Jn. were the only other Catholic Epistles so received. Various explanations of this fact are possible1414It is possible that the language of the Epistle reflects in great measure the circumstances of the Church at Jerusalem., but a very natural one would be that Antioch was itself the primary recipient.

Circumstances and Date.

These must be inferred from the contents, and do not admit of certainty. The two points which have attracted most attention are the paucity of Christian language and the passage about justification.

The first seems to me to afford nothing tangible. The character and position of St James make it quite conceivable that a state of feeling and language, which with the other leaders of the Church would naturally belong only to an early stage of growth, would with him be comparatively permanent. The amplest recognition of St Paul’s work and of Gentile Christianity would be consistent with a preservation of a less developed type of Christian doctrine than St Paul’s. Hence the immature doctrine must be treated as affording no evidence one way or the other.

Next as to the justification passage. This has given rise to endless debate. (1) Was it written independently of St Paul? If so, probably before St Paul wrote on the subject, and therefore at a very early date. Or (2) was it written to correct St Paul? Or (3) to correct a perverse misunderstanding of St Paul? (2) and (3) of course imply a date subsequent to Galatians and Romans, i.e. after 58.

(2) may be set aside as highly improbable. Apart from the language of the Acts, the Epistle itself cannot be so understood. Laying side by side St Paul’s Epistles on this matter and St James, in spite of resemblances and contrasts it is difficult to believe that one was aimed at the other. A real antagonist would have followed xxvSt Paul more closely, and come definitely into collision, which St James never does.

For (i) there is much to be said (see Plumptre). Its great difficulty is to shew how language so similar in form about δικαιοῦσθαι ἐκ πίστεως could spring up independently in the two sources. It is not a question of a mere phrase, but a controversy. There is no substantial evidence as yet that it was a Jewish controversy, and St Paul’s language does not look as if it was.

For (3) may be urged the facts which throw doubt on (1) and (2). There is a similarity of phrase such as makes indirect derivation of one from the other probable, and the error which St James combats was not at all unlikely to arise from a misuse and misapplication of St Paul. More will be said when we come to the passage. If (3) be true then the Epistle must belong to the concluding years of St James’ life, and this is probable for other reasons. The Epistle implies not only a spread of Christianity among the Diaspora, but its having taken root there some time. The faults marked are those of lukewarmness, of what would arise after a time in settled communities that were losing their early freshness and vigour. The persecutions to which it refers might doubtless have occurred early without our knowing anything about them. But the tone of St James on this head reminds us of 1 Pet. and Heb. No year can be fixed with any certainty: but 60 or a little after seems not far wrong. The essential point is not the year but the period, later than the more important part of St Paul’s ministry and writings.


Two things are to be distinguished, use and canonical authority. The earliest Bible of the Christian Church was the O.T. The books of the N.T. were only added by degrees, and variously in different places; sometimes also with various degrees of authority. The Catholic Epistles came more slowly to their position, 1 Pet. and 1 Jn. being the earliest. The first traces of St James, now recognised almost on all hands, are in 1 Clement about 95. He apparently xxvicombines Paul and James (Westcott, Canon N.T. p. 25). Next in Hermas, also Roman, probably a little before 150. In these two there is no distinctly authoritative use; but the whole way in which they use N.T. books leaves it uncertain how they regarded the Epistle.

Next Irenaeus, towards the end of the second century, representing partly Asia, partly Rome. His use of James has been often denied, and quite rightly as regards authoritative use; but I feel sure he knew the book, though only as an ancient theological writing. He never cites it, but uses phrases from it, which taken singly are uncertain, but they confirm each other. Thus it is nothing in itself that he says (iv. 13. 4) that Abraham “amicus factus est Dei.” But it is something that it occurs in a passage contrasting the Law of Moses and the Word of Christ as an enlargement and fulfilment of the Law, speaking of “superextendi decreta libertatis, et augeri subjectionem quae est ad regem,” which looks very like the νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικόν of ii. 8 and νόμον τέλειον τὸν τ. ἐλευθερίας of i. 25. And this becomes certainty when not long afterwards (iv. 16. 2) we get the consecutive words about Abraham “credidit Deo et reputatum est illi ad justitiam, et amicus Dei vocatus est”; i.e. the justification from Genesis is instantly followed by the “Friend” clause, exactly as in Jam. ii. 23. There is no reason to suppose that the last words as well as the former were borrowed by St James from a traditional form of text. Subsequently (iv. 34. 4) he uses the peculiar phrase “libertatis lex,” explaining it thus: “id est, verbum Dei ab apostolis . . . adnuntiatum.” Again (v. 1. 1) we get within 7 lines “factores autem sermonum ejus facti” (cf. i. 22) and “facti autem initium facturae”(cf. i. 18); neither being likely to suggest the other except as being very near in the Epistle. These instances give some force to what would otherwise be problematical: (iii. 18. 5) “Verbum enim Dei . . . ipse hoc fecit in cruce,” and shortly afterwards (19. 1) “non recipientes autem verbum incorruptionis” (cf. i. 21). As regards authoritative use, we have a definite statement from Cosmas (in cent. vi.), Topogr. Christ. vii. p. 292, that Irenaeus declared 1 Pet, and 1 Jn. xxviialone to be by the apostles; and it is highly probable that, taking apostles in the Twelve sense, he would accordingly exclude St James. The Epistle is also absent from the Muratorian Canon, probably a Roman document of the age of Irenaeus.

Crossing the Mediterranean to the Latin Church of North Africa, we find no trace of the Epistle in Tertullian or Cyprian. One allusion to “unde Abraham amicus Dei deputatus” (Tert., adv. Jud. 2) proves nothing. The early or African old Latin version omitted it.

Moving eastward to the learned Church of Alexandria, Clem. Alex. is difficult. Certainly he did not use the book as Scripture; but I feel sure that he knew it, though he does not name it. In Strom. vi. p. 825 (Potter): “except your righteousness multiply beyond the Scribes and Pharisees, who are justified by abstinence from evil, together with your being able along with perfection in these things to love and benefit your neighbour, οὐκ ἔσεσθε βασιλικοί, for intensification (ἐπίτασις) of the righteousness according to the Law shews the Gnostic.” Here βασιλικός is coupled with love to neighbour just as in ii. 8, and the tone of the passage is quite in St James’ strain. In Strom. v. p. 650 we have the peculiar phrase τὴν πίστιν τοίνυν οὐκ ἀργὴν καὶ μόνην, agreeing with the true reading of ii. 20. There are several allusions to Abraham as the “Friend.” τό ναί occurs three times as in v. 12, but perhaps from Evangelical tradition. Other passages may come from 1 Pet. Cassiodorus, late in cent. vi., says (de instit. div. litt. viii.) that Clement wrote notes on the Canonical ( = Catholic) Epistles, i.e. 1 Pet., 1 and 2 Jn., Jam. What is certainly a form of these notes still exists in Latin, but there are none on Jam., while there are on Jude. So that evidently there is a slip of author or scribes, and practically this is additional evidence against Clement using Jam. as Scripture.

It is somewhat otherwise with his disciple Origen, who very rarely, but still occasionally, cites Jam., speaking of it as “the current Epistle of St James,” and again referring to it as if some of his readers might demur to its authority. In the Latin works there are more copious references, but these are uncertain. On the whole a vacillating and intermediate position. Origen’s disciple Dionysius xxviiiAlex. once cites i. 13 apparently as Scripture. Another disciple, Gregory of Neocaesarea, if the fragment on Jeremiah (Ghislerius i. p. 831) be genuine, refers though hardly by way of authority to i. 17.

These are all the strictly Antenicene references. But there is one weighty fact beside them: Jam, is present in the Syriac Version which excluded some others. The present state of this version comes from the end of cent. III or early IV, and Jam. may have been added then: but it is more likely that it had been in the Syriac from the first, i.e. in the Old Syriac. The early history of the Egyptian versions is too uncertain to shew anything.

Eusebius places it among the Antilegomena, practically accepted in some churches, not in others. In speaking of Jam. (ii. 23. 25), he says that “the first of what are named the Catholic Epistles is his. Now it should be known that it is treated [by some] as spurious (νοθεύεται μέν); and indeed not many of the old writers mentioned it, as neither did they what is called that of Jude, which itself also is one of what are called the seven Catholic Epistles; yet we know that these two with the rest have been in public use (δεδημοσιευμένας) in very many churches.” Thus Eusebius, cautious as always in letting nothing drop that had authority, is yet careful not to commit himself.

From this time forward the book had a firm place in the Greek Churches. It was used very freely by Didymus and Cyril Alex.; and the Antiochene Fathers (like Chrysostom), who kept to the Syrian Canon and did not use books omitted by it, did use Jam. The only exception is a peculiar one. Theodore of Mopsuestia was one of the greatest of all theologians and specially as a critic of the Bible, whence he became the chosen interpreter of the Mesopotamian Churches. He was somewhat erratic and rash in his ways, and lies under a kind of ban more easily to be explained than justified. Most of his works have perished except fragments, so that we have to depend on the report of a bitter antagonist, Leontius, nearly two centuries later. After noticing his rejection of Job, and referring to the testimony to Job in Jam., Leontius proceeds (c. Nest. et Eut. iii. 14): “For which reason methinks he banishes both thisxxixvery epistle of the great James and the succeeding Catholic Epistles by the other writers (τῶν ἄλλων).” This loose statement occurring in a violent passage needs sifting. It was not likely that he would use any Catholic Epistles but Jam., I Pet., and 1 Jn., and this absence of use of 2 Pet., 2 and 3 Jn., and Jude would account for Leontius language, while leaving it exaggerated. But Jam. is specially mentioned, and doubtless rightly. The Instituta regularia (commonly called De partibus divinae legis) of an African Latin writer Junilius, long believed to be connected with the Syrian school of Nisibis, have lately been shewn to be a more or less modified translation of an Introduction to Scripture by Paul of Nisibis, a devoted admirer of Theodore, and it is full of Theodorian ideas. Its account of the books of the O.T. corresponds with Theodore’s, and in the N.T. it excludes Jam. but not 1 Pet., 1 Jn. This was doubtless Theodore’s own view. What was the motive? It might have been knowledge of the imperfect early reception of Jam. But in the case of the O.T. omissions, Job, Canticles, inscriptions of Psalms, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah (and Esther), there is direct evidence that in at least some cases be acted on internal evidence (Job, Canticles, Inscr. Ps.): and it is quite likely that it was the same here too as with Luther.

Outside Theodore’s own school we have no further omission of Jam. in the East. Late in cent. VI Cosmas, having had urged against him a passage of 2 Pet., speaks disparagingly of the Catholic Epistles in general, and mentions various facts as to past partial rejections (Top. Christ. vii. p. 292). His language is altogether vague and confused: but he limits himself to urging that “the perfect Christian ought not to be stablished on the strength of questioned books (ἀμφιβαλλόμενα).”

In the West reception was not so rapid. Towards the end of cent. IV Jam. is cited by three or four Italian Latin writers, as the Ambrosiast (= Hi1. Rom.) on Gal. v. 10 (dicente Jacobo apostolo in epistola sua); perhaps from Jerome’s influence. Also Chromatius of Aquileia and Gaudentius of Brixia, but without “apostolus”; Jerome himself, and abundantly Augustine, whose quotations equal xxxall others put together; also the Corbey MS., which may have an even earlier original, the style being very rude. But not the earlier Latin writers of the century, as Hilary, Lucifer, Ambrose (though in one place a sentence of Jam. appears among the texts which he notices as cited by Arians).

The most striking fact is the language of Victorinus Afer, converted at Rome late in life, and seen there by Jerome and Augustine. His Comm. in Gal. i. 13 ff.: “From James Paul could not learn”; James “admixto Judaismo Christum evangelizabat, quod negat id faciendum.” Elaborately on “Jacobum fratrem Dei”: “The Symmachians make James as it were a twelfth apostle, and he is followed by those who to our Lord Jesus Christ add the observance of Judaism.” “When Paul called him brother (of the Lord), he thereby denied him to be an apostle. He had to be seen with honour. Sed neque a Jacobo aliquid discere potuit, quippe cum alia sentiat; ut neque a Petro, vel quod paucis diebus cum Petro moratus est; vel quod Jacobus apostolus non est, et in haeresi sit.” He goes on to account for the mention of the seeing of James. It was to shew that he did not reject the Galatian doctrine from ignorance. “Vidi ergo nominatim quid Jacobus tractet et evangelizet: et tamen quoniam cognita mihi est ista blasphemia, repudiata a me est, sicut et a vobis, o Galatae, repudianda”; and more in the same strain. Something here is probably due to the writer’s late and imperfect Christian education. It is not likely, in the absence of all other evidence, that such language would have been used by ordinary well-instructed Christians anywhere. But neither could it have been possible if the Epistle had in Victorinus’ neighbourhood been received as canonical. It attests a feeling about the book very unlike that after Jerome and Augustine.

To resume, the Epistle of St James was known and used from a very early time, at least at Rome, but without authority, It was used also, but with rather indefinite authority, at Alexandria by Clement and Origen and Dionysius. It formed part of the Syriac Canon, and was probably used in Syrian Churches. There is no xxxitrace of it in North Africa. It is placed among the ἀντιλεγόμενα in Eusebius. In the west it was neglected till late in cent. IV, and then adopted through Jerome and Augustine. In the East from Eusebius onwards in all Greek writers except Theod. Mops. and his disciples, who probably rejected it on internal grounds.

Purpose and Contents.

The purpose is practical not controversial, mainly to revive a languishing religious state, a lukewarm formality, and correct the corruptions into which it had fallen. Persecution had evidently fallen, and was not being met with courage, patience and faith. This last word Faith occurs at the beginning, near the end, and throughout chap. 2, and expresses much of the purport of the whole. In various forms St James deals with the manner of life proceeding from a trustful sense of God’s presence, founded on a knowledge of His character and purpose.

There are three main divisions:

I. (i.) Introduction, on Religion.

II. (ii. 1-v. 6.) Against (1) Social sins, (2) Presumption before God.

III. (v. 7-end.) Conclusion, on Religion at once personal and social.


The Epistle begins with the greeting, which closes with the word χαίρειν.

The next paragraph, i. 2-18, may be called “Religion in feeling: experience (trial—temptation), God’s character, and the Divine aspects of human life.” It takes up χαρά from χαίρειν, and deals with πειρασμοί, the special trials (cf. 1 Pet. i. 6; iv. 12; also Heb. ii. 18 etc.) which serve as examples of all πειρασμοί.

First 2-4, on patience (cf. Lk. xxi. 19 = Mt. x. 22; xxiv. 13 || Mk. xiii. 13). But in this section there are digressions, the chief being 5-11; first 5-8, on asking without doubting (Mt. xxi. 21 || Mk. xi. 23), and then 9-11, on the humble and the rich (cf. Sermon xxxiion the Mount). 12, The crown of life, the result of patience (σωθήσεται Mt., Mk. = κτήσεσθε τ. ψυχὰς ὑμῶν Lk.; cf. Heb. x. 34). 13, Trial not a temptation by God, but (14 f.) by a man’s own desire. 16-18, Digression on God’s character, as altogether good, and perfect, and the Author of man’s high dignity. These verses are implied in the rest of the epistle.

i. 19-27. Religion in action. The moral results of this faith are (19-21) quickness to hear, slowness to passionate speech. 22-25, Hearing, not however as against doing. 26 f., Freedom from defilement not ceremonial, but temperance of speech, beneficence to others, guilelessness of self.


ii. Insolence of wealth (towards fellow men). 1-4, The miscalled Christian faith which dishonours the poor in synagogue. This is a violation of the principle which follows. 5-9, The poor as blessed (cf. Sermon on the Mount), and human respect of persons. 10-13, The integrity or unity of the law as a law of liberty, and its import mercy. What follows is the positive side of 1-13. 14-26, The miscalled faith which dispenses with works.

iii. License of tongue, springing from pride. 1, Not “many teachers.” 2-6, The great power of the tongue, though a small member. 7 f., Its lawlessness and wildness. 9-12, Its capacities of good and evil, 13-14 (in contrast to bitter teaching), Wisdom to be shewn in works (cf. 17 f.) of gentleness. 15-18, The difference of the two wisdoms exhibited in bitterness and peace.

iv. 1-12. Strife springing from love of pleasure (πόλεμοι contrast to εἰρήνη iii. 18). 1–3, Wars due to evil desire. 4–6, God and the world as objects of love. 7–10 (digression), Subjection to God. 11 f., Evil-speaking of others a breach of a law (cf. 1 Pet. ii. 1. Probably “love thy neighbour as thyself”).

iv. 13-v. 6. Presumption of wealth (towards God). Prophetic warnings to the confident merchants (iv. 13-17) as to stability of the future; to the rich (v. 1-3) as to impunity, specially (4-6) xxxiiias oppressors of the poor. This leads back to persecution as at the beginning.


v. 7-end. Trustful patience towards God and towards man (one aspect of the inseparableness of the two commandments. Cf. Mt. xxii. 37 ff.). 7-11, Patience before God (as i. 1-4, 12) now with patience towards men. 12, Reverence towards God, probably as part of patience. (Negative.) 13-20, The same, positive. The true resource Prayer, itself to be social, i.e. intercessory, whether (14 f.) in physical or (16) moral evil. (17 f., Digression on prayer in general.) 19 f. resumes 16.

[St James is full of unities, e.g. the unity of the O.T. and N.T.:

(a) The λόγος ἀληθείας (i. 18) is at once the original gift of reason, and the voice of God in the Christian conscience enlightened by the Gospel, doubtless with the intermediate stages of instruction (cf. Ps. cxix.).

(b) The Law is at once the Mosaic (ii. 11), the Deuteronomic (ii. 8, actually Leviticus, but in spirit Deuteronomic; i. 12; ii. 5), and the Evangelic (ii. 5).

(c) The principle of mercy as against judgement (ii. 13).]


The Greek is generally good; the style very short and epigrammatic, using questions much. There is great suppressed energy, taking shape in vigorous images. Much of the old prophetic spirit (Deuteronomic and later Psalms, esp. cxix.), but uniting with it the Greek Judaism found in the Apocryphal Sapiential Books and to a certain extent in Philo. But the style is especially remarkable for constant hidden allusions to our Lord’s sayings, such as we find in the first three Gospels.

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