1. Introduction, 1:1
Address and greetingArgument
The address and greeting is very truncated. It follows the standard Greek form for the age, identifying the sender and the addressees, concluding with a greeting. Interestingly, the greeting is secular, so unlike the normal Christian greeting found in the New Testament epistles, it lacks "grace", "mercy" / "peace". James calls himself a "servant / slave", and addresses his letter to "the twelve tribes in the Dispersion."
i] Context: In such a diverse collection of sayings and mini-sermons it is very hard to find a contextual theme. Modern commentators tend to argue for an overall contextual theme. So, for example, Bowman argues that salvation is the unifying theme, salvation as it relates to three particular areas of the Christian walk. First, how a believer is saved through the trials and temptations of life, then the ethical implications that apply for a saved person, and finally the eternal aspects of salvation.
Salvation from life's trials and temptations, 1:2-27;
Salvation's implications for social and personal living, 2:1-5:6
Salvation in the light of eternity, 5:7-20.
Both Davids and McCartney also recognize a unifying theme controlling the structure of the letter. McCartney sees it as genuine faith with chapter 1 outlining the life of faith, and then 2:1-5:16 presenting as a series of discourses serving to develop that theme:
Discourse 1: Faith, favoritism and the law, 2:1-13;
Discourse 2: Faith, wisdom and speech ethics, 3:1-18;
Discourse 3: Strife in the church and a lack of faith, 4:1-12;
Discourse 4: Looking to God, 5:7-18.
McCartney proposes an Interjection at 4:13-5:6, oracles of warning to merchants and landlords, and a concluding exhortation, 5:19-20.
At the other end of the spectrum is a commentator like Mitton. He sees the letter as a series of exhortations to true Christian holiness of life, of perfect love toward God and man. For Mitton, the contextual theme is the outworkings of faith. A believer's standing in Christ is accepted as a given by James, and so the focus of the letter is the practical application of that standing. So, issue by issue James sets out to show how Christian love works out in practice. For Mitton, this is the unifying theme.
The Structure followed in these notes gives a nod to Davids rather than to Dibelius who argued that the letter is a mere list of unrelated instructions. A central theme does seem to be present, and thematic links can be observed between the individual sayings / instructions and mini sermons. These all present as blocks of teaching on a particular subject, although the links are not always strongly present.
Genuine faith yields good fruit
1. The marks of a wise believer, 1:2-27
2. Poverty and generosity, 2:1-26
3. The tongue, 3:1-4:12
4. Worldliness and wealth, 4:13-5:6
5. General matters, 5:7-12
Concluding instructions, 5:13-20
ii] Background: Tradition has it that this letter was written by James of Jerusalem, the Lord's brother, but there is no evidence to support this claim. It is impossible to date the letter, probably some time in the first century. It is hard to know whether James is aware of Paul's doctrine of justification by faith or not, so it could be written anywhere between AD40-80. It does seem intended for Jewish believers, but of course, the early church was very Jewish.
It is virtually impossible to determine the life-situation that James addresses. Have some believers misunderstood Paul's teachings and so proclaim a slogan-like "by faith alone" coupled with ethical indifference and unbridled license? The tension between the indicative and the imperative in the scriptures is easily lost. A reliance on the indicative, while ignoring the imperative, results in a form of libertarianism which discounts the need for ethical endeavor. For James, genuine faith shows itself in kindness toward the poor and afflicted. Reicke suggests that James is arguing against those Christian leaders who have adopted a Pharisaic way of dealing with new converts where "if anyone finds it difficult to accommodate himself to the practice of true Christian piety, it will suffice for him to make a confession of faith, while others assume the responsibility for deeds." Such suggested life-situations certainly point us in the right direction, but are mostly guesswork. The best we can say is that unlike Paul whose focus is on faith, James' focus is on the fruit of faith.
For Luther, James is "a real strawy Epistle", because in his eyes it is light on faith and big on law; the Pauline doctrine of justification by grace through faith apart from law, is missing. Yet, as indicated in the introductory notes, it's just a matter of perspective:
James: FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS
Paul: FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS
James' focus is on the fruit of faith, and this "fruit", these WORKS, are not performed for salvation (legalism), nor are they performed to progress holiness / sanctification (nomism), rather they serve a far more practical purpose. James is out to show us how to stay true to our faith in a corrupt world. What we have is a book of practical advice for Christians, ie., WORKS that work in a broken world. James is the New Testament version of Proverbs. In fact, other ethical guide-books existed at the time. One in particular, The Didache, is dated to late in the first century. It covered the usual ethical suspects and concluded with the line that if we find we can't be perfect, then at least we are to do the best we can. So, like Proverbs, James provides practical advice for survival in a broken world for those who fear God / believe in Jesus.
iii] Structure: The salutations:
Although tradition has the author of this letter as James the Just, our author calls himself "servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ." The proximity of "God" and "Lord" is high christology, given that "Lord", for a Jew, is "the Lord God", not "the Lord Jesus Christ." James calls himself a "slave / servant." Again, a Jew sees this in terms of a servant of God, but for believers, service is to Jesus. As Dibelius notes, the term expresses a relationship to God which for a believer is expressed in a relationship with Jesus. This relationship with Jesus, is a relationship with "Christ", the messiah, the anointed one.
The letter is addressed to the diaspora, a term used to refer to the scattered Israelites throughout the Middle East. This seems to indicate that the letter is addressed to believing Jews, although it is likely that the term "twelve tribes" is being used metaphorically. James is obviously a Jew, and may of the believers who will read his epistle will be Jews, but in general terms, his letter addresses believers scattered throughout the Mediterranean, believers who struggle under the purposes of God.
Text - 1:1
IakwboV (oV ou) "James" - Nominative absolute.
qeou (oV ou) gen. "[a servant] of God" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive.
Ihsou Cristou (oV ou) gen. "Jesus Christ" - [and of lord] jesus christ. Genitive, standing in apposition to "Lord".
taiV ... qulaiV (h hV) dat. "to the [twelve] tribes" - Dative of recipient.
taiV "[scattered among the nations]" - the [in the dispersion]. The article serves as an adjectivizer, turning the prepositional phrase "in the dispersion" into an attributive adjective limiting "the twelve tribes"; "the twelve tribes who are in dispersion." The preposition en is local, expressing space.
cairein (cairw) "Greetings" - An infinitive is not unusual for a greeting; technically it serves to introduce a dependent statement of indirect speech in an elliptical clause expressing what James says to his readers; "I say to you, greetings."