Overview of the Book of James


Overview of the Book of James

Author: The author is James, the brother of Jesus.


To teach wisdom from God for persevering through difficulties until the return of Christ.

Date: A.D. 44-62

Key Truths:

  • Believers are to gain wisdom from God to remain faithful through trials and conflicts.
  • Hearing God's Word must lead to doing God's Word.
  • Saving faith shows itself in the good work of caring for the poor.
  • Divine wisdom teaches believers to love and serve each other.
  • Harmony in the Christian community is of great importance.


The author of this epistle identified himself as James. Although the New Testament Church knew various men with this name, the author of this book was almost certainly James the brother of Jesus. The author assumed a position of authority in the Church, which certainly was accorded James, the Lord's brother. James was a leader of the Jerusalem Church and presided at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). He was identified in Galatians 1:19 as "the Lord's brother" and was considered one of the pillars of the Church, along with Peter and John (Gal 2:9). The New Testament lists James as one of the sons of Mary, Jesus' mother (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3). James, along with his brothers, was skeptical of Jesus during his earthly ministry (John 7:5), but he was converted as an eyewitness of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). The early Church historian Hegesippus identified him as "James the Just," testifying to his extraordinary godliness, his zeal for the law of God and his singular devotion to prayer. It was said that James' knees became so calloused from prayer that they resembled those of a camel. Josephus recorded that James was martyred in A.D. 62. Eusebius reported that he was beaten to death with a club after having been thrown from the temple parapet. Hegesippus also stated that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple.

Time and Place of Writing:

James was written between A.D. 44 (the year that marked the beginning of the Jewish persecution of the Church; see Acts 12) and A.D. 62 (the year of James' eath).

Original Audience:

James wrote to Christians that had suffered persecution, but their identity is unknown.

Purpose and Distinctives:

James wrote to encourage his audience to gain wisdom, strengthen their faith and display their faith through obedience to God, especially in their treatment of other people.

The book of James has been variously considered an epistle, a sermon (to be read aloud in the Churches), a form of Wisdom Literature, a diatribe (expressing the thoughts of one person as an internal conversation) and a paraenesis (a text that strings together admonitions and exhortations of an ethical nature). These categories are not mutually exclusive, and there are elements of each of these forms in James.

The book displays a markedly Jewish flavor and contains frequent references to the Old Testament. Parallelism like that found in Biblical poetry appears (Jas. 1:9-10), along with aphorisms, vivid images drawn from nature, and groupings of sayings that reveal a marked similarity to the style of Jesus.

James drew attention to the need for divine wisdom, especially in times of trial and troubles. He urged his readers to pray for wisdom and to be aware of its distinguishing marks in their lives. Wisdom from God results in a life conformed to God's Word and characterized by humble service to God and others.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament


Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.