The Author. The writer nowhere indicates his name, and there is difference of opinion as to who wrote it. I am personally inclined to the view of those who regard Paul as the author, which for a long time was the common view. The main points against his authorship are that the language and style are dissimilar to Paul’s and that it is less like an epistle than any other book that bears his name. It seems clear, however, that the thoughts and course of reasoning are Pauline and the differences otherwise may be explained by the difference of purpose and spirit in writing. For the arguments for and against his authorship the student is referred to the larger commentaries and introductions to the New Testament literature.
Those To Whom It Was Written. It was, no doubt, addressed to Hebrew Christians, but whether to a special church or to those in a special locality, is a matter of dispute. Several things, however, may be learned about them. (1) They had steadfastly endured persecution and the loss of property. (2) They had shown sympathy with other Christians, 6:10; 10:32-34. (3) They had been Christians some time, 5:12. (4) They knew the writer whom they are, by their prayers, to help restore to themselves, 13:19. (5) They knew Timothy who was to visit them, 13:23. (6) They were now in danger of apostacy to Judaism but had not yet resisted to blood, 12:3-4; 5:11; 6:9. Their danger of going back to Judaism might arise from several sources. (1) There was a tendency to disbelieve Christ and his claims, 3:12. (2) The elaborate worship of the Temple compared with the simple worship of the Christian church. (3) The Jews branded them as traitors and taunted them for turning against the law, which was given by prophets, angels, and Moses, and from the sanctuary ministered to by the priests of God. (4) They were suffering persecution.
Purpose and Contents. The purpose was to prevent apostacy from Christianity to Judaism and incidentally to comfort them in their suffering and persecution. To accomplish this purpose the author shows, by a series of comparisons, that the religion of Christ is superior to that which preceded it. “Better” is the key-word, which along with other terms of comparison such as “more excellent” is constantly used to show the superiority of Christianity. It is very much like a sermon, the author often turning aside to exhort, then returning to the theme.
Date. It was written from Jerusalem, Alexandria or Rome some time before A. D. 70, since the temple was still standing, 9:6-7; 10:1.
I. Christianity is Superior to Judaism because Christ through Whom it was Introduced is Superior to the Messengers of Judaism, chs. 1-6.
1. He is superior to prophets, 1:1-3.
2. He is superior to angels. 1:4-2 end.
3. He is superior to Moses, including Joshua, chs. 3-6.
Three points in each of these comparisons are the same.
1. He is God’s son.
2. He is man’s Savior.
3. He is man’s high priest.
Neither prophets nor angels nor Moses equal Jesus in these points. There are two notable exhortations, (a) 2:1-4; (b) 5:11-6 end.
II. Christianity in Superior to Judaism because Its Priesthood is Superior to that of Judaism, 7:1-10:18.
1. Christ its priest is superior to the priests of Judaism, 7:1- 8:6.
2. Its covenant is superior to that of Judaism, 8:7 end.
3. Its tabernacle is superior to that of Judaism, ch. 9.
4. Its sacrifice is superior to those of Judaism, 10:1-18.
III. Christianity is Superior to Judaism, because the Blessings it Confers are Superior to those of Judaism. 10:19-11 end.
1. In the liberty of approach to God, 10:19 end.
2. In the superior ground of faith, 11:1-12:17.
3. In our coming to Mount Zion instead of Mount Sinai, 12:18 end.
IV. Practical Conclusion, ch. 13.
For Study and Discussion. (1) Description of Christ. 1:1-3. (2) Christ’s superiority to angels. 1:3-14. (3) Christ’s humiliation for our salvation, 2:9-18. (4) How is Christ superior to Aaronic priests, 3:14, 15; 5:1-7, 9; 7:28. (5) The two covenants, 8:6-12. (6) Typical character of the old ordinances. 9:1-10:4. (7) Our assurance and hope, 6:13-20. (8) The danger of rejecting Christ, 10:26-31. (9) The benefit of affliction, 12:4-11. (10) The comparisons of 12:18-29. (11) The warning of 13.-8-15, (12) The exhortations of the book, as 2:1-4. Make a list. (13) All the terms of comparison, as better and more excellent. Make a list. (14) Every reference to Christ as high priest. (15) Every reference to the Holy Spirit-What are his works and where in the book is it taught?
The Author. Three persons called James are mentioned in the New Testament. One of these is James, the Lord’s brother (Matt. 13:55), who did not believe on Jesus until after the resurrection, Jno. 7:2-9; Mar. 3:21, 31; Acts 1:13-14. This James occupies and important place as pastor at Jerusalem, and made an important speech at the council of the Apostles, Acts 15: 13-21. He is mentioned elsewhere, in Acts, 12:17; Gal. 1:19; 2:9-12. Josephus tells us that he was stoned to death about 62 A. D. on a charge of departing from the Jewish law. This James, the Lord’s brother, is supposed to be the author of this epistle.
To Whom Written. This letter was written to the Jews scattered everywhere, 1:1, and evidently to Christian Jews, 2:1. Some of them were rich, some poor, 2:1-10. They were lustful, greedy, and proud, 4:1-12, and were omitting to do the Lord’s work as they should. 1:22- 27.
The Epistle. The chief characteristic of style is abruptness. Change is made from one subject to another with no effort to connect them. There is, therefore, no general subject, and a lack of close connection between the points of analysis. “Faith without works is dead” flashes in every section as a sort of bond of unity. It is eloquent, stern and sincere, and has a distinct Jewish tone. It lacks the doctrinal emphasis found in Paul and states the Christian faith in terms of moral excellence and instructs them in the subject of Christian morals. It is notable for its omissions. It does not have the resurrection or ascension and only mentions Christ’s name twice. Date and Place of Writing. It was no doubt written from Jerusalem where he was pastor, but the date is much disputed. Some put it as early as A. D. 40. Others among whom is Dr. Robertson say it was written not later than A. D. 50. Still others put it about A. D. 61 or 62, just before the martyrdom of James. It is probably safe to say that it was one of the very earliest of the New Testament books.
I. Proper Attitude Toward Trials. 1:2-18.
II. Proper Altitude Toward God’s Word, 1:19-27 end.
III. Various Warnings. 2:1-4:12.
1. Against respect of persons, 2:1-13.
2. Against barren professions of faith, 2:14-26.
3. Against the dangers of the tongue, 3:1-12.
4. Against false wisdom, 3:13-18.
5. Against quarrels, greed and pride. 4:1-12.
IV. Various Denunciations, 4:13-5:6.
V. Various Exhortations, 5:7-20 end.
For Study and Discussion. (1) From the following scriptures make a list of all the things James advises us not to do: 1;6, 13, 16, 22; 2:1, 14; 3:1. 10; 4:1, 11, 13; 5:9, 12. (2) From the following scriptures make a list of all the things James advises us to do; 1:2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 22, 26; 2:8, 12; 3:13; 4:8. 5:7, 10, 12, 13, 16, 19. (3) Make a sketch of heavenly wisdom, showing the different things said about it, studying especially, 1:5-8 and 3:13-18. (4) Study the ethics of speech and of the tongue, 1:19-21 and 3:1-12. (5) Life’s trial and temptations, 1:2-4, 12-15. (6) Make a list of ail the figures of speech, especially similes and metaphors as “a doubter is like a surge of the sea,” 1:6. (7) James’ rebuke of selfishness, 5:1- 6. (8) The utility and power of prayer, 5:13-18.