Exegesis Of James Essay Research Paper I

Exegesis Of James Essay, Research Paper I. Background The exegete of Holy Scripture in order to properly understand the full meaning of the passage must have a thorough knowledge of the background of the passage. It is important to know the author, intended readers and hearers, date, place of writing, occasion and purpose, and the literary genre of the passage.

Exegesis Of James Essay, Research Paper

I. Background

The exegete of Holy Scripture in order to properly understand the full meaning of the passage must have a thorough knowledge of the background of the passage. It is important to know the author, intended readers and hearers, date, place of writing, occasion and purpose, and the literary genre of the passage. This paper will do all of these in a way that will give the reader a clear understanding of all that is necessary and important to know and understand about the background information on the epistle of James. Also, this paper will give an outline of James 4:1-10 , a paraphrase and exegetical notes on the passage.


The author of the book of James, Iakobos in the Greek, does not identify himself clearly. This leaves the task of sorting through the facts known to deductively decide the author of the book of James. There are four probable James in the New Testament. One James is James the son of Zebedee. This James was a brother to John and also one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. A second James is James the son of Alphaeus. Also an apostle, James the Son of Alphaeus, was mentioned only in the list of the apostles. Some equate this James with ‘James the younger’ in Mark 15:40 while others consider James the younger a separate man. A third is James the Father of Judas. This is not Judas Iscariot. This James is named as one of the twelve apostles in Luke 6:16. The fourth is James the Lord’s brother. While Jesus was involved in his earthly ministry his brothers, including James, were not believers, but after Jesus death James quickly rose into prominent position in the Jerusalem church (Moo19-20; Lea519-520).

The most likely of the four James mentioned to have written the book of James is James the brother of the Lord. James, the son of Zebedee, is the only other that is likely to have written the epistle but he died in A.D. 44 and the epistle is dated by many around A.D. 48 or 49 (Moo 20).

Many Bible scholars believe that the book was written by the Lord’s brother because of the references to the teachings of Jesus. There are different references especially to the Sermon on the Mount such as James 4:11 compared to Matthew 7:1-2 and James 1:22 compared to Matthew 7:24-27. In other places there are other references to the oral teachings of Jesus that help suggest that this book would be written by the brother of Jesus (Lea 520). There is external evidence also. The early church leaders such as Origen and Eusebius identified this James as the author of the epistle. This is partly because of the Jewish flavor of the book. The Jewish atmosphere of the epistle and the references of the Old Testament present the that the book was most likely written by someone with a Jewish background such as this James (Davids 14).

Intended Readers and Hearers

James addressed his letter to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations”(1:1). This reference leads one to believe that James was writing to a Jewish audience that was leaving Jerusalem because of the persecution of Christians found in Acts 11:19 (Lea 524). James wrote to a generally Jewish audience. This is evident in the references to the Old Testament and the use of the Greek word for synagogue (Moo 31-32). Also, it is believed that the recipients were poor and oppressed by wealthy landowners (5:4-6).


Assuming that James the Lord’s brother is the author, he was martyred in A.D. 62 so this sets the terminus ad quiem at this date. Many scholars favor a date in the forties. There are two possible reasons indicating an early date around A.D. 45 to 47. The first and most important is the misunderstanding of the teaching of Paul on ‘justification by faith’ in Antioch around A.D. 45. James, as the head of the Jerusalem church ,would attempt to address the misunderstanding in James 2. This indicates then that James would have been written before A.D. 45. Second, there is no reference to the controversy between Jews and Gentiles about the need for circumcision. This first surfaced before the Jerusalem Council of A.D. 48 or 49. The point is that it is difficult to believe that James would not include this in his letter to the Jews since he was instrumental in the decision not to require Gentiles to be circumcised in order to obtain salvation. These two considerations lead to an earlier date around A.D. 45 to 48 (Moo 33-34).

Place of Writing

The most probable place of writing for the book of James is Jerusalem. One can easily conclude after discussing the authorship and date of James that the book was written from Jerusalem. James lived and headed the church of Jerusalem during this time. All of this, however, is an assumption since there are no direct statements in the scripture. The reference in James 5:7 to the ‘earlier and latter rains’ seem to confirm the location of Jerusalem since it is located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea where the rains come in that sequence. The social problems in the area also correspond to the area James was writing (Moo 35).

Occasion and Purpose

Harold Bryson says that the occasion and purpose of James is to tell early Christians how to apply there faith to the lifestyle they live (Lecture Notes). The letter of James is a practical homily designed to encourage believers to show the reality of their theological commitment in practice. This in effect shows why James does not contain much theology. Although, G.E. Ladd says, “It is impossible to include the contents of the epistle that he was not interested in theology; a theologian can write practical homilies (Davids 18).” The purpose of this letter was to show and assist the early Jewish Christians in living the Christian life not to discuss and debate theological issues. But, this does not mean that James was not theologically sound. There are numerous theological topics such as faith and works, prayer, the nature of God, the origin of sin, and wisdom. These issues are all well discussed in a practical manner, yet they all stem from a deep theological root (Moo 35-36).

Literary Genre

The book of James literary genre is an epistle or letter. Like the other letters of the New Testament, James has the typical identification of the author, address and greeting. James does not have the personal remarks, references to specific problems or situations, and closing remarks that the other letters of the New Testament contain. When one looks more closely at the letter of James it can be observed that it differs from other epistles. Four features stand out about the specific nature of James. The first and most evident is the strong tone of pastoral exhortation. James commanded the early Jewish Christians to live for and serve God. A second widely known feature is the looseness of the structure of James. It is a book that covers a large number of topics that are not related to each other. A third feature is that James uses many metaphors and illustrations to explain the scripture and capture the attention of the reader. Such images as the billowing sea, the withered flower, the mirror, the horse, the ship, the brush fire, and others are examples of the reason that many readers enjoy, learn and use in a practical manner. A fourth feature is that the book borrows from other sources. James borrows from such sources as the teachings of Jesus, the Old Testament, and the early Jewish books. Understanding the facts scholars have tried to place James into a specific category of literature.

The book has numerous categories. One such category is a diatribe or a colloquial genre used to instruct general audiences and which feature short sentences and repetition of material. Another category is paranesis or paranetic literature. This is an unstructured collection of moral admonitions. Harold Bryson equates this type of literature to a string of pearls (Lecture Notes). Martin Dibelius sites four elements of paranesis: eclecticism, or the use of traditional material: the unstructured stringing together of moral exhortations; repetitions of key ideas; and the general applicability of the material. The last type or category is the early Christian sermon or homily. James is best understood as a brief sermon or a letter written with material pulled from different sermons sent to James’ parishioners scattered abroad (Moo 37).


The book of James has a extensive background. The author, intended readers, date, place of writing, occasion and purpose, and literary genre are all important to know in understanding the book as a whole and valuable to know to receive the maximum benefit from the scripture. The book of James is a valuable resource in understanding how to live the Christian life and is a good source of encouragement (Moo 36-38).

II. Outline of James 4:1-10

1. James identified the cause of worldliness (James 4:1-2)?

A. James identifies the problem of worldliness through questioning (4:1).

B. James enlightens the people of there lack of dependence on God (4:2).

2. James presented the consequences of worldliness (James 4:3-6)?

A. The peoples prayers are voiced with wrong motives (4:3)

B. The people are living in spiritual adultery and hatred toward God (4:4).

C. The people are envied by a jealous God (4:5).

D. The people are given grace if they humble themselves (4:6).

3. James shared the cure for worldliness (James 4: 7-10)?

A. Come near to God and He will come near to you (4:8)

1. Submit to God (4:7).

2. Resist the Devil. (4:7).

3. Wash your hands, and purify your hearts. (4:8).

4. Grieve, mourn and wail in repentance. (4:9).

5. Humble yourself before the Lord (4:10).

III. Paraphrase of James 4:1-10.

What is the reason that we fight and argue with one another? Is it not because we are full of selfish desire that war in our members? There is something that you want and you will do anything necessary to obtain it. You fight and argue and would even kill to get to get it but you still do not have because you fail to ask God in prayer. But, when you do pray you still do not receive because God knows you ask with selfish motives.

You people are living in spiritual adultery toward God and are even his enemy because you love the world. Since you decided to befriend the world then you chose to hate God. The Scriptures say that God envies greatly to be with us. He extends to us grace because the Scriptures say,

“God oppose those who are proud,

But gives grace to those who are humble.”

Surrender fully to God! Resist the Devil and he will run from you. Come near unto God and He will come near unto you. Clean your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you people who are unstable in mind. Be sorry, sad and weep in repentance. Let you happiness be turned to crying. Change your joy to gloom. Be humble before the Lord and he will give you honor.

IV. Exegetical Notes on James 4:1-10

Verse 1

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you (NIV)?

James uses a question to introduce the topic of this passage. The topic of discussion here is worldliness or the pursuit of selfish desires and lust. The word “fights” used is the Greek word machai and the word “quarrels” is the Greek word polemoi both of which are used to describe physical conflicts between individuals or nations. Metaphorically speaking the words could mean violent verbal disputes (Moo 138). Both words also resemble their English counterparts in meaning verbal disputes as well as armed conflicts (Moo 138).

James’ use of such words as ‘fights’ and ‘quarrels’ to characterize or describe Christians is deplorable. The Christian faith is one that claims to be about love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity. The truth is that some things are to fought for but these should be done inside of the parameters of the Christian life (Laws 166-167). At any rate, it seems that James is disturbed by the selfish spirit and bitterness of the quarrels than by the rights and wrongs of various viewpoints (Moo 139). James identifies the source of the quarrels as the passions that in your members. ‘Passion’ is translated the word hedone which means pleasure and is often known as sinful or self-indulgent pleasure (Nystrom 223). James’ use of military imagery in the opening words of the verse is continued on when he describes the passions as ‘waging war in your members’. He may intend to suggest the conflict of the passions with one another within the individual, but it is best to think that James is writing of the ‘warring’ is the person’s higher nature or soul as in 1 Peter 2:11. The conflicts that James is speaking of are of the selfish, indulgent nature not righteous passion or zeal (Moo 139).

Verse 2

You want something but you do not get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God (NIV).

The desires of the people are made even more explicit in this scripture. James uses a different word for passion or desire (epithmeo), but this is because the verb hedomai is rare. He means the same thing. The problem is what James means by desire and its result is a matter of dispute. The basic problem is to determine the relationship between the series of verbs in the first half of the verse: ‘You want something but you don’t get it’; ‘You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want”; and ‘You quarrel and fight’. This translation in the NIV takes the sequence of positive-negative verbs as key to the structure, so that each of the first two sentences describes a frustrated desire. There are other ways of

representing this but discussion will only be on this position since the New International Version is being used (Moo 140).

The question arises ‘Is James really accusing the people of murder?’ Many scholars have asserted that he is accusing the people of murder. It has been alleged that the recent Jewish-Christian converts of James’ time were members of a radical Jewish Zealot movement that were known for killing prominent Romans and their collaborators as a policy of terror. James might have been warning them that what they were doing was not cohesive with there new life in Christ. Some have suggested the ‘you kill’ (phoneuete) be amended to ‘you are envious’ (phthoneite) but there are no textual justifications to support this change. Others say that murder is suggesting an attitude instead of an action. Murder should be taken in a literal sense as the sum total of where our selfish desires may lead. This is not to say that the people of James’ reference have gone this far, but it is to say that their actions of warring and fighting have them on the path to this action. James then provides insight into the human conflict. Verbal conflict, private violence, or national conflict can all be rooted in the desire to want what one does not have and in worldliness (Moo 141-142).

Verse 3

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (NIV).

In this scripture, James makes the people aware of their need to pray with right motives. This statement may seem contradictory to the previous verse, but it is not because of the sense James is making the statement in light of the wrong motives of the people (Law 173). Jesus says in Matthew 7:7 that if you ask you will receive, but of course Jesus had in mind the kind of asking that was in line with the will of God, not that asking that was to be spent on the selfish pleasures (Nystrom 225-226).

Verse 4

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (NIV).

James begins this verse with the word “adulterous” or actually adulteresses which s a feminine noun. One may question why it is feminine. Some believe that James means this literally as he turns his exhortations towards the women in his group who have been unfaithful in their marital vows. There is no indication of this in the context. One can find the explanation of this account in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament it is described as God joining Himself to Israel as a husband and wife join themselves in marriage. God has brought Israel into a covenant relationship with Himself that is viewed with marital imagery. This explains why when Israel begins to love the world or other gods it can be viewed as spiritual ‘adultery’. This can best be seen in the book of Hosea and his relationship to his wife, Gomer (Moo 143-144).

The use of ‘adulteresses’ then serves to characterize the people of James as the unfaithful people of God. This can also be seen in their seeking friendship with the world are again committing spiritual adultery and choosing to be enemies of God. This adultery no doubt brings the anger and wrath of God as attested to in the Old Testament. God is not going to have a rival. In light of this James tries to stimulate the consciences of the people to bring them to repentance (Moo 144).

Verse 5-6

Or do you think that the Scripture says without reason that the Spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why it says: “God is opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (NIV).”

The key to understanding these verses is to understand the marital imagery discussed in the previous verse. It explains how serious it is to flirt with the world and the sin of the world and how humans serve a jealous God. God expects a total unreserved allegiance to which He has joined Himself.

The NIV rendering of verse 5 is a good one. In the rendering, pneuma is understood as the subject of the verse and is identified with the spirit breathed into a man at creation. This would then let James be making a point about the human’s tendency to be envious and jealous rather than God. Linguistically, James’ language is to be more appropriate in a description of man’s attitude rather that God’s. Contextually, a reminder about the innate human propensity to sinful jealously would make excellent sense (Moo 145-146).

James does not make it clear that he thinks of the spirit which he has made to dwell in us as the Holy Spirit that is given to all believers or as God’s creative spirit by which he has invigorated mankind. Whatever James thinks this reminds us of the claim that God has on our lives through the work he is doing in us right now (Law 177-178).

In verse 6 it can be seen that God gives us enough grace to reconcile ourselves unto Him no matter how jealous He gets. God’s requirements on us may seem demanding at times, but God provides all needs to meet every demand. To experience this grace, however, one must humble themselves before God. (Moo 147).

Verse 7-8

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double minded (NIV).

James begins this section of Scripture with ‘submit to God’. This imperative is almost like a heading over the following series of commands in the next three verses and is matched by a command in verse 10 to ‘humble yourselves’ which ends the series. Between these two basic commands are couplets: Resist the Devil…Draw near to God; Cleanse your hands…Purify your hearts; Grieve, mourn, wail…Let your laughter be turned to mourning. The aorist tense is used throughout perhaps suggesting that these attitudes are to be entered into while the previous sinful behavior is discarded (Moo 147).

James throughout the passage of Scripture has stressed the evil tendencies within persons that cause us to sin, but he also recognizes the role of Satan. Diabolos is used to translate sin in the Septuagint. The Hebrew word gives the title ‘Satan’. The two titles are then identical in meaning and suggest that the devil’s primary purpose is to separate humans from God (Moo, 147). The Christian is the to resist this separation. Resisting will cause the Devil to flee from you (Nystrom 230).

The Christian should draw near to God instead of giving in to the temptation of the Satan. James insists that God will respond by drawing near to you. It is obvious that James is not talking about salvation, but rather the repentance of those who are already Christians (Law 183)

The end of verse 8 states the word double-mind. This word translates dipsychos or ‘two-souled’. James used this reference before in 1:6-8 to characterize the man whose faith was marked by doubting and instability. In the

present text, the word brings forcibly to mind the ‘doubleness’ of the Christian who seeks to become a friend of the world (Moo 148).

Verse 9

Grieve, mourn, wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.

The harsh commands of verse 9 echo the language of the prophets. The prophets often used this language of mourning to describe the terrible destruction and disaster that accompanied the judgement of God, but they also used it to call the people of God to repentance. It is the latter sense that James uses this language. James demands of his readers a deep heartfelt sorrow and repentance of sin. This is how James’ command to Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom is understood. James is not against laughter and joy in the life of the Christian but rather ‘laughter’ in the Old Testament is often laughter of the fool who does not take sin seriously (Moo 149).

The harsh judgement of the Lord can be avoided if men will mourn and weep for sins in repentance now. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those that mourn for they will be comforted’ (Matt. 5:4). Many Christians today live in the hedonist philosophy, ‘eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die’. This ignores the reality of the judgement of God. Many Christians rely on the merciful and forgiving nature of

God and in effect take sin too lightly. These Christians can only experience true Christian joy after they repent and receive the forgiveness of God (Moo 150).

Verse 10

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James concludes his series of commands with an exhortation to humble yourselves. The concept of humbling oneself before the Lord is one that views themselves in spiritual poverty. One should acknowledge their utter despair and need for God and to submit to his will and authority. This type of humility is seen in the tax collector of Jesus’ parable. The tax collector was deeply aware of his sin and his need for God and called out to God for mercy (Luke 18:14).

V. Summary of Teachings and Application

The book of James was written by James the brother of Jesus between A.D. 45 to 47. James was the head of the Jerusalem church and so it is believed that the epistle of James was written from Jerusalem. The book of James is primarily a book that is a practical guide for Christian living.

James is confronting the people about the problem of fighting over selfish motives and worldliness in chapter 4, verses 1 through 10. James identifies the reasons that the people are fighting. The people want things that they do not have and try by there own power to obtain these things instead of asking God in prayer. James calls these people spiritual adulteresses and enemies of God. James ends in this passage of scripture with an exhortation to the Christians to return to God in humbleness, and He will receive them with love.

Davids, Peter. New International Greek Commentary on James. Grand Rapids, MI : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982

Laws, Sophie, Harpers New Testament Commentary on James. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Rows Publishing., 1980.

Lea, Thomas D. The New Testament: Its background and Message. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1996.

Moo, Douglas J. James: Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996.

Nystrom, David. James. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1997.

Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishing, 1993.