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Alternate Lecture for: NT 600 New Testament Survey - The Letter of James

Alternate Lecture for: NT 600 New Testament Survey

The Letter of James

by Brother Timothy Kenney, OSM, PhD

The Letter of James is the first of seven catholic or universal letters of the New Testament of the Bible, along with the First and Second Letters of Peter, the First, Second, and Third Letters of John, and Jude. These letters are so called because they are addressed to the universal Church in general, and not to a specific community, as, for example, the Philippians.

Authorship points unmistakably to James, the Lord's brother, the Bishop of Jerusalem; he exactly, and he alone, fulfils the conditions required in the writer of the Epistle. St. James seems to have been moved to write his Epistle on witnessing that the first fervour of the Jewish Christians had grown cold, and that, owing to various causes, both external and internal, a certain spirit of discouragement had declared itself amongst them.

St. James wrote his Epistle for a moral purpose, and addressed his brothers and sisters as their pastor, in his quality of Bishop of Jerusalem, in order:

1). to exhort them to constancy in the faith in spite of the persecutions and trials they were undergoing, and to give them comfort in their tribulations;

2). to correct the abuses and extirpate the evils amongst them, by urging them to make their conduct conformable to their faith, and by earnestly reminding them that faith alone would not save them unless they added good works.

The Epistle of St. James is a highly important work of the New Testament, for the key concept of the necessity of works along with faith is expressed in this Letter in Chapter Two. In fact, this principle has been one of the major stumbling blocks between Catholics and Protestants, as evidenced by Luther's concerns over this Epistle. Luther referred mainly to St. Paul's epistles to the Romans and Galatians, for his concept of justification by faith alone. St. Paul, however, was emphasizing the inappropriateness of works for salvation whereas James spoke of works that issue from faith. For both, the essentials are the same, and both were probably dealing independently with a traditional topic of Jewish belief.

In addition, the Epistle of St. James is rich in content, such as the importance of living God's word, being impartial, controlling the tongue, and the danger of worldliness and wealth. The advice given in James 4:7-8 is critical, and Chapter 5:13-15 serves as the foundation for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

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A detailed outline is provided below:

1:1 ------------------- Salutation
1:2-1:8 ----------------- Faith and Wisdom
1:9-1:11 ------------ Poverty and Riches
1:12-1:18 ------------ Trial and Temptation
1:19-1:27 ------------ Hearing and Doing the Word

2:1-2:13 -------------- Warning against Partiality
2:14-2:26 ------------ Faith without Works is Dead

3:1-3:12 -------------- Taming the Tongue
3:13-3:18 ------------ Two Kinds of Wisdom

4:1-4:10 -------------- Friendship with the World
4:11-4:12 ------------ Warning against Judging Another
4:13-4:17 ------------ Boasting about Tomorrow

5:1-5:6 --------------- Warning to Rich Oppressorss
5:7-5:12 ------------- Patience in Suffering
5:13-5:20 ------------ The Prayer of Faith

St. James is commemorated on October 23; on December 26 and also on the first Sunday after the Nativity, along with David the King and St. Joseph; and on January 4 among the Seventy Apostles.

We now turn to the First and Second Letters of St. Peter.

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