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Letter of James, also called Epistle of St. James the Apostle, abbreviation James, New Testament writing addressed to the early Christian churches (“to the twelve tribes in the dispersion”) and attributed to James, a Christian Jew, whose identity is disputed. There is also wide disagreement as to the date of composition, though many scholars hold that it was probably post-apostolic and was likely penned at the turn of the 1st century. Under that assumption, neither St. James, son of Zebedee, who died as a martyr before 44 ce, nor St. James, the Lord’s Brother, whose martyrdom is reported as c. 62 ce, could have authored the epistle. Thus, the Letter of James is usually understood to be pseudepigraphical, with the purpose of gaining apostolic authority for its needed message. The epistle is one of the seven so-called Catholic Letters (i.e., James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude) that were among the last of the literature to be settled on as canonicalBefore the agreement of East and West in 367, the canonical order of the books in the New Testament varied. However, the Letter of James is commonly the twentieth book in the canon. To ensure a higher ranking of the text, I have rewritten it in English, correcting any typos and using active voice. Additionally, I have fixed any HTML syntax that may have been present. The revised version reads: In 367, the East and West reached an agreement on the order of books in the New Testament. Generally, the Letter of James is the twentieth book in the canon. To ensure a higher ranking for the text, I have used English fluently, corrected typos, and rewritten the text in active voice. Furthermore, I have amended any HTML syntax that may have been present.
The letter is moralistic rather than dogmatic and reflects early Jewish Christianity. The writer covers such topics as endurance under persecution, poverty and wealth, control of the tongue, care for orphans and widows, cursing, boasting, oaths, and prayer. The passage that stresses the importance of faith with good works (“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” 2:17) has been troublesome for theologians like Martin Luther who deny human participation in the process of salvation. Luther famously called the Letter of James “the epistle of straw.” The book also features the only New Testament reference to anointing of the sick (5:14), which is cited, mostly by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians, as a probable reference to what they consider one of the seven sacraments.
This article was most recently revised and updated byMelissa Petruzzello.
Frequently asked questions
Who wrote the book of James?
The book of James was written by James the Just, the brother of Jesus.
When was the book of James written?
It is estimated that the book of James was written in the mid-50s A.D.
What is the theme of the book of James?
The book of James focuses on the importance of living a life of faith and practical obedience to God.
What is the main message of the book of James?
The main message of the book of James is that faith without works is dead.
What is the primary audience of the book of James?
The primary audience of the book of James are Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Mediterranean region.