Sunday School Bible Survey:      JAMES

Theme: Pure religion

Key verse:
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).

From the Scofield Study Bible:

WRITER: James (Matthew 4:21, note), called "the Just" mentioned by Paul with Cephas and John as "pillars" in the church at Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9). He seems to have been, as a religious man, austere, legal, ceremonial (Acts 21:18-24).

DATE: Tradition fixes the martyrdom of James in the year 62, but his Epistle shows no trace of the larger revelations concerning the church and the distinctive doctrines of grace made through the Apostle Paul, nor even of the discussion concerning the relation of Gentile converts to the law of Moses, which culminated in the first council (Acts 15), over which James presided. This presumes the very early date of James, which may confidently be set down as "the first Epistle to Christians." — Weston.

THEME: By "the twelve tribes scattered abroad" we are to understand, not Jews, but Christian Jews of the Dispersion. The church began with such (Acts 2:5-11), and James, who seems not to have left Jerusalem, would feel a particular pastoral responsibility for these scattered sheep. They still resorted to the synagogues, or called their own assemblies by that name (James 2:2 where "assembly" is "synagogue" in the Greek). It appears from James 2:1-8 that they still held the synagogue courts for the trial of causes arising amongst themselves. The Epistle, then, is elementary in the extreme. To suppose that James 2:14-26 is a polemic against Paul's doctrine of justification is absurd. Neither Galatians nor Romans was yet written.
James' theme, then, is "religion" (Gr., threskeia, "outward religious service") as the expression and proof of faith. He does not exalt works as against faith, but faith as producing works. His style is that of the Wisdom-books of the O.T.

The divisions are five:

  1. The testing of faith (1, 2).
  2. The reality of faith tested by the tongue (3).
  3. The rebuke of worldliness (4).
  4. The rich warned (5:1-6).
  5. Hortatory (5:7-20).


  1. It is generally agreed that James was the first book of the New Testament to be written.
  2. It is the first in a group of epistles customarily called the "general epistles," which also include I and II Peter, I, II, and III John, and Jude.
  3. They are sometimes referred to as the "catholic" (not Roman Catholic) epistles in the sense that they are universal, not being addressed to any particular individual or church, but to God's people everywhere.
  4. There is some confusion over which James wrote this epistle. For example, the Scofield Study Bible says that the author of this epistle is James, the son of Alpheus (cf. p. 999).
  5. It seems unlikely that the author of the epistle of James is either James, the son of Alpheus (Matt. 10:3), or James, the son of Zebedee (Matt. 10:2).
  6. We know nothing about James, the son of Alpheus (Matt. 10:3).
  7. James the son of Zebedee was killed by Herod around AD 42 (Acts 12:2), whereas this epistle was probably written sometime between 45-50 AD.
  8. The third James in the New Testament is this James, and he was the Lord's brother (cf. Matt. 13:55; Acts 15:13; I Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). He did not believe in the Lord until after His resurrection (cf. John 7:5).
  9. James starts off by identifying himself, not as our Lord's brother, and not as an apostle, but simply as "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:1).
  10. The epistle of James has been misunderstood. Some have wrongly supposed that James was teaching that one is saved by works. The great Reformer, Martin Luther did not believe it belonged in the Bible and called it an "epistle of straw."
  11. Paul emphasized our justification before God, and James our justification before men — there is no contradiction.
  12. Faith is the root of salvation; works are the fruit of salvation.
  13. Faith is the cause of salvation; works are the result of salvation.
  14. J. Vernon McGee said, "The Epistle of James has been compared to the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Both emphasize the practical. In both there is the learning experience for the child of God. Justification by faith is demonstrated by works. Justification by faith is poured into the test tube of:
             Works — Chapters 1, 2
             Words — Chapter 3
             Worldliness — Chapter 4
             Warning to the rich — Chapter 5

Outline (adapted from J. Vernon McGee):

  1. Verification of genuine faith (1 — 3)
  1. God tests faith by trials (1:1-12)
  2. God does not test faith with evil (1:13-21)
  3. God tests faith by the Word, not by man's words (1:22-27)
  4. God tests faith by attitude and action in respect of persons (2:1-13)
  5. God tests faith by good works (2:14-26)
  6. God tests faith by the tongue (3)

  1. Vacuity and vapidness of worldliness (4)

  1. exation of the rich; value of the imminent coming of Christ (5)
  1. Riches are a care; rich are warned (1-6)
  2. Coming of Christ is a comfort (7-12)
  3. Prayer of the righteous is a power (13-20)

These are simple Sunday School survey notes. They are not for sale. The author used many outlines from popular Bible teachers such as C.I. Scofield and J. Vernon McGee, and he has tried to give credit when using their material.

—  Pastor James J. Barker  —