Letter of James

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New Testament
Acts of the Apostles
Paul's letters
Catholic letters

The letter of James (also: James letter ) is a letter of the New Testament of the Bible . It is an address in the form of a letter, a so-called " epistle ", which admonishes and encourages all of Christianity at that time. Therefore one counts them to the group of the Catholic letters . The epistle has been divided into five chapters since the Middle Ages.

Author and dating

Because the text itself contains very little useful information, authorship and time of origin are disputed within biblical studies . Two views in particular are represented.

Early creation by James, the brother of Jesus

The author calls himself James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ . Since further additions to names or self-descriptions are missing, this James did not need any further introduction. Since the author does not designate himself as an apostle, traditionally James , a brother of Jesus , and another important James of his time are accepted as the author alongside the apostles James the Elder and James the Younger . Theologically conservative authors see this confirmed by external and internal evidence. The reasons given are:

  1. the early church tradition handed down the author James, the brother of Jesus
  2. James has a Jewish background, it contains Semitic elements
  3. there are striking similarities in Greek between the speech of James in Acts 15: 13-31  EU (without literary dependency ) and the letter of James
  4. there are parallels between the Sermon on the Mount in Mt 5-7  EU and the Letter of James

A composition by James, the brother of Jesus, requires a date of origin before his death in the year 62, which has been handed down independently of Flavius ​​Josephus and Eusebius of Caesarea . This would make James one of the oldest writings in the New Testament. In terms of content, this dating is supported by strong roots in Jewish traditions. Most likely, the letter would have been written before the apostles 'council (approx. 45 AD), because the subject of the inclusion of Christians of non-Jewish tradition ( Gentile Christians ) in James' letter does not play a role (see below).

Later pseudepigraphy

Historically critical theologians consider the letter of James predominantly to be a later pseudepigraphic script. In this case the author called himself either James in order to give the writing its authority, or because the author saw himself as part of the theological school of James. Complete independence from the two named namesake is also conceivable, since James, as the Latinized form of the name Jakov, refers to the Old Testament ancestor and was widespread in Judaism.

As reasons against the authorship of the "Lord Brother" James are mentioned:

  1. the good Greek , which a simple Jew from Palestine could hardly trust;
  2. the lack of topics that, according to other sources, can be expected from the historical James (relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, observance of the Jewish ritual and dietary laws, etc.);
  3. the mention of “teachers” and “elders” as fixed offices in the congregations, which were only given at the end of the 1st century AD;
  4. the late inclusion in the New Testament canon , which can be taken as an indication that the required authorship by an apostle was controversial.

Louis Berkhof, with reference to Flavius ​​Josephus , contradicts the assumption that James probably did not speak Greek very well .

The majority of authors who regard the letter of James as pseudepigraphic date it to around 100 AD. The oldest surviving quote from the letter of James can be found in Origen in the 3rd century.

Inclusion in the canon

In the first centuries of the Christian church, the authenticity of the letter of James was doubted by, among others, Theodor von Mopsuestia . It is also not included in the Muratorian Canon . In the western churches it was not used for a long time, so that Eusebius counted it among the controversial writings in his church history (3.25; 2.23). Athanasius of Alexandria included the letter of James in his canon of the New Testament scriptures accepted today. Since the 4th century it has been an accepted part of the canon of almost all Christian churches, including the Syrian Orthodox churches.

Martin Luther, however, questioned the canonicity of the letter of James because, according to his understanding, this writing ascribes justification to works instead of faith (see WA DB 7, 384). This is also the reason why he changed the original order of the New Testament books and moved the letter of James (with the letter to the Hebrews ) "backwards".



The epistle is addressed to "the twelve tribes in the dispersion " ( Jak 1,1  EU ), a traditional Jewish expression from the time of the second temple . The fundamental importance of the “law” is emphasized several times in the text ( Jak 1.25  EU ; 2.10 EU ). This law is largely understood as the Jewish law, the Torah . Here, as well as in the further course, it becomes clear (synagogue instead of Ekklesia, Jak 2,2  EU ; Abraham's designation as "our father", Jak 2,21  EU ) that writers and addressees are in Jewish tradition. In addition, there are parallels in the ethical admonitions to the Jewish sayings of the fathers .

It can be seen that the recipients were Jews who saw in Jeshua of Nazareth the Messiah of Israel sent by God and trusted him ( Jak 2,1  EU ; 5,7 EU ).

way of life

The writer emphasizes the importance of an impeccable lifestyle. He condemns a formal piety that is exhausted in following ceremonies, and opposes this with an inner purity ( Jak 1,27  EU ). He also speaks out against falsehood (3.2–12 EU ), self-praise (4.16 EU ) as well as greed and oppression of the poor.

One of the important lessons is patience in temptation (1.2 EU ), in good deeds (1.22-25 EU ), when provoked (3.17 EU ), when oppressed (5.7 EU ) or persecuted (5, 10 EU ). The patient will be rewarded if Jesus will pronounce a just judgment on his return (5.8 EU ).

Comparison to Pauline theology

Early on, commentators saw theological tensions between James and Paul's letters . Martin Luther found the conflict in the question of justification so serious that he described the letter of James as a straw epistle . So he moved it almost to the end of the New Testament. It is there in the Luther Bibles to this day, in contrast to almost all other Bible translations.

In the decisive verses Jak 2,14–20  EU and 2,24 EU , James emphasizes the importance of doing in the gaining of salvation and rejects an inactive faith. On the other hand, Paul emphasizes in Romans (3:27–28 EU ) that belief in the action of God in Christ's death and resurrection saves from destruction and death regardless of the observance of the law or regardless of good deeds. The importance of faith in Jesus Christ is also emphasized in Gal 2,16  EU , Phil 3,8-14  EU and Rom 5,1  EU . In several places, however, Paul also presents the practical-ethical consequences resulting from faith (e.g. Gal 5,6  EU ). Both authors refer to the example of the Jewish ancestor Abraham ( Gen 15.6  EU ) to justify their point of view ( Jak 2,21–23  EU ; Rom 4,2–3  EU ).

The two teachings can be sharpened to the following statements: “Faith alone brings salvation” (Paul) and “Faith without deeds is lifeless” (James). These two statements are not mutually exclusive, but rather complement each other by dealing with different questions and perhaps even from the same author.

Different exegetical approaches

A number of Christian commentators resolve this apparent contradiction by presenting both depictions as two sides of the justification of the sinner before God. In this perspective, Paul emphasizes the grace of God, which cannot be earned through deeds, and which is given as a result of faith, while James emphasizes the godly lifestyle ( sanctification ), which is a natural result of faith.

An alternative solution is for James to have the Christian's justification in front of other people in mind, while Paul wants to see people justified before God. It is also pointed out (e.g. the commentary in the standard translation ) that Paul spoke of works of the (Jewish) law, but James spoke of acts of charity, which Paul also considers to be a necessary expression of faith: “For in Christ Jesus what matters [...] is [...] having the faith that works in love. "( Gal 5,6  EU )

Skeptics, on the other hand, see the work as evidence of tension in the early church between Jewish and Gentile Christians . While James gives priority to the observance of Jewish law, Paul develops a theology of justification before God that puts faith first. A comparable conflict can also be found in the Acts of the Apostles, where the observance of Jewish laws by pagan Christians was discussed. Here, too, there is a dispute between James (representing the Jerusalem Church) and Paul (representing the Gentile Christians), which was decided at the Apostles' Council in favor of the Pauline position.

Still other commentators point out that James and the congregations he addressed must have known the corresponding passages from Paul, since these are recorded very precisely. According to this understanding, James reacts to the abuse of the doctrine of justification by congregations that ignore the social claim of the gospel with a shortened appeal to Paul.

Keyword-like content

1.1 Greetings EU
1.2-18 Probation in the temptation EU
1.19-27 Doer of the word, not just listener EU
2.1-13 The sin of the EU bias
2.14-26 Faith and Works EU
3.1-12 The sins of the tongue EU
3.13-18 The wisdom from above and from below EU
4.1-10 Friendship with the world is enmity with God EU
4.11-17 Humility; the sin of self-glory EU
5.1-6 The court of the rich EU
5.7-11 Patient perseverance EU
5.12 Don't swear EU
5.13-18 Prayer for the sick; Power of Intercession EU
5.19-20 The sinner's turning away from his wrong path EU

Conditio Jacobaea

As Conditio Jacobaea , called in the phrase " sub conditione Jacobaea " ("with the reservation of James"), a passage from the last section of the fourth chapter ( Jak 4,13-16  EU ) is known, in which the apostle before to warns of great self-confidence and points out that all planned action depends on the condition “if we are alive according to God's will” or “God willing and we live” .



  • Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr : A New Perspective on James? Recent research on the letter of James. In: ThLZ . 129 (2004), col. 1019-1044
  • Mark E. Taylor: Recent Scholarship on the Structure of James. In: Currents in Biblical Research. 3.1 (2004), pp. 86-115.


  • Martin Dibelius : The letter of James. With additions by Heinrich Greeven. Critical-exegetical commentary on the New Testament 15. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 12th ed. 1984 [7. Edition = 1. Edition of the new edit. 1921] ISBN 3-525-51612-6 .
  • Franz Mußner : The letter of James. Interpretation. Herder's theological commentary on the New Testament 13.1. Herder, Freiburg i.Br. u. a. 5th edition 1987 (1st edition 1964) ISBN 3-451-14117-5 .
  • William RG Loader et al. a .: Faith on probation. Hebrews and James . Biblical interpretation for practice 25th ed. Kath. Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 1990 ISBN 3-460-25251-0 (generally understandable , application-oriented).
  • Christoph Burchard : The letter of James. New Testament Handbook 15.1. Mohr, Tübingen 2000 ISBN 3-16-147368-X .
  • Wiard Popkes : The Letter of James. Theological commentary on the New Testament 14. In a new arrangement Evang. Publishing house, Leipzig 2001 ISBN 3-374-01813-0
  • Peter H. Davids: The Epistle of James. A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, et al. a. 4th Pr. 2002 ISBN 0-8028-2388-2 .

Impact history

  • Jonathan P. Yates: “The Reception of the Epistle of James in the Latin West. Did Athanasius Play a Role? " In: Jacques Schlosser (Ed.): The Catholic Epistles and Tradition (= Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium. [BETL] Volume 176). Peeters, Leuven 2004, pp. 273-288.
  • Thomas Gerhard Ring: The letter of James in the literature of St. Augustine. In: Cassiciacum. 51st Augustinus-Verl., Würzburg 2003 ISBN 3-7613-0207-X .
  • Beda Venerabilis : In epistulam Iacobi expositio. Latin-German. Commentary on the Epistle of James , trans. by Matthias Karsten ( Fontes Christiani 40) Herder, Freiburg i.Br. u. a. 2000, ISBN 3-451-27409-4 .
  • Johann Albrecht Bengel : The Gnomon. Latin-German partial edition of the main texts for justification. Romans, Galatians, James and Sermon on the Mount after printing from 1835/36. Francke, Tübingen u. a. 2003.

Individual studies

  • Rudolf Hoppe : The theological background of the letter of James. Research on the Bible 28. Echter, Würzburg 2nd edition 1985, ISBN 3-429-00517-5 .
  • Wiard Popkes : Addressees, situation and form of the letter of James. Stuttgart Bible Studies 125/126. Catholic Biblical Works, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-460-04251-6 .
  • Matthias Ahrens : The reflection of realities or rich and poor in the letter of James. A socio-historical investigation. Alektor-Verlag: Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-88425-061-2 .
  • Manabu Tsuji: Belief between perfection and secularization. A study of the literary form and the coherence of the letter of James. WUNT 2/93. Mohr, Tübingen 1997, ISBN 3-16-146620-9 .
  • Petra von Gemünden , Matthias Konradt , Gerd Theißen (ed.): The letter of James. Contributions to the rehabilitation of the "straw epistle". Contributions to the understanding of the Bible 3. Lit-Verlag, Münster 2003, ISBN 3-8258-6860-5 .
  • Hans-Josef Klauck : “Controversy about justification: Paulus, Jakobus and Martin Luther”. In: Ders .: Religion and Society in Early Christianity. New Testament Studies . WUNT 152. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2003, pp. 341–359, ISBN 3-16-147899-1 .
  • René Krüger: The Epistle of James as a prophetic criticism of the rich. An exegetical study from a Latin American perspective. Contributions to the understanding of the Bible 12. LIT-Verlag, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-8258-8786-3 ( liberation theological interpretation ).

Web links


  1. a b c "Whether his [the Lord's brother James] name-supporting and thus his authority imputed letter in the New Testament of Paul (has been written ourselves, we can in the present context to leave open." Otto Kaiser : Christmas in the light of Easter A Biblical introduction. in the Christian faith. Radius, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-87173-106-8 , p. 128 f.)
  2. The Jubilee Bible: Elberfeld Bible with explanations, revised . SCM R. Brockhaus, Wuppertal 2004, ISBN 3-417-25714-X , The Letter of James - Author, p. 394 : “The author introduces himself in the letter: James, servant (slave) of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (1,1 EU ). One can assume with the old church tradition that this means James, the brother of the Lord. "
  3. ^ J. Ronald Blue: The Walvoord Bible Commentary . 4th edition. Hänssler, 2000, ISBN 3-7751-3533-2 , Jakobus - Introduction - Author's question, p. 414 : “The most important evidence for the authorship of the letter of James therefore most likely point to the half-brother of Christ. This view is also supported by Origen, Eusebius, Kyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Augustine and numerous other early Christian authors. "
  4. Eusebius of Caesarea : Church history . Wbg Academic, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 3-534-13648-9 , 2.23.25, pp. 145 : "The first of the so-called Catholic letters is said to have been written by James."
  5. ^ A b c Donald Guthrie , J. Alec Motyer: Commentary on the Bible: AT and NT in one volume . 7th edition. SCM R. Brockhaus, Wuppertal 2012, ISBN 3-417-24740-3 , p. 513 .
  6. ^ J. Ronald Blue: The Walvoord Bible Commentary . 4th edition. Hänssler, 2000, ISBN 3-7751-3533-2 , Jakobus - Introduction - Author's question, p. 414 .
  7. ^ J. Ronald Blue: The Walvoord Bible Commentary . 4th edition. Hänssler, 2000, ISBN 3-7751-3533-2 , Jakobus - Introduction - Style, p. 416 .
  8. ^ Antiquitates Judaicae XX 8.8; 9.2. - Louis Berkhof: Introduction to the New Testament , Grand Rapids (MI) 2004, p. 156.
  9. ^ The Development of the Canon of the New Testament - Peshitta. In: ntcanon.org. Retrieved April 9, 2017 .
  10. See Luther's reasons in WA DB 8, pp. 344, 348, 404; see. also WA DB 6, p. 10 for the evaluation of the letter of James and WA DB 7, p. 386: "I [want] yhn (the letter of James) not have ynn my bible".
  11. ^ Wiard Popkes : The Letter of James . (Theological hand commentary on the New Testament 14). Evang. Publishing house: Leipzig 2001, p. 38.