Page images



1. As regards the place of writing, if the general opinion as to the author be assumed, there can be but one view. His fixed residence, and centre of influence, was JERUSALEM. There we find him, at every

date in the apostolic period. If he wrote the Epistle, it was written from the holy city. 2. And with this the character of the Epistle very well


Most of the Judæo-Christians addressed in it would be in the habit of coming up to Jerusalem from time to time to the feasts. There St. James, though at a distance, might become well acquainted with their state and temptations, and exercise superintendence over them.

3. It has been pointed out also ', that the physical notices inserted in the Epistle are very suitable to this supposition. The Writer appears to have written not far from the sea, ch. i. 6, iii. 4: it was a land blessed with figs, oil, and wine, iii. 12. Wide as these notices may be, we have others which seem to come nearer to Palestine. Salt and bitter springs are familiar to him, iii. 11, 12: the land was exposed to drought, and was under anxiety for fear of failure of crops for want of rain, v. 17, 18: it was burnt up quickly by a hot wind (Kausôn, i. 11), which is a name not only belonging to West Asia, but especially known in Palestine. “Another phænomenon," says Hug," which was found where the Writer was, decides for that locality: it is, the former and latter rain, which he names, ch. v. 7, as they were known in Palestine."

4. With regard to the date of the Epistle, opinions are more divided. That it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, will follow as matter of course from what has already been said. But there are two other termini, with reference to which it is important that its place should be assigned. These are, 1) the publication of the doctrine of St. Paul respecting justification by faith only: and 2) the Apostolic council in Jerusalem of Acts xv.

5. A superficial view will suggest, that it cannot be till after the doctrine of justification by faith had been spread abroad, that ch. ii. 14 ff. can have been written. And this has been held even by some whose treatment of the Epistle has been far from superficial'. But I believe hat a thorough and unbiassed weighing of probabilities will lead us to an opposite conclusion. It seems most improbable that, supposing ch. ii. 14 ff. to have been written after St. Paul's teaching on the point was known, St. James should have made no allusion either to St. Paul

[ocr errors]

| By Hug, Einleitung, edn. 4, p. 438 f.

? e. g. Wiesinger.

rightly understood, or to St. Paul wrongly understood. Surely such a method of proceeding, considering what strong words he uses, would be, to say the least, very ill-judged, or very careless : the former, if he only wished to prevent an erroneous conception of the great Apostle's doctrine,—the latter, if he wished to put himself into direct antagonism with it.

6. It is much more probable, that all which St. James says respecting works and faith has respect to a former and different state and period of the controversy ; when, as was explained above, the Jewish Pharisaic notions were being carried into the adopted belief in Christianity, and the danger was not, as afterwards, of a Jewish law-righteousness being set up, antagonistic to the righteousness which is by the faith of Christ, but of a Jewish reliance on exclusive purity of faith superseding the necessity of a holy life, which is inseparably bound up with any worthy holding of the Christian faith.

7. The objection brought against this view is, that the examples adduced by St. James are identical with those which we find in the Epistles of St. Paul, and even in that to the Hebrews: and that they presuppose acquaintance with those writings. But we may well answer, what right have we to make this, any more than the converse assumption ? Or rather, for I do not believe the converse- to be any. more probable, why should not the occurrence of these common examples have been due in both cases to their having been the ordinary ones cited on the subject ? What more certain, than that Abraham, the father of the faithful, would be cited in any dispute on the validity of faith? What more probable than that Rahab, a Canaanite, and a woman of loose life, who became sharer of the security of God's people simply because she believed God's threatenings, should be exalted into an instance on the one hand that even a contact with Israel's faith sufficed to save, and that the Apostle on the other should shew that such faith was not mere assent, but fruitful in practical consequences ?

8. Again it is urged that, owing to several expressions and passages in our Epistle, we are obliged to believe that St. James had read and used the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. Wiesinger says that any unbiassed reader will see in ch. i. 3, iv. 1, 12, allusions to Rom. v. 3, vi. 13, vii. 23, viii. 7, xiv. 4. Of these certainly the first is a close resemblance: but that in the others is faint, and the connecting of them together is quite fanciful. And even where close resemblance exists, if the nature of the expressions be considered, we shall see how little ground there is for ascribing to the one writer any necessary knowledge of the other. The expressions are, “ the proof of your faith worketh

3 Section ii. par. 4.

patience," James i. 3: tribulation worketh patience," Rom. v. 3. Now what could be more likely than that a “faithful saying" like this, tending to console the primitive believers under afflictions which were coeval with their first profession of the Gospel, should have been a common-place in the mouths of their teachers? And accordingly we find a portion of St. James's expression, viz. the proof of your faith,again occurring in 1 Pet. i. 7: a circumstance which may or may not indicate an acquaintance with the contents of our Epistle.

9. A similar inference has been drawn from the use by St. James of such terms as "to be justified," " by faith," " by works :" which, it is urged, no New Test. writer except St. Paul, or, in the case of the verb, St. Luke, under influence of St. Paul, has used. But here again it is manifest that the inference will not hold. The subject, as argued by St. Paul, was no new one, but had long been in the thoughts and disputes of the primitive believers 4.

10. With regard to the other question, as to whether our Epistle must be dated before or after the council in Acts xv., one consideration is, to my mind, decisive. We have no mention in it of any controversy respecting the ceremonial observance of the Jewish law, nor any allusion to the duties of the Judæo-Christian believers in this respect. Now this certainly could not have been, after the dispute of Acts xv. 1 ff. If we compare what St. Paul relates in Gal. ii. 11 ff. (see the last note) of the influence of certain from James, and the narrative of Acts xxi. 18—25, with the entire absence in this Epistle of all notice of the subjects in question, we must, I think, determine that, at the time of writing the Epistle, no such question had arisen. The obligation of observing the Jewish ceremonial law was as yet confessed among Jewish Christians, and therefore needed no enforcing.

11. But here again various objections are brought against assigning so early a date to our Epistle as before the Jerusalem council, principally derived from the supposed difficulty of imagining so much development at that time in the Judæo-Christian congregations. We find, it is alleged, elders or presbyters of an assembly (ecclesia), which is not the mere Jewish synagogue used in common by both, but a regularly organized congregation.

12. Now we may fairly say, that this objection is unfounded. The Christian “ ecclesiais mentioned by our Lord Himself in Matt. xviii. 17, and was so easy and matter-of-course a successor of the synagogue, that it would be sure to be established, wherever there was a Christian community. We find that the different varieties of Jews had their separate synagogues, Acts vi. 9: and the establishment of a separate

• As a proof of this, see Gal. ii. 16, a speech which was made certainly a very short time after the council in A.D. 50, and in consequence of a message from James.

We may

organization and place of worship would be the obvious and immediate consequence of the recognition of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. In such a congregation, elders (presbyters) would be a matter of course.

13. It is also objected, that in the Epistle the readers are treated as mature in the belief and doctrines of the Gospel : that it exhorts, but does not teach'. Witness, it is said, the allusions to their knowledge, and exhortations to perfection, ch. i. 3; iii. 1; iv. 1. But in those passages there is nothing which might not well apply to the primitive Jewish believers : nothing which, from their knowledge of the 0. T., and of the moral teaching of our Lord, they might not well have been aware of.

14. Yet again it is said, that the character of the faults here stigmatized in the Christian congregations is such as to require a considerable period for their development : that they are those which arise from relaxation of the moral energy with which we must suppose the first Jewish converts to have received the Gospel. In answer to this, we may point to the length of time which may well be allowed as having elapsed between the first Pentecost sermon and the time of writing the Epistle, and to the rapidity of the dissemination of practical error, and the progress of moral deterioration, when once set in. also remind the reader of the state of the Jewish church and the heathen world around, as shewing that it must not be supposed that all these evils sprung up within the Christian communities themselves : rather we may say, that the seed fell on soil in which these thorns were already sown,- and that, even conceding the position above assumed, § i. 1, a very short time,- less than the 20 years which elapsed between the first Pentecost and the Jerusalem council, -would have sufficed for the growth of any such errors as we find stigmatized in this Epistle.

15. “Where," asks Wiesinger, “shall we look for the Judæo-Christian churches out of Palestine, which will satisfy the postulates of the Epistle?" I answer, in the notice of Acts ii. 5-11, in following out which, we must believe that Christian churches of the dispersion were very widely founded at a date immediately following the great outpouring of the Spirit. Such a persuasion does not compel us to believe that our Epistle was addressed principally to the church at Antioch, or to those in Syria and Cilicia, but leaves the address of it in all the extent of its own words, " to the twelve tribes which are in the dispersion.

16. The notice of Acts xi. 19 ff., will amply provide for such Christian congregations, consisting mainly or entirely of Jewish believers, as the purposes of this Epistle require. And that notice may surely be regarded as a record of that taking place with increased energy nearer home, which must have been long going on far and wide owing to the agency of the first Pentecostal believers. We find traces of this in the

s Wiesinger, p. 38.

6 Wiesinger, as above.

first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, where in several cases we have, besides the new converts made, an implied background of disciples," naturally consisting mainly of Jews; and it appears to have been at and by this visit chiefly that the enmity of the Jews every where against the Gentile converts, and against the Gospel as admitting them, was first stirred up.

17. These things being considered, I cannot agree with Wiesinger and Schmid in placing our Epistle late in the first age of the church ; but should, with the majority of recent Commentators, and historians, including Schneckenburger, Theile, Neander, Thiersch, Hofmann, and Schaff, place it before, perhaps not long before, the Jerusalem council: somewhere, it may be, about the year 45 A.D.



1. The object of the Epistle has been already partially indicated, in treating of its readers. It was ethical, rather than didactic. They had fallen into many faults incident to their character and position. Their outward trials were not producing in them that confirmation of faith, and that stedfastness, for which they were sent, but they were deteriorating, instead of improving, under them. St. James therefore wrote his hortatory and minatory Epistle, to bring them to a sense of their Christian state under the Father of wisdom and the Lord of glory, subjects as they were of the perfect law of liberty, new-begotten by the divine word, married unto Christ, and waiting in patience for His advent to judgment.

2. The letter is full of earnestness, plain speaking, holy severity. The brother of Him who opened His teaching with the Sermon on the Mount, seems to have deeply imbibed the words and maxims of it, as the law of Christian morals. The characteristic of his readers was the lack of living faith: the falling asunder, as it has been well called, of knowledge and action, of head and heart. And no portion of the divine teaching could be better calculated to sound the depths of the treacherous and disloyal heart, than this first exposition by our Lord, who knew the heart, of the difference between the old law, in its externality, and the searching spiritual law of the Gospel'.

3. The main theme of the Epistle may be described as being the

7 The connexion between our Epistle and the Sermon on the Mount has often been noticed : and the principal parallels will be found pointed out in the reff, and commentary. I subjoin a list of them : ch. i. 2, Matt. v. 10–12; ch. i. 4, Matt. v. 48 ; ch. i. 5, v. 15, Matt. vii. 7 ff.; ch. i. 9, Matt. v. 3; ch. i. 20, Matt. v. 22; ch. ii. 13, Matt. vi. 14, 15, v. 7; ch. ii. 14 ff., Matt. vii. 21 ff. ; ch. iii. 17, 18, Matt. v. 9; ch. iv. 4,

« PreviousContinue »