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.
St. James addressed his Letter to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion, and called himself "a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ." The Letter 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. James stressed ethical norms similar to Jewish Wisdom literature. The Letter is rich in content, such as the necessity of living God's word, being impartial, and the danger of worldliness and wealth. Abraham is called the friend of God in 2:23. A famous passage is on the Power of the Tongue (3:1-12). James 4:7-8 stresses the need to draw close to God. Chapter 5:11 speaks of the patience of Job, and 5:13-15 serves as the foundation for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The Book closes on blessings for helping someone convert from sin (5:19-20).
St. Paul appears to emphasize in his Letters to the Romans and Galatians that justification is by faith alone. However St. Paul states directly in Romans 2:5-6: "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his works." Paul frames his entire Epistle with the phrase "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5 and 16:26), to emphasize the importance of living one's faith. In fact, if one has faith in Jesus, it is only natural that he will want to perform good works and live the way of Jesus. It is Paul himself in Galatians who speaks of good works and reminds us "For what a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7). Also, the Book of Revelation is quite explicit about the importance of works (2:23, 14:13, 21:8).
Because the name James, the equivalent of the Hebrew name Jacob, was popular at the time of Jesus, one of the great historical questions has been whether there were two, three, or even more disciples of the Lord by the name of James. Which James was the author of this Letter?
It is known in the listings of the Twelve Apostles that there were two Apostles of the Lord named James: James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:2-3, Mark 3:17-18, Luke 6:14-15, Acts 1:13). There is James the "brother" of the Lord (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Galatians 1:19), who according to Flavius Josephus was martyred in Jerusalem in 62 AD. Present at the Passion of Our Lord was Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27:56), identified as Mary, the mother of the younger James and of Joses (Mark 15:40). Luke 24:10 mentions Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James at the Empty Tomb. John identifies Mary as the sister of the mother of Jesus and the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). And then there is Jude the brother of James (Jude 1:1). Are these different expressions of the same person or actually different people? The term brother or sister in Hebrew or Aramaic during that time could mean either biological sibling, cousin or kinsman, or a brother or sister in spirit. Furthermore, the relationship of the terms Cleopas (Luke 24:18), Clopas (John 19:25), and Alphaeus is indefinite.
St. Jerome, the Father of Biblical Scholars, believed that there were two James: (1) there was the Apostle James the son of Alphaeus and the "brother of the Lord" (Galatians 1:19), who was the author of this Letter; he was also known as James the Less, the Bishop of Jerusalem, and the brother of Jude Thaddeus (Jude 1:1); and (2) James the son of Zebedee and brother of John, who was martyred under Herod Antipas (Acts 12:1-2).
The following Scripture is from the Douay-Rheims Bible now in the public domain and the New American Bible. The Douay-Rheims Bible was the standard English Bible for Catholics for over 300 years, and still remains in use today. The Douay-Rheims Bible was the first approved English translation of St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate Bible. The Old Testament translation was completed at the English College of Douai, France in 1609, and the New Testament at the English College of Rheims, France in 1582. The Douay-Rheims Bible was revised by Bishop Challoner in England from 1749 to 1752. The Haydock Douay-Rheims Bible of 1814 was the one upon which President John F. Kennedy took the oath of office on January 20, 1961 to become the 35th President of the United States. Scripture for Chapters 1 and 5 are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
1 James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.
2 Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. 6 But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.
9 The brother in lowly circumstances should take pride in his high standing, 10 and the rich one in his lowliness, for he will pass away “like the flower of the field.” 11 For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries up the grass, its flower droops, and the beauty of its appearance vanishes. So will the rich person fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
12 Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him.
13 No one experiencing temptation should say, “I am being tempted by God”;
for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.
14 Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: 17 all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. 18 He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
19 Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, 20 for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.
22 Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. 24 He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with respect of persons.
2 For if there shall come into your assembly a man having a golden ring, in fine apparel, and there shall come in also a poor man in mean attire,
3 And you have respect to him that is clothed with the fine apparel, and shall say to him: Sit thou here well; but say to the poor man: Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool:
4 Do you not judge within yourselves, and are become judges of unjust thoughts?
5 Hearken, my dearest brethren: hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him?
6 But you have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you by might? and do not they draw you before the judgment seats?
7 Do not they blaspheme the good name that is invoked upon you?
8 If then you fulfill the royal law, according to the scriptures, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; you do well.
9 But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, being reproved by the law as transgressors. 10 And whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, said also, Thou shalt not kill. Now if thou do not commit adultery, but shalt kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak ye, and so do, as being to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy. And mercy exalteth itself above judgment.
14 What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?
15 And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food:
16 And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?
17 So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.
18 But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith. 19 Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God,
and it was reputed to him to justice,
and he was called the friend of God.
24 Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only?
25 And in like manner also Rahab the harlot, was not she justified by works, receiving the messengers, and sending them out another way?
26 For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.
1 Be ye not many masters, my brethren, knowing that you receive the greater judgment.
2 For in many things we all offend. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man. He is able also with a bridle to lead about the whole body.
3 For if we put bits into the mouths of horses, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body.
4 Behold also ships, whereas they are great, and are driven by strong winds, yet are they turned about with a small helm,
whithersoever the force of the governor willeth.
5 Even so the tongue is indeed a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how small a fire kindleth a great wood. 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is placed among our members, which defileth the whole body, and inflameth the wheel of our nativity, being set on fire by hell. 7 For every nature of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of the rest, is tamed, and hath been tamed, by the nature of man: 8 But the tongue no man can tame, an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison.
9 By it we bless God and the Father: and by it we curse men, who are made after the likeness of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth, out of the same hole, sweet and bitter water? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear grapes; or the vine, figs? So neither can the salt water yield sweet.
13 Who is a wise man and imbued with knowledge among you? Let him shew, by a good conversation, his work in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter zeal, and there be contentions in your hearts; glory not, and be not liars against the truth. 15 For this is not wisdom, descending from above: but earthly, sensual, devilish. 16 For where envying and contention is, there is inconstancy, and every evil work. 17 But the wisdom, that is from above, first indeed is chaste, then peaceable, modest, easy to be persuaded, consenting to the good, full of mercy and good fruits, without judging, without dissimulation. 18 And the fruit of justice is sown in peace, to them that make peace.
1 From whence are wars and contentions among you? Are they not hence, from your concupiscences, which war in your members? 2 You covet, and have not: you kill, and envy, and can not obtain. You contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not. 3 You ask, and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences. 4 Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the scripture saith in vain: To envy doth the spirit covet which dwelleth in you? 6 But he giveth greater grace. Wherefore he saith: God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
7 Be subject therefore to God, but resist the devil, and he will fly from you.
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.
Cleanse your hands, ye sinners: and purify your hearts, ye double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into sorrow. 10 Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you. 11 Detract not one another, my brethren. He that detracteth his brother, or he that judgeth his brother, detracteth the law, and judgeth the law. But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver, and judge, that is able to destroy and to deliver.
13 But who art thou that judgest thy neighbour? Behold, now you that say: Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year, and will traffic, and make our gain. 14 Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. 15 For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that. 16 But now you rejoice in your arrogancies. All such rejoicing is wicked. 17 To him therefore who knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin.
1 Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. 2 Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, 3 your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. 4 Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not complain, brothers, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. 10 Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of the perseverance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, because “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,” that you may not incur condemnation.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise.
14 Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church,
and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord,
15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up.
If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. 17 Elijah was a human being like us; yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain upon the land. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the earth produced its fruit.
19 My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back,
20 he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way
will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.