The Argument of James

That the authority of this Epistle hath been questioned by some anciently, appears plainly by Eusebius and Jerome, who speak suspiciously of it; and that it hath been denied by some more lately, is no less clear (to say nothing of Cajetan and Erasmus) in Luther, who (though in his after-writings he was more modest) at first spoke slightly of it; and some of his more early followers were of his mind.  But as for the ancients, (admitting the two forementioned authors wrote their own sense, and not, as some think, and their words cited by Brochmand[1] and others may well import, the opinion of other men,) why should not this Epistle, being unquestionably received by most of the fathers and primitive Christians before Eusebius or Jerome were born, and many councils, be more effectual to prove its being canonical, than the doubts of a few to persuade us to the contrary?  What do we find in it disagreeable to the doctrine of the gospel, unbecoming the style of an apostle, or the Holy Ghost’s inditing?  Hath it not the same majesty, purity, spirituality, efficacy, and power on men’s consciences, that other Scriptures have?  To Cajetan and Erasmus we oppose the universality, not only of protestants, but of papists themselves; and to Luther all the modern Lutherans, who now generally receive it.  That which drew Luther himself to reject it (to speak a little of that as being of weight) was, partly the seeming difference between James and Paul in the point of justification, which will be spoken to in James 2; and partly his speaking nothing (though he wrote to Christians) of the death, or merits, or resurrection of Christ, etc.  Whereas, indeed, though he is more sparing in handling evangelical doctrines, yet several he toucheth upon:  what doth he mean but the gospel of Christ by the ingrafted word, James 1:21, and law of liberty, James 1:25?  And who doth he understand by the judge, James 5:9, but Christ?  And whose coming doth he speak of, James 5:7, but Christ’s?  And how expressly doth he mention the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ! James 2:1.  But the truth is, the persons for whom this Epistle seems designed, and the scope of the writer, call for such a way of writing, as here we have.  He bends himself mainly against a licentious, sensual sort of professors, who boasted of the name of faith, but wanted the thing, and (being rather libertines than saints) blemished the Christian profession with unsuitable practice.  These he takes upon him to correct, and evinceth their faith and religion (being barren of good works) to be vain.  It was not therefore necessary he should so largely insist upon the doctrine of faith, when his chief design was to reform manners.  Paul having many times to do with men of Pharisaical spirits, or such as were difficultly weaned from Judaism, and an opinion of self-righteousness, makes it his business to settle the doctrine of grace, and justification by faith; and why may not James, having to do with those who (probably, and as Austin thinks, misunderstanding Paul) abused the doctrine of grace, and turned it into an occasion of licentiousness, be allowed to tax that abuse, and insist the more fully on matters of practice, and press them to live up to their faith, and bring forth fruits answerable to that holy truth they had received?[2]  Remedies must be suited to diseases:  there is as little need to urge a Solifidian[3] to rely on grace of which he already presumes, as to persuade a Pharisee of the necessity of good works, upon which of himself he lays but too much stress.

But as the authority of this Epistle hath been questioned formerly, though with little reason, so the penman of it is still doubted of, perhaps with more.  However, this question is less material; we need not be over solicitous to know what amanuensis the Spirit of God made use of in penning it, so long as we find the impress of God upon it.  It is certain that this James was not the son of Zebedee, whom Herod had beheaded (if chronology fail not) before the writing of this Epistle, Acts 12:1, 2.  It is not certain that there were three Jameses, two of them apostles, and the third (called Oblias, and James the Just) one of the seventy disciples; the Scripture mentioning but two, one the son of Zebedee, the other of Alpheus, called the brother of the Lord, Galatians 1:19, as being of kin to his family; and said to be a pillar, Galatians 2:9, and joined with Peter and John.  And though some have thought the James there mentioned to have been the third James, called Oblias, and one of the seventy; yet it is more probable that he was indeed no other than the son of Alpheus, and one of the twelve:  nor is it likely, that one of the disciples should be numbered as one of the three pillars, and therein preferred above so many apostles.  This James, therefore, upon the whole, I take to be the penman of this Epistle; and his not calling himself an apostle, need not be objected against his being so, when he doth no more in omitting it than Paul doth in four of his Epistles, viz. to the Philippians, both to the Thessalonians, and that to Philemon.

Why this Epistle is called general is much questioned, and a satisfactory reason not easily given.  Some think, because it is not inscribed to any particular church or person, as Paul’s are.  But then why are the two latter Epistles of John reckoned among the catholic or general ones, though directed to particular persons, and that to the Hebrews not counted among them, though it have no such particular inscription?  Others think, that this and the six other were called catholic, upon their catholic or general reception and approbation among the churches, in opposition to the Epistles of Barnabas,[4] Ignatius,[5] Clemens,[6] etc., which never were received as any part of the canon.  These are the best reasons of this title I meet with; which is the more probable, let the reader judge.

The matter of this Epistle is, in a manner, wholly practical, but very various; though chiefly, either corrective of the vices and abuses which had crept into the conversations of professors; or monitory and hortatory, partly to awaken the drowsy among them out of their stupidness and security, and stir them up to the practice of their neglected duty, (to which he points them particularly, by minding them of approaching judgment,) and partly to persuade sincere and humble believers to patience under tribulations and oppressions, by propounding unto them suitable encouragements for their support and consolation in such a condition.  Many excellent and useful truths are promiscuously laid down throughout the whole, which cannot easily be reduced to any certain method, but will be severally spoken to in the respective places where they occur.

[1] Jesper Rasmussen Brochmand (1585-1652) was a Lutheran apologist and theologian.  He served as Professor of Theology at Copenhagen (1615-1639).

[2] Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20; Ephesians 4:1.

[3] That is, one who maintains justification by faith alone.  Here used as a synonym for “antinomian”.

[4] The Epistle of Barnabas was written by an unknown Christian teacher in the fourth century, making it certain that it was not written by Barnabas, the companion of Paul.  It was received by some churches as Scripture.

[5] Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch and martyr of Jesus Christ in the early second century.  His epistles have always been of great interest and highly regarded in the Church.

[6] Clement of Rome (died c. 100) was an early bishop of Rome.  His Epistle to the Corinthians was read in some of the churches with the canonical Scriptures.

Prolegomena to James

[It is to be inquired concerning the Authority of this Epistle:]  Some deny it, like Luther, and after him Hunnius and the Centuriators,[1] and also Cajetan[2] (Gomar[3]).  Others doubt of it, but of its Author, rather than of its Authority (Vorstius[4]).  The arguments with which they assail this Epistle are slight (Gomar).  [There are two that stand:  for the rest are plainly futile:]  1.  from the disagreement with Paul, which is to be discussed in its place.  2.  From the uncertainty of the Ancients (Gomar, Pareus[5]).  Eusebius[6] says, Not many of the ancients make mention of it; therefore, he does witness that some gave heed to it, which is to be more highly esteemed than the silence of others, by which silence, rather, as tacit consent, the express testimony of those certain ones is confirmed; and Eusebius adds that this is read with the other Catholic Epistles publicly in a great many Churches.[7]  Jerome thus writes, This epistle, published by some other under his [James’] name, is asserted, although it obtained authority gradually, as time was proceeding[8] (Gomar).  But if those two Fathers held it suspect, nevertheless many earlier and later received it as Canonical, like Cyprian[9] in his Exposition of the Symbol,[10] Origen[11] in his Homilies on Joshua, Athanasius[12] in his Synopsis, Epiphanius[13] in his Against Heresies 3:76, Augustine in Epistle 29 to Jerome.  Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History 3:25, enumerates three canons for discerning Apocryphal books:  1.  if the Ancients made no mention of them:  2.  if [either] in style; or, 3.  in faith, they differ from the Apostolic books.  Of these κριτήρια/criteria the latter two, which are proper and internal, were not formerly discussed here, but the first only.  Which as a sole cause was not at all sufficient to reject it, since no one is named that repudiated it; but the others, who had received it before Eusebius and Jerome, were able to be lost (Pareus).  [Also, this epistle of James was enumerated among the other Canonical books by Melito, that most famous Bishop of Sardis, who flourished in the year 170 AD, a contemporary of Polycarp, who set out for the primeval and most celebrated Churches in the East, etc., so that he might inquire into their opinion concerning the Canonical books, etc.  Then, from the Council of Laodicea,[14] the Council of Carthage,[15] and others, concerning which see what is agreeable to the Reverend John Rainolds[16] Concerning the Apocryphal Books[17] 34, etc.  Let us now consider of the Author of this Epistle; who then is this James?]  Among the Apostles there were two James, the Greater, who was the son of Zebedee, and the brother of John; and the Lesser, who was the son of Alphæus, and brother of Jude.  See Matthew 10:3; Mark 15:40; Jude 1 (Laurentius[18]).  To these, others add a third, called the Just, and brother of the Lord, Galatians 1:19 (Laurentius, Hammond[19]), that is, a cousin of the Lord, as a son of Cleophas, the uncle of Christ (Hammond), and of Mary, sister of the mother of the Lord[20] (Erasmus[21] in Laurentius); this James was on one of the seventy-two Disciples[22] (Laurentius).  He was the Bishop of Jerusalem (Hammond, Erasmus in Laurentius).  [At this point, therefore, they vary:]  1.  He was James, the son of Zebedee (certain interpreters in Gomar, Isidore[23] in Laurentius).  Thus the Syrian translator (Grotius,[24] Gomar, Pareus), who made an inscription for these and the following Epistles (Grotius).  Which opinion is opposed, both, 1.  by the time of his life (Gomar).  For he, as we learn in Acts 12, he was killed before the Gospel had advanced itself much beyond Judea (Grotius, similarly Gomar, Piscator[25]).  But this Epistle was written when the Gospel had been propagated far and wide, and Churches were gathered out of the Jews dispersed among them, James 1:1, and the elders were eminent in gifts of miracles, James 5:14.  And, 2.  by the matter of the composition, which concerns the reformation of manners, rather than the relating of the faith:  this shows that the Gospel had already been much and long confirmed (Gomar).  2.  He was James of Alphæus:  which is the common opinion (Laurentius).  But to me this is not probable:  for he would also have added the name of Apostle.  3.  He is the one that was appointed by the Apostles as the leader of the Presbytery of Jerusalem (Grotius, similarly Hammond), so that, with the Apostles making excursions here and there, as it happened, that assembly might have an eminent man, even to whom, on account of his extraordinary virtues, the name of the Just adhered, by whom it was guided.  Many believed that this James was called an Apostle, Galatians 1:19.  But we have shown that this does not at all follow from this passage (Grotius).  But, that he was not an Apostle, is openly declared by Hegesippus[26] and Clement[27] in Eusebius, Cyril, Jerome, and Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History 1:12 (Grotius, similarly Hammond).  Now, this James was called the brother of the Lord, because he was a son of Joseph τοῦ τέκτονος, the carpenter,[28] by a prior wife, as is indeed thought by Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, and certain others (Grotius).  But however things many stand concerning the Author, it is evident that the Epistle is θεόπνευστον/inspired, both from the very rational and quality of its doctrine, and from Ecclesiastical History (Vorstius).  [Thus far concerning the author.  It remains to be inquired concerning the Epistle’s occasion, scope, and argument.]  Its occasion is twofold, 1.  the persecution of tyrants, and the infidelity of the Jews:  2.  the hypocrisy of those abusing the grace of God.  Its scope and end is consolation in the adversities and amendment of life (Gomar).  The Epistle is almost all νουθετικὴ/nouthetic, containing various admonitions (Piscator).  He fortifies the pious against temptations and calamities.  He foretells the evils threatening the unbelieving, etc. (Hammond).  Now, this Epistle is called Catholic, or universal (Beza[29]), that is, ἐγκύκλιος, a circular, [because] not, like those of Paul, addressed to one Church (Grotius), man, city, or region (Beza); but in many copies sent into many places, so that thence also other copies might be made and sent elsewhere (Grotius).

[1] The Magdeburg Centuries is an ecclesiastical history covering the first one thousand and three hundred years of the Church, which was compiled by certain Lutheran scholars in Magdeburg, known as the Centuriators of Magdeburg, led by Matthias Flacius Illyricus.  It is a pioneering work in ecclesiastical history, which aims to show the substantial uniformity of the faith of God’s people throughout the centuries, while tracing the parallel development of Antichristian Romanism.

[2] Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534) was an Italian cardinal and one of the more able opponents of the Reformation.  He wrote commentaries upon most of the books of the Bible.

[3] Francis Gomar (1569-1641), as Professor of Divinity at Leiden (1594), was a colleague and opponent of Jacob Arminius.  After the Arminian conflict, he held a variety of academic posts.  He wrote Analysis et Explicatio Epistolarum et Quinque Priorum Capitum Apocalypseos.

[4] Conradus Vorstius (1569-1622) was a Dutch Arminian, condemned by the Synod of Dort and banished.  It is reported that he openly embraced Socinianism at the end of his life.  He wrote Commentarius in Omnes Epistolas Apostolicas, Exceptis Secunda ad Timotheum, ad Titum, ad Philemonem et ad Hebræos.

[5] David Pareus (1548-1622) was a Calvinist, serving the Reformed Church as a minister, churchman, and professor.  He wrote a commentary on the whole Bible, and it was held in high estimation among the Reformed.  His Commentarius in Epistolam ad Romanos was burned publicly at Oxford and Cambridge in 1622 by order of the Privy Council of James I because of his comments on Romans 13 in which he upholds the right of resistance to tyranny.

[6] Eusebius (c. 267-338) was Bishop of Cæsarea, author of that famous Ecclesiastical History, and supporter of Constantine the Great.

[7] Ecclesiastical History 2:23.

[8] Illustrious Men 2.

[9] Cyprian (died 258) served as Bishop of Carthage.  He is noted for his refusal to readmit into the Church those who had “lapsed” under persecution.

[10] The Exposition of the Symbol is found among the works of Cyprian, but is properly ascribed to Rufinus.  Rufinus was a fourth century churchman, a friend of Jerome turned foe, a commentator, and a monastery builder.  He was responsible for the translation of much material of Greek Patristics into Latin.

[11] Origen (c. 185-c. 254) succeeded Clement of Alexandria as the head of the catechetical school in Alexandria.  He was perhaps the greatest scholar of his age.

[12] Athanasius (c. 298-373) was bishop of Alexandria, and a great defender of Nicean orthodoxy.

[13] The profound erudition of Epiphanius (c. 310-403) led to his installation as Bishop of Salamis.  He was something of a heresy hunter, combating Apollinaris, the disciples of Origen, and even at one point Chrysostom.

[14] The Council of Laodicea (363-364) was a regional synod, composed of about thirty members.  This Council restricted the readings in the church to the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.  Although the genuineness of Canon 60 has been questioned by some, it specifies the Epistle of James as included in the New Testament.

[15] The Third Council of Carthage (397) issued a canon on the Scripture, which specified the Epistle of James as included.

[16] John Rainolds (1549-1607) was a Puritan scholar and churchman.  He was a leading representative of the Puritan Party at the Hampton Court Conference, and participant in the production of the King James Version.

[17] Censura Librorum Apocryphorum Veteris Testamenti.

[18] Jacob Laurentius (1585-1644) was a Dutch Reformed minister.  He wrote Epistola Jacobi, Perpetuo Commentario Explicata.

[19] Henry Hammond (1605-1660), a learned divine, served the Church of England as Rector of Penshurst, Kent (1633), Archdeacon of Chichester (1643), Canon of Christ Church, Oxford (1645), and Sub-dean (1648).  He was invited to sit in the Assembly at Westminister, but he participated instead in the rising at Tunbridge and other efforts in support of Charles I.  He remained a loyal Royalist and Anglican until the day of his death.  He wrote A Paraphrase and Annotations upon the New Testament, briefly Explaining All the Difficult Parts Thereof.

[20] See John 19:25.

[21] Desiderius Erasmus (1467-1536) was a Dutch humanist, a classical scholar, and a Roman Catholic theologian.  Although he never left the Roman Church, he sought the reformation of its corruptions, and he contributed greatly to the Reformation through the production of his various editions of the Greek New Testament and his Annotationes in Novum Testamentum.  He was certainly one of the greatest and most influential scholars of his time.

[22] See Luke 10.

[23] Isidore (c. 560-636) was Archbishop of Seville and a bright and shining light of learning in the intellectual darkness of his age.  He presided over the Second Council of Seville (619), which ruled against Arianism, and the Fourth Council of Toledo, which required bishops to establish seminaries in their principal cities.

[24] Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) distinguished himself in the field of international law, but he was interested in many fields of learning, including Christian apologetics, theology, and Biblical criticism and exegesis.  His exegetical talents are displayed in his Annotationes in Vetus et Novum Testamentum.  His dual interest in international law and theology caused him to run afoul of civil authorities:  Embracing Arminian doctrine, he was imprisoned from 1618-1621 after the Synod of Dort declared against the position.

[25] John Piscator (1546-1626) was a learned Protestant divine.  He held the position of Professor of Divinity at Herborn (1584).  His German version was the first, complete and independent, since that of Martin Luther.  Through his career, his views changed from those of the Lutherans to those of the Calvinists, and from those of the Calvinists to those of the Arminians.  He remains widely regarded for his abilities as a commentator (Commentarii in Omnes Libros Veteris et Novi Testamenti).

[26] Hegesippus (d. 180) was a Jewish convert to Christianity.  He wrote an ecclesiastical history, which survives only in fragments, and De Bello Judaico et Urbis Hierosolymitanæ Excidio Libri Quique.

[27] Hypotyposes 5.  Titus Flavius Clemens Alexandrinus (died c. 215) was the head of the Christian catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt.  He was trained in pagan philosophy before his conversion to Christianity.

[28] See Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3.

[29] Theodore Beza (1519-1605) served as Rector of the Academy and Professor of Theology in Geneva.  He was the colleague, then successor, of Calvin.  He issued a Greek New Testament, and later published his Annotationes in Novum Testamentum.  He authored notable theological works, such as Tractationes Theologicæ and Summa Totius Christianismi, as well as poems and contributions to the Huguenot metrical psalter of Clement Marot.