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On the whole, considering the marked absence from the epistle of anything like developed Christian doctrine, the continued expectation which it exhibits of Christ's speedy coming to judge the world (v. 8), and the applica tion of the term Synagogue to an assembly of Christian worshippers (ii. 2), we are justified in assigning to the epistle a very early date-say 44-49 A.D. If this supposition be correct, we have here the oldest book of the New Testament.
4. Character and Contents.-This epistle is less doctrinal or theological than any other in the New Testament. It partakes largely of the ethical character of the Sermon on the Mount, which it resembles, not only in its general tone and sentiment, but in many of its expressions. Its tone is eminently practical, the object of the writer being to inculcate Christian morality as essential to salvation (e.g. ii. 14-26). But it gives a prominent place to faith and patience (e.g. i. 2-12), and includes in its good works the careful ruling of the tongue (iii. 1-12). It also dwells much on the wisdom 2 which should characterise the religious man (e.g. iii. 13-18), and refers in detail to many other forms of duty-Christian practice being to the writer the highest form of outward worship (i. 27). The style of the epistle is sententious and forcible, passing swiftly, and sometimes without any apparent logical connection, from one topic to another, and it has about it not a little of the vehemence and fervour of the old prophets. James does not hesitate to denounce in very strong and plain terms, which savour,
1 Cf. i. 2 and Matt. v. 10-12; i. 4 and Matt. v. 48; i. 5 and Matt. vii. 7-12; i. 20 and Matt. v. 22; ii. 13 and Matt. vi. 14, 15; ii. 14 and Matt. vii. 21-23; iv. 4 and Matt. vi. 24; iv. 10 and Matt. v. 3, 4 ; iv. 11 and Matt. vii. 1-5; v. 2 and Matt. vi. 19; v. 10 and Matt. v. 12; v. 12 and Matt. v. 34-37.
2 Hence James has been called "the Apostle of Wisdom"; and the designation given to him in the Greek liturgy is that of "James the Wise."
in some respects, of the language of Amos,1 the greed and cruelty of the rich, the servility of the poor, and the general vanity, strife, hypocrisy, and worldly-mindedness which were characteristic of the Jews at this period of their history, and had begun to infect the Christians in their midst.
He insists on character as the test of true religion, and demands that a man shall show the reality of his faith by his life and conduct. In his protests against an empty profession of religion, he is led into the use of language which has sometimes been supposed (by Luther, for example) to be irreconcilably at variance with the teaching of Paul. But in reality there is no such inconsistency between them.
The good works which James contends for are altogether different from the ritualistic observances which Paul refused to acknowledge as necessary for salvation; the justification he has in view in this epistle is not the initial admission into the Divine favour which Paul's Gentile converts needed, but the continuance of God's people in a state of grace to which they are already called; while the faith which he depreciates is not that personal union with the Lord Jesus Christ which Paul declared to be all-important for the Christian, but mere intellectual belief, such as the acceptance of the monotheistic doctrine (ii. 19) that lay at the foundation of the Jewish faith. No one can read Romans ii. 17-24 without seeing that Paul would have concurred most heartily in all that this epistle says about the necessity for carrying religion into practice.
1 Cf. iv. 13, v. 1, 2 and Amos viii. 5, 10; v. 5 and Amos vi. 1-6. 2 It may have been the language of James ii. 10 that gave colour to the misrepresentations referred to in Acts xv. 24.
1. Authorship. There is abundant evidence to prove that this epistle emanated from the apostle whose name it bears. Hardly any book of the New Testament is better supported by external evidence (extending as far back as the writings of Polycarp in the early part of the second century), while internally it bears in many of its features the stamp of Peter's mind, and the traces of his experience, as these are represented to us in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts.
From these sources we learn that the apostle was originally called “ Simon, the son of John," and that
he was a fisherman of Bethsaida before he attached himself to Jesus. With his brother Andrew, who brought him to Jesus, he was a disciple of John the Baptist before finding the Messiah. At His very first interview with the new disciple, Jesus discerned his great capacity for rendering service to His cause, and gave him a prophetic token of the part he was to play in the early history of His Church by conferring on him the new name of Cephas (in Greek, Peter, meaning rock or stone), (John i. 40-42). The significance of the name was more fully unfolded at a later time on the occasion of Peter's great confession of Jesus as the Christ (Matt. xvi. 13-19).
Like John and James, Peter was admitted to a closer fellowship with his Master than the rest of the disciples (Mark v. 37; Matt. xvii. 1; xxvi. 37, cf. Mark iii. 16, 17). In company with John he was a witness of Christ's trial in the high priest's palace, where he fell into the threefold denial of his Master-to be bitterly repented of immediately afterwards (Matt. xxvi. 69-75; Mark xiv. 66-72; Luke xxii. 54-62; John xviii. 15-27). On the third day after the crucifixion the same disciples went together early in the morning to the tomb and found it empty, as Mary Magdalene had told them. The new faith which then sprang up in Peter's heart was confirmed by several interviews granted to him by the risen Christ, who gave him a new commission, thrice uttered, to devote himself to the interests of his Master's flock, and predicted that he would die a martyr's death (John xx. 1-10, 19; Luke xxiv. 33, 34; 1 Cor. xv. 5; John xxi.).
In the Book of Acts we find Peter acting as the leader and spokesman of the early Church at several crises in its history, viz. the election of an apostle in place of the betrayer; the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; the admission of the Gentiles, in the person of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, to the communion of the Church; and the emancipation of the Gentile converts from the bondage of the Jewish law at the Council of Jerusalem, 50 A.D. (Acts i. 15-26; ii. 1-42; x.; xv. 6-11). It appears that some time afterwards Peter was guilty of vacillation in his relations. with Gentile Christians at Antioch-reminding us of his earlier weakness,which called forth a public remonstrance from the apostle of the Gentiles (Gal. ii. 11-14).
Regarding Peter's subsequent life scarcely any information is furnished by the New Testament; but there is an ancient and general tradition that he suffered martyrdom at Rome. Many legends have gathered
round his imprisonment, death, and burial. The lack of evidence for these need not prevent us from acquiescing in the general belief of the early Church that it was at Rome Peter suffered the death by martyrdom which had been predicted by his Lord. This is contradicted by no other ancient tradition of the Church, and we have some confirmation of it in this epistle (see p. 167).
In illustration of the remark already made as to the harmony of this epistle with Peter's experience and character, we may note the following points. (1) The writer claims to have been "a witness of the sufferings of Christ" (v. 1), and retains a vivid impression of them, as shown in his description of Christ's patience (ii. 20-24) and the frequency of his allusions to the subject. (2) He gives prominence to Christ's resurrection, and represents it as the source of a new and living hope (i. 3, 4, 21 ; iii. 20, 21), which had been precisely Peter's experience. (3) He dwells upon the pastoral aspect of Christ's ministry (ii. 25; v. 2-4) as if under an abiding sense of the responsibility laid upon him by his Master's threefold charge to act the part of a shepherd to His flock. (4) He enlarges on the idea embodied in Peter's name, representing the Church as "a spiritual house" composed of living stones, with Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone (ii. 4-8)—an idea to which he had already given expression in his address to the Sanhedrim (Acts iv. 11, 12), after the example of his Lord-both quoting from the Old Testament (Matt. xxi. 42). (5) His injunction to his readers, "all of you gird yourselves with humility" (literally, "put on humility like a slave's apron," v. 5), sounds like a reminiscence of the Saviour's action which so astonished Peter when "he took a towel and girded himself" in order to wash His disciples' feet, saying, when He had finished, "I have given you an example that ye also should do as I have done to you" (John xiii. 2-17).