New Testament Lesson 47 (James)
November 13–19


Who Is this James?

● There were three men named James in Church leadership:

— James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee who was a member of the First Presidency.
— James, the son of Alphaeus, an Apostle concerning whom we know very little.
— James, the son of Joseph and Mary, and half-brother of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Who Wrote the Epistle of James?

— It cannot be James the brother of John and son of Zebedee; he was “killed with the sword” (beheaded) by Herod in AD 44, five or six years before the great Jerusalem council.

— It is unlikely that it was James, the son of Alphaeus, about whom we have little information.

— Therefore, scholars believe that this James was the Lord’s brother, who presided over the Church in the Jerusalem area until his own martyrdom. (Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13–20).

The World’s Confusion about James

● The Apostle Paul called him “the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19).

— The Catholic church teaches that Mary had no other children after Jesus, because to have done so would defile her.

— They insist that “brother of the Lord” would mean “cousin” or some other non-sibling relationship.

— Others teach that James was a “step-brother”—the son of Joseph (by a previous marriage) but not of Mary.

— And those who do not believe that Jesus was divine say that James was simply Jesus’ full brother, and that both of them were children of Joseph and Mary.


The Martyrdom of James

— The historian Josephus says that James, the leader at Jerusalem, was taken before the Sanhedrin, sentenced to death, and executed by being tossed from a Temple tower and then stoned to death in AD 62.

— A recent discovery of a bone ossuary bearing the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” has created some controversy about whether Jesus Christ had a brother named James.

When and Where Was the Epistle of James Written?

● James gives no clues concerning the date or location of the epistle.

— Many assume that it was written from Jerusalem, since that is where James resided.
— The tone of the letter (e.g., no mention of the Jewish-gentile controversy) suggests that it was written early in the Church’s history, perhaps around AD 50 or 51.
— If this is true, it would be one of the earliest of the New Testament epistles.

Why Was the Epistle of James Written?

● James addresses the letter to the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (James 1:1).

— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: James—religious by nature; schooled in the strict Judaism of the day; converted after our Lord’s resurrection; and said to have died a martyr’s death—took upon himself the awesome responsibility to write an epistle to the Saints in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Paul wrote to the Saints of his own day. . . . But James addressed himself to those of the twelve scattered tribes of Israel who belonged to the Church; that is, to a people yet to be gathered, yet to receive the gospel, yet to come into the fold of Christ.”1 This means he wrote to us in our day.

What Are the Most Significant Contributions of the Epistle of James?

● James was the younger half-brother of Jesus, so he knew the Master as intimately as anyone.

● Later in life, James was also a witness of the resurrected Christ, who visited him.

● The epistle of James is a general letter—not sent to a specific Church branch but to all Saints. This generality is reflected by the lack of personal references, personal greetings, or mention of any items of news that are so typical in the letters of Paul. The introduction is very brief, and there is no formal closing.

● James teaches that we must demonstrate our faith in our day-to-day lives.

— He teaches that the essence of pure religion is found in very practical, down-to-earth activities.

— Religion, he teaches, is what we do because of testimony and love.

— President David O. McKay said: “There is no one great thing that we can do to obtain eternal life, and . . . the great lesson to be learned . . . is to apply in the little acts and duties of life the glorious principles of the Gospel. . . Life after all, is made up of little things. . . . the true Christian life is made up of little Christ-like acts performed this hour, this minute, in the home, in the quorum, in the organization, in the town, wherever our life and acts may be cast.”2


How to Obtain Wisdom

● If we lack wisdom we can ask God for help (James 1:5).

● We must ask in faith and not waver (James 1:6–7).

The Impact of James’ Teachings

● Martin Luther said: “The epistle of James is an”epistle full of straw, because it contains nothing of the gospel.”3

● Joseph Smith said: “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again.”4

— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “This single verse of scripture [James 1:5] has had a greater impact and a more far reaching effect upon mankind than any other single sentence ever recorded by any prophet in any age. It might well be said that the crowning act of the ministry of James was not his martyrdom for the testimony of Jesus, but his recitation, as guided by the Holy Ghost, of these simple words which led to the opening of the heavens in modern times. “And it might well be added that every investigator of revealed truth stands, at some time in the course of his search, in the place where Joseph Smith stood. He must turn to the Almighty and gain wisdom from God by revelation if he is to gain a place on that strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”5


Enduring Affliction Patiently

● Our faith is tried through affliction and trials (James 1:2–4).
— Footnote 2a: The Joseph Smith Translation changes the phrase “divers temptations” to “many afflictions.”

● The rich should rejoice in being made low (James 1:9–11).

— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Let wealthy Saints who are stripped of their goods because of their allegiance to the gospel also rejoice, for worldly riches are fleeting and not to be compared with the riches of eternity. Or, let them rejoice when, through trials, they become lowly in spirit and no longer trust in those things which wither and die in the day’s heat.”6

— Tribulation produces patience, experience, and hope (Romans 5:3–5).
— Without suffering we cannot be made perfect (JST Heb. 11:40).
— The Lord’s people must be tried in all things (D&C 136:31).
— The Lord will prove us in all things, that we may be found worthy (D&C 98:12–14).
— Those who will not endure chastening cannot be sanctified (D&C 101:4–5).

● Examples of patience in affliction: (James 5:7–11)
— Abraham and Isaac.
— The widow of Zeraphath.
— The woman with an issue of blood.

● The promise: God will support us in our trials (Alma 36:3).

Avoiding Temptation

● The process and source of temptation (James 1:12–17).
— The JST changes “endureth” to “resisteth” (footnote 12b) (v. 12).
— God does not tempt us, but he permits us to be tempted (v. 13).
— We are tempted when we choose to follow after evil things (v. 14).

— The word translated “drawn away” was used in hunting and describes what hunters do—lure wild game out of safety and into the open.

— The word translated “entice” is from fishing, meaning “catch with bait”

● All good things come from God (James 1:17).


● Martin Luther’s view: We are justified freely by the grace of Christ (Romans 3:23–24).

● Nephi’s view: We are saved by grace after doing all that we can do (2 Nephi 25:23).

● We must be more than “hearers only” of the word (James 1:22–25).

● Faith without works is dead; we show our faith through our works (James 2:14–20).
— Note the changes in the JST which provide further light on this topic.

● We are saved by the grace of Christ, but will be judged by our works (3 Nephi 27:14–15).

● “In the final analysis, our works (our thoughts, feelings, and actions) identify the object or objects of our faith.”7


Bridling Our Tongues

● We must control our emotions and “bridle” our tongues (James 1:26).

● We should be “swift to hear,” “slow to speak,” and “slow to wrath” (James 1:19–20).

● Metaphors for the tongue: (James 3:3–8)
— The bit in a horse’s mouth that controls the horse (v. 4).
— The helm of a ship that steers the ship.
— “How great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (v. 5). The word translated as “matter” here is “wood.” In other words, “How great a forest fire a tiny spark can start.”

● Blessing and cursing with the same tongue (James 3:9–13).

● Envy is resentment over the good fortune of others (James 3:14–16).

● Strife is contention for superiority.

● These are characteristics of Satan (Moses 4:1) and come from him.

● Controlling our tongues leads to peace (James 3:17–18).

● Gossip is a form of unrighteous judgment, and we should leave judgment to God (James 4:11–12).

— President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Lies and gossip which harm reputations are scattered about by the four winds like the seeds of a ripe dandelion held aloft by a child. The degree and extent of the harm done by the gossip is inestimable.”8


Pure Religion

● James defined pure religion (James 1:27).

● The requirements of “keeping the faith” (Alma 34:27–28).

● King Benjamin’s teachings on this subject (Mosiah 4:26–28).

— George Q. Cannon said: “I sometimes think that we, as Latter-day Saints, come short of doing that which is incumbent upon us. We allow our religion to be too theoretical, and do not practice it to the extent that is required by the teachings of the Gospel.”9

● The Definition of Sin: “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not” (James 4:17).

— Elder Orson F. Whitney said: “Sin is the transgression of divine law, as made known through the conscience or by revelation. A man sins when he violates his conscience, going contrary to light and knowledge—not the light and knowledge that has come to his neighbor, but that which has come to himself. He sins when he does the opposite of what he knows to be right. Up to that point he only blunders. One may suffer painful consequences for only blundering, but he cannot commit sin unless he knows better than to do the thing in which the sin consists. One must have a conscience before he can violate it.”10

Avoiding Double-Mindedness

● To be “double-minded” is to try to “have it both ways” spiritually (James 1:6–8). The faith of such persons will not be stable or sufficient.

● Making the choice to serve God rather than Satan (James 4:4–10).
— What is a “friend of the world?” (v. 4).
— If we resist Satan, he will flee from us (as will those who follow him) (v. 7).
— If we draw near unto God, he will draw near unto us in return (v. 8).

Living Together in Faith

● If we are sad, we should pray for relief (James 5:13).
● If we are happy, we should sing songs of praise to God.
● If we are sick, we should seek a priesthood anointing and blessing (James 5:14–15).

● We should pray for each other (James 5:16–18). It really does make a difference.

● When we save another person, our own sins are forgiven too (James 5:19–20). The same is true about bearing our testimonies (D&C 62:3).

— President Spencer W. Kimball said: “James indicated that each good deed, each testimony, each proselyting effort, each safeguard thrown about others is like a blanket over one’s own sins or like a deposit against an overdraft in the bank.”11

— President Spencer W. Kimball also said: “Every person who is beginning the long journey of emancipating himself from the thralldom of sin and evil will find comfort in the thought expressed by James. We could expand it somewhat and remind the transgressor that every testimony he bears, every prayer he offers, every sermon he preaches, every scripture he reads, every help he gives to stimulate and raise others—all these strengthen him and raise him to higher levels. . . . Thus as we become instruments in God’s hands in changing the lives of others our own lives cannot help being lifted. One can hardly help another to the top of the hill without climbing there himself.”12


The fruits of adversity.

— Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God.”13

— Elder Boyd K. Packer said: “Some are tested by poor health, some by a body that is deformed or homely. Others are tested by handsome and healthy bodies; some by the passion of youth; others by the erosions of old age. Some suffer disappointment in marriage, family problems; others live in poverty and obscurity. Some (perhaps this is the hardest test) find ease and luxury. All are part of the test, and there is more equality in this testing than sometimes we suspect.”14

Keeping sacred confidences. Sacred experiences should not generally be shared (D&C 63:64; 84:73).

— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us, is because we do not keep them but reveal them; we do not keep our own secrets, but reveal our difficulties to the world, even to our enemies, then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord?”15

— President Brigham Young said: “That man who cannot know things without telling any other living being upon the earth, who cannot keep his secrets and those that God reveals to him, never can receive the voice of his Lord to dictate him and the people on this earth. . . . Should you receive a vision or revelation from the Almighty, one that the Lord gave you concerning yourselves, or this people, but which you are not to reveal on account of your not being the proper person, or because it ought not to be known by the people at present, you should shut it up and seal it as close, and lock it as tight as heaven is to you, and make it as secret as the grave. The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for He cannot safely reveal Himself to such persons.”16

— Elder Boyd K. Packer said: “It is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences. They are to be guarded with care and shared only when the Spirit itself prompts you to use them to the blessing of others. . .”17

— Elder Packer also taught: “A teacher must be wise also in the use of his own spiritual experiences. I have come to believe that deep spiritual experiences are given to individuals for the most part for their own instruction and edification, and they are not ordinarily to be talked about. . . . Sacred personal experiences are to be related only on rare occasions.”18

— Elder Marion G. Romney said: “I do not tell all I know. I have not told my wife all I know. I have found that if I tell everything I know and explain every experience that I have had, the Lord will not trust me.”19

Keeping ourselves “unspotted” from the world (D&C 59:9–13).

— President Brigham Young said: “If the . . . passage [“be ye therefore perfect”] . . . is not worded to our understanding, we can alter the phraseology of the sentence, and say: ‘Be ye perfect as ye can,’ for that is all we can do.”20

— Elder Albert E. Bowen said: “The Lord said, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). . . . It seems on its face a hard saying, and many have felt that it sets a task beyond all possibility of accomplishing, and there is no use trying; that it projects an ideal so utterly unrealistic as to make it of little value. . . . [But] it is not intended that we shall accomplish everything in this life. . . . We are expected to be progressive beings, growing toward our final destiny. But that principle in no way excuses us from doing the best we can or from acquiring all the knowledge that we have capacity and opportunity to assimilate as we go along.”21


1.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:243.
2.  In Conference Report, October 1914, 87–88.
3.  Dillenberger, Martin Luther [1961], 19.
4.   Joseph Smith–History 1:12.
5.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:246–247.
6.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:248.
7.  Robert L. Millet, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6, Acts to Revelation, 212.
8.  The Miracle of Forgiveness, 54.
9.  In Journal of Discourses, 20:288.
10. Saturday Night Thoughts, 239.
11. Faith Precedes the Miracle, [1972], 184.
12. The Miracle of Forgiveness, 205.
13. Quoted in President Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 98.
14. “The Choice,” Ensign, November 1980, 21.
15. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 195.
16. In Journal of Discourses, 4:287–288.
17. Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53.
18. Teach Ye Diligently [1975], 326.
19. Quoted by Boyd K. Packer, Church Employees Lecture Series, January 18, 1980.
20. In Journal of Discourses, 21:129.
21. In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 122–123.

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