What Is the Book of James About?

Book of James
Mary Fairchild

The book of James is a concise, how-to guide on being a Christian. Although some Christians interpret James as proving that good works play a role in our salvation, this letter actually says that good works are the fruit of our salvation and will attract non-believers to the faith.

Taming the Tongue

The book of James describes the tongue as "a restless evil, full of deadly poison" that no human can tame (James 3:8). It might be a small part of the body, but the tongue is capable of causing tremendous harm. Yet with God's help, our tongues can be used for good.

We can either build up with our tongue or tear down. What about you? Do you use your tongue to praise God and to lift up the church? Or do you criticize and destroy? Do you use your tongue as an instrument to encourage and help others, or to condemn?

Who Wrote the Book of James?

James, a major leader in the Jerusalem church, and the brother of Jesus Christ is the author of the book of James. He authored the book around 49 A.D., before the Jerusalem Council in 50 A.D. and before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

Written To

James' audience was the first century Jewish Christians scattered throughout the world as well as all future Bible readers.

Themes and Lessons

This letter on spiritual themes gives intensely practical and easy-to-understand advice for Christians everywhere, but especially for believers feeling pressure from society's influences, trials, and persecutions. James calls wandering Christians back to a place of obedience by weaving the teachings of Jesus into his own instructions.

The book of James shows us that faith which is alive is demonstrated by a believer's conduct. We should act out our faith in constructive ways. Trials will test every Christian. But James urges believers to face trials with stamina.

A trial in itself is not an occasion of joy but can result in joy because of the perseverance and stamina it creates in the life of a committed believer. We become mature in our faith by facing temptations head-on and conquering them with God's help.

Jesus commanded us to love one another. When we love our neighbors and serve them, we imitate Christ's servant character.

Our tongue can be used to build or destroy. We are responsible for our words and must choose them wisely. God will help us control our speech and our actions as well.

Our wealth, however much or little, should be used to advance the Kingdom of God. We should not favor the wealthy nor mistreat the poor. James tells us to follow the advice of Jesus and store up treasures in heaven, through charitable works. James reminds us that it's not enough to be hearers of the word only; we must be doers of it as well. 

Sometimes called “the Proverbs of the New Testament,” the book of James practically and faithfully reminds Christians how to live out their faith. It also calls Christians to demonstrate love actively to those inside and outside of the body of Christ.

Key Characters

The book of James is not a historical narrative detailing the acts of specific people, but a classical letter of advice to Christians and early churches.

Key Verses

James 1:22
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (NIV)

James 2:26
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (NIV)

James 4:7-8
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. (NIV)

James 5:19
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (NIV)

Outline of the Book of James

  • James instructs Christians on genuine religion - James 1:1-27.
  • True faith is demonstrated by good deeds done for God and others - James 2:1-3:12.
  • Authentic wisdom comes from God, not the world - James 3:13-5:20.