Temptations and Trials The typically Jewish teachings—joy in trials and the use of trials for the building and perfecting of character—are both found in the letter (1:2–4). James also discusses the origin of temptation (vv 13–15). Here the author comes into conflict with contemporary Jewish theology. The rabbinical solution to the problem of the origin of sin was that there was an evil tendency in man that enticed man to sin. The rabbis reasoned that since God is the Creator of all things, including the evil impulse in people, they are not responsible for their sins. No, says James. “And remember, no one who wants to do wrong should ever say, ‘God is tempting me.’ God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either. Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires”.
Law The entire letter is concerned with ethical teaching; there is no mention of the central gospel truths of Christ’s death and resurrection. James presupposes the gospel and presents the ethical side of Christianity as a perfect law. He seems to be reassuring his Jewish-Christian readers that for them there is still law. The law (ethical teaching of Christianity) is a perfect law (1:25) because it was perfected by Jesus Christ. It is also a law of freedom—that is, a law that applies to those who have freedom, not from law, but from sin and self through the “word of truth.” Thus “law” is a Palestinian-Christian Jew’s way of describing the ethical teaching of the Christian faith, the standard of conduct for the believer in Jesus Christ. This tendency to describe Christian ethical teaching as law is found in 2:8–13, a passage that arises out of a rebuke against the favoritism that James’s readers were showing toward the rich. This favoritism was being condoned by an appeal to the law of love to one’s neighbor. So James writes, “It is good when you truly obey our Lord’s royal command”.
Faith and Works Faith plays an important role in the theology of James. The basic element of piety is belief in God—not merely belief in his existence but belief in his character as being good and benevolent in his dealings with mankind (1:6). Faith includes belief in the power of God and in his ability to perform miraculous acts; it is closely associated with prayer (5:15–16; cf. 1:6). James has a dynamic concept of faith and clearly goes beyond Judaism when he speaks of faith directed toward the Lord Jesus Christ (2:1). The best-known passage in which faith is mentioned is James 2:14–26, where it is contrasted with works. From a close study of this passage, it can be determined that James is not contradicting Paul. For both James and Paul, faith is directed toward the Lord Jesus Christ; such faith will always produce good works. The faith of which James speaks is not faith in the Hebraic sense of trust in God that results in moral action. This is not recognized as true faith by James and Paul would agree with him.
Wisdom James’s concept of wisdom also reveals the Jewish background of the letter. Wisdom is primarily practical, not philosophical. It is not to be identified with reasoning power or the ability to apprehend intellectual problems; it has nothing to do with the questions how or why. It is to be sought by earnest prayer and is a gift from God (1:5). Both of these ideas find their roots in the Wisdom Literature of the Jews. The wise man demonstrates his wisdom by his good life (3:13), whereas the wisdom that produces jealousy and selfishness is not God’s kind of wisdom (vv 15–16).