James was possibly the first New Testament book written, probably penned in the very late 40’s AD. It is generally accepted that the book was written by James, the leader of the Jerusalem Church, also known as James the brother of Jesus.

From the very first, some people objected to having James in the New Testament. Martin Luther pushed for its exclusion (as well as some other books) because he thought it crossed some Protestant doctrines. However, history shows that God intends for James to be included in sacred Scripture.

Perhaps some of the controversary around the book can be ended if people are willing to accept the book for what it is, and not try to force it to be something it is not. We get a quick look at what it is by looking at the first verse: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.”

James was the leader of the Jerusalem church, but was not one of the original apostles. His letter shows that he is a strong, experienced leader whose purpose is to guide Jewish Christians about how to live as Christians in various countries and cultures. He accomplishes his purpose.


In modern times, one of the most hotly debated Bible verses is found in James 2:17, best known as, “Faith without accompanying deeds is dead.” It is not the purpose of this video episode or study guide to examine this verse in detail, nor to compare and contrast it to Paul’s writings. However, since the verse is so crucial to James’ thought process, it is our intent to put context around what he wrote.

It is crucial to understand what James means by the word “faith.” The Greek word he uses is pistis, which, according to at least one scholar, can also be translated faithfulness, reliability, or loyalty. It can mean belief, but it can also point to the personal commitment that accompanies any genuine belief. As shown by all of the surrounding verses, James is clearly using the word in the latter sense. When used that way, almost by definition “faith without works is dead.”

Why is this point so crucial to James? James is possibly the first written book of the New Testament. He writes it not a a theological treatise, but as practical instructions for early Christians trying to cope with a fast-changing world. James is the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and the people in his church are struggling to survive, ravaged by famine and economic punishment from the Jewish leaders.

More than any other Christian leader, James knows it is one thing to say you theoretically believe in helping poor people, but another thing entirely to actually help them. He knows that if surrounding churches don’t act on their belief by helping his church members, then some of them will likely soon be dead. He is not making a theoretical theological statement; he is making a statement of fact.

With those things in mind, verses such as James 1:22, 1:27, and 2:14-25 might be statements of fact, in addition to theological observations, that support his conclusion in James 2:26: faith without accompanying deeds is dead.

Accompanying deeds don’t just mean physical actions but can also include the words that people use. James spends much of his letter emphasizing the importance of controlling our speech.

Primary Scriptures:
James 1:19-27; 2:8-26; 3:1-12; 4:11-12
Story Summary:
Verses with content about faith and faithfulness
Kingdom of Judea (Israel)
Circa 50 AD