The Letter of Jacob


Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 11 February 2013; Revised 24 November 2023

Chap. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 


Scripture Text: Scripture quotations may be taken from various versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the commentary author.

Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of this article. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important Jewish sources include:

The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.

Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.

Citations for Mishnah-Talmud tractates are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); found at Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.

Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online. Parsing data for Greek words is taken from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Jacob (James), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament).


The letter of Jacob is perhaps the earliest apostolic letter, written about AD 40–50. Given the addressees the letter must have written sometime after the scattering of the Jewish disciples described in Acts 8. Some scholars date Paul's letter to the Galatian congregation during this period. There is no mention of the circumcision controversy that focused attention of Messianic leaders in Acts 15, but his rhetoric in several places (1:21, 27; 3:6, 14-16; 4:4-8, 11-12) may well be an echo of comments made in that conference. Jacob's instruction reflects a simple congregational order and even uses the term sunagōgê to describe the assembly of believers.


The Greek text identifies the author of the letter in the first verse as Iakōbos, a Hellenized form of Iakōb ("Jacob"), which transliterates the Heb. Ya'akov ("Jacob") in the Septuagint (LXX). Iakōbos is often used in the writings of Josephus for the patriarch (BAG 368), indicating that Iakōbos means "Jacob." The name is strangely rendered as "James" in Christian Bibles. For the literary history of how Jacob came to be "James" see the section Caption below.

The meaning of Jacob's name, "heel-catcher" or "supplanter" (BDB 784) had no pejorative connotation when first given by Isaac to his son. As indicated by Hosea 12:3, Jacob's name illustrated the strength and power he had with God. (For more on the background of the name and the first "Jacob" see my web article Our Father Jacob.) The name of Jacob was greatly esteemed in Israel so it is not surprising that six men besides the patriarch bear this name in the apostolic narratives: Jacob, the father of Joseph (Matt 1:14); Jacob the brother of John (Mark 1:19); Jacob the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18); Jacob the Less (Mark 15:40); Jacob the father of Judas (aka 'Thaddaeus,' Luke 6:16; John 14:22) and Jacob the half-brother of Yeshua (Matt 13:55). The letter named JAMES was written by Jacob the half-brother of Yeshua.

Yeshua had four half-brothers: Jacob, Judah, Joseph and Simon (Matt 13:55), as well as at least two unnamed half-sisters (Matt 13:56). Nothing is known of these siblings in the apostolic narratives but that they were the children of Miriam and Joseph and resided in Nazareth. Contrary to the Catholic tradition that Yeshua was the only child Miriam ever bore, Matthew (13:55), Mark (6:3), Luke (Acts 1:14) and Paul (Gal 1:19) use adelphos (lit. "of the same womb," a male sibling) and not suggenēs ("connected by lineage, relative") to describe the relationship between Yeshua and his brothers.

None of the apostolic narratives identify Jacob as a disciple of Yeshua during his earthly ministry nor do they describe at what point Jacob accepted his half-brother as the Messiah. Jacob may have initially shared the opinion of his siblings and mother that Yeshua had "lost his senses" (Mark 3:21). The apostle John reports that on the eve of Sukkot in the Autumn of 29 Yeshua's brothers (no mention of number or names) encouraged him to reveal himself:

"Then his brothers said to him, 'Depart from here, and go into Judea, that your disciples will also see your works you are doing. For no one does anything in secret, but he seeks to be in the open. If you are doing these things, reveal yourself to the world.' For his brothers were not believing in him." (John 7:3-5 BR)

By this time the brothers must have heard many reports of Yeshua's miracles and appear ready to believe if he would be more open about his identity. As other Jews of the time they would welcome the Messiah to end Roman rule. The statement "his brothers were not believing" does not necessarily connote uniformity. There is a Jewish saying that illustrates this point: "If five sons are faithful and two are not, you may cry, ‘Woe is me, for my sons are unfaithful!’" (Stern 386).

A significant piece of evidence that points to Jacob coming to that belief is the record of the church father Hippolytus (170-236), On the Seventy Apostles. In the Winter of 29-30 Yeshua sent out seventy men (Luke 10:1-11) to announce the Kingdom and gave them the same instructions that he had given the Twelve for their first mission (Matt 10:5-15). Jacob, the half-brother of Yeshua, is named first in the list of Hippolytus. There is no reason to dispute this record. We know that Yeshua made a personal appearance to Jacob after his resurrection (1Cor 15:7) and that Jacob joined with the eleven apostles and the other believers in Jerusalem to await empowerment by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). In time, Jacob assumed the leadership of the Jerusalem congregation and became a prominent leader of the Body of Messiah (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Gal 2:9).

Jacob, the Lord's brother, perceived his calling as to the "circumcised" (Gal 2:9). While commentators normally take the term to mean Jews in general, it is more likely a technical term for Hebraic Jews aligned with the Pharisees (Acts 15:5; cf. the use of the term in Acts 10:45; 11:2; 15:1; Rom 4:12; 15:8; Gal 2:12; Col 4:11; Titus 1:10). Other than his contribution to the Jerusalem meeting of apostles and elders (Acts 15) and his later appeal to Paul (Acts 21), the Besekh says nothing more of Jacob's ministry or death. Jacob was married (1Cor 9:5), but nothing is known of his family.

The earliest church father to write about Jacob was Hegesippus (of Jewish parentage, AD 110-180) and he records that Jacob was a holy man who took the vow of the Nazirite, performed numerous healings and exorcisms and prayed extensively at the Temple. Hegesippus said that the skin of Jacob's knees became "horny like that of a camel’s, by reason of his constantly bending the knee in adoration to God, and begging forgiveness for the people" (Memoirs, Book V).

Hegesippus goes on to say that Jacob's martyrdom came about by a group of scribes and Pharisees who, upset over the success of the good news in the city, took Jacob to a tower of the Temple and threw him off, but as he was not killed by the fall, he was then stoned and finally killed by a blow to the head from a fuller's staff. Both Clement of Alexandria (Church History II, 1:4) and Eusebius (Church History II, 23:3) accepted the account of Hegesippus regarding the manner of death. Hegesippus also says that "shortly afterwards" Vespasian besieged Judaea (AD 67), which might imply that the death of Jacob occurred in the previous year.

Josephus records that the death of Jacob was at the instigation of Ananus, who was the high priest.

"Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity … so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned." (Ant. XX, 9:1)

Jeremias lists the term of Ananus as AD 62 (378), so the date of Jacob's death by this account would be 62-63 A.D. Barclay (12) and Basser (427) concur with the date of 62. OCB gives the date as 61 (339). The accounts of Josephus and Hegesippus seem to be in conflict on the date of martyrdom, but too much may be assumed in the dating reference of "shortly afterwards." Hegesippus likely made a connection between the unjust killing of Jacob the Just and divine retribution for that act meted out by the Roman armies (cf. Luke 21:20). The church father Jerome adds this final comment on the life of Jacob, confirming the year of his death:

"And so he ruled the church of Jerusalem thirty years, that is until the seventh year of Nero [AD 61-62], and was buried near the temple from which he had been cast down. His tombstone with its inscription was well known until the siege of Titus and the end of Hadrian’s reign. Some of our writers think he was buried in Mount Olivet, but they are mistaken." (Lives of Illustrious Men, II)


Christian theologians have historically tried to create a rift between Jacob and Paul. Based on a comparison of this letter and the letter to the Roman congregation Jacob is supposedly the advocate of works righteousness or salvation by works, whereas Paul is the advocate of salvation by grace. This artificial construction defames both apostles and totally misrepresents their message. The relationship between Jacob and Paul is faithfully presented by both Paul and by Luke. In Galatians 2:9 Paul says that Jacob gave him the right hand of fellowship and supported taking the good news to the nations. In Galatians 2:12 Paul says that certain men "from" Jacob influenced Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with Gentiles.

While the preposition (Grk. apo) normally denotes a point of origin, it can also mean "separating from" or "departing from" to indicate broken fellowship. In light of Jacob's speeches in Acts, Paul's statement means that these unnamed men used Jacob's name without his permission to give credence to their legalistic theology. Luke records two speeches by Jacob that are significant to understanding his theology in relationship to Paul. First, at the Jerusalem Council Jacob spoke against the Circumcision Party by saying,

"Brothers," he said, "hear what I have to say. 14 Shim'on [Simon] has told in detail what God did when he first began to show his concern for taking from among the Goyim [Gentiles] a people to bear his name. 15 And the words of the Prophets are in complete harmony with this for it is written, 16 '"After this, I will return; and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David. I will rebuild its ruins, I will restore it, 17 so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, that is, all the Goyim who have been called by my name," 18 says ADONAI, who is doing these things.' All this has been known for ages. 19 "Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled and from blood. 21 For from the earliest times, Moshe [Moses] has had in every city those who proclaim him, with his words being read in the synagogues every Shabbat." (Acts 15:13-21 CJB)

Luke goes on to record that Paul concurred with Jacob's message (Acts 15:22-29). Second, after Paul's third missionary journey he returned to Jerusalem and met with Jacob and the elders. Jacob related how Paul's ministry had been mischaracterized by his enemies and suggested a way to remedy the situation.

"You see, brother, how many tens of thousands of believers there are among the Judeans, and they are all zealots for the Torah. 21 Now what they have been told about you is that you are teaching all the Jews living among the Goyim to apostatize from Moshe, telling them not to have a b'rit-milah for their sons and not to follow the traditions. 22 "What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24 Take them with you, be purified with them, and pay the expenses connected with having their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that there is nothing to these rumors which they have heard about you; but that, on the contrary, you yourself stay in line and keep the Torah. 25 "However, in regard to the Goyim who have come to trust in Yeshua, we all joined in writing them a letter with our decision that they should abstain from what had been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled and from fornication." (Acts 21:20-25 CJB)

Does Paul object to Jacob's request by claiming the Law had been nullified? No. Luke goes on to say that Paul, "took the men, purified himself along with them and entered the Temple to give notice of when the period of purification would be finished and the offering would have to be made for each of them" (Act 21:26 CJB). Paul was in complete agreement with Jacob on the continuing authority and relevance of the Torah to Jewish discipleship. (For more on this topic see my web article Under the Law.)


Jacob addressed his letter to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora (1:1). In this context the "twelve tribes" refers to those family clans who descended from the twelve sons of Jacob and his four wives, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah. Leah gave birth to six sons - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Rachel delivered Joseph and Benjamin. Bilhah gave Jacob his sons Dan and Naphtali and Zilpah bore Gad and Asher. After the family’s sojourn in Egypt where they multiplied into a great host (Ex 1:7), they were from that time known as Israel or Israelites.

The mention of twelve tribes rebuts the misbelief that ten tribes were exiled and then lost. Moreover, Yeshua promised his apostles authority over the twelve tribes of Israel "when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne" (Matt 19:28; cf. Luke 22:30). Paul in his defense to King Agrippa referred to the twelve tribes as in existence at that time (Acts 26:7). For more on this subject see my web article The Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Diaspora is a technical term for all the nations and territories outside the land of Israel where Jews lived. By the first century there were numerous Jewish settlements in Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Italy and the islands of the Aegean, that had resulted from emigration (sometimes voluntary and sometimes forced) from Babylon (Tarn & Griffith 219). Josephus reported that "the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers" (Ant. XI, 5:2). All of these settlements became the starting point for the apostles to proclaim the fulfillment of prophetic promises, since the good news was for the Jew first.

In addition to the greeting Kaiser identifies five points that identify the Jewish nationality of the letter's recipients: (1) Abraham is called their ancestor (2:21); (2) the recipients were acquainted with the stories of Job, Elijah and the prophets (5:11, 17-18); (3) the phrase "Lord of Sabaoth" is one Jewish persons would know (5:4 KJV); (4) the use of the term "synagogue" for the place of meeting; and (5) the high value placed on the Torah of God (251). What should be carefully noted is that Jacob is not writing to any "church" or to "Christians" (as defined by the church fathers) and certainly not to Gentiles. He identifies the letter's recipients repeatedly as "brothers" (1:2, 9; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19), often with obvious affection. The purpose of the letter appears to be to instruct and encourage the dispersed Messianic Jewish disciples in the face of their difficulties. There are also times when Jacob's rhetoric seems aimed at unbelieving Jews, just as Paul's letter to the Hebrews has a dual audience in mind.


Little considered by Christian commentators is that the population of Messianic Jews at the time of this letter was quite large, and during the apostolic era very likely provided the majority of membership in local congregations. Christian scholarship generally assumes Gentile disciples were in the majority simply because they became the majority in the second century. Historical revisionism also took place due to Christian minimizing the Jewishness of the apostolic writings. The Besekh provides several clues to the strength of the Messianic Jewish population. First, Jews were given the priority in hearing the good news, both in principle (Acts 1:8; Rom 1:16) and practice (Acts 2:1-11; 9:20; 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4, 19; 19:8). Second, all the apostles, prophets, evangelists who proclaimed the good news, as well as the early congregational overseers in major communities were Jews. (See my commentary on Romans 16.)

Third, five apostolic letters are specifically addressed to Messianic Jews: this letter (Jacob 1:1), Paul's letter to the Hebrews (title in Grk. MSS, and the content), Peter's two letters to Messianic Jews in the Diaspora (1Pet 1:1; 2Pet 3:1) and Judah's ("Jude") letter to the "called" (Judah 1:1, 5). Fourth, Luke provides a specific census when Paul comes to Jerusalem and Jacob reports that there were "many tens of thousands" of Jewish disciples (Acts 21:20; CJB, CEV, MW). The CJB has "Judeans" in the verse instead of "Jews" on the assumption that Jacob refers to residents of Judea. In my view the numerical count need not be restricted to a local population since Messianic Jews in the Diaspora returned to Jerusalem for the pilgrim feasts. The Greek word in the verse for the number is muriades, the plural form of murias, which in ordinary usage equaled 10,000 (BAG). Idiomatically, then, the plural form can refer to a very great number, tens of thousands (Rienecker 1:321). Christian Bibles generally diminish the number with "thousands."

To extrapolate a worldwide Messianic Jewish population at this time can be only a guess, but consider this census data. An article on "Population" in Encyclopedia Judaica states that a census of Jews taken by Emperor Claudius in AD 48 found no less than 6,944,000 Jews within the confines of the empire and that shortly before the fall of Jerusalem the world Jewish population exceeded 8,000,000, of whom probably not more than 2,350,000–2,500,000 lived in the land of Israel. The article also notes that Jews in Alexandria constituted some 40% of the 500,000–1,000,000 inhabitants. Thus the Alexandrine Jewish community numbered 200,000–400,000 and the Jerusalem community "may well have been smaller" (Stern 300). Stern in his commentary on Acts 21:20 explains the significance of the census combined with the meaning of the Greek word muriades.

"What proportion of the Jews of Jerusalem were Messianic? The word "muriades" in this verse, if taken literally, necessarily means at least 20,000 Messianic Jews. Twenty thousand, the minimum number of Messianic Jews, is 5% of 400,000, the maximum population of the city. Thus at least 5% of the Jews of Jerusalem were Messianic. If we carry this exercise in mathematical logic one step further and assume that 5% of the world Jewish population was Messianic, we can deduce that there were at least 400,000 Messianic Jews alive in the world before the fall of Jerusalem.

"Moreover, archeological data yield much lower figures for city populations. Magen Broshi, curator of Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, estimates the city’s population at the end of King Herod the Great’s rule at 40,000, and before the destruction of the Second Temple at 80,000; these figures do not include the "suburbs" outside the city walls ("Estimating the Population of Ancient Jerusalem," pp. 10–15 in Biblical Archeology Review 4:2, 1978). If there were 80,000 Jews and 20,000 Messianic Jews, the Messianics constituted a quarter of the city’s population! … But there were many muriades, which must mean more than the minimum of 20,000. There could have been 30,000, 50,000 or more Messianic Jews in Jerusalem when Sha’ul arrived. In this case the world figure could well approach the million mark." (301)

If muriades is not taken literally, then nothing can be deduced about Messianic Jewish population in the first century. Christian scholars assume that Gentile believers far outnumbered Jewish believers and that most of the Besekh was written for the sake of the Gentiles. The assumption of superior Gentile numbers in early congregations has no biblical or historical evidence to support it. While the Besekh provides no data on congregational membership, the record of Acts is that the good news went first to the Jews, according to Yeshua's commission, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Galilee and synagogues of the Diaspora. Gentiles who responded to the good news were either proselytes or worshippers at synagogues.

As Stern insists, the burden of proof falls on those wanting to discount the the literal meaning of the census in Acts 21:20. Luke clearly employs numbers literally when describing the size of the Messianic Community and uses nonnumerical terminology when speaking less precisely about its growth (Acts 2:41). The word muriades can be satisfactorily rendered "tens of thousands" everywhere it occurs in the plural form (Luke 12:1; Acts 19:19; Heb 12:22; Judah 1:14; Rev 5:11; 9:16). Therefore, Jacob wrote this letter to a very large audience.


The heading of the letter in Greek is simply IAKŌBOU, the genitive case of IAKŌBOS, meaning "of Jacob." The literary journey from the Jewish name "Jacob" (Heb. Ya'akov) to James is an interesting history. The Latin Vulgate (405) prepared by the church father Jerome (347-420) transliterated Iakōbos as "Iacobus." The Wycliffe Bible (1395), the first English translation of the whole Bible, was based on Jerome's Vulgate and inexplicably translated the Latin Iacobus into a totally new name, "James." The Etymology Online Dictionary says that James is the Middle English vernacular form of Late Latin Jacomus (source of Old French James, Spanish Jaime, Italian Giacomo), altered from Latin Jacobus. The website concurs with this point of view in its article on James, saying that the Late Latin name Iacomus is a variant of Iacobus.

In contrast the Wycliffe Bible translates the Latin Iacob as "Jacob" in both the Tanakh (e.g. Gen 25:25) and the Besekh (e.g. Matt 1:2) and yet translates Iacobus (which only adds two letters to Iacob) as "James." The next four English Bible versions used "Iames," but the KJV-1611 returned the spelling to "James," and it's been that way ever since. The Wycliffe translators would have known that the Latin name Iacobus was derived from Iacob, meaning Jacob. So, why spell the name as James when they knew how to spell Jacob? A rumor persists that Jacob and his letter were renamed to honor King James for funding the 1611 English translation widely known as the "Authorized Version." The fact that the Wycliffe Bible used "James" rebuts this assumption, and the king at that time was Henry V.

The dramatic change in the spelling convention can only be explained by the longstanding prejudice within Christianity against the patriarch Jacob. The Wycliffe translation was the first step in separating the apostles and their writings from their Jewish identity. Kaiser is the only Christian author I've found who acknowledges that the name of this letter's author was Jacob, although he also says that "James" originated from "Jacob" (250). The commentaries on this epistle written by Adamson, Barnes, Barclay, Burdick, Calvin, Clarke, Coffman, Faussett, Guzik, Henry, and Wesley make no attempt to explain that the name of the author of this letter was actually "Jacob," and they thereby deny him his Jewish identity. Christian Bibles, Christian commentaries and Christian scholarly works continue to perpetuate the inaccuracy.

The best English translation (and followed in this commentary) is "Jacob," as found in the Messianic Jewish versions Tree of Life Version and Daniel Gruber's The Messianic Writings. Of the several Bibles I own only the NASB has a marginal note "or Jacob." The Complete Jewish Bible and Hebrew Names Version consistently use "Ya'akov" to emphasize the Jewishness of the name. Of interest is that the Aramaic Peshitta has Ya'aqub for both the patriarch and the five disciples who bore the name in the Besekh. The Etheridge English translation of the Peshitta (1846-1849) renders the name of the apostle as "Jakub" and the Younan English version (2004) has "Yaqob."


The letter of Jacob ("James") has long been classed within Christianity as a catholic epistle, referring to the fact that no specific congregation is addressed and the author speaks to a wide audience. The literary character of the letter has some distinctives. Adamson says that the letter has a vocabulary of 570 words, 73 of which occur nowhere else in the Besekh and of these 73 words 46 occur in the LXX. The last statistic means nothing of itself since the Greek of the Besekh is the Greek of the LXX and 543 words of the letter do occur in the LXX. None of the apostolic writings in the Besekh contain the entire Greek lexicon and some words were either of recent usage since completion of the LXX, coined by the apostles, or simply unnecessary to the translation of the LXX.

As noted in the previous section, the letter is distinctively Jewish from beginning to end. The letter was no doubt originally written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek as Matthew (Eusebius, Book V, §8) and Hebrews (Eusebius, Book VI, §14:2), which would be necessary for distribution of the letter to the Messianic Jewish Diaspora in the west. The early church father Jerome claimed that Jacob or his congregation employed a scribe who translated his work into Greek (Friedman 13). The use of a secretarial scribe or amanuensis to either produce a written work from dictation or translate a composition was common practice (cf. Rom 16:22; 1Cor 16:21; Col 4:18; 2Th 3:17; 1Pet 5:12).

The letter contains no story narrative, but is entirely hortatory material. Scholars often draw comparisons between the wisdom instruction in the letter of Jacob and the book of Proverbs. The Torah is the foundation for Jacob's ethical guidance, but there are also parallels in other Jewish literature, such as Sirach, the Talmud (Sanhedrin, Pirke Avot), Midrash Ruth, Midrash Psalms, Midrash Leviticus Rabbah, and Midrash Tehillim. Unique among Christian commentators is that Adam Clarke found specific points of comparison with rabbinic literature in fourteen verses (1:8, 12, 14, 19; 2:10, 11; 3:6, 10, 18; 4:8, 13; 5:13, 14, 20).

The Jewish character of the letter may be seen in two specific ways. First, there are a number of references to Jewish culture: twelve tribes, the Diaspora, "blessing" God, the Messiah (Christos), "Father of lights," synagogue, law, religion, and the ethical view of wisdom. The second aspect of the Jewish character is the syntax. Frequently verses or sentences begin with a verb. In Hebrew the verb comes first, giving more emphasis to the subject-noun. Another point of evidence of a Hebrew text is the use of conjunctions. Joining individual words in a list within a sentence or one clause to another or one sentence to another is a characteristic feature of the Hebrew Scriptures, whereas in Greek literature an independent clause will be subordinated to the main clause of the sentence and the use of conjunctions minimized. The letter of Jacob has 108 verses and 204 conjunctions; 54 verses begin with a conjunction. The excessive use of conjunctions is an excellent proof of an original Hebrew text.


Luke T. Johnson has proposed that Jacob may have used the LXX version of Leviticus 19:12-18 as his text for the remarks in his book ("The Use of Leviticus 19 in the Letter of James," Journal of Biblical Literature 101-1982:391-401, cited by Kaiser 253). Johnson identifies six specific thematic or verbal allusions in the letter to this part of the Torah, generally called by Christian scholars as the "Holiness Code." Friedman, in acknowledging the work of Johnson and Kaiser, considers Jacob's letter as a yalqut, a Hebrew term for a collection of highlighted teachings of a rabbi, often collected by his students (1). The main emphasis of a yalqut is practical encouragement on how to live according to Torah. Friedman suggests that the content of the letter is derived from Sabbath sermons that expound on the book of Leviticus, chapter 19 to 22 in particular (2).

The letter may be outlined as follows:

· Midrash 1: On Trials, 1:2-18

· Midrash 2: On Listening, 1:19-27

· Midrash 3: On Love, 2:1-13

· Midrash 4: On Faithfulness, 2:14-26

· Midrash 5: On Teaching, 3:1-18

· Midrash 6: On Desires, 4:1-17

· Midrash 7: On Judgment, 5:1-12

· Midrash 8: On Restoration, 5:13-20

Grafted-In Symbol

Readers will notice that the pages of the commentary on the letter Grafted-In Symbol or Messianic Seal. This seal was discovered etched on a number of artifacts excavated on Mount Zion in the 1960s. It is believed to have been created and used by early Jewish disciples of Yeshua who called themselves Nazarenes (Acts 23:5). At least two of the artifacts were obviously ceremonial pieces which may well have been used by the Lord's brother, Jacob (James) the Just, who was the first overseer and shepherd of the congregation in Jerusalem. The symbol has, since 135 A.D., been suppressed by various Israeli groups or agencies, while simultaneously being buried by the Church.

The seal consists of three separate but integrated symbols: a menorah at the top, a star in the middle and a fish at the bottom. These three symbols held great significance to early disciples. For the history of the symbol go to Messianic Seal of the Church of Jerusalem. See also an explanation of the symbol at Jewish Voice.

The menorah was a lampstand formed with seven lamp branches made of pure gold created to burn pure olive oil (Lev 24:2) in order to give light in the holy place of the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex 25:31-40; 37:17-24). Ever since the menorah has served as a symbol of the Jews (Stern 692). In a spiritual sense the light of the menorah was intended to represent not only of the Sh'khinah glory that filled the Temple, but of that 'great light' which 'the people that walked in darkness' were to see, and which was to shine 'upon them that dwell in the land of the shadow of death' (Isa 9:2; cf. Isa 60:1-3) (Edersheim 226). That light was the Messiah (Matt 4:14-16; John 8:12). The menorah also represented the Word of God spoken to His people and written down as Scripture (cf. Ps 119:105; Prov 6:23; 2Pet 1:19). An important characteristic of the early Messianic disciples is that they were devoted to keeping the Torah (Acts 21:20).

The fish is a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish. It was very early associated with disciples of Yeshua, being found engraved in Roman catacombs. The fish features frequently in the apostolic narratives, both in a literal sense (Matt 7:10) and figuratively for a parable lesson (Matt 13:47). Several of Yeshua's twelve apostles were fishermen. He commissioned them with the words "I will make you fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). The fish featured in miracles, both feeding the multitude (Matt 15:36-37) and paying a temple tax (Matt 17:24-27). The fish is also used by Yeshua to describe "the sign of Jonah" (Matt 12:38-45; 16:4), symbolic of his anticipated resurrection, upon which the faith of the Body of Messiah is based (1Cor 1:1-58). The fish as representative of early Jewish and Gentile disciples of Yeshua does not symbolize the Christianity that separated itself from its Jewish roots.

In the symbol the star of David is created by interlacing the stand of the menorah with the tail of the fish. Little considered by Christian (and Jewish) interpreters is that the Star of David represents the Messiah. Balaam, the ancient Mesopotamian prophet had prophesied, "A star shall come forth from Jacob" (Num 24:17). That star would descend from King David making the Messiah the Star of David. Yeshua is called the Morning Star (2Pet 1:19; Rev 2:28; 22:16). Yeshua is the Star of David who has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile to create one Kingdom and one Body (Eph 2:14-15).

The symbol powerfully represents the truth proclaimed by Paul that Gentiles were grafted into Israel in order to receive the benefits of salvation (Rom 16:17-18). Yeshua died to provide salvation for the entire world, and the good news of God's mercy was given first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then the good news was shared with the nations. God did not intend for Gentile followers of Yeshua to form a separate religion, but be joint sharers in the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12).

Works Cited

Adamson: James Adamson, The Epistle of James. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1976. The New International Commentary on the New Testament.

Basser: Herbert Basser, The Letter of James," Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.

BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.

Clarke: Adam Clarke, James, Commentary on the Holy Bible (1826). ed. Ralph Earle. Baker Book House, 1967. Also online.

Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Davids: Peter H. Davids, "James," The Oxford Companion to the Bible. ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Friedman: David Friedman, James the Just: Presents Applications of the Torah. Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2012.

Gaebelein: Arno C. Gaebelein, The Epistle of James, The Annotated Bible (1922). Online.

Jeremias: Joachim Jeremias (1900-1979), Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press, 1975.

Josephus: Flavius Josephus (37-100 A.D.), The Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whiston (1737)., Evinity Publishing Inc., 2011.

Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan 1978, 2008.

McComiskey: Thomas McComiskey, "Iakōb," Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2. (ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan, 1975), 316-319.

OCB: The Oxford Companion to the Bible. ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Vol. 2. Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.

Robertson: Archibald Thomas Robertson (1863-1934), Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 Vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997)

Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

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