The Epistle of James is a series of moral exhortations and values that are necessary to be a faithful and practicing Christian. The writings are present in New Book of Testaments, along with the Epistles of Timothy, Peter and John. St. James is thought to be the person who is the half-brother of Christ and the brother of Jude. However he has described himself as a servant of God and Jesus Christ (1:1).The entire epistle of St. James are composed of ethical values which are related to faith; how the faith could be made stronger and how one can prove to be truthful and faithful to the Lord. As there can be many teachings associated with morality, the epistles of James are usually presented as without a single, particular theme and the issues addressed have been numerous. This great diversity within the epistle has made it difficult to outline; as according to Scroggie, there have been more than a dozen themes that are described in the epistle in a disconnected manner, with no single and clear subject or theme. Also, the epistle lacks coherency and most of the content is unorganized and disconnected. This makes the impression of the epistle as the “abstracts of sermons which James had preached at Jerusalem” or the “sermonic expansions of certain sayings of Jesus”.
However, many scholars are of the view that there is no need for a proper organization of the contents of epistle, as these can be treated as a collection of moral advices which do not need any written organization. Also, it is agreed upon that the epistle consists of four basic moral massages, that concern with the issues of test and temptation, law of love, evil speaking and being careful with words, professional ethics and attitude towards others that contain qualities such as patience and endurance. Hence the impression that the epistle of James lacks any unifying theme can be nullified using this hypothesis of organization of contents.
Edmond Hiebert is of the view that the epistle of James certainly has a well-defined and unifying theme, and that is “test of living faith”. According to Hiebert, the key that can unlock the ambiguity of James’ Epistle is to understand the doctrine of Faith as presented by James. This key would allow the reader to enter into the house of contents and to understand the underlying meaning of each and every message. Also by the use of this Test of Living Faith, anyone would easily make connections between the contents of epistle and can extract the unity and coherency of messages from it. This understanding of the Epistle of James amplifies the practicality of the contents as these readily apply to the personal and professional life of practicing Christians. Since most of the contents are about moral and ethical values of how to live in the world as a True and Faithful Christian, it is the intense need of today to implement these moral teachings and not to separate them from Christendom. Practice and profession must not be separated in any case; since profession demands true practice, and as long as people continue to spate these two from each other, by just relying on being a Christian by birth, the validity and relevancy of epistle of James will get intensify more and more. James insists that what we confess as a religion and believe upon it, we must make it evident by our style of living too. It could be made possible by testing ourselves and our faith that whether we fully understand and practice what we believe or not and according to Hiebert this is the sole and unique theme of epistle of James in The Book of New Testaments.
Along with Hiebert, some other religious scholars are also of the view of presenting the “test of living faith” as the unifying theme of epistle of James. McNeile suggests that it is one of the obvious and important truths regarding faith that it should be practically practiced in life, otherwise it would be of no worth at all. Somewhat similar is asserted by Lenski, that the unifying theme of the epistle of James is the productivity and practicality of Christian faith; also the epistle shows the path of how to make one’s faith active and living. Hence it is clear that instead of using a philosophical doctrine to describe faith and believe, James adapted a practical approach for his readers by provoking them towards the need of an active and living faith, for which he asserts on the statement that “faith without work is useless” (2:20) and the genuineness of faith can be identified by “the testing of your faith” (1:3). Some people take a misunderstanding from it that James only insisted of doing good without a proper faith. However, as we keep on reading the entire epistle, it becomes evident that James is purposing a practical faith as a true and dynamic saving faith, which must be demonstarte by an individual’s actions and deeds. Hence the arguments made by Heibert in his research prove to be authentic and reliable in the realm of epistle of James.
If we critically evaluate the research by Hiebert on “The Unifying Theme of Epistle of James”, it becomes evident that he has presented his arguments in a well-defined and coherent way, by doing a survey of the entire epistle and extracting key points from it. He started by presenting James messages about the testing of human temptation over worldly things; James described these temptations as purely human charactersitics which cannot be directed from God as He is always beneficiently to humans (1:13-14,17-18). These temptations can be controlled by testing faith by its response to the word of God, i.e., by Obedience. Also, one must abstain from partiality as it could break the law of love and law of liberty (2:12-13). There should be no distinction between humans and one must be awarded with what he/she deserves. Favoritsm is declined by God and is not appreciated as one os His wills. Hence one must prove his faith by doing such works or activities through which the faith remains active and live. James clearly states the need of an active and practising faith, by comparing a non-active faith with a body without spirit. As a body without spirit is considered dead, therefore a non-active, non-living faith is of no worth for God (2:26). Thus Heibert is quite sucessful in presenting his arguments that epistle of James has a unifying theme, and that is of saving faith by doing both salvation and by actual deeds.
Hiebert also described the other themes which are presented by James as essential and significant to strenghten the faith. For example, he advised the followers to control their tongues and not to indulge too much in worldly affairs, since these are the attributes which induce selfishness and arrogance. A person should be humble with others and must be willing to submit his will over God’s. Also, worldliness propell towards injustice, immoral activites, unnecessary preferences and favoritism, which are all unlikely for a person who have faith in God. Thus the only right way to escape from worldly affairs is to practice faith and to keep it alive; by taking the help of prayer, as it asserts upon the positive and mighty impacts of God, who is always beneficiary enough to lead the man to the path of pity and piousness.
Copeland, Mark A. 2002. The Epistle of James: A Study Guide With Introductory Comments, Summaries, Outlines, And Review Questions (Student Edition). Executable Outlines. Accessed April 10, 2013,
Heibert, Edmond. 1978. The Unifying Theme of Epistle of James. Atlas Serials.