The book of James is thought by many to be the first book written of the New Testament. If this is true, it would place the book squarely in the Acts period. However, as we have already seen by examining them, the books of I, II, and III John are thought to be among the latest written of the books of the New Testament, but we have examined them and found that their character places them much earlier, in the earlier part of the Acts period. Therefore, let us examine the book of James for ourselves, and see what its dispensational character will reveal itself to be.

There was more than one man by the name of James in the Scriptures. The most well-known one would be James, the brother of John the apostle, who was one of the twelve, and one of those three who were with the Lord on the mount of transfiguration. However, we know that this James was slain by Herod early in Acts 12, and it seems unlikely that this James was the one who wrote this book. Another James was James the son of Alphaeus, who was another of the twelve, though less prominent than James John’s brother. A third James was James the half-brother of the Lord Jesus Christ. This James became very prominent among the believers at Jerusalem, and it appears that he was in charge of the ekklesia there, especially once the twelve started traveling to support the believers around the land and were seldom “home” at Jerusalem. This James is the one who is commonly thought to have written the book of James, and there is little reason to doubt that this is so.

The name “James” itself is a highly questionable representation of the name of any of these men. The actual Greek name is Iakobos, which appears to be only a Graecized form of the name Jacob, which also occurs in the New Testament as Iakob. That these two names should be represented at all differently in English is questionable. We know that when Paul is called “Saul,” this is sometimes the Hebrew form Saoul, and other times the Greek form Saulos. Yet our English Bibles make no distinction between these two names. This is probably a good thing. Even if they did make a distinction, we would expect it to be something like Saul and Saoul, not Saul and some completely unrelated name like Sawyer. The claim that in England James and Jacob are related in some mysterious way, such as the fact that furniture from the era of King James is called “Jacobean furniture,” does not change the fact that the name “James” does not in most people’s minds have anything to do with Jacob, and is a poor translation of the name Iakobos. Nevertheless, James is the traditional name, and there is little we can do to change that now.

That said, our goal is to demonstrate the dispensational character of this book, not make a thorough study of it, and so let us without further delay examine the book for any dispensational clues we can find within it that would point us either to the Acts period or the dispensation of grace. First, let us notice to whom the book is written.

James 1:1. James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad:

We see that James is another letter of the New Testament. It is addressed to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, called in Greek the diaspora. Therefore, we see that whenever the book was written, its audience is the scattered people of Israel. This is further demonstrated by James 2:2.

2. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes.

Though it is not immediately noticeable in English, the Greek word for “assembly” here is the word sunagogen, which we would English as “synagogue.” The people he was writing to were meeting in synagogues, proving they were Israelites.

The Israelites James was writing to were still attempting to keep the law, as is demonstrated by James 2:8-11.

8. If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9. but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

The people James was writing to were expected to fulfill the law. While we cannot deny that even in the dispensation of grace the Israelite should love his neighbor as himself, he does not do this today in order to fulfill the law, for fulfilling the law is no longer expected of the Israelites, any more than it is of anyone else. Since these people were still attempting to “really” fulfill the law, this shows us that the dispensational change had not yet taken place when this book of James was written.

Further proof that the people James was writing to are descendants of the people of Israel is found in James 2:21.

21. Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?

Here, James calls Abraham “our father.” This shows that he was counting both himself and his readers as being among the descendants of Abraham, proving again that James 1:1 was not kidding, and the recipients of this letter really were scattered Israelites.

Further proof that the Israelites James was writing to were still keeping the law can be found in James 4:11.

11. Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

Again, this verse demonstrates that these people were under the law, as were their brothers. To speak evil of a “brother” Israelite for them was to speak evil of the law and judge the law. If we as Gentile believers in Jesus Christ today speak evil of a brother believer, that might be a sin, but it is not speaking evil of the law, for the law has nothing to do with either of us. Again, this shows this book was written to Israelites who were under the law.

James also uses Hebrew words in his letter, as we can see from James 5:4.

4. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

James here refers to the Lord of Sabaoth. This was a Hebrew word from the Old Testament. Any Israelite, though he might not have spoken Hebrew, would have known this name for the Lord. However, Gentile believers in Jesus Christ could not have been expected to know this, any more than many Gentile believers know this name today. This again shows that these people were familiar with the Old Testament, being scattered Israelites.

The fifth chapter of James speaks of events in the future, as can be demonstrated from James 5:7-8.

7. Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

In James 5, we have a section that suddenly jumps ahead from the Acts period to the kingdom of God, even to the time when the parousia of the Lord is at hand. This is a method God consistently uses in prophecy, when a passage will suddenly jump from the present day to a day far future. This section, at least, certainly does not speak of us today, though it does not speak of the Acts period either.

If there is a passage in James that clearly demonstrates its dispensational character, it is James 5:13-15.

13. Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

The Acts period was a very different situation from what we experience today. There were men who were healers, and they could heal each and every kind of illness among the people. We can see this in passages like Acts 5:14-16.

14. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15. so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. 16. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

Healing was offered by God to His people in the Acts period, and they were healed of every illness. In fact, when they identified themselves with Christ and became part of His kingdom, one of the immediate blessings they received as part of that kingdom was a gift of perfect health and healing to all who were believers. In fact, as Paul expresses it in Romans 8:2, the Acts period believers had been set free from the law of sin and death.

2. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

This did not mean that they were set free from their sinful, fallen bodies, for they were not. For that, they were still awaiting the epiphaneia of the Lord Jesus Christ and the resurrection set forth in I Corinthians 15:51-57.

51. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55. “O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
56. The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet though they still had sinful bodies, the Lord was overriding the law of sin and death in those bodies, and giving them life that, had the kingdom come in immediately rather than the dispensation of grace, should have kept them alive until that time. As Paul says in Romans 8:10-11:

10. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Yet this gift of life was not automatic. Though they were given life, they were also subjected to kingdom laws. They had to keep those laws, or their gift of life could be forfeited.  As Paul says in Romans 8:13,

13. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

We can see this kind of judgment being carried out in the book of Acts. For example, Ananias and Sapphira, though they were believers, lied to the Holy Spirit, and the result was that they were struck dead. In I Corinthians 11, Paul reveals that certain of the Corinthians were being struck with illness and even death because they were keeping the Passover in an unworthy manner.

27. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.

Paul explains here that punishment was being handed down by God for their misuse of the things the Lord had given them as a privilege. So we know that the gift of health was not universal in the Acts period, but could be suspended because of sin. (Another exception was martyrdom, for though the Lord did raise Paul from the dead when he was stoned and rescued Peter from prison before he could be killed, He did not raise Stephen from the dead when he was stoned in Acts 7, nor did he rescue James John’s brother from death in Acts 12. Yet this is not our focus here, but rather sickness and death by punishment.)

So returning to James 5. In verse 14, James asks the question, “Is anyone among you sick?” As we have seen, this should not have been, if they were living in obedience to the Lord in the Acts period. If they were sick, this was a sign that they were doing something wrong and sinful, as was happening in Corinth in I Corinthians 11. Yet what should someone who found himself sick because of some sin in the Acts period do about it? James answers that question here.

James tells them, “Let him call for the elders of the church.” These were the presbuteros, the representative men of the ekklesia. These men had authority from Jesus Christ, and were able to stand as mediators between God and men. James further says, “And let them pray over him.” They could pray for this man, and it would mean more than if he merely prayed for himself. Yet this is out of character entirely with the dispensation of grace, in which we read in I Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” If these men were praying for a man to receive healing, and God would hear them when He would not hear the man himself, then these men were mediators. This shows us that the book of James was not written under the conditions we live in today, when I Timothy was written. James was written in the previous administration of God, when men were still acting as mediators.

James goes on to say of the elders, “Anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” This anointing of oil was a very symbolic thing for Israel, as we can see from studying the Old Testament on the matter. Then, James says, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick.” That “save” here means “heal” is shown by the next phrase, “And the Lord will raise him up.” At the prayer of the elders, the man would be healed from his illness. Yet we know that God makes no promise of healing to us today. Even the great apostle Paul had to beg God for mercy in the case of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:27.

27. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.

Yet in James 5:15, the healing was guaranteed if the man did the right things. This was characteristic of the Acts period, but this is not how things work today. Moreover, James goes on to say in James 5:15, “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” We see that, characteristic of the Acts period, illness is connected with sins here. Yet if the man followed the proper instructions that James is giving, his illness will be healed, and his sins forgiven. This passage fits with the Acts period, but not with today. James sums this all up in the next verse.

James 5:16. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Again, trespasses are connected with illness, and intercessory prayer with healing. These things are characteristic of the Acts period, but do not at all characterize the way things work today. This passage shows that this book was written during the Acts period. This fits right in, moreover, with what we already saw in I John 5:16-17.

16. If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.

Here too, there was intercessory prayer on the part of a believer for a fellow believer who was sinning, and the prayer of that leader could bring about forgiveness for that sin, as long as it was not a sin that led to the punishment of death. The difference is that just anyone could not pray for a sin unto death, for God would not hear just anyone about this. We know that only a leader in the kingdom like Peter could pray for a sin unto death for it to be forgiven. This fits right in with the Acts period, when in Acts 8:20, Peter declared death as the righteous punishment for the sin of Simon the former sorcerer, and yet Simon did not die when in Acts 8:24 he asked Peter to pray for him. It also fits with Acts 9:36-43, when the prayers of her fellow believers completely failed to save the woman Tabitha from death, but only Peter could offer the prayer that would bring forgiveness to her of a sin that led to death. This was all in line with the Acts period, and demonstrates most clearly the dispensational character of James, as being right in line with the Acts period.

So we conclude that the book of James was, indeed, a book written in the Acts period, as is usually taught, and there is no internal reason we can see for not assigning it to the early Acts period, as is so often done. This book was written to the scattered Israelites, and demonstrates in James 5 especially that they were living under the conditions that prevailed in the Acts period. Therefore, though this book is worth studying and we can learn many things from it, we should keep in mind that it was not initially written to us, but rather was written to Jews living during the Acts period. When we keep this in mind, then we will be rightly dividing the truth of this book, and can learn properly the lessons taught in the book of James. Yet we can only see those lessons clearly when we place them against the backdrop of the Acts period. That is the dispensational place of James.