How to Read James

The Book of James


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

James challenges us to live with wisdom as we follow Jesus. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the structure of James, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use these questions as a guide as you watch this video.   



 Now that you have an overview of James in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in James. Read James 1:1–8. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about James 1:1–8.  

James 1:1-8 (ESV)

Greeting

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

Testing of Your Faith

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.6But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.7For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: James tells Christians to ask God for wisdom.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about James 1:1–8? (Consider the author, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) James tells Christians to ask God for wisdom. (Interpretation) Christians can and should ask God for wisdom.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of James 1:1–8? How does its message connect with the main message of all of James? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Many characters throughout the Bible ask God for wisdom. Solomon, for example, asked God for wisdom and he's known as the wisest person to live. Jesus personified perfect wisdom. Those who follow Jesus have the Holy Spirit, who guides them in the wisdom of Jesus.

Contextualize: What themes does James 1:1–8 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of James? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: In every decision or circumstance, I can ask God for wisdom. I can seek wisdom by reading the Bible regularly, praying, and seeking godly counsel from older believers. But beyond simply asking for wisdom, I should place the wisdom He gives me into action. That means I walk in obedience to Him—I serve my spouse, work diligently at my job, or give generously to my church. 

Apply: How does the truth from James 1:1–8 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of James to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.   

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about James, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through James this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 


To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.