James is unique as a NT epistle. It is a book of admonitions. Proverbial sayings are intermingled with prescriptions of conduct, strongly reminiscent of Proverbs. It represents the Wisdom Literature in NT form.
Although introduced as a letter, no features of a letter are evident elsewhere. M. Dibelius identifies its literary genre as paraenesis. “By this,” he explains, “we mean a text which strings together admonitions of general ethical content.” He compares James with the admonitory sections of Paul's letters and characterizes both as “sayings and groups of sayings very diverse in content, lacking any particular order, and containing no emphasis upon a special thought of pressing importance for a particular situation” (p. 3).
For this reason, Dibelius and others have discouraged attempts at outlining the epistle. It is apparent, indeed, that certain subjects surface repeatedly. Nevertheless, R. V. G. Tasker affirms a description of the epistle that he heard in school chapel in his early years: “The Epistle of James is a collection of sermon notes” (TNTC, 9). The propriety of this characterization is demonstrated in the outline below.