Friday, March 6, 2020

READ IT! - Introduction to James 1-3

Introduction to The Epistle of James 

Context of James 

The epistle is traditionally attributed to James (Hebrew: Jacob) the brother of Jesus, and the audience is generally considered to be Jewish Christians, who were dispersed outside Palestine.

Within the New Testament canon, the Epistle of James is noteworthy because it makes no reference to the death, resurrection, or divine sonship of Jesus. It refers to Jesus twice, as "the Lord Jesus Christ" and as "our glorious Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1, 2:1).

"The Letter of James also, according to the majority of scholars who have carefully worked through its text in the past two centuries, is among the earliest of New Testament compositions. It contains no reference to the events in Jesus' life, but it bears striking testimony to Jesus' words. Jesus' sayings are embedded in James' exhortations in a form that is clearly not dependent on the written Gospels."

If written by James the brother of Jesus, it would have been written sometime before AD 69 (or AD 62), when he was martyred. Jerusalem would also be the place of writing.

The earliest extant manuscripts of James usually date to the mid-to-late 3rd century.

James is considered New Testament wisdom literature: "like Proverbs and Sirach, it consists largely of moral exhortations and precepts of a traditional and eclectic nature." 

Similarities between James and Acts 

James’ speech in Acts 15 contains many striking parallels in language with the epistle of James. For example, χαίρω is found in Jas. 1:1 and Acts 15:23 (and elsewhere in Acts only in 23:26); Acts 15:17 and Jas. 2:7 invoke God’s name in a special way; the exhortation for the brothers (ἀδελφοι) to hear is found both in Jas. 2:5 and Acts 15:13. Further, not-so-common individual words are found in both: ἐπισκέπτεσθε (Jas. 1:27;Acts 15:14); ἐπιστρέφειν (Jas. 5:19 and Acts 15:19); τηρεῖν (or διατηρεῖν) ἑαυτόν (Jas. 1:27; Acts 15:29); ἀγαπητός (Jas. 1:16, 19; 2:5; Acts 15:25). Though short of conclusive proof, this is nevertheless significant corroborative evidence the James on Acts is the same as the James here.

Similarities with the teaching of Jesus 

“There are more parallels in this Epistle than in any other New Testament book to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels.” The parallels to the Sermon on the Mount are especially acute: 

Chapter 1 

The book opens with a salutation and claims to be written by “James (Hebrew: Jacob), a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. It says it is written to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations”

The first section of the book is on enduring trials, with the main theme being the testing of faith.

He first addresses faith in the context God’s sovereignty, perseverance, and gifts, saying, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds. The testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Then he addresses faith and doubt, saying, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt. The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

He then gives more specifics, saying, “The person who doubts should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

He then discusses faith and finances, saying, “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”

He again addresses faith and perseverance, saying, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

He then addresses faith and fatalism, saying, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

In the next section of the book, James addresses the application of faith within the Church. His main them here is the obedience of faith.

First, he addresses anger versus obedience, saying, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

Then, he addresses passivity versus obedience, saying, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

He then addresses speech and obedience, saying, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

He then addresses the impartiality of obedience, saying, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” 

Chapter 2 

He then discusses partiality versus obedience, saying, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” He then offers a hypothetical situation:

“Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

He then gives a rebuke for showing partiality:

“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?”

He then offers the conditions of obedience:

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”

He then comes to the principle of his topic:

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

He then discusses passivity versus obedience, posing the question, “What good is it if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”

And he offers a hypothetical situation to make his point:

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

And he makes a rational argument, pointing to the passive faith of demons, saying, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”

He then makes a biblical argument, pointing to the active faith of Abraham and Rahab, saying, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?”

And he comes to the principle of his point, saying, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” 

Chapter 3 

He then discusses speech and obedience, saying that the tongue is a measure of maturity. He says, “Not many of you should become teachers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”

He then makes some analogous arguments, first regarding the smallness of the tongue.

Example One: When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

Example Two: Although ships are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Example three: The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. A great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

He then makes an analogous argument regarding the tamed tongue.

Example: All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

He then makes some analogous arguments regarding the “forked” tongue.

Example One: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. This should not be.

Example Two: Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

Example Three: Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?

He then discusses the wisdom of obedience, saying, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

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