James 1:1

Saturday, 1 June 2019

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

In his opening words, James (the Lord’s brother and the early leader of the church) identifies himself. In Greek, the name is Iakóbos, or “Jacob.” Somewhere along the line, the name “James” was used instead of Jacob, and that has continued on since that time. The first English translation, that of John Wycliffe in the 1380s, uses “James,” and so it is assumed that he is the source of this change.

James next states that he is “a bondservant of God.” The Greek word translated as “servant” is doulos. This indicates a person who is a slave or bondservant. Thus, he is a slave of God “and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In calling himself a bondservant, or slave, it is a voluntary act of submitting himself to God through Christ.

This does not mean that Jesus Christ is not God. Rather, He is a member of the Godhead, but He is both fully God and fully man. This then is a focus on His dual nature – both human and God. Rather than proclaim himself “The brother of the Lord,” he makes it absolutely clear that he is His servant first. There is no sense of high-handedness or boasting in his greeting, but rather a humble submission to his Lord.

Next, he identifies his audience by saying, “To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” The words fully identify his audience as being to the Hebrew people who are identified as the twelve sons of Israel. Though the epistle is written at a very early date, there were already Gentiles coming into the faith. But James’ ministry was specifically to the circumcised, meaning the people of Israel. This is perfectly in line with Paul’s words to the Galatians –

“But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” Galatians 2:7-9

The words, “scattered abroad,” are more literally rendered, “in the Diaspora.” This is referring to the Jewish people who dwelt outside of the land of Israel and who were dispersed among the Gentiles, usually living in small pockets around an area where a synagogue was built.

The very fact that James addresses the “twelve tribes” shows that there were not only two tribes left. That is a false understanding of the matter. It is claimed that only the tribes of Benjamin and Judah remained after the exile of the ten tribes by the Assyrians in 722BC. However, that is incorrect. No tribes were missing. The term “twelve tribes” is not merely a technical term to describe Israel in general, but rather it is a designation which means exactly what it says. There were people from all twelve tribes who remained. After the dispersion of 722 BC, various individuals are named in Scripture from tribes other than Benjamin and Judah. Further, Simeon was located within the territory of Judah and was never considered a lost tribe. Also, there are Levites and priests mentioned several times within the New Testament. One example of an individual from the tribe of Asher (which was one of the exiled tribes) is recorded in Luke 2:36 –

“Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity.”

The fact that this woman is mentioned, and that she was from the tribe of Asher, means that not all of Asher was lost. Any number from a tribe means the tribe exists. This is certainly true with all twelve tribes. The book of Revelation lists the twelve tribes by name, not because it is a symbolic counting of the people, but because He has preserved those tribes for His own sovereign purposes. It is to this group of people, the twelve tribes scattered abroad, that James next says, “Greetings.”

It is a primary verb which signifies “to be cheerful.” When one would meet or part from another, it was common to use the term. Thus, it gives the sense of “be well,” “be glad,” “Godspeed,” etc. It is the same word used in the letter which was sent by James’ authority in Acts 15. It thus ties the two together as both being letters from the same individual. Though the word is a common one in the New Testament, it is not used in this manner in any of the other apostolic epistles. James states this now to set the tone for his audience to be comfortable as they transition into the main body of the letter.

Life application: Lots of people, groups of people, denominations, and cults claim that they are the ten lost tribes of Israel. This is an attempt to set themselves apart as somehow special and worthy of note. But it is a very poor handling of Scripture. It is true that the ten northern tribes were exiled and they were assimilated into the surrounding people wherever they were sent, but it is not true that there are “ten lost tribes” of which some group or another can then make the claim that they are those lost tribes. If you hear a group claim this, be sure to know that they are wrong. Don’t get involved with nutty theology. Stick to what is right, sound, and proper. God has preserved His people Israel, and Christ Jesus will return to rule among them at some point in the future.

Heavenly Father, open our eyes to the wonders of Your precious word. Help us to rightly divide it so that we don’t get sidetracked into unnecessary diversions or off onto wild tangents that can only distract us from the intent and purpose of the message. May You alone be glorified through our study and learning of the Bible. Amen!

The Book of James; An Introduction

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Book of James; an Introduction

The book of James is the 59th book of the Bible, and it is comprised of 5 chapters of 108 verses. Therefore, a verse-per-day evaluation of James will take a bit over three months to complete.

James is believed to be the Lord’s half-brother; born of Mary and Joseph. As there are four people named James in the New Testament, it is important to determine which it is. The apostle James, the brother of John, died too early for the letter to have been written by him. His death is recorded in Acts 12. The other two men named James did not have any reputation which would make either a likely candidate for being the author. However, James, the Lord’s half-brother did.

He is mentioned first in Matthew 13:55 in a list of Jesus’ other half-brothers. Therefore, he was probably the oldest of them. It is noted in John 7:5 that Jesus’ brothers were originally of those who didn’t believe in Him. Eventually, that changed, and James became the leader of the early church. He is noted as having been one who witnessed the resurrected Lord in 1 Corinthians 15:7.

Acts 15:12-21 is the passage from which we determine that James was the leader of the early church (not Peter as suggested by the Roman Catholics). After hearing testimony from the entire group and specifically Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, it was James who made the final decision on the matter being discussed. Thus, it is a logical assumption that he also was the author of this letter.

Further, he was of such renown in the early church that Jude, also the Lord’s half-brother, identified himself as a “brother of James.” He is mentioned by Paul in Galatians 1:19 and 2:9, and he is mentioned at several other key points in the book of Acts.

As this book was written very early after the establishment of the church, around AD 48, the letter is addressed to Jewish believers. At this point, the number of non-Jewish believers would have been exceptionally small. Also, as it was Paul’s ministry that was directed to the Gentiles, it is no great leap to see that James is specifically writing to a solely Jewish audience. As the first verse of the epistle will note, he is writing to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad.”

The Apostle Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So, in a real sense, the letter is, like all of Scripture, written to the people of the world. However, James is written specifically to the Hebrew people of the twelve tribes.

Due to its placement after Paul’s letters, and then after the book of Hebrews, it is evident based on an evaluation of the structure of the Bible that the Lord intends for this epistle, like Hebrews, to be a letter directed to the Hebrew people of the end times as much as it was directed to the early Jewish believers in the Lord. The very structure of the Bible gives us this hint of redemptive history.

The main theme of James is “The Necessity of Living Faith.” James includes works as a demonstration of faith, something which has brought the letter into theological question by many. Paul argues adamantly against works for justification, but James seems (but which is not correct) to argue exactly the opposite. This is so much the case that the Roman Catholic church – misunderstanding important theological points raised by James 2 – states in Canon 10 of the Council of Trent that –

“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

In other words, they state that man is not justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone, but also by their cooperating works. This will be addressed during the evaluation of this epistle. Martin Luther found little value in the book of James, having stated about it –

“In sum, St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle; St. Paul’s letters, especially the ones to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians; and St. Peter’s first epistle are all books that show you Christ, and they all teach which is necessary and salutary for you to know, even if you do not see or hear any other book or teaching. It is for this reason that James’s epistle is in comparison a real strawy epistle, for it has no evangelical character about it.”

In calling it a “real strawy epistle,” he was indicating (based on 1 Corinthians 3:12) that using James’ epistle for one’s doctrines is to use straw to build upon the foundation which is Jesus Christ. Is this true? Or did Martin Luther miss one of the principle points concerning James’ idea of faith and works? That too will be evaluated in this analysis.

In the Old Testament, there are five books known as wisdom literature: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. In the New Testament, no book is considered specifically as wisdom literature, but James is the closest to the style and content of a book of wisdom.

As a short summary of the intent and purpose of the book, we should remember these points: 1) Author: James, the Lord’s brother; 2) Date: Mid to late 40s; 3) Theme: The necessity of living faith; 4) Purpose: To remind the believers that genuine faith is seen in a life that is changed and which is produced by living according to God’s wisdom; 5) Presentation of Christ: Our Wisdom.

Life application: We hope that you will spend the next 108 days of your life learning the book of James, one verse at a time. From there, we hope you will apply its truths to your life, molding yourself more each day into being a faithful and wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.

Lord God, we are given sixty-six books of marvelous wonder to study in order to know Your heart and what You intend for us as we live out our short lives in Your presence. Help us not to fritter away our time with worthless pursuit, but to study Your word, apply it to our lives, and stand approved in Your eyes as we anticipate the Day when we will come before You for an evaluation of the days we have spent in these lives You have given us. Amen.