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!

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