I am excited about our study of James over the next several weeks. In my experience, James it is one of the more neglected books of the New Testament and I look forward to walking through it with y’all. James is written to the Christian community at large and it instructs us on how to live as a community. It uses the word “adelphos” (“brethren” or “brothers” (which in Greek, like Spanish, includes men and women)) more than any other book except for 1 Corinthians. Although the authorship and date of James have been disputed since the early church – as late as the 4th century, Eusebius in his work “Ecclesiastical History” considers James to be “canonically disputed” – much of modern scholarship now sees James as being contemporaneous or even written before Paul’s letters. I have attached a brief 3-page summary from the Anchor-Yale Bible Commentary on James by Luke Timothy Johnson setting forth the reasons for an early dating of James. Therefore, as we read James, we may be reading the earliest existing Christian manuscript.
The overall tone of James’s letter is set out in the first verse: “James a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora.” James identifies himself as a “slave”, not an apostle or any other position or occupation. And, like Paul in Romans 6, James’s overall message is that we are slaves to the one whom we obey, either of the world or of God.
The first chapter of James (of course, James didn’t write in chapters and verses) provides an overview of his letter. The themes introduced in chapter 1 will be later elaborated upon throughout the work. This chapter is a series of vignettes that will blossom later. For example:
Steadfastness and prayer in vv.2-7, 12 is elaborated upon in 5:7-18;
Rich and poor in vv.9-10 are discussed in 2:1-17 and 4:13-5:6;
Wicked desires in vv.13-18 is examined further in 3:13-4:10;
The perils of speech in 1:19-20 is developed in 3:1-12; and
Being a doer, not simply a hearer in 1:22-27 is discussed in 2:19-26.
What we also find in the first chapter is that James bases his teaching on both Jewish wisdom literature as well as the teachings of Jesus. In vv.13-18, James quotes Sirach 15:11-20 almost verbatim. James’s plea to be steadfast in trials combines the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:11-12) with Proverbs 3. His treatment of the rich is reflected in Jesus’ encounter with the rich man in Matthew 19:16-30 and the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. As we walk through James over the next several weeks, we will try to find the basis of James’ teaching in other parts of the Scriptures. If you have time this week, please read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and wander through Jewish wisdom in Proverbs and Sirach.
A final point to remember as we read through James, is that James uses “wisdom” as Paul uses “spirit.” As set forth in Proverbs and Sirach, Wisdom is the personification of God’s activity in the world. According to Proverbs, it is wisdom that existed from the moment of creation and gives life to all that is. Prov 8:22-36. And James’s understanding of the gifts of Wisdom (James 3:13-18) is substantially similar to Paul’s Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
Will we begin our study (probably) on September 25.
If you call out for insightProverbs 2:3-6
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;