What About James?

(system) #1

James stands unparalleled among biblical books. Possibly first and foremost, its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is a transitional work that serves as a bridge between the first and second Testaments. In content and emphasis it can be seen as the last of the Old Testament’s prophetic or wisdom literature, and at the same time, the first of the New Testament’s affirmation of Jesus as Lord.

The document also seems not to have a parallel in either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures. Its combination of epistolary style and wisdom utterances combined with ancient prophetic denunciation and messianic concern for the marginal, sets it apart from all other 66 books of the Christian canon.

Finally, I believe, that James, the brother of Jesus is the author, and this book is the first to be written by a member of the Christian community, so it should have pride of place in Christian thought and practice. The Epistle of James’ proximity to the historical Jesus and the life and ministry of the primitive Christian church should make it a foundational source in the life of the Christian and the practice of the church.

Yet, this has not been the case for the 2000 years since it was first penned. In recent decades it has been ignored by most except for the extremist conservative right who tout it for their legalistic works foundation. The radical left also use the book selectively to promote a socio-political agenda.

This ignoring and downright rejection nearly caused the deathnell of the book during the first 300 years of the Christian era. James, along with a few other works (such as Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation) was relegated to a second-class status and had a difficult time gaining acceptance into the canon.

The most lasting impact on the negative press that James has received came from Martin Luther, the sixteenth century father of Protestantism. For Luther, James was an “epistle of straw,” which did not portray Christ and the gospel in distinct ways as did the writings of Paul, particularly those of Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. Even though Luther did not banish James to the oblivion of the noncanonical dump-heap, he lessened its importance by placing it in a secondary place—at the back of the canon; thus creating a canon within a canon.

It is my conviction that Luther’s influence and the dominance of the theology and writings of Paul in protestantism have led many scholars at the podium, pastors in the pulpit, and members in the pew to relegate James to the “junk mail” of the sacred scriptures.

The late 20th and early 21st centuries have seen resurgence in the study and appreciation of James both in the academy and the church. As scholars, pastors, and members begin to read James through his lenses and not through the lenses of Paul, or through the theological focus of any other biblical book or personal preconceived theology, this little document comes alive and authoritative in its own right as the Word of God, secondary to none.

We do not know when Jesus’ siblings became his followers. Some have suggested that they might have come to believe in him after his death and resurrection. This we know, that they were part of the upper room inner circle praying and waiting for the Day of Pentecost immediately after the resurrection (Acts 1:14). From then on James and his brothers became active in the Jesus movement. Of interest is the tradition that their father, Joseph, died and left Mary as a widow with at least seven children. If this was the case, one can understand James’ concern for widows and orphans in their distress (1:27).

Of all the brothers James became the most prominent in the early primitive church. If Peter was the charismatic leader, James seems to be the administrative head of the church. In Galatians 2:9 he is the first listed among the “pillars” of the church. In Acts 15 he is the peacemaker who has the final word—even after Peter and Paul! These two incidents highlight two of James’ concerns in his epistle. First, in the Galatians passage the other “pillars” agreed with Paul to have separate ministries to the Jews and Gentiles. However, in Gal. 2:10, they agreed on one thing: they would not forget the poor. Both in Galatians and in the epistle he is a champion of the poor.

The second incident in Acts 15 portrays James as the peacemaker in the most contentious debate in early Christianity. His wise words in Acts 15:13-21 are illustrative of his call in Jas. 3:13-18 for wisdom to be linked to peacemaking. These two incidents are illustrative of how the tone, language, and content of the epistle resemble that of the historic first administrative leader of Jerusalem.

It is unfortunate that due to the western thrust, shift, and growth of Christianity James disappeared from influence in the Christian church. Within a generation or two not only the man, but his seminal book sunk into almost oblivion. And the Protestant Reformation added a nail to the coffin—recapturing Paul and burying James!

With this quarter’s lessons on James, our community can recapture the message of this important book.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6315

(le vieux) #2

Unlike Martin Luther, James is one of my favorite NT books. It echos much of what Jesus said, and it is quite practical in its application of Christian principles.

He can say a lot in a few short words: faith without works is dead (James 2:20); therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (James 4:17); wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19); the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16).

(Gerhard Dr Svrcek Seiler) #3

Just as I see it : A refreshig message, to be read with new eyes, to be shared with experiences of our real lives.

(Yoyo7th) #4

Week #2 >>>> another intro???

Luther griped about James around 1522 and then changed his mind years later. Maybe having several kids changed his attitude??

.What about the content of James instead of the speculation or controversy about who the author is? (Higher criticism) The 1957 SDA commentary takes 3/4 of the intro on James discussing who the author might be.
How about content instead of the reaction during history, by clerics, about the content? Why the reaction to James as is? Any hunches?

What is the agenda/goal of James? Why does he start out the letter like he does?
What is the general theme? Why does he include what he does and not write like Paul?

Does the letter of James bother many/ most Christians? Why?
It is only 108 verses long and can be read in 10 minutes… Why do so many avoid reading it?

(le vieux) #5

How do you know that so many avoid reading it? I know from personal experience, that in sermons and Sabbath School classes, passages in James are referenced frequently.

(Gerhard Dr Svrcek Seiler) #6

Yes, passages, single texts - -

(Gerhard Dr Svrcek Seiler) #7

Pedrito, many thaks for your explaining, stimulatiog introduction. After todays Teschers Preparation in the early morning and after Sabbatschool classes most of us fund a new approach - to study - study ! - the book word by word : To ask ourseves what “temptation” , “perfect”, “wisdom” “wavering” - - really mean in our everydays life . - -.

(Yoyo7th) #8

Do a survey in your church and ask…How many have read all 108 verses of James once in their life.
There are a few verses that are dear to SDA but do they know the theme or agenda/purpose of the sermon letter of James?

(Yoyo7th) #9

James is not emphasizing works over faith. He is countering religious deception and depravity by targeting intellectual assent, lip service- religious lifestyle, and carnal/worldly attitudes and behavior.

I led the SS lesson yesterday and brought out how the lesson author warped/corrupted truth in Lesson #2 introduction page regarding God’s vs the believer role in works.

"Likewise, as Christians, we need not get all worked up over whether or not our characters will be good enough in the end. That is God’s work. Our role is to “fight the good fight of faith” (NO WORK INVOLVED IN FIGHTING?)(1 Tim. 6:12) by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,(WHICH MEANS WHAT?) “the author and perfecter of our faith.” Such faith in Christ enables Him to work in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) ) ( NOTICE THE VERSE IMMEDIATELY PRECEEDING THIS ONE ) and to finish the good work He has begun (Phil. 1:6). (SO NOW WE HAVE TO WORK TO FINISH?) Without faith, it is possible to feel defeated even before we begin because we focus on ourselves rather than on Him.

As Jesus says, “ ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent’ ” (John 6:29, NKJV). James, as we will see, helps us to understand this important spiritual truth. " I WOULD SAY THAT HARDLY ANY SDA, WHO EVEN TAKES TIME TO READS THE LESSON, WILL CHECK OUT THE CONTEXT OF JOHN 6 TO SEE WHAT IS MEANT BY JESUS HERE.

This is a misinterpreted. convoluted, ambiguous collection of cut and paste theology.

To any that have the SDA bible commentary Vol 7 look at James section p 505 on the verse Jas 1:4

I would be interested in getting the opinions of a dozen top SDA scholars on the SS lesson intro.

This INTRO smacks of modern passive “churchianity” doctrine.

(Frankmer7) #10

In Phil. 2 Paul is talking about the relationships within the believing community. They need to “consider one another better than themselves,” “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit,” to “look out not only for their own interests, but for the interests of others,” and to be, “one in spirit and in purpose.” Later in the letter, he pleads with the church to help two women, fellow workers in the gospel, to reconcile their differences.

The exhortations in Chapter 2, sandwich the hymn of Christ’s self emptying, for our sake. Thus, the strength of meaning of 2: 12-13, is not Christ working in us so that we do enough good works to achieve salvation…which would be a heretical understanding of this anyway. It is to be seen in the community setting in which Paul intended it.

“Work out your salvation,”… that the believers already possessed in Christ, in a way that would be evident to those who witnessed their behavior, (see 1:27) and especially witnessed the way they treated one another. IOW, conduct yourselves as worthy of the calling with which you’ve been called, the name you already bear, and the eternal hope that God has already destined you for. Work this out in your practical everyday lives and relationships. The imperative follows the indicative, as usual in Paul’s letters.

“For it is Christ who works in us,”…this can also be understood in the collective sense, “works among us.” This is also in keeping with the collective focus of the church and their relationships with one another that Paul is emphasizing, as he always did.

“To both choose and to do according to his good pleasure.”… And, it is his good pleasure when we treat one another with the same type of regard and love with which he has treated us, as Paul outlined in Chapter 2. This seemed to be the need within the Philippian community that Paul is addressing, and upon which 2:12-13 is focused, along with a good portion of the letter. You called attention to 2:12. See also 2:14 where Paul calls upon them to “do everything without arguing and complaining.”

This is in line with James’ letter about our treatment of the weak and the poor in our midst, as opposed to exalting the rich and powerful among us, and his characterizing of the wisdom from above as peaceable, and willing to yield. The theology is highly relational in both letters. However, Paul explicitly emphasizes Jesus and his self sacrificing love as the ultimate example.



(Yoyo7th) #11

" is not Christ working in us so that we do enough good works to achieve salvation…which would be a heretical understanding of this anyway"

" …“Work out your salvation,”… that the believers already possessed in Christ,"

Like I have posted so many times…

Modern Christianity has the concept of what “saved” means warped.

This warped concept is sabotaging Christianity and SDA members. The results of depravity and lawlessness are so evident in the “Christian” world.

(Frankmer7) #12

Not only did you not deal with any of what I presented Philippians as saying in itself and in relation to James…you once again simply grind your axe concerning your own understanding of God and salvation.

Paul asserts in his letters over and over that we have been, are being, and will be saved, the last being the dimension of hope that believers have. This indicative, the state of things, is always followed by the imperative, the response being called for. Thus, good works are the response to a life and destiny altering gift, that has been so astoundingly and freely given. They characterize the life that is the response of gratitude. It is a life also lived out under siege from within and without, hence the constant need to rely upon God, and the exhortations to vigilance, to putting on the armor of God, etc. But they are not works done to earn something!

If that is what you mean, then you have moved the gospel of grace into a contract in which God pays us for service done. This is not only a wholly different gospel flying in the face of the NT, and especially as clearly outlined in sections such as Romans 4, Eph. 2, and the entire Galatians letter, it is a wholly different picture of a different God. You now have a God who gives to receive payment, rather than the Father who gives extravagant gifts to his children. One who enters into a selfish contract, rather than a dispenser of grace.

You also now have human motivation moving from gratitude to such a generous Father, to a selfish grasping to pay our way, and the misguided expectation that we somehow can do enough to repay what we owe…sort of like the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable. It can lead to pride of accomplishment (like the Pharisee in Luke 18), judgementalism and heartlessness towards others who we feel don’t measure up (same parable and that of the wicked servant), a sense of entitlement because of our religious works (like the older son in Luke 15), or a sense of hopelessness that one will never measure up.

I must say, the critical arrogance that I detect in your posts, seems to reflect such theology. Maybe you don’t mean to come across that way, but that is how I hear you. Be that as it may, since you wouldn’t even really engage with anything I posted in my earlier response to you, other than lumping it in with your call of heresy, there is nothing left to say.

Have a good day.


(Andreas Bochmann) #13

Same in our very little, humble church (attendance 15-20). First Sabbath a very lively, very intelligent discussion of the authorship of James (and the implications of authorship). Second Sabbath a very lively study of terms and contexts in James 1. While I agree - reading the whole letter as a letter in its entirety (I recently prepared a sermon on Galatians with exactly those notions), I appreciate the depth of the study (isn’t yoyo7th usually complaining about the superficiality…?) and cannot confirm yoyo7th description of “avoidance” from my personal experience in my church.

(Yoyo7th) #14

Your spin on my post is erroneous. You just continue to unfairly color my posts with selfish arrogant legalism. Possibly this is subconscious projection on your part.
What I post evidently is just heresy…so I call your attention to 7BC p 158 …the long paragraph on Phil 2:12 and let you compare what you wrote with what is written there and also continue your gainsaying. I have had 50 years of SDA church attending experience in more than a dozen locations and can see the transition of theology from active cooperation with the Holy Spirit /grace of the human to the more passive approach. The SDA audience is being deceived from many pulpits.

(Yoyo7th) #15

Some on the Spectrum site are aware of the statistic where 90+% of those SDA’s polled said that their spiritual experience/nurturing? was due to the Sabbath school/teacher. I wish I had the source at hand. Yet here we are with so few inputting on the SS lesson and here it is Friday and no lesson #3 to discuss. As far as I am concerned, if the denomination deleted the Sabbath school portion, I would not attend the SDA church. I wonder what percentage of SDA even attend Sabbath school anymore in the western world. Anyone remember when the back of the SS quarterly had 2 sets of statistics…one for SDA members and one set for SS members??

And the focus is on a practical and very relevant New testament letter,.

(Frankmer7) #16

Show me where in my post I said that we have nothing to do in cooperation with God. Talk about reading with filters!

What I address is motivation and reasons why. If you truly believe we work with God in order to earn salvation and favor, then yes…you believe in heresy…I don’t care what source you quote. If you believe and teach that we work with God out of gratitude, the fact that God has called us to a life of doing good as members of his family, and the reality that our faith is under assault internally and externally, therefore the continual need to reach out to God and one another, then I would agree with you.

The latter is NT Christianity. The former is the foundation of every heathen religion…as the author you referred me to also said. Clear things up for me…not sure where you stand on this.


BTW…I 'm simply reading Phil. 2:12 in light of the flow of the text of the letter…before going to any external source. Look for yourself.

(Carolyn) #17

Yes its most frustrating especially when you’re in a time zone that is 20 hours ahead of California and the lesson is posted late or not at all, but at least there is the Good Word Lesson to refer to. In our SabbathSchool class last week we have been lamenting the fact that our church has gone from 4 adult classes to 2. People don’t realise how much they are missing out on not only expressing views, questioning, learning, spirited interaction and it might be the only opportunity to really get to know your fellow class members. While there is less than a dozen people in the adult SS classes at 9:30 am, across the road at the community centre there will be dozens of people doing a Zumba exercise class…

(Yoyo7th) #18

I have to assume that the teachers didn’t know how to make the class relevant, significant or interesting compared to TV, videos or whatever. Sermons usually fall into the same mode.

I was thinking that Herb Douglass might be one to post a SS lesson on James.

This study on James can be very crucial in countering the superficial education nonsense so prevalent in the SDA church.