James, A Start

Since Bruce was brave enough to lead us through Ecclesiastes, with serendipitous results, I though I would try something challenging as well.  I have told you before that James is my least favorite book of the Bible, mainly because it steps on my toes, and does so badly.  I fear that I may be one of those who tries to show his faith without works, or at least with woefully insufficient works.  Where do you stand on the Book of James?  Have you ever considered that question?

NOTA BENE:  I have lifted a lot of the following information about James from a very nice study by Bob Utley from East Texas Baptist University which can be found in its entirety here: http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/pdf/VOL11.pd

It’s an important question, and one asked early and often by the church as a whole.  Traditionally, authorship of this book has been ascribed to James the half brother of Jesus, called “James the Just”.  According to one of the patristic writers, Esuebius, who quotes another writer named Hegesippus, James was also nicknamed “camel knees” because he prayed so much on his knees (we’ll be referring to “Ole Camel Knees” or OCK through this study because I like the idea of a Biblical author with a nickname).  Jerome says that James was Jesus’
Cousin and Catholic tradition has James as a half-brother by a prior wife of Joseph.  Most protestant theologians believe James was the son of Mary and Joseph and that the Catholic Tradition was developed so that Catholics could continue to assert the perpetual virginity of Mary.

If the writer were in fact James the Just, here’s what we can know about him from scriptural and other contemporary accounts:

  • He was not a believer until after the resurrection and Jesus appeared to him at that time.
  • He was with the disciples in the upper room and possibly at Pentecost.
  • He was probably married.
  • Paul referred to him as a pillar, but he was not one of the 12.
  • Josephus says he was stoned in 62 AD by the Sadducees.

If James is the author and if he died in 62 AD as per Josephus we know the book could not have been written after then. Some say it was written as early as 49 AD, which would make it the earliest canonical book in circulation.  In supporters of this theory cite the use of “assembly” or “synagogue”, the lack of church organization (the early churches were Baptist), no mention of the controversy over Gentiles, and the fact that the book seems to be written to believers who were culturally Jewish.  Those who believe a later date nearer the end of James’ life cite the apparent assumption of basic Christian doctrine because the book is devoid of doctrinal matters.  They also believe it was written in response to people who were misusing the teachings of Paul, particularly in the book of Romans.  My personal opinion swings toward a later date mainly because a book circulated early and widely in the Church would likely not have reached canonical status so late.

To whom was this book written?  Well 1:1 gives us a hint its written to the 12 tribes around the world.  That it was written to Jewish Christians seems to be confirmed by multiple uses of the term “brother” and  “Lord” (not standard Jewish usages),  the specific mention of faith in Christ, and the expressed expectation of His Return.  One other interpretation of 1:1 is possible, that is that it is a reference to the Church as spiritual Israel.

James was included very late in the cannon.  I tea not in a list called the “Muratorian Fragment” around 200 AD, or one from North Africa from 360 AD, and it was not in the Old Latin version of the New Testament.  Esusebius listed it as a disputed book and Theodore of Mopsuetia around 400 AD rejected it outright.  It was not recognized in the West until the 4th century or in the east until the 5th.  Erasmas had doubts about the book and Luther called it a “strawy epistle”.  Almost all of the objections to the book centered (or perhaps still center) on its relation to the doctrine of justification by faith, and especially in the Protestant world to the notion of Sola Fides.  Catholics who might not have liked the book previously, like it since Luther because of the inference one may make that faith alone is not sufficient for salvation.

One last thought before we dive in.  In addition to all of that this book appears to be written as wisdom literature, like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes.  Its style is similar to wisdom teaching techniques of the time both from Jewish and Graeco/Roman sources.  It jumps around from one topic to another, has a great many imperatives and uses the technique called diatribe (an imaginary person who objects asking questions for rhetorical purposes).  The rabbis of the time called the technique of jumping around “pearls on a string” and used it to keep people’s attention.

Jumping in with verse 2 (we’ve already covered verse 1) OCK tells us that we should count trials as joy.  Does this sound as nuts to you as it does to me?  I have long believed, and still to this day would contend that no pain means, well, no pain.  But Ole Camel Knees begs to differ with me.  He says, instead, that trials test our faith and that testing produces steadfastness and that steadfastness, when it is fully effective, makes you perfect and complete.  What could he mean by that?  How is it that suffering could produce perfection?

Then he jumps to another pearl in the strand and says that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it, but that we have to ask in faith in order to receive wisdom because double mindedness will result in our receiving nothing.  How the heck can anyone even do that?  Does having faith, asking in faith, mean we have to have no doubt whatever that God will give us wisdom?  I get the notion that God could give us wisdom.  I agree that He can do whatever he wants.  But that’s the point, He does whatever He wants and if He does not want to give us wisdom He won’t.  I can ask with complete faith that His will be done, because I know His will is always done.  But how can I ask with complete faith for any specific thing?

Pearl number 3 for the day.  The lowly are to boast of exaltation and the rich in humiliation.  Just as the sun withers a flower and destroys its beauty, so the rich will fade away right in the middle of their pursuits.  Ok, I get it.  The rich are absorbed by “rich people stuff” not “God Stuff” or maybe life is good enough for them that they don’t need God.  And the poor, well their hope is in God and they will be raised up.  Is OCK talking to us 20th Century Americans?  What do you think such a comment would have meant to the people to whom James was originally addressed.

Well, that’s enough for this week.  Ole Camel Knees is already messing with my mind.  I’m starting to think it was his intent to mess with the minds of people who generally thought they had things figured out.  Hmmm.