Today: [James 1:] Does This Book Belong in the Bible? The book of James for centuries has challenged thinkers and theologians as to its authenticity and place in the canon of scripture. It purports to be written by none other than the half-brother of Jesus, and among all the books of the New Testament is one of the most direct and frank exhortations against unbelief in all the sacred writings.
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[Jas 1:1-15 KJV] 1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. 2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing [this], that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have [her] perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man [is] unstable in all his ways. 9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: 10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 11 For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. 12 Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. 13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
The book of James is grouped as one of 21 New Testament epistles referred to as the didactic letters. They are so described as formal treatises written to specific groups of people in elegant, formal style. It begins addressing itself to the twelve tribes scattered abroad which is interesting because at this point in history the ten northern tribes had bred themselves out of existence centuries before as a result of Babylonian captivity. The dating is questionable as well because if all twelve tribes are described as scattered, then it would have been written after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. It is generally believed to have been written then in the late first or second century, and for this reason, James the half brother of Jesus couldn’t have been the author because he was martyred before that time. The style of the letter is very polished and formal Greek writing, and possibly some suggest written by James the half brother of Jesus and heavily edited and re-written over a century later by an unknown copyist.
The composition of the letter is compelling because it makes no reference to information contained in the gospels yet reflects great intimacy with the words and works of Jesus. It also includes no acknowledgment of the apostle Paul or the writings of Paul thus making the case that it may have been initially composed long before even the book of Mark (the earliest gospel). If the letter was written by James the brother of Jesus and heavily edited later the editor didn’t do us any favors in so doing because the altering of its original style in conflict with what would have been a distinctly Jewish document otherwise brought the book into question and for this reason it was only gradually brought into the canon of scripture.
The book of James along with the book of Revelation are two of the most disputed books in the accepted canon of scripture. Because of its emphasis on works Martin Luther considered it spurious in the extreme and rejected it altogether. In the early church, it was not generally accepted until specific church councils that considered the question four hundred years after Christ. Several principle figures questioned its authority significantly the historian Eusebius whose written works give us the only surviving history of the first, second and third centuries of the church other than the scriptures themselves.
The In v. 2 the writer comforts the exiled Jewish community encouraging them to maintain their joy in the midst of the rigors of their sojourn among the Gentile nations. At the time of the fall of the city of Jerusalem, all Jews were banned from what is today identified as geographical Israel and also banished from Rome and the principal cities of the empire. It was illegal to even say the word “Jew” or “Jerusalem” out loud in public. To this writer comforts the reader saying (v. 3) that the trying of their faith worketh patience and for that purpose, we are to persevere allowing patience to have her perfect work in our lives without fainting or forsaking our commitment to Christ.
If any lack wisdom we need only to ask (which wisdom would be sorely needed to survive as an outcast in a world deeply hostile to faith at the time). Praying for wisdom is portrayed as the one thing that we might ask of God that will be answered without reproach or denial, only ask in faith nothing wavering. Here then is an explanation as to why prayers might go unanswered. If faith does not accompany our petition, it goes unanswered and falls inert at our feet never penetrating the heavens.
The blight of unanswered prayer is universal in Christian culture of any age. Modern theology strains itself to great lengths to assure believers that unanswered prayer has nothing to do with the quality of their faith. James begs to differ flatly stating that prayers go unanswered because of double-mindedness and unbelief. The faithless and double-minded are described as spiritually derelict and completely unstable and unanswered prayer being the identifying characteristic of those so described. We might ask the question then what is faith? Does calm and continued love for God in the face of unanswered needs and prayers constitute faith? Perhaps not because James suggests, in fact, declares that unanswered prayer is a result of a decided lack of faith. What then is faith other than taking God at his word, believing in the simplicity of His promise and expecting those promises to be made manifest in our lives through the efficacy of prayers offered up in expectation of an affirmative answer?
In v. 9-11 those in impoverished circumstances are encouraged to expect relief, and those that are well off are warned not to put their trust in uncertain riches that sooner or later expend themselves and are gone. Again v. 11 repeats the exhortation to endure the trying experiences of life knowing that in the afterlife there remains a crown of reward for all those who remain faithful to Jesus. The word temptation is repeated more than once in these first verses at which point the writer clarifies himself stating that while temptations are common to man, they do not originate with God. Temptations (v. 14) arise from the vagaries of inordinate desire and enticements to sin that ultimately bring forth death.
[Jas 1:16-27 KJV]
16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth [therein], he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. 26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion [is] vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.
In v. 17 the writer declares that the gifts that come from God are perfect and that God in answering prayer never wavers or varies His response to faith-filled prayer. This is the exact opposite of universally accepted teachings today that God does answer prayer but doesn’t always answer the same way. The modern idea is that one person can ask God to fulfill a promise in his word and will receive an affirmative answer, but another person asking the same prayer for the same need will be denied because God allegedly for some ineffable reason deigns to dismiss the second person in order to work some “grace” in that person’s life. If that is true, then it is impossible to have faith because under that supposition you can never expect God to make good on his promise. The insistence of James, however, is the opposite. God never changes his mind regarding his promises, and if we do not experience those promises in answers to our prayer according to James, it is because of lack of faith and/or a condition of double-mindedness. To suggest that today is considered to be an obscene insensitivity to hurting people because the emphasis of modern ministry is not on the faithfulness of God but on the intemperate nature of the people who are loathed to be corrected in any way. From this, we see that the book of James is a very different document originating with a writer who speaks much more plainly about complicated realities of faith believing than customarily is practiced by Christian leaders and teachers today.
Because of the struggle with patience, temptation and unbelief (v. 18) the writer urges us to be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath. It is easy to take a contradiction to God’s promise and make it His fault we are not being answered rather than to question ourselves or the qualities of our faith. The writer declares (v. 21) that we must lay aside all thoughts questioning the simplicity of God’s word as “filthiness” and “superfluity of naughtiness” (meaning residue of carnality continuing in the Christian’s character after conversion). Instead, we are to receive with meekness (humility) and not with objection what the word plainly says – questioning ourselves – rather than questioning God. Where is the path of progress then? In being doers of the word (v. 22) rather than those who hear only without applying it to the heart and are thus deceived not by Satan but by their own unwillingness to humble themselves to the simplicity of the teaching of the word of God.
When we face hardship and struggle with pressures in life, there is the temptation to say many things out of our mouth in the midst of our pain that in reality are accusations against God and His word. We question why we are making an effort to be faithful as believers doing everything we know to do but still are suffering in some area of our lives. It seems unfair. We don’t understand, and we verbalize these things as a means of venting the pressure we feel inside. For this reason (v. 26) the writer warns against an unbridled tongue. When we allow unrestrained dispute against God’s word to come out of our mouth in complaint, the writer says we deceive ourselves and render our walk with God (religious expression) a void thing.
Where is to be our focus then when we are in the midst of trials? The last verse tells us: rather than filling our lives with the outworking of our frustrations we are to discipline ourselves to be “others-oriented” seeking out the needy, the fatherless and the widowed to minister to their deprivations and thereby keep ourselves unspotted from the world.
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