The Argument of James

This is a paper written for my seminary class BE107 Hebrews-Revelation. The Assignment was to write an introduction and argument to the book of James, addressing things such as date, author, audience, and then walking through the book to see what his argument was. 


Introductory Issues

Authorship

The book of James is self-identified in verse one as being from ᾽Ιακαβος, Jacob, or as it is often translated, James. This prompts the question, “Which James?” as there are four prominent characters in the New Testament who go by the name. There is James the half-brother of Jesus, James the son of Zebedee (brother of John), James the Son of Alpheus (James the Lesser), and James the Father of Judas (Judas, not Iscariot). According to Acts 12:1, James the brother of John was the first of the apostles to be put to death, around AD 44. Given the likely dating of the book of James, to be discussed later, this makes James the brother of John a possible candidate for the author of the book, however an unlikely one, as he would’ve been under extreme persecution and nearing his death at the Hands of Herod at the time of authorship. James the father of Judas is mentioned in only two passing and obscure references in Acts 1:13 and Luke 6:16, and there is no record of his being a major figure in the church. This leaves James the son of Alpheus and James the half-brother of Jesus.

While normally, apostleship among the twelve would be a much larger determining factor in discerning likely authorship, this book presents a special case. James the Lesser is relatively silent in the biblical texts, while James the half-brother of Jesus, though not one of the twelve, was a prominent and respected member and leader of the early church. There is ample evidence from non-canonical sources to say that James was the Bishop of Jerusalem.[1] James is also seen in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 giving the final judgment on the questions of circumcision of Gentiles and eating food sacrificed to idols. All of the apostles listen to his judgment and agree with him (Acts 15:22). He remained in Jerusalem until his death, according to Josephus.[2]

If these facts about James the Half-brother of Jesus are correct, then the arguments in favor of the bishop of Jerusalem, highly respected leader of the church, and common teacher among believers seem quite strong, even when pitted against the apostleship of James the Lesser. For these reasons, it seems best to conclude that the author of the book of James is James the half-brother of Jesus.

Date

If the authorship of James as James the half-brother of Jesus is accepted, then the date of the letter must be early, before his death in AD 62. Scholars accepting this premise are divided between two main date ranges, the early view that it was written in the early or middle 40’s or the late view that it was written near the end of James’s life in AD 61-62.[3] A few facts gleaned from the book help in making a determination: (1) The distinctly Jewish audience[4] and nature of the epistle suggests that There is no strong Jew-Gentile conflict yet present in the church. (2) The theology presented in James does not use the same definitions of terms as the more developed Pauline theology, suggesting it predates Paul’s letters. (3) The possible references to persecution, which would only make sense with a very early date under Herodian/Sauline persecution, or a much later date under Nero or Domitian.[5] (4) The similar content and organization between it and the Sermon on the Mount in the earliest gospel, Matthew.[6] (5) the reference to their meeting place with συναγογή (2:2) indicating it is so early that the church members are still participating in synagogue worship and have not yet broken all traditional ties with the Jewish way of life. These arguments all suggest an early dating of around AD 45.

As was mentioned, the addressees of the letter are believing Israelites living in the dispersion. It is clear that they are believers from the numerous uses of the word ἀδελφός “brother.”[7] Given the date of the letter, the audience is living outside of Israel, having grown up in a foreign land surrounded by a community of Jews expecting a liberating Messiah, and now trying to navigate life as a believer that the Messiah has come, gone, and is going to return, while still practicing daily life as a Jew. Again, given the date and the address to those in the dispersion, it is likely that most of the readers are converts from Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost, when Jews came to Jerusalem from all the surrounding areas (Acts 2:9-11) and many of them likely went back to their daily lives outside of Jerusalem. It is also possible that he’s speaking to those “scattered” by the persecution of Saul (Acts 8:1) which “would furnish an explanation of the circumstances that called it forth: James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, must minister to his scattered flock by mail.”[8]

Purpose

The purpose of the letter is stated clearly in 1:2. “Consider it all joy my brothers when you face temptations of various kinds, knowing that the proof of your faith works into steadfastness.” James is writing to the church about the various temptations that they are now experiencing as regenerate believers in the Messiah and what to do about them. He wants them to prove, or work, their young, weak, and somewhat flimsy faith into a steadfast one that believes whole heartedly in the Messiah. He says that the way to do this is to endure through the temptations that they face. He then spends the rest of the book describing different types of temptations they may face and what to do in response to them.

Theme

The theme of James is a practical and direct application of faith, that stands up to temptations. Its goal is the sanctification of the believer; to conform the actions of the believer to the truth a believer claims to believe. It is a very practical and physical kind of book using vivid imagery to make clear how the immaterial realities of belief should materialize in certain ways in the life and actions of believers. “Like the author of a ‘how-to’ book, James explains in a few words the responsibilities of a Christian, while supplying apt illustrations from real-life categories such as shipping and horseback riding.”[9]

Another pattern can be detected in the writing of James, and it is the repetition of certain themes throughout the book. Along with temptations of various kinds, the repeated themes of wisdom, works, worldliness, wealth, and obedience to the law come up time and time again. The patterns are hard to detect, but keeping these five themes in mind while reading will help the reader to understand James’s train of thought. He repeatedly comes back to these themes.

Analysis and Synthesis

Analysis

  1. Introduction and Thesis Statement (1:1-4)
  2. Temptation to Doubleminded Doubt about God and His Goodness (1:5-18)
  3. Temptation to Hear and Not Do the Law of Liberty (1:19-3:12)
    1. Summary Statement (1:19-27)
    2. Temptation to Hear the Law on Partiality and Not Do It (2:1-26)
    3. Temptation to Hear the Law on Speech and Not Do It (3:1-13)
    4. Temptation to Hear the Law on Jealousy and Not Do It (3:14-4:9)
    5. Temptation to Hear the Law on Pride and Not Do It (4:10-17)
    6. Temptation to Hear the Law on Wealth and Not Do It (5:1-6)
  4. Temptation to Impatience in Suffering (5:7-20)

Synthesis

The argument of the book of James stems primarily from his thesis statement in chapter one. “Consider all things joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the proof of your faith works itself to steadfastness, and let steadfastness have perfect work in order that you all are perfect and whole lacking in nothing.” This thesis statement summarizes the main point and argument of the letter: temptations of all kinds must be worked against, and when these temptations come, we are to recognize that they are refining us for glory, they are making us “perfect and whole.” He elaborates.

James uses his last word λειπόμενοι “lacking” in order to eloquently transition into the first of the possible kind of temptation you will face. These two initial temptations serve as summaries, or over-arching temptations that might filter down and manifest as many of the others to come, as they both relate to the steadfastness of your faith in God.

The first temptation is the temptation toward doublemindedness in one’s faith. James describes the doublemindedness as the “surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” He introduces the temptation toward doublemindedness by instructing the believers in how to behave if they know they lack wisdom: let them ask of God, who gives to all. He uses this command to illustrate the doublemindedness. About what is he doubleminded? The question is answered in verse six, “but let him ask in faith, without doubt.” His faith is in question. Faith in what? God and his promise to give wisdom to those who ask. The temptation is to doubt that God will do what he has said he will do.

He continues in this vein, and it is here that the echoes of the sermon on the mount come thundering to the reader’s ear. Contrasts of rich men glorying in humiliation, and the “blessed” man. He goes into restating his thesis for his readers, this time elaborating on the end result of the proof that comes from temptations, which is the crown of life, or in other words, resurrection.

He moves into a slightly different way that people are tempted to doubt God, and that is to doubt his goodness. He clarifies that the temptations that are producing the proof, which lead to the resurrection, which is promised to those who love God, are not directly from God Himself. The temptations to evil come from within a man. It is the heart of man which is wicked and corrupted. He is trying to teach his readers how to talk about these temptations that they are to count all joy. They are not to attribute them to God as the source of the temptation, but they are to attribute to God his sovereign guiding hand through the temptation, as well as the power to resist that temptation, hence “every perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of lights.”

He finishes his clarifications and general statements about the temptation to doubt God with a reminder of the gospel that is able to save souls. It is interesting to note that the word “receive” in “receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” is the δέχομαι, the root word for δόκιμος used earlier in verse three for “the proof of your faith.” δέχομαι means to accept, receive, or welcome, and so just as you accept evidence in a trial and by so doing prove your case, so when you accept the words implanted in you, that is the gospel, you save your soul. It is in accepting the word, meaning actually internalizing it, believing it to the degree that it actually affects your actions, actually transforms the soul, actually actualizes, that your soul is saved. Hearing the gospel does nothing, it must be believed, accepted, in essence, proved.

This is James’s entire point. The temptations will prove the faith, if the faith is actually there and actually “received.” He explains the idea of receiving the word implanted in different words and in so doing introduces the majority of the remainder of the letter. “But become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22). Hearing the gospel does nothing; believing the gospel does doing things.

James introduces and transitions to his first major temptation by illustrating the main point of a hearer vs. a doer with a man who looks intently in a mirror and forgets what he looks like. He then clarifies that the doer of the law, the one who has “accepted” the word implanted, the one whose “proof” of his faith is working into steadfastness, this man will be blessed, and this man knows what true religion is. It’s doing things that are good from a heart that has received the gospel.

The first temptation James uses to illustrate what it means to be a doer of the gospel is the temptation to hear the law on partiality and not do it. The law of liberty, the gospel, is clear that all are equally sinners and all sinners may be saved the same way, by the sheer grace of God. This equality in the gospel should be reflected in the actions of people who believe the gospel. Therefore, if a poor man comes in to the synagogue and you treat him differently than you treat any other sinner saved by grace, then you are not actually “doing the word.” James makes clear that the grace of the gospel is equally applicable to all, even those who show partiality. And so, the grace of the gospel is applicable to all who believe. And those who “so speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” or in other words, those doing the gospel.

James continues his diatribe against those who hear the word and don’t do it by hammering those who show their partiality to convenience. The example of a fellow Christian who needs food or clothing is presented and a man who is a hearer of the word, but not a doer, comes forward and, surprise, does nothing. James makes the point that such a “belief” is not a “belief” at all. A faith that does not work, is a faith that will not save.

James counter illustrates this with a famous man for the Jews, Abraham. He was a doer of the word. Not only did he hear the word, it was implanted, and we could tell because he was willing to do something, to act on the promises made by God, without doubting, and so was justified.[10]

The next temptation to hear the gospel but do nothing about it is the temptation to hear the gospel’s instruction about controlling one’s speech, but not doing it. He is also bridging the gap in the minds of readers who may have been thinking, “I might agree that true faith yields actions, but how does one go about conforming his actions to the gospel with this sinful flesh?” James’s answer is simple: start with the tongue. If resisting the temptation to say things contrary to the gospel is achieved, then resisting the temptation to do things contrary to the gospel will follow. He uses two metaphors for this example, a small fire and a small rudder. He then says that this temptation is best fought by looking to the wise for understanding. They will “show by [their] good behavior [their] deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” In other words, follow the example of the wise people. they speak kindly and they act kindly.

The next temptation that James tackles takes a step inward toward the core of man. He addresses the temptation to be a hearer of the law of liberty about jealousy, but not a doer. A hearer of the word would ask for the good things of God out of pure motives, such as wisdom as referenced in chapter one, and God would give it to them. However, when one asks with jealous motives, the system has been bucked.

Giving into the temptation not to obey the royal law on, the law of liberty, on jealousy, dovetails into the next temptation, pride. Using some of the similar language from before about taming the tongue and combining it with a message on humility and “speaking against one another (4:11) he brings the thought all the way back around to faith in God, saying that instead of arrogantly making your plans you should “say ‘If the Lord wills, we will live, and also do this or that.’”

The final temptation related to hearing the law of liberty and not doing it the temptation to be a miser. He tells the rich to “weep and howl” for miserly activity of some of the readers has caused death rather than life, and unrighteousness instead of “justification,” (5:6) a reference back to many of his earlier points, including Abraham’s justification in chapter two.

The last section of the text describes a temptation toward impatience, particularly an impatience while enduring suffering. This is really the heart of the matter. The temptation to impatience is common to all and is an opportunity to trust God in faith. This is why “if anyone among you is suffering he must pray.” and the works that follow, showing the faith, the prayer, would prove one’s faith and produce endurance.

James ends his argument rather abruptly with a final example of works that prove one’s faith: a brother who saves his own soul from death by turning a wayward brother from his error.

 

 

[1] In particular, support from the Gospel of Thomas, the Syriac Apostolic Constitution, Origen, Clement of Rome, Josephus, and Jerome all suggest this conclusion.

[2] Josephus, Antiquities, 20.9.1.

[3] D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005) 627.

[4] The epistle is addressed to the ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ “the twelve tribes in the diaspora”

[5] Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament (Downer Grove, IL: InterVasrity, 1990), 751.

[6] Though a defense of Matthean priority cannot be undertaken here, suffice it to say that this author favors the Augustinian Hypothesis and takes the dating of Matthew at around AD 40.

[7] 1:2, 9, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14, 15; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19

[8] Carson, 629.

[9] “James,” in Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, eds. Earl Radmacher, Ronald Allen, and Wayne House (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1661.

[10] The word “justified” here means “made righteous” and does not carry the theological significance we attach to the word when discussing the first of three phases of salvation.

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