James the Just on the Apocalypse of John

Yeah yeah yeah, I know I know, what does James the Just have to do with the Apocalypse of John? Well, it turns out that the MySpace version of James the Just responded to another user about his views on the Apocalypse.

The other MySpace user (dubbed “Cyclist” a.k.a David G. Hobbs) writes:

Just studying your work in the New Testament this morning. What do you think of Revelation?. I have my doubts as to whether this should be in canon but if its not inspired then why has God allowed us to have it?. Too many cults have abused this work.

James the Just replies:

Revelation is a fantastic book! I agree, however, that so many folks have abused its message that it is often neglected. Nonetheless it is still inspired. I tend to lean towards an interpretation of the book of Revelation that sees it as a cryptic slam against the Roman Empire. While the book does have some futuristic material, it is mostly meant to encourage those who have suffered persecution for their faith. (Genuine persecution, not the type that comes from being obnoxiously “christian” at the drinking fountain.) John speaks to an audience who is facing the wrath of the largest empire on earth – a military political machine that devours everthing in its path, all for the sake of “pax romana” (the peace of Rome). John in a sense pulls the wool from over their eyes (not unlike what Morpheus does with Neo in the movie, the Matrix). John is shown that Rome is not the final word. Instead, the risen Christ is the final word, and one day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of God. Not some “pie in the sky sweet by and by” saccrine sweet vision of pudgy angels floating on clouds in heaven, but the kingdom of God of righteousness and peace, where mourning is forever gone, and sadness and sickness is no more. In the meantime, however, John knows that the world is not as it should be now. Still, God is in control. The call to his readers is to endure. Endure the persecution, and don’t believe the message of Rome, that materialism and military security under the guise of an emperor who sees himself as God is the only way to peace. The message is much the same today. Sometimes the christians who read it don’t know it, but they have bought the very lies it has tried to expose.

That’s my view of the Apocalypse of John – Apocalypse means unveiling, and all of the imagery is meant to help his readers see that the world as they normally see it is but a shadow of what it is intended to be.

Pardon my rantings, but I do love that book.

So, from this interchange we can tell that (A.) James the Just is not a dispensationalist, and (B.) He watches movies like the Matrix.

Tabor on Eisenman’s Newest

James Tabor blogs about Robert Eisenman’s newest release, The New Testament Code. The book is a sequel to Eisenman’s earlier treatment of James, the Brother of Jesus. Tabor also provides a table of contents which includes three chapters that look pertinent to my thesis:

  1. James as ‘Rain-Maker’ and ‘Friend of God’ 123
  2. Other Rain-Making ‘Zaddik’s in the ‘Primal Adam’Tradition 142
  3. Revolutionary Messianism and the Elijah Redivivus Tradition 173

Let me be clear, given my opinion of Eisenman’s previous work, I probably will not integrate much of his speculation into my own thesis. Nonetheless, he is one of the only authors who has paid any attention to the Elijah tradition as it pertains to James, along with the motif of eschatological rain. See his article: “Eschatological ‘rain’ imagery in the War Scroll from Qumran and in the Letter of James.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 49 (1990): 173-184. In this article Eisenman only associates rain in James with images of eschatological judgment. This, however, ignores the wealth of Old Testament and early Jewish literature that associates rain with blessing (perhaps even eschatological blessing).

Predestined Romance

I’m not a Calvinist, nor am I the son of a Calvinist, but I attend a predominantly Calvinist seminary (at least in the theology dept.). While this has nothing to do with James, I thought someone might get a kick out of this Calvinist Romance Novel that was found on the web by one of my coworkers:Calvinist Romance NovelI’m not exactly sure who is responsible for the artwork, but my coworker found it on “The Pleasant Blog.”

Post-class comments on Lesson 2 – James 1:2-4

An outline of the class is available here: 02_James1.2-4.pdf.

Overall I feel the class went well. I joked with my pastor that I planned to title the class “Eschatologische Vorfreude.” He wasn’t impressed. Instead, I stated that this passage has to do with the Christian’s life cycle, and the change of perspective necessary to consider trials to be an occasion for joy. While I did my “academic” homework on the passage, I found Stulac’s commentary helpful for an overall structure surrounding the words TRIAL, TEST, PERSEVERANCE and MATURITY:Joy CycleI opened with a story about a “bad day” that my wife and I had this summer, but I got a real response from the illustration of the brick layer who had a day that was much worse! (See the PDF.) Anyway, I proceeded from there. As I mentioned before, I am loathe to not let James speak for himself, but I could not help but see Christ as the ultimate example of joy in the midst of trial:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

It is because of Christ’s willingness to endure (hupemeinen), that we can be called to joyful endurance.

This past week, I have been listening to a lecture given at Gordon-Conwell by N. T. Wright on Paul’s vision of God’s future. He concludes with a quote from C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters:

Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys (39).

In this chapter of Lewis’ fictional conversation between the devils, uncle Screwtape and his nephew, Wormwood, Screwtape speaks of “the law of undulation.” This law refers to the ebb and flow of life as a human – there are ups and there are downs. The strangeness of this law, from a demonic point of view is that “the Enemy” (from Screwtape’s point of view the Enemy is God) uses the low parts of the human’s life to call them closer to himself. This, I think is at the heart of James’ call to joy in trials.

I ended the lesson by handing out packs of Skittles to the class. James admonishes us to consider our “multi-colored trials” as “all joy.” So, I wanted them to have something multi-colored and sweet. It was a small gesture, but I hope it let the concept sink in.

Post-Class Comments on Lesson 1 – James 1:1

So, this morning I put into action the outline given in my previous post. Overall, I’d say that the class went well, as I recieved a few comments from trustworthy friends that it was a good class. A friend did note that I used some theological jargon, but then she noted that I was quick to explain the jargon. I only wish that friend could have remembered what jargon I used. I generally try to avoid the esoteric language of biblical studies when teaching Sunday School. (This is really tough as seminary has taught me all these nifty words that are convenient signposts to bigger concepts in theological discussions.) That being the case, when the content of the class merits introducing the students to a term that is worth knowing, I like to use it and explain it. After all, they are there to learn. Nonetheless, as I’ve heard in the past: “It’s easy to take the student out of seminary, but it’s another thing to take the seminary out of the student!”

An important premise for my lesson was that as James picked Old Testament saints as paradigms for his audience, so we can look at the life of James the Just as a paradigm for our own lives. My lesson presupposes that James the Just is the author. I avoided other theories of authorship, but then again this is not a “critical” or “academic” class, and the traditional view is well grounded.

I began the class with a question and the help of my lovely wife – a preschool teacher. First I asked the class, “If you were to draw a picture of yourself, what would it look like?” Then, my wife displayed some of the self portraits drawn by her preschoolers. It’s both funny and interesting to see how a child views themselves. The drawing posted here is typical – arms and legs extending from a head, with no torso. Thankfully, our self image changes over time. The image that pops into our head when we think of a “self portrait” is not the same as the image that a child produces!

Next, it was on to James. I briefly sketched the life of James the Just. He was Jesus’ brother, but he was probably not a believer until after the resurrection. (Here I also did a little creative speculation about what it would have been like to be Jesus’ younger brother. Perhaps Mary scolded James saying, “Why can’t you be more like Jesus? He never gave us any trouble!”) I then briefly described James as witness to the resurrection, leader of the Jerusalem church and “arbitter” of the Apostolic Council in Acts 15. Finally, I described James’ piety, as described by Eusebius and Josephus, and how that prayerful piety ultimately resulted in his martyrdom.

This cursory glance at the life of James was not the focus of the lesson, however. Instead the point of the lesson was that even with James’ accomplishments, leadership and piety, James describes himself in the letter as “the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James’ self image and perspective was not wrapped up in himself, but in the God he served. James the brother becomes James the slave in relationship to the risen Lord and Messiah. As a slave/servant of God, James stands in line with Moses, David, the prophets and even Jesus. While I am loathe to describe James in Pauline terms, I mentioned a Pauline analog – Phil. 2:5-11, as does William F. Brosend:

James announces in his self-introduction that he has emptied himself, not counting “equality” (fraternal kinship) as “something to be exploited” and claiming only the place of a slave. Tradition…records that he too was martyred, and while he is not, of course, confessed as Lord, he is revered as a saint (James and Jude, 33).

Indeed, James is an example of a life lived in emulation of the Suffering Servant. So, the question is, “How do we view ourselves?” Do we define ourselves by what we do, or to whom we belong?

Unfortunately, I did not have time to go into any depth about James’ recipients – “the twelve tribes of the dispersion.” I did end on an eschatological note that I’ll pick up next week, as James sees his audience as living in “a time between times” (a phrase borrowed from Lawhead’s The Silver Hand). Mussner’s term, “interimsethik” captures this concept even for my American ears (Jakobusbrief, 210). The phrase “twelve tribes of the dispersion” evokes hope in the restoration of God’s people, while admitting they are nonetheless still in a form of exile (hat tip to N.T. Wright). James’ call for endurance and his challenge to “count it all joy” are best viewed through this lens, but that’s next week’s lesson.

So, that’s the scoop. I hope that I did not oversimplify in the classroom, and I hope I avoided the “academic abyss.”

BTW: In the future, I will not double-post as I did this time. Instead, I’ll provide a PDF outline along with a “post game” commentary similar to today’s post.

Lesson 1, James 1:1, What’s your perspective?

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

If you were to draw a self portrait, what would it look like?

Each of us has a different self perspective.

What is perspective? Things look differently when you change your position. We each have different “views” of ourselves and others.

  1. Who was James?
    1. How other people saw James:
      1. Brother of Jesus
        1. Taught by Mary & Joseph and grew up with Jesus (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3).
        2. Sibling rivalry?
        3. Probably did not believe in Jesus before the resurrection (Mark 3:20-21).
          “For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5).
      2. Disciple
        1. Witnessed Jesus after the resurrection (1 Cor 15:7).
        2. Leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15, 21).
        3. Resolved the dispute over Gentiles in the church (Acts 15).
      3. James the Just (or Righteous). See Eusebius, Church History 2.23; Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1 § 200-201.
        1. James was recognized as a righteous man even by Jews outside of the church.
        2. A man with caloused knees – like a camel – from many hours at prayer.
        3. He was martyred for his faith in Jesus – thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and beaten to death with a fuller’s club (a fuller is a person who washes clothes).
    2. How James saw himself:
      1. What did James not say about himself?
        1. James makes no boast of personal piety.
        2. James does not even admit that he is Jesus’ brother.
      2. What did James say about himself?
        1. Servant of God = “Slave of God.”
          1. Paul (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1) refers to himself as a “slave of God.” Jacob (Gen 32:10), Joshua (Jdg 2:8), and David (Ps 89:3) are all called “slaves of God.”
          2. Servant implies that one could quit working for one master and then get another job. Actually, slaves were property. “Slave” in American history implies a demeaning position. This is not necessarily the case in the ancient world. Slaves could be doctors, teachers and even leaders.
        2. Servant/Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ
          1. Jesus is not just James’ older brother, he is Lord and Christ!
          2. Lord = kurios. Kurios was used to translate YHWH, the name of God in the OT.
          3. Christ = Messiah, annointed one. Israel’s hopes rested on a future descendent of David who would conquer her foes and restore her fortunes.
    3. How do you view yourself?
      1. Carpenter? Contractor? Student? Librarian? Wife? Secretary? Pastor? Son? Mother? Father? Daughter? Teacher? Husband? OR
      2. Servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ?
  2. To whom was James writing?
    1. James is a “catholic epistle.” Catholic (with a little “c”) = universal. The letter’s also known as a “general epistle.” This means that it was not addressed to any particular congregation.
    2. James addresses his letter with a different “spin.”
      1. Twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
        1. Twelve Tribes: The organization of Israel since the Exodus… Jacob had twelve sons and the twelve tribes were their descendants.
        2. Scattered: Because of Israel’s sin, she faced punishment at the hands of the Assyrians and the Babylonians who deported her people and scattered them throughout the ancient world. (See Deut 4:27, etc.)
        3. Israel still hoped for the renewal of twelve tribes:
          1. When Israel is restored it will be divided into twelve tribes again (Isaiah 49:6; Ezek 48-49).
            Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name’ (Neh 1:8–9).
          2. The Jews at Qumran (in the Dead Sea Scrolls) believed in a final end-time battle, with Israel’s armies organized into twelve divisions.
          3. Jesus states the disciples will judge the twelve tribes:
            Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28).
          4. The 144,000 of Revelation 7 is based on 12,000 faithful times twelve tribes.
      2. From James’ perspective, his audience stands at an important time in history.
        1. They are part of what God is doing in history to restore his people to their proper place.
          1. They are between judgment and restoration.
          2. Michael Card says it well, “We belong to eternity, stranded in time.”
          3. 1 Peter 1:1 – “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.”
            1 Peter 2:11 – “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”
        2. This restoration is bigger than Israel’s twelve tribes. It is a restoration of all creation (Jas 1:18).
    3. How do you view your world? How do you view your fellow Christians?
      1. We are a part of God’s plan to restore his people, and to restore all of creation!
      2. We are strangers, scattered in a foreign land.
      3. We await our gathering together as the people of God.

    (PDF outline available here.)

    Not many of you should become teachers…

    Seat of MosesTomorrow I start an adult Sunday School class on the Epistle of James. This will be the first time I’ve systematically taught through the book, though I’ve stared at this work for quite some time. Of course this is the rub. I’ll be teaching a book that I have studied academically to people who need to hear its practical message. I guess it is fitting that I feel this dissonance, after all, James did warn of the high calling/responsibility of teaching:

    Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. Μὴ πολλοὶ διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί μου, εἰδότες ὅτι μεῖζον κρίμα λημψόμεθα.

    James demands practical application. Of course it’s reception in theological circles has suffered because it appears to be “light” on theology and “heavy” on application. I once surveyed some of the primary systematic theologies (in English) and found only a handful of references to James in the indices. Perhaps this speaks of a larger problem, where ethics can be divorced from theology. James would answer of course, οὐ χρή, ἀδελφοί μου, ταῦτα οὕτως γίνεσθαι (See trans.).

    So, tomorrow I begin. May the class be flavored with the practical wisdom of the epistle! Of course, my first class is only on one verse (1:1)! I could be leading the class to a dangerous ledge, with the real threat of pushing them into the academic abyss. I think I’ve found a way around the danger, but I’ll post more on that after Sunday morning.

    PS: I hope to post my teaching outlines and ideas on this blog as the class progresses. I welcome feedback.

    The Epistle of James and Gentile-Friendly Exemplars?

    I’ve been toying with this idea for some time, but I’ve never put it in writing. I’ve noticed that all of the named figures of the Old Testament mentioned in James (Abraham, Rahab, Job, Elijah / Jas 2:21, 23, 25; 5:11, 17-18) are either considered to be “converts” to Judaism, pious Gentiles or at the very least, in the case of Elijah, a minister to Gentiles.*

    1. Abraham was the first convert (Gen 12; Josh 24:2-4; Jub. 12).
    2. Rahab was a Gentile who becomes a worshipper of YHWH and protects the Israelite spies (Josh 2).
    3. Job is described as a Gentile (from the land of Ausitis [Αυσίτιδι] Job 1:1 [LXX]; Test. Job 1:8). In the Testament of Job, Job is turned from idolatry in a dream/vision from God (ch. 1).
    4. Elijah is called a “Tishbite of the sojourners in Gilead,” possibly pointing to a Gentile background (1 Kgs 17:1). He also served the Gentile widow of Zerephath (see Luke 4:25-27).

    Both Abraham and Rahab can be seen as clear examples of Gentile “conversion,” Abraham being the convert par excellence. While the Hebrew text of Job does not support a Gentile heritage, the LXX and the Testament show the idea developed in later Judaism. The MT of 1 Kgs 17:1 refers to Elijah as a “settler” (tšwb) of Gilead.** This at one time lead Keil to believe that Elijah may have been a Gentile by birth (he later recants). The LXX, however describes Elijah as a “Thesbite, from Thesbe in Gilead” (ὁ Θεσβίτης ἐκ Θεσβων τῆς Γαλααδ). While it is not probable that Elijah, the zealous prophet of YHWH would be a Gentile, it must be noted that Elijah ministered to the Gentile widow of Zerephath (1 Kgs 17:8-24; Luke 4:25-27). Thus, all of the named exemplars in James are either Gentiles or closely associated with Gentiles.***

    So, what are the implications for an understanding of James’ Epistle? Does it perhaps point to an Gentile-inclusive view of the “twelve tribes of the dispersion”? Does James pick his Old Testament paradigms carefully, looking for examples that would resonate strongly even with a Gentile audience? If the James of the Epistle is indeed the James of Acts 15 and Gal 2, what are the implications for the supposed ideological divide between James and Paul?

    *I’ve been playing with this idea for a while, but it’s been on the back burner because of my thesis. The issue has been brought to the front of the stove by K. A. Richardson’s article in Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament (p. 219), where he mentions that Sophie Laws makes a similar observation (BNTC 215-16).
    **See Lev 25:23, 35, 45 , where tšwb refers to foreigners in the Land of Israel (Cogan, Anchor Bible 10:425).
    ***The prophets (5:10) are not mentioned by name.

    Mary the Mother of James the Just

    Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed has an interesting post on Mary (looking at what we know about her life and how it impacts our theology of women in ministry). In it he observes:

    Mary “taught” her children — both Jesus and James. . . .

    A neglected influence can be found by comparing the Magnificat and the letter of James: the minimum one can say is that both James and Mary breathed the same Jewish, biblical theology; it is more likely that Mary had a direct influence on James’ concern for the poor and for his critique of the rich. But what about this: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and Father is this: to look after the orphans [this means “fatherlessness” more often than it means “parentlessness” in Judaism] and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). Mary was most likely a widow; her children therefore “orphans” in Judaism; Jesus was deeply concerned with widows. Not hard to put together.

    I’ve researched the themes of the “Great Reversal” in James in the past on a paper I wrote on James’ use of Isaiah 40 in 1:9-11 (PDF available). While writing that paper I noticed that the themes of reversal in Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2) corresponded rather well with James’ own teaching. Many have noted the thematic and even verbal similarities between Hannah’s song and the Magnificat. While writing that paper, I often wondered if James could hear his mother humming the tunes of Hannah’s and her own songs as he wrote his letter. It’s nice to think that a scholar such as McKnight recognizes the similarities as well. I’m looking forward to reading more in his soon to be published book, The Real Mary.