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.

1 thought on “Post-Class Comments on Lesson 1 – James 1:1”

  1. Jim,

    When I taught on James earlier this summer, people gave me a hard time about using academic jargon like ‘inaugurated eschatology’, but they also said they appreciated the fact that I taught them what it meant and the technical term to go with it.

    Similarly, when I teach translation principles to speakers of pidgin English, I will still often use the English term and they have fun associating the funny sounding word with the concept through the lens of their own language, i.e. ‘snek dok’, literally ‘snake dog’ for synecdoche.

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