God of the Word

James 1:19, 26; 3:1-11

     My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. . . . 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
     3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
     3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
     7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
     9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (NIV)

James spends a good deal of time concentrating on how we speak. William Baker wrote his dissertation on the topic of “Personal Speech-Ethics in the Epistle of James,” and its length is testimony to the importance of this topic for James. While in a meeting this morning, I began to wonder: What kind of God requires us to control our tongue? What in God’s nature would see this as an important thing? What does James’ instructions on speech reveal about God’s character? What about our own character?

I think that James’ ethics, even his speech-ethics say something about his theology (contra those ‘Dibelians’ who dismiss James as having “no theology”). That theology and even anthropology could be inferred from James’ speech-ethics is perhaps evident in his statement “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (I love the awkward drama of the KJV: “. . . these things ought not so to be.”) James acknowledges that we have been made in God’s image. Our lives are to reflect God’s image, and we are to acknowledge God’s image in others when we speak to them. This connection between God’s image and ethics is not new to James. Indeed, God commanded Noah:

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man (Gen 9:6).

We are not to curse other humans for the same reason that we are not to murder them — all are created in God’s image. There’s a certain resonance here with Jesus’ injunction in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt 5:21-22).

Here murder and improper speech are grouped together. (Note also the use of γέεννα in Matt 5:22 & Jas 3:6.) By stating that humanity’s status as the image of God is grounds for us not to “curse” one another, James closely associates this “cursing” with murder (as in Gen 9:6). Jesus similarly heightened the command against murder to include the prohibition of hateful speech (or even silent hate harbored in one’s soul against another). In both instances Jesus and James are addressing the contradictions of the double-minded. One form of double-mindedness says that everything is OK with my hatred or poisoned speech as long as I don’t actually kill anyone. Another form of double-mindedness says that it’s OK to degrade people as long as I praise God every Sunday morning (after all, my praising God surely outweighs the degradation and death that I spoke into x, y or z’s life.) Of course, no one consciously thinks such thoughts, but by the time we get done angrily chewing out x, y or z, we’ve done it without thinking.

James 3 and Genesis 6 note that man is made in God’s image. The first image of God was given dominion over all creation. He named the animals, tended the garden, and was even given a companion co-created in the image of God. But one day they would both be done in by the forked tongue of a serpent. Shamed by his sin, Adam’s own tongue lashed out against Eve. Then their son – made in their fractured image – murdered his brother. Ever since, fractured images of God have tried to dominate creation – only to be dominated by their own serpentine tongue.

The last and final image of God beamed the likeness of the Father of lights – the Father who gives only good gifts without reproach. This image, bright though he was, was extinguished with hatred, mockery and murder, but he rose victorious and crushed the serpent’s head. He calls us to bare the same image of the Father of lights. He calls us to bring good gifts to this world without reproach. He calls us to reflect to others the singular love that the Father has for us. To speak in hatred is to create an incompatable dissonance with the image we are are recreated to bare.

For James the importance of this Genesis imagery is perhaps evident in his choice of words in a few spots throughout his tract. By his will and the word of truth, we are “the firstfruits of his creation” (ἀπαρχήν τινα τῶν αὐτοῦ κτισμάτων; 1:18), but the man who knows the law, but does not do it is like a man who forgets “his natural face” (lit. “the face of his genesis” τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ; 1:22), and the slanderous tongue sets on fire “the cycle of nature” (lit. “the cycle of genesis” τὸν τροχὸν τῆς γενέσεως; 3:6).

Humanity as the firstfruits was created as the pinnacle, the best of God’s creation—created in his image (3:9) and given dominion over “every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature” (3:8). As beings made in God’s likeness, James calls his readers to imitate God. Sophie Laws has observed two themes in the Epistle of James, “the oneness of the character and activity of God, and the condemned duplicity, desired wholeness, of man.”* James explicitly states that it is because we are made in the image of God, that we are not to slander our brothers and sisters (3:9). And while it is not explicitly stated, the contrasting statements of God’s integrity and man’s duplicity show that for man to live an ethical life, he must imitate God. The Creator is the one “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:18), and we as his likeness, should have neither double-minds or forked tongues.

A Paper on James 1:18

Here’s a paper I wrote back in 2003 on James 1:18. It’s available in PDF as well.

James 1:18: Creation and Redemption,


James M. Darlack

Advent 2003

Opening up a systematic theology book, one would be unlikely to find columns of references to the Epistle of James in the index. The epistle is not known for its intricately woven theology. Instead it is prized for its clearly articluated ethics. When James has been the topic of theological discussion, the discussion of faith and works seems to crowd out any other subject. In fact, it is when James does theology, that his apparent contradiction to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith is condemned and his writing deemed an “epistle of straw.” James does, however, engage in constructive and orthodox theological thought, although he maintains an ethical focus. Karl Barth, states that at least one “glorious saying” in James “ought to have been enough in itself to prevent Luther from calling James an “epistle of straw”[1] That saying is James 1:18, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (rsv). What would cause Barth to reverse the sentence spoken over James by Luther? Barth appraises:

This is what Christendom and every Christian is in terms of what he may have before others in his own personal life in virtue of his vocation. He is a firstborn of God’s creatures, a first-fruits reaped and gathered from the field of the world. He is truly great as such.[2]

James 1:18 densely gives James’ opinion of where man stands in relationship to God as his creator and redeemer and the to the rest of creation.

Creation or Redemption?

F. J. A. Hort, in his posthumously published commentary, outlined the various interpretations of the verse based on the referent of hêmas: Does hêmas refer to men and women as recipients of God’s word of creation? Israel as recipients of God’s word of revelation? Or Christians as recipients of the Gospel?[3] That hêmas can be interpreted in three discrete ways is a testament to the dense theological language that James uses in this verse.

James introduces the verse, “Of his own will” (boulêtheis). Meaning “to plan on a course of action,” boulomai is used of both man and God, though thelô is more common in reference to deity.[4] James, however, makes no such distinction between thelô and boulomai, as he uses the latter for the deliberation of both God (1:18; 4:15) and man (2:20; 3:4; 4:4). That creation is the result of the active will of God is seen in the Psalms, as God “makes whatever he wills” (panta hosa êthelêsen epoiêsen; Ps 115:2 [lxx 113:11]; 135:6 [lxx 134:6]). Later, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon asks, “How could anything have continued if you had not willed it?” (pôs de diemeinen an ti ei mê su êthelêsas; 11:25). Hort states that boulêtheis refers back to Gen 1:26, where God deliberates, “Let us make man in our own image.”[5] In the NT, the elders of John’s Apocalypse declare that it was “through the will” (dia to thelêma) of God that creation “existed and was created” (sou êsan kai ektisthêsan).[6] Elliott-Binns notes that the above passages do not necessitate that boulêtheis refers to God’s willful creation of man, given that redemption can also be “of the will of God.”[7] John 1:12–13 bares remarkable similarity to the thought of James: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born (egennêthêsan), not of blood nor of the will (thelêmatos) of the flesh nor of the will (thelêmatos) of man, but of God.” The concept is repeated in Eph 1:5, “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (kata tên eudokian tou thelêmatos autou). Given the lexical background above, the deliberate will of God precipitates both creation and redemption.

It was the will of the Father of lights to give birth (apekuêsen) to us. Apokueô occurs in the New Testament only here and in verse 15. This signals that James is contrasting God’s deliberate birthing of the community to sin’s birthing of death. The feminine image of God giving birth is present in the Old Testament: God asks if he had “conceived” (hrh) or had “given birth to” (yld) Israel (Num 11:12), while in Deut 32:18 Yhwh is directly referred to as “the God who gave birth to [Israel].” Ropes rejects that apekuêsen can refer to creation, because creation is never “birthed” in the OT, and it is much more natural to associate it with the “re-birth” of redemption (see above John 1:13; 3:3–8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7, 8; 5:1, 4; Titus 3:5).[8] Of particular interest is 1 Peter 1:3 and 23. Peter declares that by God’s great mercy we have been “born anew” (anagennêsas; v 3), while in v 23, he informs his readers that they “have been born anew (anagegennêmenoi), not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (dia logou zôntos theou kai menontos).” He expounds upon the quality of this “living and abiding word of God” by quoting from Isaiah 40:7–8 lxx, “The grass withers, And the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever” (v 24–25). He further identifies this word as the “the word which was preached to you” (to rhêma to euangelisthen eis humas). The parallels between this passage and the setting of James 1:18 are striking. Both James (1:11) and 1 Peter quote from Isaiah 40:7–8, and while Peter finishes the Isaiah’s description of fading flowers and withering grass with the contrasting endurance of God’s word, James does not mention God’s “word” until 1:18, in a context of God’s giving birth! Peter mirrors James’ line of thought in the following context, as he admonishes his readers to “put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander,” and “Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet 2:1–2). While James admonishes his readers to “put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (1:21). Such parallels would seem to indicate that James had in clear view the same “new birth” that was enacted by God by the “word that was preached.”[9]

As Ropes mentioned there is only a hint of birthing language in OT being used for creation, where it refers to the mountains being “born” (yld; Ps 90:2). Philo, however, writes, “knowledge having received the seed of God, when the day of her travail arrived, brought forth (apekuêse) her only and well-beloved son, perceptible by the external senses, namely this world” (De Ebr. 30).[10] So, while not stating that God gave birth to creation, Philo does associate creation with the image of birthing. Elliott-Binns also mentions a citation from the Tanhuma on Exodus 4:12, where God tells Moses, “I am making you into a new creature, as in the case of a woman who conceives (horah) and gives birth.”[11] Hence apekuêsen is a metaphor of both God’s creative acts and his redemption of Israel and the Church.

James’ community is given birth by a word of truth (logô alêtheias). Hort contends that the absence of the articles with logô alêtheias indicates that James was not speaking of revelation,[12] but elsewhere admits that the ommission of articles is common in cases where brevity is necessary.[13] The anarthrous logos alêtheias in Psalm 119:43 (lxx 118:43) and Test. Gad 3:1 stands for the law, while in Prov 22:21, Eccl 12:10 and the Pss. Sol. 16:10 it means “truthful speech” in a context of wisdom. Logos alêtheias in 2 Cor 6:7 most likely refers to the Gospel, while with the article, the Gospel is clearly the referent (Eph 1:13, Col 1:5 and 2 Tim 2:15). Thus, Mayor contends that logos alêtheias was a vox technica for the Gospel in early Christianity and rejects that it could refer to creation.[14]

While it is is certainly plausible that James has the Gospel in mind (see above discussion of 1 Peter), contrary to Mayor, creation could also be in mind. The creative divine fiat is a common theme in both Judaism and Christianity. Referring to the Genesis account, the psalmist writes:

By the word (tô logô) of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth (tô pneumati tou stomatos autou)…he spoke (eipen), and it came to be; he commanded (eneteilato), and it stood forth (Psalm 33:6–9 rsv; see also 148:5).[15]

In intertestamental literature creation exists by God’s word as well. Aseneth declares in her prayer of confession, “you, Lord, spoke and they were brought to life, because your word, Lord, is life for all your creatures” (su, kurie, eipas kai panta gegonasi, kai ho logos ho sos zôê estin pantôn sou tôn ktismatôn; Jos. Asen. 12:3).[16] While, in a hymn of praise Judith declares, “thou didst speak, and they were made” (sou. . . eipas kai egenêthêsan; 16:14). God’s creative word also forms the ground for Solomon’s prayer for wisdom:

O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy word (en logô sou), and by thy wisdom (tê sophia sou) hast formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made (sou genomenôn ktismatôn), and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by thy throne, and do not reject me from among thy servants (Wis. Sol. 9:1–4 rsv)

This passage is of particular importance because God’s logos and his sophia are both the means of his creating man and the rest of creation. The New Testament also speaks of God’s creative word. The classical texts are John 1:3, where “all things were made through [the Word], and without [the word] was not anything made that was made” (rsv), and Hebrews 11:3, where it is stated that “the world was created by the word of God” (katêrtisthai tous aiônas rhêmati theou).[17]

We are created “in order that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creation” (eis to einai hêmas aparchên tina tôn autou ktismatôn). The lxx uses aparchê to translate r’šyt “first, best, firstfruits” (19x), trwmh “contribution” (39x) and chlb “fat, choicest part” (5x).[18] The aparchê stood not only for the first in priority, but also the first in quality, dedicated unto God. Metaphorically, Jeremiah described Israel as “holy to the Lord, the first fruits (archê/r’šyt) of his harvest” (2:3).[19] A strikingly similar phrase is used by Philo, who states that God has mercy on Israel because “they have been dedicated to him, the Creator and Father of all, as a sort of first-fruits (tis aparchê) of the whole human race” (De Spec. Leg. 4.180). It is undoubtably used in a similar metaphorical sense of Christians by Paul in Rom 16:5 and 1 Cor 16:15, where individuals are called the aparchê of the believers in their geographical locations.[20] In Rev 14:4 the chaste followers of the Lamb are “redeemed from mankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb.” The image of firstfruits picks up eschatological connotations elsewhere in Paul, as Christ is called the aparchê of those who sleep (1 Cor 15:20, 23) and similarly, the prôtotokos ek tôn nekrôn (Col 1:18). Such an eschatological usage is grounded upon the cultic significance of aparchê—faithfulness in offering God the firstfruits guaranteed the rest of the harvest (Prov 3:9–10). Hence, Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection guarantees the resurrection of the Church. Similarly, Christians are also said to have the firstfruits of the Spirit in Rom 8:23, a guarantee of “the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us” (Rom 8:18). Hence, James’ readers are said to be either chronologically the first of creation or qualitatively the best of creation.

Rabbinic exegesis related the concept of firstfruits closely to creation.[21] Answering the question, “For whose sake did God create heaven and earth?” The Tanhuma links God’s creation “in the beginning” (br’šyt) with Jeremiah’s description of Israel as the “beginning/firstfruits” (archê/r’šyt) of his harvest (Gen 1:1, Jer 2:3), concluding that God created the world “for the sake of Israel.”[22] Perhaps the same thought lies behind Ezra’s plea, “O Lord,. . . you have said that it was for us that you created the world. . . If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?” (4 Ezra 6:55–59).[23] Sirach’s “Prayer for Deliverance” (36:1–17 [lxx 36:1–16) picks up similar themes as well:

Gather all the tribes of Jacob, and give them their inheritance, as at the beginning (ap’ archês). Have mercy, O Lord, upon the people called by thy name, upon Israel, whom thou hast likened to a first-born son (prôtogonô). . . Bear witness to those whom thou didst create in the beginning (tois en archê ktismasin sou), and fulfil the prophecies spoken in thy name (rsv 36:11–15 [lxx 36:10–14]).

Here the sage refers to Israel as those whom God created at the beginning—literally in the beginning of his creatures—and links creation with hopes of the eschatological renewal of the tribes of Jacob. It is important to observe that James addresses his letter tais dôdeka phulais tais en tê diaspora (1:1), and concludes it, instructing his readers to imitate Elijah, whom Sirach stated was “to restore the tribes of Jacob” (48:10).[24] James 1:18 is set within an eschatological inclusio, that echoes Sirach’s hopes of Israel’s restoration—a hope grounded in Israel’s creation.

God—Man—Creation: James’ Biblical Theology

As seen in the discussion above the words penned by James in v 18 easily evoke images of creation and redemption. So can it be that James has both in mind? One thing that is clearly seen in v 18 is that James is speaking of his reader’s relationship to both God and to creation. It may be helpful to explore other texts that have this triad, God—man—creation, in mind. It has been asserted that James had the Genesis account in the background of his mind as he penned vv 13–18.[25] James’ reference to the “Father of lights,” evokes the first fiat of the Creator, “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). God creates the lights in the heavens to “regulate the day and night,” while in vv 26–28 God creates man to “have dominion” over the inhabitants of the earth. Boulêtheis has been taken to refer to the preceding inner-deliberation of the Creator, and man as aparchên tina tôn autou ktismatôn refers to his place of dominion over creation.[26] James’ reflection on the creation acknowledges its fallenness. The progression of desire, sin and death (vv 14–15) echoes the temptation, fall and punishment of Adam and Eve (Gen 3). It is interesting to note that James counters his reader’s faulty assumption that God is the source of sin and temptation by pointing them to the “Father of lights” (v 16) who “gave birth” to them “by a word of truth” that they could be a “first fruits of his creation” (v 17). The Psalmist similarly reflects upon the relationship between man, God and creation as he looks upward:

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet (Psalm 8:3–6).

God as creator is acknowledged by the Psalmist and man’s dominion over the earth is a theme that runs parallel with the majesty of the moon and the stars. A similar juxtoposition of the heavenly host and man is made in Psalm 19. The ordered heavens “declare the glory of God” (vv 1–7), while the Torah is praised as “perfect” (vv 8–10), and is shown to serve as the basis of man’s ordered life (vv 11–14). Note that after highlighting man’s birthed relation to the Father of lights and his creation, James admonishes his readers to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save” their souls (v 21), and likens that word to the “perfect law, the law of liberty” (1:25). Of course, James’ discourse on temptation (1:13–18) is preceded by his teaching on wisdom, a term often synonymous with Torah (1:5).[27]

James’ affinity with the teachings of Jesus ben Sirach has already been noted above.[28] Spitta mentions that Sirach’s deliberation about the source of man’s propensity for evil (15:11–20) underlies much of James’ discourse in vv 13–18. Sir 15:14, which states that God “created man in the beginning (ex archês), and. . . left him in the power of his own inclination,” is analagous to man being created as the firstfruits of creation.[29] One could also link Sirach’s injunction “Do not say it was [God] who led me astray (eplanêsen)” in 15:12 with James’ command, “Do not be deceived (Mê planasthe)” in 1:16. Immediately following Sirach’s discussion of man’s evil inclination, he recounts God’s history of punishment for sinners (16:1–14). He then counters the the sinner’s excuse, “I shall be hidden from the Lord” (16:17) by expounding upon the omnipotence of the Creator as seen in the grandeur of his creation (16:18–30). He introduces an exposition of the order of the heavenlies by stating “The works of the Lord have existed from the beginning (ap archês) by his creation, and when he made them, he determined their division” (16:26). He then describes the orderliness of the heavenlies prior to describing the state of man:

He arranged his works in an eternal order, and their dominion for all generations; they neither hunger nor grow weary, and they do not cease from their labors. They do not crowd one another aside, and they will never disobey his word. After this the Lord looked upon the earth, and filled it with his good things; with all kinds of living beings he covered its surface, and to it they return.

The Lord created man out of earth, and turned him back to it again. He gave to men few days, a limited time, but granted them authority over the things upon the earth. He endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image. He placed the fear of them in all living beings, and granted them dominion over beasts and birds (Sirach 16:27–17:4).

The eternal order of the heavens is again juxtaposed with a description of man’s relationship with creation.[30] Is it possible that James, in speaking of the “Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” is evoking images of heavenly order, prior to his explanation of man’s God-birthed relation to creation? The parallels between Sirach and James are enhanced further as Sirach notes that the the Torah was given to man as a part of his ordered existence, “He bestowed knowledge upon them, and allotted to them the law of life. He established with them an eternal covenant, and showed them his judgments” (17:11–12; cf. Jas 1:25).

Given these parallels between Sirach and James, a creation setting for James 1:18 is readily apparent. Especially given the verse’s juxtaposition with the “Father of lights” in v 17 and the preceding discourse on temptation (vv 13–15). But as seen above, in the discussion of James’ similarities with 1 Peter, the theme of redemption is strong in v 18 as well. It is clear that both James and Peter quote from Isaiah (Jas 1:9–12; 1 Pet 1:24–25; Isa 40:6–8). Donald Verseput has compared James chapter 1 to 4Q185, another text that quotes Isaiah 40, and sees logô alêtheias of Jas 1:18 as an “echo” of the “word of God” in Isa 40:8.[31] Thus, he correctly asserts that v 18 is closely tied to vv 9–12, but he is wrong to deny it any cosmological significance, given the entire content of Isaiah’s prophecy. Immediately following Isaiah’s description of the enduring word of the Lord, he paints a picture of coming restoration with the colors of creation. The one “who will gather the lambs in his arms,” (v 11), is the one “who has measured the the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance” (v 12). Isaiah then condemns the futile idolatry of Israel comparing idols made of created matter to the “the one who sits above the circle of the earth” (vv 16–22). Next he recapitulates the imagery of withering grass in his description of the judgment of the princes and rulers of the earth (vv 23–24), and the Holy One asks, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?” (v 25). He responds to this rhetorical question with a command that sounds like Psalm 8 in the imperative:

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hid from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. (40:26–28).

The prophet commands Israel to begin “stargazing,” in order to comprehend the majesty of God—the Creator and Redeemer. Isaiah “has not presented his argument in vv 12–16 as an abstract, independent theology of creation. Rather, the purpose of demonstrating Yahweh’s power as creator is to legitimate the proclamation. . . that Yahweh is able to come as redeemer.[32] It is worth noting that both Isaiah and Sirach respond to the mistake of thinking one can be hidden from God (Sir 16:17; Isa 40:27) with a description of God’s grand creation (Isa 40:26–28; Sir 16:18–17:34). Hence, James responds to his community’s doubts about the goodness of God, by explaining their relationship to him as the God-born firstfruits of creation.

An Ethics of Createdness and the Imago Dei

The difficulty in determining whether James indended to have creation or redemption in in mind as he penned the words of 1:18 has often been the result of a reactionary stance against an opponent’s critical or pre-critical view of the text. Spitta proposed that James was a pre-Christian Jewish document with occasional references to Christ thrown in. Hence he made the case that 1:18 could only refer to man’s creation.[33] Other commentators (e.g. Mayor) reacted against Spitta’s larger claim of a Jewish provenance, and attacked his position on v 18. Such commentators were right to sense the strong redemptive language of the verse, but often excluded any possible allusion to creation. It is however possible, as seen above, to recognize both the creation and the redemption of mankind alluded to in James 1:18. Luke Timothy Johnson remarks:

The impossiblility of deciding exclusively for one or the other of these options is precisely the most important point about James’s theological perspective: The God who is now at work among them is the same as has always been at work, the one God revealed through creation, through covenant, through gospel.[34]

As noted above, James’ letter is set within an eschatological inclusio. In essence, the letter is an instruction manual on how the “twelve tribes of the dispersion” (1:1) are to act in light of the fact that “the Judge is standing at the doors” (5:9).[35] It is important to note, however, that James does not call Christians the “firstfruits of the new creation.” Instead, they are the “firstfruits of this present creation.” He locates his ethics in both eschatological expectation, and in the present condition of man within creation. His is an “ethics of createdness.”[36] R. St. John Parry was correct to assert that for James, “Redemption in the strictest sense renews and fulfils the purpose of creation.”[37]

Man as the firstfruits was created as the pinnacle, the best of God’s creation—created in his image (3:9) and given dominion over “every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature” (3:8). It is in living up to his high createdness, that man’s redemption is evidenced. Hence, as beings made in God’s likeness, James calls his readers to imitate God. Sophie Laws has observed two themes in the Epistle of James, “the oneness of the character and activity of God, and the condemned duplicity, desired wholeness, of man.”[38] James explicitly states that it is because we are made in the image of God, that we are not to slander our brothers and sisters (3:9). While it is not explicitly stated, the contrasting statements of God’s integrity and man’s duplicity show that for man to live an ethical life, he must imitate God. The creator is the one “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:18), and we as his likeness, should not be “double-minded” (1:8; 4:8). Sin, however, has greatly damaged man’s ability live in a manner consistent with his office as the image of God, and James acknowledges this. The man who knows the law, but does not do it is like a man who forgets “the face of his genesis” (to prosôpon tês geneseôs autou) after gazing into a mirror (1:22).[39] Likewise the slanderous tongue “is a fire. . . setting on fire the cycle of nature” (ton trochon tês geneseôs) in 3:6.[40] It is only by receiving the implanted wordthe word of truth—with meekness, as is evidence by our adherence to the law of liberty, that we remember the face of our genesis. It is then that we serve as a firstfruits of creation, born by means of the word of truth.

[1] Karl Barth, The Doctrine of Reconciliation (vol. 4/3.2 of Church Dogmatics; ed. G. W. Bromiley; trans./ed. T. F. Torrance; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1962), 675.

[2] Ibid.

[3] F. J. A. Hort, The Epistle of St James (London: Macmillan, 1909), 31–35.

[4] BDAG, “boulomai,” n.p. Bible Works for Windows. Version 6.0.003s. 2003.

[5] Hort, James,33.

[6] L. E. Elliott-Binns, “James 1.18: Creation or Redemption?” NTS 3 (1957): 148–161.

[7] Ibid., 150.

[8] James Hardy Ropes, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James (ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1916), 166–167.

[9] Luke Timothy Johnson, identifies Isaiah’s “word of the Lord” with James’ “word of truth” based on 1 Peter’s quotation. See The Letter of James (AB 37A; New York:Doubleday, 1995), 191.

[10] Elliott-Binns, 151. All translations of Philo by Charles D. Yonge, The Works of Philo (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993).

[11] Elliott-Binns, 150. Translation from John T. Townsend, Midrash Tanhuma (2 vols.; Hoboken, N. J.: KTAV, 1989), 2:16.

[12] Hort, James, 32.

[13] Elliott-Binns (152) notes Hort’s own comments on diasporas in 1 Pet 1:1 (The First Epistle of St Peter [London: Macmillan, 1998], 15).

[14] Joseph B. Mayor, The Epistle of James (London: Macmillan, 1913), 63.

[15] Later rabbinic tradition carries on this concept. “By ten sayings was the world created” (m. ’Abot 5:1).

[16] Cited by Friedrich Spitta, Zur Geschichte und Litteraturdes Urchristentums (2 vols; Gottigen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1896), 1.45. Translation by C. Burchard, “Joseph and Aseneth,” OTP 1:177–247.

[17] See also the Apostolic Fathers: Herm. Vis. 1.3.4, 3.3.5; Ign. Eph. 15:1.

[18] On aparchê in James 1:18, see F. H. Palmer, “James i.18 and the Offering of First-Fruits,” TynBul 3 (1957): 1–2.

[19] Later rabbinic exegesis grounded Israel’s cultic practice of offering firstfruts to God’s designation of her as his own firstfruits: “I designated you the first; wherefore I commanded you concerning the first” (b. Shabbath 32a).

[20] The occurance in 2 Thess 2:13 is debatable, where א D Ψ have ap archês instead.

[21] C. F. Burney makes the case that Paul’s reference to Christ as prôtotokos pasês ktiseôs in Col 1:15 is similarly linked to Gen 1:1 by means of connecting it with Prov 8:22, where wisdom was fashioned at the beginning (r’šyt) of God’s work (“Christ as the ARCHÊ of Creation,” JTS 27 [1926]: 160–177).

[22] The Tanhuma is an admittedly late work from the 5th to 9th centuries, hence Elliott-Binns discounts it as having any bearing on the text (153). It should be noted, however that this shows the striking possiblity of linking the concept of firstfruits with creation, and similar reasoning is found in Leviticus Rabbah 36:4. Trans. Townsend, 1:6.

[23] B. M. Metzger, “The Fourth Book of Ezra,” OTP 1:517–559. See also 7:11. Of particular interest is the angel’s response to Ezra, “The Most High made this world for the sake of many, but the world to come for the sake of few” (8:1). The first creation was for the sake of Israel and the new creation for the sake of a smaller subset of humanity.

[24] S. Pines denies any eschatological reference in Jas 1:1, given that the twelve tribes are still in the dispersion (“Notes on the Twelve Tribes in Qumran, Early Christianity and Jewish Traditon,” in Messiah and Christos [TSAJ 32; ed. I. Gruenwald; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992], 151–154). Matt A. Jackson-McCabe, however, counters that 1:1 is an “evocative address that. . . both connotes a present state in which the promises of God remain unfulfilled and, especially in connection with a christos, sounds a note of eschatological hope” (“A Letter to the Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora: Wisdom and ‘Apocalyptic’ Eschatology in the Letter of James,” [SBLSP; Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1996], 504–517).

[25] Elliott-Binns, 155; Rendall, 63; Hort, James, 32.

[26] Note that Philo remarks, “We ought, however, not to be ignorant of this also, that it is no proof that because man was the last created animal that he is the lowest in rank, and charioteers and pilots are witnesses of this” (De Opif. 29.87).

[27] The connection between the Torah, wisdom and creation was explicitly seen in rabbinic tradition. Genesis Rabbah equates the wisdom of Prov 8:22 with the Torah, and states that the Torah served as God’s blueprint of creation, “Thus God consulted the Torah and created the world, while The Torah declares, in the beginning God created (Gen 1:1), Beginning (r’šyt) referring to the Torah, as in the verse, The Lord made me as the beginning of His way (Prov 8:22)” (Genesis Rabbah 1:1). See above discussion of the rabbinic linking of br’šyt in Gen 1:1 with Israel as God’s r’šyt in Jer 2:3.

[28] The similarities of both form and content between James and Sirach have been noted by Richard Bauckham, James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage (New Testament Readings; London: Routledge, 1999), 74–83.

[29] Spitta, 1.54. A detailed exposition of the doctrine of the “evil inclination” is beyond the purview of this paper, but it has been observed that this doctrine is behind James’ teaching on temptation. See Wallace I. Wolverton, “The Double-Minded Man in Light of Essene Psychology, ATR 38 (1956): 166–175.

[30] Luis Alonso Schökel notes a deliberate comparison between the ordered heavens and the potentially disordered life of man. See “The Vision of Man in Sirach 16:24–17:14,” in Israelite Wisdom (eds. John G. Gammie, et al; Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978), 235–245.

[31] See p. 705 in “4Q185 and the Epistle of James” JBL 117 (1998): 691–707.

[32] See p. 141 in Thomas W. Mann, “Stars, Sprouts, and Streams: The Creative Redeemer of Second Isaiah,” in God Who Creates (eds. W. P. Brown and S. D. McBride, Jr.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 135–151.

[33] Spitta, 1:151–154.

[34] Luke Timothy Johnson, “God Ever New, Ever the Same: The Witness of James and Peter,” in The Forgotten God: Perspectives in Biblical Theology (A. Andrew Das and Frank J. Matera, eds.; Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 211–227. See 218.

[35] Patrick J. Hartin, A Spirituality of Perfection: Faith in Action in the Letter of James (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 52. See also Verseput, who likens James to a “covenantal diaspora epistle.” As such, James imparts “instructions to the dispersed people of God in expectation of divine faithfulness” (702–703).

[36] Schwöbel, 146–172.

[37] R. St. John Parry, A Discussion of the General Epistle of St. James (London: Cambridge University Press, 1903), 24.

[38]Page 301 in Sophie Laws, “The Doctrinal Basis for the Ethics of James,” Studia Evangelica 7 (1973): 299–305.

[39] Gerald H. Rendall, The Epistle of St. James and Judaic Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927), 56; Parry,17–18.

[40] Rendall, 60.


Barth, Karl. The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Vol. 4/3.2 of Church Dogmatics. Edited by G. W. Bromiley. Translated and edited by T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1962.

Bauckham, Richard, James: Wisdom of James, Disciple of Jesus the Sage. New Testament Readings. London: Routledge, 1999.

Burney, C. F. “Christ as the ARCHÊ of Creation.” Journal of Theological Studies 27 (1926): 160–177.

Charlesworth, James H. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2 vols. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1983.

Danker, Frederick William, ed. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Third Edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Elliott-Binns, L. E. “James 1.18: Creation or Redemption?” New Testament Studies 3 (1957): 148–161.

Gunton, Colin. The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

________. The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Hardy, Daniel W. “Creation and Eschatology.” Pages105–133 in The Doctrine of Creation. Edited by Colin Gunton. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997.

Hartin, Patrick J. A Spirituality of Perfection: Faith in Action in the Letter of James. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1999.

Hort, F. J. A. The Epistle of St James. London: Macmillan, 1909.

________. The First Epistle of St Peter. London: Macmillan, 1998.

Jackson-McCabe, Matt A. “A Letter to the Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora: Wisdom and ‘Apocalyptic’ Eschatology in the Letter of James.” Pages 504–517 in SBL Seminar Papers, 1996. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1996.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. “God Ever New, Ever the Same: The Witness of James and Peter.” Pages 211–227 in The Forgotten God: Perspectives in Biblical Theology. Edited by A. Andrew Das and Frank J. Matera. Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

________. The Letter of James. Anchor Bible 37A. New York:Doubleday, 1995.

Laws, Sophie. “The Doctrinal Basis for the Ethics of James.” Studia Evangelica 7 (1973): 299–305.

Mann, Thomas W. “Stars, Sprouts, and Streams: The Creative Redeemer of Second Isaiah.” Pages 135–151 in God Who Creates.Edited by W. P. Brown and S. D. McBride, Jr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Mayor, Joseph B. The Epistle of James. London: Macmillan, 1913.

Palmer, F. H. “James i.18 and the Offering of First-Fruits.” Tyndale Bulletin 3 (1957): 1–2.

Parry, R. St. John. A Discussion of the General Epistle of St. James. London: Cambridge University Press, 1903.

Pines, S. “Notes on the Twelve Tribes in Qumran, Early Christianity and Jewish Traditon.” Pages 151–154 in Messiah and Christos: Studies in the Jewish Origins of Christianity Presented to David Flusser on the Occasion of his Seventy-Fifth Birthday. Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 32. Edited by I. Gruenwald. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992.

Rendall, Gerald H. The Epistle of St. James and Judaic Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927.

Ropes, James Hardy. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of St. James. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1916.

Schökel, Luis Alonso. “The Vision of Man in Sirach 16:24–17:14.” Pages 235–245 in Israelite Wisdom. Edited by John G. Gammie, et al. Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978.

Schwöbel, Christoph. “God, Creation and the Christian Community: The Dogmatic Basis of a Christian Ethic of Createdness.” Pages 149–176 in The Doctrine of Creation. Edited by Colin Gunton. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997.

Spitta, Friedrich. Zur Geschichte und Litteraturdes Urchristentums. Gottigen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1896.

Townsend, John T. Midrash Tanhuma. 2 vols. Hoboken, N. J.: KTAV, 1989.

Verseput, Donald J. “4Q185 and the Epistle of James.” Journal of Biblical Literature 117 (1998): 691–707.

Wolverton, Wallace I. “The Double-Minded Man in Light of Essene Psychology.” Anglican Theological Review 38 (1956): 166–175.

Yonge, Charles D. The Works of Philo. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993.

NovT, διακρίνομαι, and ‘Doubts About Doubt’

Vol. 49, no. 1 (2007) and Vol. 48, no. 4 (2006) of Novum Testamentum have just been released online (full text available to institutions/individuals with a subscription). 49.1 contains an article by Peter Spitaler on a subject near and dear to students of the Epistle of James:

Διακρíνεσθαι in Mt. 21:21, Mk. 11:23, Acts 10:20, Rom. 4:20, 14:23, Jas. 1:6, and Jude 22 — the ‘Semantic Shift’ That Went Unnoticed by Patristic Authors,” Novum Testamentum 49.1 (2007): 1–39.

This article investigates how patristic and medieval writers interpret New Testament passages with the middle/passive διακρίνω. Contemporary NT scholars posit a difference between NT and classical/Hellenistic Greek meanings and usually justify their choice by means of a semantic shift. In the texts analyzed for this article, there is little evidence that Greek patristic and medieval authors acknowledge a meaning of διακρίνομαι that deviates from the Koine meaning. If, indeed, a semantic shift took place, they show no awareness of that movement. The transformation of meaning first occurs in translations from Greek to Latin.

Spitaler has previously published on the meaning of διακρίνομαι in Biblica:

Doubt or Dispute (Jude 9 and 22-23). Rereading a Special New Testament Meaning through the Lense of Internal Evidence,” Biblica 87 (2006): 201–222.

The middle/passive verb διακρίνομαι occurs twice in Jude’s letter. It is usually rendered with the classical / Hellenistic meaning “dispute” in v. 9, and the special NT meaning “doubt” in v. 22. Beginning with a brief discussion of the methodological problems inherent in the special NT meaning approach to διακρίνομαι, this article offers an interpretation of vv. 9 and 22 based on the letter’s internal evidence. The content of Jude’s letter permits διακρίνομαι to be consistently translated with its classical / Hellenistic meaning, “dispute” or “contest”.

See also:

David De Graaf, “Some Doubts About Doubt: The New Testament Use of Διακρίνω,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48 (2005): 733–755. (Check here for availability.) An abstract is not available, but here are the opening and closing words of the article:

The verb διακρίνω appears nineteen times in the Greek NT. In most translations, nine of these instances (Matt 21:21; Mark 11:23; Acts 10:20; 11:12; Rom 4:20; 14:23; jas 1:6; Jude 22) are rendered with words that express uncertainty, such as “doubt,” “hesitate,” or “waver.” The argument set forth in this article is that “uncertainty” is not the meaning that the biblical authors intended to convey in these nine cases, and that they should instead be rendered with words that express divided loyalty or disunity. (p. 733)

. . . In instances where διακρίνω is explicitly contrasted with a member of the πίστ- word group, the latter should be taken to have a sense that is more readily translated with the terms “loyalty” or “faithfulness” than with “faith.” (p. 755)

Time does not permit me to interact with these articles on the blog. Suffice it to say, if you are interested in what James has to say about doubt contrasted with faith, then these articles are worth reading. They challenge the “special NT meaning of” διακρίνω — “doubt.” Instead, πίστ* and διακρίνω often have much more to do with one’s loyalties and character rather than with one’s mental assent to an unprovable concept.

Patrick’s James the Lord’s Brother – rough draft in HTML

Previously I posted on finding a PDF scan of William Patrick’s James the Lord’s Brother (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1906) on the Internet Archive (see previous post). The work is still available as a 35MB PDF, but I have done a rough scan and edit of the work into HTML (AVAILABLE HERE).

This is a very rough scan. I have not proofread it, and the formatting of verse references used in the original text did not scan well (as of now there is no dividing punctuation between all chapter and verse numbers). This draft has other formatting issues with italics, etc. So, be sure to check this scan against the PDF. Also, the Scripture and subject indexes are neither formatted nor proofread.

I’ve assigned “anchors” to all page numbers, so if you’re interested in citing a particular page in this document, just add # followed immediately by the page number in the document url. Example:

http://jamesthejust.oldinthenew.org/patrick.html#98 will take you to pg. 98 (Ch. 5 on “The Epistle of James”).

Again, for the sake of any Luddites, here are a few links for obtaining a paper copy of Patrick’s work: Open WorldCat / Amazon / used.addall.com / Bookfinder

*After looking around a bit, I also found F. J. A. Hort’s Judaistic Christianity (London: Macmillan, 1894) on the internet archives. Perhaps I will be able to OCR scan this and make it available as well.

Sale on Sacra Pagina James Commentary

Patrick Hartin’s commentary on James is on sale at Eisenbrauns.

Regular price: $39.95
Sale price: $21.22
To expensive? Find it in a library.

Written for the Sacra Pagina series (Liturgical Press), this commentary represents a career’s worth of quality scholarship on the Epistle of James. Hartin has established himself as a top-notch James scholar, authoring several important works, including: James and the Q Sayings of Jesus, A Spirituality of Perfection in James, James of Jerusalem: Heir to Jesus of Nazareth, and several related articles.

Don’t miss your chance to purchase an inexpensive copy if you’re interested in quality James scholarship. As of 11:59 pm, 11 January 2007, there are only 6 left!

Long time no blog…

Cave PaintingIt has been far too long since I have posted to the blog. (I don’t even have the excuse of going to ETS/SBL!) I’ve been feeling my way aimlessly around the dark cave of thesis writing. So, I have not been able to put in much time for the blog. I have, however, been teaching Sunday school on James, and I have been posting my outlines regularly. Feel free to take a look.

Post-class comments on Lesson 4 – James 1:9-11

Yesterday’s class went very well. I was happy that the subject matter sparked quite a bit of discussion. I started the class with an exercise put together by Pamela Sparr in the updated version of Elsa Tamez’ The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works is Dead (pp. 119-125). In this exercize I had a table set up for five people with plates, cups, forks & knives, a gallon of milk, measuring cup, and a danish ring. I then had five volunteers come to the table and one of them divide the danish into four equal pieces. I took a pinch of crumbs and laid it on one person’s plate. Then I had someone cut a third of one fourth and put it on another person’s plate. Then the remaining 2/3 of the fourth on another plate. Then a whole quarter went to one person and half to one final person. I then explained that this represented the distribution of income in the United States. Each person represented 20% of the US population. One half of the income goes to a single 20% segment, while the lower 20% only recieves a “smidgeon” of income:

Individual Income 1st 20% 2nd 20% 3rd 20% 4th 20% 5th 20%
% of total income earned by group 3.6% 9% 15% 23% 49.4%
Average income for a person in group $9,940 $24,436 $40,879 $63,555 $135,401

I then had one of the volunteers pour milk into each person’s cup. The 1st recieved 2 oz.; the 2nd 3 oz.; the 3rd and 4th received 3.5 oz., and the 5th received 22 oz. of milk. Finally, I had the volunteer pour slightly less than 1 oz. in the measuring cup. This represented the spread of wealth in the world’s economy. I think that this exercise was quite helpful in demonstrating to upper-middle class residents of the North Shore of Massachusetts that there is inequality in the world, even if we do not feel it too much in suburbia.

After discussing the inequality of distribution, I handed out the lesson and we read James 1:9-11:

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (NIV)

While studying this text, I was struck at the strangeness. If I put out of my mind what I knew of the Gospels, the scandal of James’ message hit me a little harder. The humble brother may boast in their exaltation even though we don’t see much of that exaltation in this age. The rich brother can boast in his humiliation. Then the real scandal – the rich can boast in his humiliation because he will one day fade away in his pursuits like a Palestinian flower withering under the hot sun in a sirocco wind storm. How can this be? I explained to the class that James is alluding to Isaiah 40:4, 6-8:

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. . . . All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.

This passage speaks of a day of “Great Reversal” when Israel’s exile is at its end, and Israel’s God returns on straightened paths. James picks up the imagery of the text. The humble will be exalted along with Isaiah’s valleys, and the rich debased along with Isaiah’s mountains. James’ brother, along with his cousin, John, preach of this great reversal. The beatitudes in Luke proclaim a series of eschatological blessings for the poor, the hungry and the mourning, while warning of eschatological judgment to the rich, the satisfied and the laughing. This gives the poor reason to boast. In their poverty, they are favored in the Kingdom of God.

How then can the rich boast in James? Of course this is the crux interpretum of the passage. Who are the rich? Insiders or outsiders? Is their boasting literal or ironic? The more I think about it, the more I think that the rich in this context are indeed rich brothers – they are insiders with reason to boast because in their care of the poor, they have emptied themselves of their resources. In essence, I think that James is stating, “You folks who were once rich, but have now debased yourself in care of the poor for the sake of the kingdom have reason to boast. After all, if you had continued in your pursuits as a rich person, you would have faded away like a wilted flower.” I demonstrated this pouring out by taking the 22 oz. cup of milk and using it to level off all of the other nearly empty cups. (I only spilled a little milk!)

I openned up the time for discussion at this point. Does James’ declaration here mean that as Christians we should become “bleeding heart liberals?” I used incendiary language on purpose, of course! The discussion was helpful. One respected gentleman in the class, who has been quite successful in business observed that we cannot simply repond to this by pouring money out to those with need without thinking. He stated that he has been quite thoughtful about the issue, and does not see any value in socialism. On person remarked that according to certain TV preachers, the United States is blessed because it is a righteous nation founded on godly principles. This caused another to point out other prosperous nations who are anything but “Christian.” I encouraged the class that there was no such thing as an easy answer to poverty, but at the same time, we must answer. We must ask the question and not let the overwhelming nature of the problem cause paralysis. We must ask for wisdom from the Father of Lights to guide us as we are tested with our wealth in a less-than-just world.

Lesson 4 outline available.

A paper I wrote on James’ use of the OT in 1:9-11 is available as well.

Post-class comments on Lesson 3 – James 1:5-8

Scarecrow sings, «If I only had a brain...»“If I only had a brain…” That’s the song of the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was looking for home, the Tin Man needed a heart and the Lion some c-c-courage. As the three were embarking on the yellow brick road, they realized they were each missing something. James, after telling us to consider all of life’s trials as “pure joy” (1:2), also realizes that we all need something – this something is wisdom. “If I only had wisdom…” Wisdom ≠ brains. No, again and again, the Old Testament says that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” James later describes wisdom in terms that have much more to do with character rather than intellect (3:13-18). Wisdom for James is about reacting to trials and temptation as God would have us respond rather than with our own visceral, gut reaction.

Thankfully, James does not tell us to simply wish for wisdom, but points us to the generously giving God who is singly devoted to doing what’s best for us-with no strings attached (1:5). While God gives without reservation, he does reserve his hearing to only certain kinds of prayers – the prayers of those who are singly devoted and faithful to him. He will not listen to the prayers of double-minded doubters. Now, God does not turn a deaf ear to those of us with intellectual doubt. No, there are too many Psalms that ask sincerely “How long O, Lord?” or “Why have you forsaken me?” God hears those prayers that express “intellectual doubt” when those doubts are handed over to him. What God turns a deaf ear to is the prayer of one who asks for something from a benevolent God, but in turn goes “behind God’s back” and acts of his own accord with no regard to God’s will in his life. The God who is single-heartedly devoted to giving us what is best demands that we approach him as single-hearted believers who not only believe in God, but actually act upon it. To have anything other than single-hearted devotion to the single-hearted generous God is to accept a life and reputation as unstable as the storm-tossed sea. So, the question is will you stand secure in obedient faith, or will you accept seasickness as your lot? Secure or seasick? The answer is a no-brainer, but the follow-through will take all the resources of a God who is 100% loyally sold out to giving us what is best – for our good and his glory.


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).