James in a Nutshell

Putting together an outline for the letter from James can be a challenge. And a quick survey of commentaries leaves us with a variety of suggestions.

Scot McKnight, quoting Duane Watson offers:Saint_James_the_Just

[James] is a Jewish-Christian work influenced by Hellenistic rhetoric, but is arranged overall in the topic-to-topic fashion of Jewish wisdom texts.

Even if the structure is hard to nail down, as we read through the letter of James we can see a theme emerge. James is writing to defend the idea that a genuine faith endures through trials and is demonstrated through good works. The good works that James emphasizes as evidence of genuine faith – social justice (1:27), our speech (1:26), and avoiding worldliness (1:27) – are summarized in the first chapter. Each of these topics receive more detailed treatment later in the work.

James also warns us not to be deceived. But what is it that we may be deceived about? In the larger context, it seems that James is warning us not to be deceived about who God is (1:16, 3:17) nor about our being a genuine disciple of Christ. True disciples are doers of the Word (1:22-25) , have a faith that is shown by good works (1:27; 2:17, 20), and in the meekness of wisdom (3:13) rather than worldliness (4:4).

Perhaps the verse that captures the theme best is a mashup of James 1:2-3 and 1:12

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. … Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life

Trials are a process through which faith is tested. The testing can do one of two things. It can discover if faith that is claimed is genuine (2:26) or it can refine and strengthen the faith that is there resulting in our growth (1:4). The key word is the adjective δοκιμος, found in James 1:12 which is translated “approved” in the NASB.  The term (link) was often used to describe testing a coin to see if it was genuine or a counterfeit.

We can see the same idea in 1 Peter 1:6-7  where the testing of faith during trials is compared to gold. Here the noun (“proof”) and verb (“tested”) form of the word δοκιμος are used.

 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ

Here is a rough outline of the letter based on this theme, or rather that highlights that this is a theme that James had in mind.

Count it joy when you encounter trials … testing of your faith produces endurance James 1:2-4
ask for wisdom in faith  James 1:5-8
contrasting the poor and rich James 1:9-11
Blessed is the person who remains steadfast under trial and is found genuine James 1:12
don’t be deceived Be blessed as doers of the Word because faith without works is useless  James 1:19-25; 2:14-26
Worthwhile, pure religion bridles the tongue  James 1:26; 3:1-12; 4:11-12; 5:9, 12
Ask for wisdom & demonstrate it through good conduct instead of being a friend of the world  James 2:1-13; 3:13-4:10, 4:13-5:6
Be patient until the coming of the Lord …  Blessed are those who remain steadfast [during trials]. Examples to consider are the prophets and Job James 5:7-11

Other commentaries observe this theme in James as well.

In the MacArthur Bible Study Guide, there is an “emphasis on spiritual fruitfulness demonstrating true faith.”

If a person’s faith is genuine, it will prove itself during times of trouble, whatever the nature or source of the trouble may be.

J.A. Motyer, in The Message of James, identifies the themes of the letter as being centered around genuine faith, which is marked by growth and ethics (page 14-16).

Make sure your growth is a true, Christian development, and remember that it is by leaping life’s hurdles that you get to the tape.

…  James might ask, Did you in fact realize that the meeting of needs is not peripheral, nor optional, but central and obligatory to your faith?

While Scot McKnight sees numerous themes in the letter of James, the central theme for him is the broad topic of ethics. Within the section on ethics, McKnight does agree with the ideas presented by other commentators regarding ethics and good works as being evidence of a genuine faith (TNICNT page 46).

If one does not perform or live out the faith, one will not find eschatological salvation (cf. 2:14, 17, 18-19).  It is unwise to reify these terms and say one must have one or another, or even to say one must have all. Instead, each of these terms bring to expression a life that is lived properly before God if one is following the Messiah

 

5 Interesting Facts about the Letter from James

Saint_James_the_JustThe letter from James is “a one-of-a-kind document”, according to scholar and commentator Scot McKnight, with “no real parallel among ancient letters, essays, and homilies.”

It is a letter that addresses numerous topics, many of which underlie the tensions behind the headlines today, including suffering, social justice, and poverty. It also contains some challenging passages related to the role of faith and works.

Here are 5 interesting facts as we start our study.

1) It was probably written by the brother of Jesus

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1)

Most scholars (at least those writing evangelical commentaries) agree that the author of this letter is James the brother of Jesus (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal 1:19), also known as James the Just. Another candidate is James, the son of Zebedee, the older brother of John, and an apostle in Jesus’ inner circle (Matt 17:1; Mark 5:37, 14:32-33). Many rule out the latter James, due to his early death at the hands of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2) around 44 CE. But that shouldn’t disqualify him. James the son of Zebedee would have been alive to write the letter if the earliest suggested dating of the letter is correct.

The primary reason for accepting James the Just as the author, over other possible candidates, is the tradition of the early church, which attributed the letter to him. Continue reading

Calvinism, Arminianism, & Vocabulary

We are going through Christian Theology in Sunday school, and this week we were covering both the similarities and differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. We focused on two passages in Ephesians (1:4-6 and 2:8-9).

For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will— to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

and

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.

The emphasis in class was on how each group understands key words in Scripture like grace, faith, and election.

Each group uses these words – but they do not mean what the other group thinks they mean. Definitions for these words were explored using key documents like the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Canons of the Synod of Dort, and the writings of Arminius.

Here are the slides (pdf)