The 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
Most of us have read through the church discipline passages and probably have given them very little thought as to how they might be applied. Unfortunately as an elder of a local church we are forced to wrestle with them not just from a theological perspective but from a very practical sense.
As many readers likely know, Matthew 18:15-20 is the standard passage used to define the church discipline process. The process involves four successive steps:
- private meetings between the sinner and the offended party.
- discussions between the sinner and the offended party with witnesses to establish whether the alleged sin is occurring.
- bringing the matter to the attention of the church is typically when elders start to get involved and has its own set of steps.
- The elders, similar to step 2, will investigate the matter and determine whether sinful activity is occurring.
- If the sinful activity is verified the elders will often meet with the person who is sinning to discuss the situation and encourage them to repent.
- If the person refuses to repent the congregation is informed of the matter, with the goal of aiding in the process of reconciliation. The unrepentant, sinning person is given some additional time to change their actions.
- treating the sinner as a Gentile and a tax collector
- this final step is reserved for people who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their sin and continue in their sinful activity.
The goal at every step in this process is for there to be an end to the sinful activity and reconciliation between the sinner and offended party. The hope is that this can be done in as few steps as possible.
The Calling of St. Matthew
What did Jesus mean when He said treat them as Gentiles and Tax Collectors? Continue reading
Jesus’ ministry was summed up by the Pharisees in this way (Luke 15:1-2 also Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34).
This man receives sinners and eats with them
Having assessed Jesus’ approach to ministry, the Pharisees also questioned it. Why does Jesus “eat with sinners” (Mark 2:16 NET)?
When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?“
As we look back on Jesus’ ministry mission statement and how he dealt with sinners we can end up with a lot of questions too. Who should I eat and hang out with? Where should I hang out with them? What should I tell them about sin? What expectations should be placed on the sinners for there to be a continued close relationship? How long should I hang out with them if they keep sinning? How should we handle sinners in the church? These are all good questions. And ones that are being hotly debated.
Here is how Jesus defended His “eat with sinners” approach to ministry (Mark 2:17 NET):