Opening Remarks-James 1_1
· When one is going to study a piece of Scripture or an entire as we are about to do in this study of the book of James it is important to understand some things about the book that will clarify how we should interpret what is being said.
· We try to understand who wrote the book because it gives us insights into the dating of the book, the attitude with which it was written and also what is being meant by different words and phrases. This is especially true if we have other letters or books to look at in order to understand the thinking of the author.
· When we know the date of a book we begin to understand how it fits into the history of the development of the Christian faith and gives insight into what may have caused the writing of the book.
· Understanding who the book is written to is vitally important. When we know the recipients we begin to understand if what is being written is directed to unbelievers, believers, Jews or Gentiles. It influences the context of the message.
· It is also important to understand why the book is being written. Is it being written to fight false teaching? Is it written to encourage unbelievers to accept Christ? Is it written to correct bad behavior? The purpose of a book helps us understand what is being communicated to the original readers and enables us to transfer principles for our daily living.
· Chapter 1: 1 identifies the writer of the letter as James. There is little indication from the letter as to which James is the writer. Four people named James are found in the New Testament but only two have ever been seriously considered as the author.
Ø James the son of Zebedee (one of the twelve): It is unlikely that he is the author because he was martyred (Acts 12:2) before the letter is known to be written.
Ø James the brother of Jesus: Probably the eldest of the four brothers of Jesus named in Mark 6: 3. James did not believe Jesus’ claims early in his ministry (John 7:5, Mark 3:20 -21). Believed in Jesus after he appeared to James after his resurrection (1Cor. 15:7). James became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14, 15: 12-21, 21: 17-19). The characteristics described in Acts 21:17-25, and Galatians 2:12 of James are all in keeping with the emphasis on genuine religious practices and ethical conduct found in the Epistle. James’ speech in Acts 15:13-29 has close similarity to the letter. The authoritative tone in the letter is also agrees well with the authority exercised by James in Acts 15:13 ff.; 21:18.
· Several considerations make it probable that James wrote between A.D. 45 and 50. The acceptance of the early date between 45 and 50 AD would make James the earliest NT book written.
Ø The Jewish orientation of the epistle fits the earlier period much more naturally than the later. That the author does not refer to Gentiles or related subjects may well point to the time in the history of the early church when Gentiles were only beginning to be reached with the gospel.
Ø The absence of any reference to the controversy concerning the Judaizers and their insistence on Gentile circumcision is best explained by the earlier date.
Ø The close affinity of the teaching of James to that of the OT and Christ is significant. If the epistle were later, one might expect to find a greater similarity to the writings of Paul, such as is apparent in 1 Peter, for example.
Ø Furthermore, the evidence of a simple church order favors the early date. The leaders are "teachers" (3:1) and "elders" (5:14).
Ø Finally, the use of the Greek term synagoge (synagogue; NIV, "meeting") to describe the church assembly or meeting place (2:2) points to the early period when Christianity was largely confined to Jewish circles.
· The epistle is addressed to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (1:1). The expression "twelve tribes" is clearly Jewish and no doubt was intended to identify the readers as Jews. The author further limits his intended readership by statements that assume the recipients are Christians. The most explicit statement of this kind is the pointed imperative of 2:1:
My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
· Some have suggested that they were the believers who were forced to leave Jerusalem during the persecution that followed Stephen's death. These Jewish Christians spread out over Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1):
“ Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” and even as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:19): “Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one but Jews.”
· It is most reasonable to assume that James, the leading elder of the Jerusalem church, would feel responsible for these former "parishioners" and attempt to instruct them somewhat as he would have done had they still been under his care in Jerusalem. The epistle reveals his intimate knowledge of their circumstances and characteristics. And he writes with the note of authority expected of one who had been recognized as a spiritual leader in the Jerusalem church.
If it is correct to say that the letter is written to scattered Christians then the purpose of the letter is to encourage, admonish and exhort them in their faith and daily living. Problems that necessitates the book:
· Suffering and Persecution
Ø These Jews who had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah were initially persecuted by the Jewish community. Because they were Jewish, they were already socially shunned by the Gentile community. And now they were also cast out of the synagogues and cut off from their families and friends.
· Partiality to the Wealthy
Ø The Jews held to a belief that wealth was a sign of God’s favor. They reasoned that a person’s spirituality could be judged by his wealth. Because of this, partiality was often shown to those who were rich.
· A lack of Commitment
Ø It is possible that the teaching of salvation through faith had brought about an easy believism theology. There may have been those who declared their faith in Christ but there was nothing in their life to evidence the reality of such faith.
Ø The Jews had a rich spiritual heritage in the possession and the knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. This gave them a great advantage over Gentile proselytes. This knowledge when not balanced with love and humility led to pride. Such pride was manifested in the desire of many to be teachers and so to lord their exalted position over others.
· Strife within the Church
Ø The early church dealt with strife in the area of covetousness. These people were guilty of lusting after the possessions of one another. They also had quarrels over various issues for which James addresses.
Ø The Roman Empire was at the peak of its wealth. There had been a period of relative peace and prosperity for the past 75 years. Many of the Christians were failing the prosperity test. They were becoming entangled in the details that accompany wealth. Their attention was being drawn away from the Lord.
Opening remarks (James 1:1)
From James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. Greetings!
· James the brother of Jesus
Ø Slave or servant or more accurately a “bond servant” of both God who would be naturally recognized by James coming from a Jewish perspective and of Jesus who is to be worshiped because he is the Son of God the one whom he witnessed rise from the dead.
Ø He refers to the Son of God from three different perspectives.
§ James sees God’s Son as his Lord-being on equal terms with God. This is significant coming from a monotheistic Jewish faith.
§ He recognizes the Son as having a human form and existence as the man and his biological brother Jesus.
§ He sees Jesus as the Christ or in Jewish terms the anticipated Messiah. He more than likely addresses Jesus as the Greek term Christ rather Messiah because his recipients are residing in Hellenized regions of the world.
· Twelve tribes
Ø This is a clear reference as mentioned earlier to those of Jewish background. The use of the term “twelve tribes” was a common way to refer to the nation of Israel which began with Jacob and his twelve sons from which the twelve tribes are named.
Ø At this early stage in the development of Christianity the message of Christ was going out to mainly to Jews. It was not until later with Saul’s conversion that Gentiles were reached.
Ø As we learned earlier these Jews were dispersed because of their new faith in Jesus Christ after the stoning of Stephen at the hands of Saul.
Ø There are some scholars who believe that the persecution came after the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70 but this date is too late for the date of the writing of the book of James.
Ø It also indicates that they were scattered over a large area. As we saw earlier they were dispersed to Palestine and other regions close to Jerusalem but they also went to areas such Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch.
Ø They would have had little security, living in fear and wondering what would become of them in the beginning years of their exile from their homes. But as we will see from James’ letter they had come to experience relative peace in their new homes and it was affecting their faith.
The Tone of the Letter
· James the brother of Jesus has opened the letter by identifying who he is and the attitude with which he writes. He is not coming to them in pride and superiority but with the attitude to serve God and Christ and thus present to them words that come from God himself.
· He makes it clear who he addressing and that he is not speaking to a Gentile audience. He is also making it clear that he understands their circumstances. Also as we learn throughout the letter that even though they are dispersed he has heard of their spiritual condition.
· The final word in this verse is the word ‘Greeting’. In the Greek it carries the idea of making contact with the understanding that there is a friendship here. The relationship is not one that is hostile but affectionate. So even though James goes on to encourage and even reprimand his audience he does so with great concern for them.
So is there anything that we can learn even from this one small verse at the beginning of this very practical book? I think that there are several lessons from the words themselves, the background and the context.
· We learn that God works in the lives of people to bring them to Christ. James was quite hostile to his brother being the Messiah but the transforming power of the resurrection showed him his need to put his faith in Jesus.
· We learn that the task of every believer is to be an unwavering servant of God and his Son. The motivation for ministry and life needs to come from the understanding that all we do is to be done for the service of God.
· We also learn that even though those who place their trust in Christ may go through trials and moments of weakness, God uses various means including a timely letter from a fellow believer to help them in their faith. God wants to use each of us to speak life into others and direct them to Christ.