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James—the Fiery Epistle from Jerusalem

07 Mar
James 1 1-3

from Google Images

James addressed his letter to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. That is, his letter was sent to Israel, but gentile believers would be affected as well. Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that the main consideration was believing Jews, because the persecution that came after Paul’s imprisonment was aimed at these believers. Knowing this, some of what James says is encoded to keep the enemies of the Gospel from understanding the true intent of this epistle. Moreover, it is probably true that James was executed by Ananias, the high priest and son of Annas in 63 AD, for writing this very epistle and not long after Paul left for Rome . Therefore, his letter had to have been written before this time, but probably closer to James’ death than nearer to Paul’s arrest.

What I find striking is Luke’s silence concerning the activity of James and the Messianic Jews in Palestine following Paul’s imprisonment there. If Paul was imprisoned at Jerusalem in late spring of 58 AD, (Acts 20:16; cf. 21:27-28), the hush over the activity of the Jerusalem and Galilean Jewish believers from this point until Paul sailed for Rome  in 60 AD (about 2 ½ years), is very curious to say the least. One can only say that either the Messianic believers in Palestine expressed cowardly behavior, or Luke is protecting them by writing nothing of their activity. This is even more understandable, if Luke’s addressee, Theophilus (Acts 1:1), is the former high priest (cir. 36 to 41 AD) and son of Annas.

In any case, James addressed his letter during a time of great trial (James 1:2), and his advice for Christians was to remain persistent in their faith. The trial itself required wisdom on the part of the believer to fight the good fight (James 1:5). James’ manner seems to imply that those who lacked wisdom were rebuked by those who had come into the church, making out like they had the true knowledge of God and greater faith than anyone else. The wisdom that James mentioned had to do with understanding God’s word. Notice:

1 Corinthians 2:4-7 KJV  (4)  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  (5)  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.  (6)  Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:  (7)  But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

If believers did not readily understand God’s word on their own, in that they were content to listen to those who spoke in the weekly meetings, believing this was enough, they would have found themselves ill equipped for the present danger. James told them to simply ask God to give them understanding, because he would give it freely to those who ask. Nevertheless, the brethren were to ask in faith—trusting God loved them enough to freely give them all they needed. James again encodes his message when he speaks of wavering like the waves of the sea tossed in the wind. This language was used often in the New Testament to admonish believers to be content with what they had been taught and not run after every new doctrine or teaching that crossed their path (Ephesians 4:14; Hebrews 10:23; 13:9). Both Jude and Peter’s second epistle are decidedly more obvious about what was going on, because they were probably written following James’ death, so the battle lines in the faith were more clearly drawn in that the persecution was well under way and the need to be subtle had long passed (Jude 1:12-13; 2Peter 2:17).

James was not only trying to encourage the more unstable believers to ask God for wisdom and hold fast to the faith that was delivered unto them, but he was also calling for the repentance of those double minded men (James 1:7-8) who had upset the peace of the community by teaching things they not only did not fully understand, but also  denied the Lord who bought them (2Peter 2:14; 3:16b).

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Related Posts:

James—No Epistle of Straw!

The First Three Persecutions of the Church

Who is Luke’s Theophilus?

Who Is the False Prophet?

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