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Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation - Lesson 25

James

Key themes and catchwords in James include trials, wisdom, temptation, speech, doubt and perseverance.

Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
Lesson 25
Watching Now
James

I. James – Faith Without Works is Dead

A. The Setting of James

1. Author is Jesus' half-brother and key early church leader

2. Probably the earliest New Testament document, not consciously using Paul's language

3. Addressed to largely poor, Jewish-Christian congregations in Syria or Palestine, ironically discriminating in favor of the rich

4. Oppressed by rich absentee landlords, causing internal squabbling

B. Catchwords in James 1:2-7

1. Trials/testing (vv. 2, 3)

2. Perseverance (vv. 3, 4)

3. Not lacking/lacking (vv. 4, 5)

4. Ask (vv. 5, 6)

5. Doubt (vv. 6, 7)

C. A Chiastic Outline of James

1. Intro (1:1)

2. 3 Key themes: statement 1

a. Trials (1:2-4)

b. Wisdom (1:5-8)

c. Riches/poverty (1:9-11)

3. 3 Key themes: statement 2

a. Temptation (1:12-18)

b. Speech (1:19-26)

c. The dispossessed (1:27)

4. Expansion of theme (a)

5. Expansion of theme (1)

6. Expansion of theme i)

7. Conclusion (5:19-20)

D. Key Exegetical Issues in James 1-2

1. 1:2: How can I be joyful in trials?

2. 1:5-6: Is this a blank check, if I have enough faith?

3. 1:9-11, 2:1-4, 4:13-17, 5:1-6: Are any of the rich Christian?

4. 1:13: Christ's temptation, the Lord's Prayer, and the devil's role

5. 1:25: The perfect law of liberty

6. 1:27: Social ethics and holy separation in balance

7. 2:5: What is God's preferential option for the poor?

E. James on Faith and Works (2:14-26)

1. Faith

a. James – Jewish

b. Paul – Christian

2. Works

a. James – Christian

b. Paul – Jewish

F. Key Exegetical Issues in James 3-4

1. 3:1: Not condemnation, but accountability

2. 3:13: Competence, content and character!

3. 4:4: As the thesis of the letter

4. 4:13-17: planning and the Lord's will

G. James on Prayer

1. God's will

a. Unconditional

i. We pray [+]

ii. We don't pray [+]

b. Conditional

i. We pray [+]

ii. We don't pray [–]

2. Not God's will

a. We pray [–]

b. We don't pray [–]

H. James' "Militant Patience" (5:10-11)

1. Militance: Zealots – revolutionary violence

2. Militant Patience

a. Old Testament prophets – Prophetic option

b. Jesus – Denunciatory rhetoric

c. James – Prayer as "rebelling against the status quo"

3. Patience: Essenes – Passivist, Monasticism


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  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

     

  • Correlation of the accounts in Galatians and Acts on Paul's trip to Jerusalem. 

  • Galatians as a model of apologetics supporting Christianity.

  • Comparing faith and works in Judaism and Christianity. 

  • Paul faced persecution when he preached in Thessalonica. The return of Christ is a central theme in the letters to the Thessalonians.

  • One aspect of the subject of biblical eschatology is the timing and nature of the tribulation. 

  • Paul addresses the extremes of asceticism and hedonism, as well as concerns regarding marriage, spiritiual gifts and the resurrection.

  • Divisions in the Corinthian church were caused by both theology and lifestyle.

  • Whether or not believers should eat food that had been offered to idols was an issue in the Corinthian church. The importance and role of spiritual gifts was a major topic of discussion.

  • Paul updates the people in the church in Corinth about his travels. He also follows up on relationships and defends his apostolic ministry.

  • Paul responds to specific situations in the Corinthian church including emphasizing a correct perspective on giving and encouragement to see God's redemptive purpose in our suffering.

  • Knowing the key places as backgrounds for Romans, the timeline and the outline of the book are helpful to understanding the context and message.

  • Paul wrote Romans as a systematic exposition of the gospel.

     

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the deity of Christ. Philemon was written to a gentlema Paul knows to encourage him to welcome back Onesimus, his runaway slave, who became a disciple of Christ and was returning.

  • Paul addresses how to live in different roles: husbands and wives, masters and slaves, elders and others in the church.

  • Paul describes the blessings of salvation and encourages believers to live in unity that transcends cultural and racial barriers. 

  • Paul describes to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, who they are in Christ, and the ethical implications for how they should live their daily lives.

  • Paul contrasts the condescention and the exaltation of Christ, and addresses specific situations in the Philippian church.

  • Paul writes to encourage and instruct Timothy and Titus, both of whom are young pastors. It is important for Titus to identify and train elders and deal effectively with factious people. 

  • Paul instructs Timothy about how to pastor a church and turn it away from heresy.

  • Both 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians contain key passages addressing the roles of men and women in the local church. Some of them address conduct when gathering for corporate worship.

  • 1 Timothy 2:11-15 gives some direction for gender roles in a worship service.

  • Key themes and catchwords in James include trials, wisdom, temptation, speech, doubt and perseverance.

  • James discusses the roles of faith and works in a believers life and the importance of prayer.

  • A prominent theme in Hebrews chapters 1-5 is the superiority of Christ to the angels and to Moses.

  • Hebrews 6:4-8 is a key warning passage. Christ's priesthood is superior to both the Levitical priesthood and also to Melchizedek. Chapter 11 remembers the heroes of the faith.

  • A major theme of 1 Peter is perseverance despite persecution.

  • The outline of 1 Peter has similarities to other letters of the first century that emphasize a high view of Christology.

  • Jude and 2 Peter both emphasize refuting false teachers.

  • In his epistles, John emphasizes themes that refute gnostic doctrines. He outlines the tests of life as keeping God’s commandments, loving one another and believing in Jesus as the God-man.

  • As you study and preach from the epistles of John, note the passages that Dr. Blomberg describes as, “gems from John.”

  • Revelation was written by the apostle John in the late first century using apocalyptic, prophetic and epistolary genres. A possible structure by time line would be the past (chapter 1), the present (chapters 2-5) and the future (chapters 6-22). 

  • In addition to the framework of eschatology, Revelation chapters 1-6 develops themes of Christology including a description of Jesus as the lion who is a lamb, as well as the spiritual condition of some of the churches in the first century. 

  • In both of the possible scenarios for the tribulation, believers are exempt from God’s wrath but they are not exempt from Satan’s attacks.

  • Revelation chapters 12-22 cover themes of salvation and judgment of nations, Armageddon, the millennium and the new heavens and new earth.

Using the English New Testament, this course surveys the New Testament epistles and the apocalypse. Issues of introduction and content receive emphasis as well as a continual focus on the theology of evangelism and on the contemporary relevance of the variety of issues these documents raise for contemporary life.

 

Dr. Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
nt512-25
James (Part 1)
Lesson Transcript

 

This is the 25h lecture in the online series of lectures on understanding the Epistles and Revelation, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Book, Acts through Revelation, An Introduction and Survey. 

 

We now continue with the remaining letters in the New Testament in chronological order while realizing that our information is far more sketchy and incomplete because we don’t have any comparable mini-biographies of the period of the lives of James, Peter, Jude and John. We don’t even know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews to enable us to synchronize events and dates with what we can infer from those epistles like we did when we were able to compare Paul’s letters with a substantial portion of the Book of Acts that narrated the key excerpts of Paul’s life and ministry, overlapping with the period which he wrote most of those epistles. Nevertheless, we will see that there is good reason for thinking that James is the earliest of the non-Pauline letters; indeed, perhaps the earliest New Testament document altogether. That Hebrews and 1st Peter come from approximately the same period of time in the early 60’s and 2nd Peter follows 1st Peter and the epistles of John are probably dated to the 80’s or 90’s with the Book of Revelation dated to the mid 90’s. The one place where we may end up unwittingly breaking the chronological sequence is when we pair Jude with 2nd Peter, which we do because of a literary relationship that appears to characterize the two. This could mean that Jude was written very shortly before 2nd Peter, in which case our sequence could remain chronological but it also means that Jude could have been written considerably earlier as well. If that was true, then it would be in the early 60’s which would break the chronological sequence. 

 

We now turn to James which may be subtitled, ‘Faith without Works is Dead’. Highlights of the setting of James depicts the author as being the half-brother of Jesus of Nazareth and therefore the same individual who is described in Acts 12 & 15 as the lead elder of the church in Jerusalem in the early days its existence. And after Peter leaves Jerusalem for a ministry that apparently he never returns to. This has James as being unambiguous leading authority in Jerusalem and perhaps even for the Hebraic or Hebrew speaking and enculturated wing of Jewish Christianity and for all of Jewish Christianity. There has been a resurgence of interest in this James, at least because of the apparent discovery of his ossuary or bone box in the beginning years of the 21st century. What is of particular and even peculiar interest and exegetical significance is that this James’ relationship with Paul, particularly in 2:14 – 26 with the theme repeatedly phrased, ‘faith without works is dead’ and that works is a necessary supplement to faith for salvation. It would appear that Paul’s core theology of justification by faith alone is flatly contradicted. In fact, we will see as we look at the passage in a bit more detail and once it is understood that each of these two apostle writers is using key terms in different though not contradictory ways, then the apparent contradiction dissolves. 

 

But the question remains, under what circumstances is it most likely that James would have penned words that seemingly contradicts Paul on such a central issue. If this is a pseudonymous writing after the death of James in AD 62 or, however, if it is James writing near the end of his life, then we can envision the author either correcting Paul. If we consider certain presuppositions about the nature of Scripture, a view fully consistent with an understanding of the Bible as being inspired and inerrant, then James is correcting a misunderstanding of Paul that had begun to circulate particularly in Jewish circles where the following of the Torah is so central in Jewish Christianity. This misunderstanding could easily be akin to that which we see in the later chapters of Acts when Paul returns to Jerusalem, particularly in chapters 21 and 22 where he is mistakenly accused of violating Jewish law and teaching against it, even for Jewish Christians in a variety of ways.

 

On the other hand, one wonders if the author is writing to correct such a misunderstanding that may have claimed that Paul would not include the idea good works in his Gospel message at all. If the author would not have been more careful not to sound as if he were flatly contradicting his apostle colleague, this would lead us to the possibility that James is writing before Paul’s letter had become well enough known and their wording well enough known so that his language was not yet consciously in any way coming into conflict with those other epistles, simply because they had not yet been written. Given that the epistle that seems to have come into conflict with James as any, is Galatians 3 and also Romans 4. One would then have to assume that James probably was writing even before AD 49 or there about, given that what we know in Acts, James doesn’t appear to rise in prominence enough for Acts to pay attention to him until after Peter’s imprisonment and rescue and subsequent death of Herod Agrippa first in AD 44. Perhaps, it’s sometime within this window between 44 and 49 that James is most likely to be dated. In which case, we have as with the early chapters of Acts, one of the earliest if not the earliest depictions of concerns near and dear to the hearts of Christians in the earliest recorded stages of the entire Christian movement. That should be the logical outgrowth of faith, not least works of stewardship and care for the poor (2:10). This should be so central and readily agreed upon by Paul, Peter, and James alike, is an important reminder that as with the message of Jesus himself and as with the major Old Testament prophets, as with the recurring theme even in the Torah, the Law or five Books of Moses: Genesis to Deuteronomy. Care for the dispossessed is a central obligation in and of God’s people in every corpus of his revelation. 

 

Indeed, we may infer from chapter 1:1 that James is addressing, primarily if not exclusively, Jewish Christian congregations. He writes to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, the diaspora. There is nothing in the remaining part of the letter to suggest that it is in any way metaphorical rather than literal, The letter is steeped in Jewish language and concepts while at the same time still clearly Christian, even though Jesus Christ appears by name only in 1:1 and 2:1. Allusions to Jesus’ teachings, particularly from the Sermon on the Mount and in Luke’s Gospel dot the paragraphs of James exactly as we might expect a biological half sibling of our Lord to do, particularly after he became a follower of Jesus. 

 

From the comments scattered about the letter of how the rich are oppressing and exploiting the audiences to whom James writes. We see this in chapter 2:6-7 and again in 5:1-6. It’s reasonable to see a majority of James’ audience and comparably poor, agricultural day labors, farm hands or perhaps a closer contemporary equivalent to be what might be called ‘migrant workers’ or Europeans call, ‘guest workers’. That because of the unique nature of early reigns being of the Eastern as opposed to the Western half of the Empire of centers of Jewish populations in the early years and Jewish Christian populations, more particularly limited largely to the Eastern end of the Mediterranean; it seems that a destination of churches somewhere in Syria and Palestine is again the best most educated guess we can come up with. In view of the oppression described in 5:1-6 known from other sources and modeled in many imperial or hegemonic contexts throughout the history of the world, is likely that the oppressors were first of all, well to do land owners who were often absentee landlords of large estates of farmland with hired help paid at a marginal level of existence often only on a daily basis to barely feed their families and if payments were missed, people would go without. The internal squabbling of these communities disclose not more than the opening verses of chapter 4 may reflect well of what today we label with the psychological terminology of projection or displacement or both as people take out their frustration on one another. When the one causing the frustration is absent and therefore becomes inaccessible. 

 

The outline or structure of James is as opaque as any book in the New Testament, perhaps save only for 1st John and certainly more unclear than any of the Pauline letters, even including 2nd Corinthians. Of course there’s nothing that says that any Biblical author must have the outline or structure that later western authors came to relish, and able to be translated into an outline with main points, the sub points etc. In the opening verses of the letter, James in fact does something that is very Jewish; we saw it in 2nd Corinthians 2-4. It occurs in smaller segments elsewhere in James but nowhere more clearly than in these opening verses and it was a well-known feature of Jewish narrative flow in pre and post Christian and Jewish writings, not least the many midrashim or commentaries on books of Hebrew Scripture. And that is the chain length reasoning, or the use of catch words or short multiple word expressions such that one word is repeated from verse to verse or segment to segment leading to a new thought which is then repeated and leads to another new thought, etc. If one looks at James 1:2-7 alone, one can see how the theme of trials and testing in verse 3, is thus repeated and tested, leads to perseverance which is then repeated in verse 4, perseverance leads to not lacking anything which is repeated by means of the opposite, namely those who do lack something, in this case, wisdom. That situation calls for asking God which is being repeated in verse 6. It’s about how we are to ask without doubting; the one who doubts is repeated in the second half of verse 6 as well in verse 7, etc. 

 

On the other hand, while in the heyday of form criticism of the Gospels, the view that saw that form of genre of Biblical literature as a collection of small stories or information passed along, largely independent of one another, in the oral tradition and then loosely collected together by the Gospel writers functioning as compilers of tradition. It was natural to treat James in a similar fashion, perhaps almost as the Book of Proverbs of the New Testament, though not to the same degree. In proverbs, we often find consecutive verses, largely unrelated whereas there are clearly discrete paragraphs that punctuate James and have an integrity of their own. It’s merely a question whether there is an overarching outline that continues to be highly debatable. Nevertheless, just as Gospel form critics largely gave way to redaction critics in the second half of the twentieth century and then to literary critics more recently who focused on seeing Biblical documents as a potentially unified wholes so to James has come under a kind of scrutiny akin to redaction criticism, seeing the author as a purposeful editor and theologian and prospects for the unity of the letter has improved, just as proposals for a coherent more overarching structure have continued to proliferate. 

 

Without going into all of them, we present and suggest one; initially proposed by a scholar, Fred Francis in a 1970 article in English but published in a German based journal. It became wider known and popularized by Peter David, a very influential New International Greek Testament Commentary and others have adopted something along the same lines even while we remain far from any consensus as to James’ overarching structure, if indeed he has one. Nevertheless, even if it may be over interpreting, we believe a slightly modified version of David’s outline has the merit of calling attention to certain features which appear to be pervasive in the epistle on any structure that might be proposed for it. Namely that he does have three themes that recur more than any other that are spoken of in greater detail when they do occur. And that appear to order smaller groupings of paragraphs within James’ larger structure. And these themes are introduced after the greetings by James in 1:1, apart from any thanksgiving in verses 2-11 in James chapter 1.

 

The first theme is the proper response to trials or testing in verses 2-4. The second is the importance of wisdom for and asking for it when one realizes one lacks it. The way to do that is in verses 5-8 and a contrast between rich and poor, those with material possessions of this world and those who are particularly dispossessed in verses 9-11. A greater number of scholars today that would adopt all of David’s outline accepts the idea that something akin to these three themes does account for the opening verses and for three major emphases in James, though they can be combined or one subsumed under another in various fashions. And a greater number accepts David’s overall outline, likewise recognizes that another trio of very similar if not the same themes seems to account for most all of the remaining verses of James 1. The theme of trials, the identical Greek word appears for the third time in verse 12 and again a cognate verb to the noun in verse 12 from the same root is translated in English as ‘tempted’ or ‘tempting’ in verses 13-15. So it’s not difficult to see trials and temptations together as two different English rendering of the same root word family in the Greek as being the first key theme of James. 

 

Verses 19-26 don’t introduce the term for wisdom exactly, but focus rather on the right response to God’s Word, namely careful listening and also careful speaking but it becomes clear as well that this speech in response to God’s speech, is in fact a preeminent expression of the kind of wisdom, akin to what James knew well from his Biblical Book of Proverbs and related sources, is in view because language of wisdom from above and below which will clearly dominate 3:13-18, appears in the language of a good life and conduct and deeds done in humility that characterizes 1:19-26 as well. We may therefore tentatively see the conjunction of the themes of wisdom, needing it, acting upon it; preeminently exemplified in the arena of speech as the second key theme. And then in verse 27, we see again in the contrast between orphans and widows, those without a husband or father to provide for them and those who are able to look after and care for such people who are far better off than the dispossessed of this world and their care for them characterizing what James says in true religion. 

 

If there’s anything to this at all, then here is where the distinctive or genius of an outline akin to that of David comes in; for without too much difficulty most of the rest of the letter, the letter body can be viewed as the unpacking of each of these three collections of themes in reverse order, in inverse parallelism or an extended and elaborated but not simple chiastic order inversely parallel structure. An extremely common form throughout the Jewish, Greek and Roman world of the first century which was not limited to the more literary forms of writing but found even in non-literary papyri, in business contracts and at times in remnants of graffiti scrolled on fragments of clay pots from the ancient world. I will reference works of such individuals as John Welch, Ian Thompson, and others for the pervasiveness of this feature. James 2 takes an example of the wrong of kind of treatment of the rich, giving them favoritism, not least that they are discriminating against poor believers from James’ churches. The second half of James 2, beginning in verse 14 also deals with the need to help the desperately needy, particularly within the Christian community, especially when one knows about the need and is in a position to help. And it is in that introduction of 2:14-17 that the far more famous discussion in verses 18-26 of faith without works is dead come from. This is no abstract theologizing as seemed to many as tension with Paul but it is theological reasoning coming out of the very real and tragic situation of some of the most desperately needy and hurting in our world. 

 

Chapter 3 clearly begins with turning to the theme of speech and verses 1-12 are equally clearly unified by their reflection on the power of the tongue both for good and for ill. 3:13-18 equally and clearly juxtaposes to that topic of speech, of wisdom, perhaps justifying or seeing 1:19-26 as more implicitly intermingling those same two themes and hence to be paired with 1:5-8. It’s interesting to see that of the many vices and virtues listed in the New Testament often characterized as we saw in Romans 1 by issues relating to idol worship verses the worship of the one true God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and characterized in the ethical ream by contrasting immorality, not least in the area of sexual behavior with holy living. Here, we get the kinds of vices and virtues, below and from above, which more often than not are disclosed by a person’s speech. This is shown by humility as opposed to envy and selfish ambition, disorder and strife as compared to peace loving and considerate behavior, impartial and sincere, and in also in relationships. 

 

Chapter 4 clearly deals with sins of speech that lead to fights and quarrels or probably in most cases limited to verbal sparring and then 4:11-12 deals directly with those who speak against a brother or sister and judge them wrongly while 4:13-18 deal with those who improperly speak, boasting in their plans as if they had the power to plan the future and ensure that it would happen exactly as they wanted. Chapter 4:15 says, ‘if it is the Lord’s will’, we will live and do this or that.

 

Finally, James returns to the theme of trials and temptations in the context of chapter 5:1-6 by specifying in the clearest detail yet, the kinds of trials the poor believers were exposed to. Verse 7-11 turns to the correct kind of response, encouraging the believers to avoid the implicit temptation to fight back but rather to wait and trust in God’s vengeance, even while being encouraged to follow the model of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. It’s interesting that we can see all three themes coming together with the riches of the oppressors, with the speaking responses of the exploited and with trials that result. Verse 12, we suggest, can be seen as intricately related to 1-11 so we don’t need to deal with this separately, but again, it has to do with right and wrong in regards to speech showing how the three topics continue to be intertwined, but it’s the theme of trials that comes back in 5:13-18 and this time the trials are of being sick and the need for physical healing. It is arguable though David begins his conclusion earlier that only verses 19-20 should be seen as the former conclusion or end of this document after the end of the body of the letter. 

 

It’s not a conventional Hellenistic letter in its form. It doesn’t even resemble some of the Paul’s slightly unconventional Hellenistic letters. It doesn’t even have the form of a letter’s ending at all with closing greetings and additional wishes for well-being. But, if indeed, this is akin to a chiasm or extended pattern of inverse parallelisms, then it is both a rhetorical form and a literary genre. It is both an extended figure of speech as well as an epistle and therefore we might expect it to conform less to the more conventional sub-genres of letters to which we have already been exposed.