Lecture 12: James
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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.
II. The Setting of James
We now turn to James which may be subtitled, ‘Faith without Works is Dead’. High lights 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.
III. Catchwords in James 1:2-7
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.
IV. A Chiastic Outline of James
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.
V. Key Exegetical Issues in James 1-2
Selecting only a handful of exegetical highlights out of many that could be picked; certainly chapter 1:2 is one of the most challenging commands in all of Scripture. To consider it pure joy when we have trials of many kinds; it is the last thing emotionally, we feel like being joyful in times of testing and tribulation. But as we suggest in our accompanying textbook, Acts through Revelation, that verse 3 suggests that James is primarily thinking of a way of viewing trials and reflecting on them, of having a settled and deeply seated kind of joy that is more of a mental convention than that which can always or can often turn into the emotions we associate with joy. The reason of course that we can at least have these convictions as the testing of our faith can work perseverance and maturity of our character.
In chapter 1:5-8, of many things we could say, perhaps it’s the question that the first two verses most bring into fore. It is most crucial at an age when many people both within main stream Christianity and in fringe manifestations of it like to claim that if we are seeking answered prayer, we must simply name and claim what we already know as God’s will for our life and receive it and in fact to do otherwise is to reflect the kind of doubt that verses 7-8 go on to discuss. Thus if we have enough of the right kind of faith, verses 5-6 are interpreted as a virtual blank check. But remember what is being requested here: is wisdom. And the kind of doubting that James wishes us to avoid is the kind that is described in verse 8, the term that appears James has coined, ‘double souled’ or with conflicting allegiance, a term that will occur again in James chapter 4:8. This is paired with those whose hands are metaphorically unclean because of their sin and therefore their hearts need to be purified. To speak of double minded is therefore a sin, suggests something far more serious than not knowing God’s will for a particular situation. If one knew it, one wouldn’t be asking for wisdom in the first place. But for being considerably less than confident in our commitment to the God of the Scriptures as the unique God of all the Universe who indeed exists and can answer our prayers.
Chapter 1:9-11 is the first of four passages that speak of rich or poor and all of them have to varying degrees, created exegetical controversies concerning whether James acknowledges or even knows about the option of being both rich and Christian. In 1:9-11, the problem is that the term, ‘brother’, here, meaning fellow believer of either gender appears in verse 9 with the poor or humble or humiliated individuals but not again in verses 10-11 with the rich. In 2:1-4, the person coming into the Christian assembly could be a visiting outsider to the faith, especially since the rich in verse 6-7 are portrayed as those of exploiting James’ Christian audience, dragging them into court and blaspheming the name to whom we belong, Christ. Thus it is clearly that there are no believers there. In 4:13-17, it is sometimes argued that the identical apostrophic introduction, this is when a person is addressed who is not present. It says, ‘now listen’ or more literally, ‘come now’, and this term reappears in 5:1-6 talking about the rich who the vast majority of commentators acknowledge are not believers, hence neither should the perhaps slightly, well to do; but at least upper or middle class, traveling merchants of 4:13-17 not be viewed as believers as well.
And finally, just note that the exploiting luxurious self-indulging rich of 5:1-6 contemning and murdering, even if it is only the judicial murder of throwing people into prison from circumstances which they would not be able to escape. This hardly fits anything else James would use or for that matter any other Biblical passage used to describe the consistent behavior of the true believer. On the other hand, even if we accept this conclusion for 5:1-6, it’s very natural to assume that the term brother from verse 9 carries over to verse 10 due to the parallel structure, at least up to a point and the lack of need as in English and also in Greek to repeat the category of person the rich would qualify when in fact the category is the same as the one that’s been announced. There is also, at least, possible; I’m inclined to think probable that the assembly, literally a synagogue in 2:2, a term used nowhere else in the New Testament for a Christian gathering for worship and clearly not just James, the early Jewish Christian writers distinctive synonym for church since he will use the term, ‘church’ in 5:14. It seems likely that this assembly is a Christian courtroom of sorts because of all the judicial language, language of discrimination, the language of special seating, the language of judging which the subsequent verses introduced. We know the rabbinic Jewish synagogues practiced something similar so that God’s people would not have to settle their internal squabbles and bring discredit to their religion before pagan courts. We know that Paul encouraged identical schemes in 1st Corinthians 5 and this may be precisely such an application of it in a Jewish Christian context. In such a case even the rich person, though presumably at fault in this setting, nevertheless is considered to be a believer.
And finally in 4:13-17 it seems unlikely that James would command a non-Christian and rebut them for not saying, ‘if it is the Lord’s will.’ We will live and do this and do that and as 2:1 demonstrates, the Lord being Jesus Christ, not merely Yahweh, ‘God’. It’s unlikely that James would have anybody but Christians in view in this context. In which case, it does seem to be possible to be rich or reasonably well to-do and Christian, even for James. Perhaps the pinnacle of New Testament teaching against the dangers of wealth, but what is not possible in this short letter, is to be rich, Christian and self-centered, to be rich, Christian and exploitative, to be rich, Christian and not taking God’s will which may entirely override our own will and practice; rich, Christian and not sharing with the outcast or dispossessed more generally.
Returning to chapter 1 and the second triad of brief reviews for the key clusters of themes in James; we come to the intuitive though not always practiced conclusion that God is not the author of evil, which comes from our own evil desires. Later, we will see what James knows about Satan and his role as well. And therefore what God gives are only good things, verse 16-18. It follows from that if God does not cause evil, he doesn’t tempt people or act in evil ways; at which point one might ask then how could Christ have commanded his followers to pray, ‘lead us not into temptation’, if God never does that any way. Answer: the most literal meaning of the Lord’s petition at that point is probably, ‘do not let us succumb to temptation.’ If God not only tempts no one but cannot be tempted by evil, also in verse 13 of James 1, then how could Christ have been tempted in the wilderness? Answer: the orthodox Christian reply historically as always, ‘it was his human-side, not his divine nature that was tempted.’ Does that mean, the devil has no role in temptation? Of course not, but the concern here is clearly for James to instruct his audiences, if they are not going to blame God, they shouldn’t immediate blame the devil for that matter or any other external source but they should own up to their own responsibilities and accountability that any sin is not something anyone may do. God always offers through his Spirit a way out, 1st Corinthians 1:13, if we but yield to his Spirit and therefore, it’s us, our own internal lust and desires which are preeminently to blame. And until we own up that responsibility, it’s really inappropriate to talk about more indirect causes for sin.
The antidote is to have our sins forgiven and to be freed through the Gospel which is described in 1:25; it is the perfect law of liberty because of the very Jewish tenor of the expressions in James. And because of what we can piece together from internal and external tradition about the very Jewish Christian nature of James, himself, the person and his addressees, particularly outside of evangelical circles, it has been popular from time to time to claim that James reflects a period in which Jewish Christians were still keeping the entire Torah. As if Cornelius’ vision and the Apostle’s Council and all of the other progressive moves away from a fully taught observant Christianity, not only had not yet come into being but had not even been approved by anyone, yet see the speech of Steven in Acts 7 for a rebuttal to that notice. The perfect law of liberty seems to be an implicit contrast to a law that cannot give liberty and cannot be perfect and thus gives the lie to ultra-orthodox Jewish interpretation of James, the man and or James, the letter.
In 1:27, in the second introduction of the theme of rich and poor, it’s interesting to see how James, like Jesus and the prophets and the Torah keep together what the church has in many areas, has sundered such that a given denomination or manifestation of Christianity at one time or place, either focuses well on what might be called the social action dimension of the Gospel, caring for orphans and widows and their distress, or for the dimension of personal propriety or holiness represented by keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. But the Gospel message requires both or else is severely truncated.
Finally, in chapter 2:5, it has become well-known since the liberalizing council of the 1960’s and international Roman Catholicism known as Vatican II, since the widely known and highly respected ministry of Mother Teresa over decades in Calcutta. This has been since the dawn rise and something of a fall of liberation theology in many parts of the 3rd World and in minority groups in the 1st World as well, namely that God has a preferential option for the poor. Doesn’t 2:5 read, ‘hasn’t God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world,’ that’s to say, physically and materially speaking, ‘to be rich.’ Yes, it says that. But that’s not the end of the phrase or the clause, much less the verse. He has chosen them to be rich in faith. And to inherit the Kingdom of God and he promised those who love him. There no necessary promise to material prosperity here, there’s no necessary correlation between socio-economics and salvation. If there were, it would be a sin and a crime to help anyone out of their poverty, for they would be losing their salvation in the process. Does God have a special place in his heart for the needy? Of course! Should Christians likewise? Of course! But there is no inherit virtue in salvific value in poverty, in and of itself. And Vatican II never said that and Mother Teresa never said that, but casual misappropriations, some of them, found even among some liberation theologians, including some fairly respected ones have moved in that direction.
VI. Faith and Works
In the second half of James 2, we return to that vexed question of faith verses works. And it is indeed, the recognition that for James, faith is Jewish monotheism, particularly in verse 19, the belief that God is one. That is what must be supplemented by Christian works. Works that Paul would have called, of the Law of Christ and demonstrates the reality of one’s salvation and right standing with God. Whereas for Paul in those passages, it seems at first glance to be so contrary to James, it is Christian faith; faith that is directed toward the Lord Jesus that alone saves as opposed to Jewish works, the works of the Torah misappropriated in the spirit in which they were never intended to be used. But as we saw in Romans 9:32, that did happen and at times in a big way, namely offering those works up, as if they were inherently meritorious and hence, merited salvation.
VII. Key Exegetical Issues in James 3-4
Progressing to exegetical highlights from chapters 3 and 4, we come to server warning to ‘would be teachers’ in chapter’s 3, largely a status symbol in James’ world, not as the King James Bible translates it, ‘they will receive the greater condemnation but they will be judged more strictly because their influenced is great through the spoken word which even in today’s highly visual age, is still, as this audio file once again demonstrates being almost unable to be separated from the spoken word. We read in 3:13, ‘who is wise and understanding,’ one must know the truth before one can apply it. Along with being wise, there is also the competence of good conduct of deeds done in humility, but it’s the humble character that comes from wisdom and then unpacked in 17 as being pure, and then peace loving, considerate and submissive, full of mercy and good fruit and sincere which forms the apex and climax of the spiritual believer. We pointed out in our notes that according to Luke T. Johnson, 4:4 can be viewed as a thesis statement. This entire collection of verbal wisdom enables James’ audience to avoid friendship with the world and therefore to remain and become friends with God. We have already noted the presumptuousness of planning, apart from leaving room for God’s will to override ours. This is not a call not to plan but a call to plan with the reliance on the Spirit of God as we plan and continually rely on the Spirit as we overturn our plans when he sees fit as we wait for the time of the implementation of the plans.
Key texts for helping us to understand the anointing with oil ceremony in chapter 5, particularly verse 15a, and the prayer of faith will make them well. Again, as for 1:5-8, this is not a blank check or a justification for putting a guilt trip of insufficient faith on those whose prayers for healing are not answered with physical healing. As Douglas Mu puts it, that the prayer of faith, will by definition allow the Lord’s will to over-ride ours. To put is more prosaically, James assumes that when we get to what we now call James 5, we will remember James 4.
Apart from the three major themes, now introduced twice then unpacked in detail, seemingly in reverse order. The next most common theme or at least a motif in James, though not organized to a predictable fashion, is a theme of prayer. Our printed material highlights three key reasons for unanswered prayer that James gives, all of them in chapter 4. We may simply not have asked or ask persistently enough, we may have ask for wrong motives or may not have made allowance for Lord’s will to over-ride ours. The student could be forgiven at the end of reading all that, for saying then, ‘why bother to pray.’ Or even without reading that. Just focusing on 4:13-17, if the Lord’s will, will be done anyway, why bother to pray? And the theological answer, admittedly going beyond the explicit text James at this point, but seemingly the necessary and logical ideas we read in James. While it is clear from many parts of Scripture, there are things that God determines to do irrespective of human requests or responses that theologians have come to call his unconditional will that will happen whether we pray or not. And there are things that are unconditionally not part of Gods will that will not happen. James 4 gives us a window into situations where we have not because we have not asked or not ask correctly. And therefore the implication is that we should pray and pray persistently and with right motives, allowing God to work his will and if we do so, there will cases where we will get something where we would not have gotten otherwise that is good and Godly because God has determined to set up his relationship with humanity in this fashion.
IX. James' Militant Patience"
Finally, we come to the one portion of chapter 5 we haven’t covered yet. And that is the response to the oppression of the exploiting absentee landlords. While at first glance, it seems to be very passive, it turns out to appeal to the models or patterns of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord and of Job who was known for vigorously protesting his unfair treatment, suggests that James is carrying on in the tradition of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets while never condoning or commanding violence, does fit in the tradition of denunciatory rhetoric even against the kings and emperors of the land. Even when their ways were immoral and unethical as compared to God’s standards and then even the recurring theme of prayer to borrow a phrase from theologian David Wells can be seen as rebelling against the status quote as remembering to include pleads for justice, for all the many kinds of people around the world who are not experiencing it in this age. Not just our typical and unfortunately myopic list of requests for physical healing for ourselves and our friends with an occasional request for someone’s salvation. Jesus walks a balanced view between the extreme supporters of violence, the zealots and the retreaters and the monastic Essenes of his world.
In regards to physical healing, what do we do besides allowing God’s will to work, in chapter 5? A short answer, this is most likely a situation of acute physical stress that the ceremony is one that is meant to be repeated though it’s very clear that the command to pray recurs over and over again whereas the actual ceremony, the anointing with oil is discussed and mentioned only once. It is certainly appropriate to pray, and pray continually and pray as elders and pray in the company of a sick person without an anointing ceremony. But it is also appropriate to follow this kind of ceremony who knows but if we don’t do this, we may not be asking as properly as we could and thus may miss out on some of God’s blessings he wants to give. But in light of what we have already said, we must always remind ourselves that miracles are called that because they’re rare. That even the legendary John Windber, founder of the Vineyard, author of many books and one who was blessed to personally take part in some of the clearest and documented examples of physical healings that have taken place in the last fifty or so years. Nevertheless, he confessed that his experience of seeing God physical heal people that the medical world could not account for, was approximately five percent.
We return to the motif of 2nd Corinthians 12 again, in that God’s power far more often than not, is made perfect in weakness. And yet miraculous healings do occur. They occur in the 21st century. I have seen them occur. I have participated in ceremonies in which they have occurred. I’ve had people pray over me for them and not seen them occur. I have close friends and relatives whom I have heard give impeachable testimony, though I was not present to them having occurred. Those who do not allow for the possibility of such, without wanting to be formulaic and say that Windber’s five percent success is normative if anything, nevertheless, we might put it for the sake of emphasis, losing out on a least one in twenty chance that God could do something through this way, that he might otherwise have chosen not to do in his sovereign arrangement. But notice that there is no necessary connection to any sin, the third class condition, the if and there is a real doubt in the middle of verse 15 which makes it clear that sin may have had something to do with the sickness, a teaching that the charismatic world have reminded the non-charismatic world of, nevertheless what the non-charismatics must continue to remind the charismatics of is there is no necessary collation between sickness or lack of healing for that sickness and anyone’s sin, including the lack of faith and to say otherwise is not only unbiblical, it can put a huge and unnecessary harmful guilty feeling on those who unfortunately strongly believe such tragic drivel. Stay away from it at all cost. Rather, as James concludes on positive note, seek to bring those who may be wondering from the truth in this arena or in any other arena back into the secure fold, recognizing in that doing so, you have saved them from going down a possible path that would have cumulated in an eternal death and thus covered over and contributed to the process of God forgiving a multitude of their sins. Amen!