Lecture 24: James Part 2 | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 24: James Part 2

Course: New Testament Survey, Acts to Revelation

Lecture 24: James Part 2

This is the 24th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)

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This is a summary of the teaching of James on justification and wisdom.

Flow James 2:20-26

‘Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.’

I am not sure whether these first questions are rhetorical or not. There are two propositions unconnected with only a few key words such as the word ‘and’. This loose series is a literary style that James seems to prefer. Verse 24 gives us another proposition without any connecting words. There is a connector ‘for’ starting with verse 26.

C. Eschatology 5:7-11

Some people have argued that James doesn’t reflect main stream Christian teaching. However, it does have teaching on the second coming of Jesus. He tells them to be patient until the coming of the Lord, for he thinks that the Lord is coming and so he has confirmed main stream teaching of the Lord’s return without setting a date. There is no indication that this is seen as a distant event. One of the really interesting things about James in regards to specific references to Jesus is actually very rare.

D. Christology

The only two points that clearly references Jesus are in 1:1 and 2:1 where Jesus’ name is mentioned. Some have argued that this is not a Christian letter in fact, with these two references to Jesus being added later. Any other references in the letter refer to God, but the reference to the coming of the Lord, clearly reflect that this is a reference to the coming of Jesus. One would wonder why people would write like this. Are they being liberal in their stand? However, even if this was the case; reading something like this often helps us to see things we have missed. Here, James is clearly not providing us with a full-fledged statement of the Christian faith. We couldn’t get a full-fledged Christology out of James as such. We don’t have an explication of the Cross which is fundamental to our faith. The book in itself is not enough to establish us as Christians, but this wasn’t James’ point or purpose. He wasn’t writing a doctrinal thesis that included every feature of his faith. And this sometimes happens in sermons; we don’t cover everything that others think we should cover as we often just focus on a particular point. And that is what James is doing here. So yes, it is a Christian document but it doesn’t include everything that we think is necessary for the Christian faith.

E. Theology Proper: 2:19; 1:17; 3:9

There is theology proper in the letter. In chapter 2:19 we have that God is one, he is the Father of light, etc. James also has a lot to say about riches as Jesus also had a lot to say about riches and the dangers of wealth and materialism. This is certainly a needed word for our age and culture. There is an obvious influence of the teachings of Jesus on James. In 1:9, the humble brother should boast in his high position. Notice that James starts out by telling us to rejoice in trials, then get wisdom in trials and then in verses 9-11, he deals with poverty. So of the big trials, one is financial.

F. Poverty and Piety

Financial issues can place a difficulty on us. The western developed world is very rich compared to other countries, yet if you lose your job; it doesn’t take long before you are in significant need! So even though we live in a rich society, if the salary is cut off, that all changes for us and the needs come fairly quickly. Yet James says to boast in your high position in Christ and your eschatological reward is sure as a Christian. But the rich person should boast in humiliation. He doesn’t add the word, ‘brother’ here and I would never argue that James uses the word rich for a brother. I don’t think James is arguing here that if you have money you are not a Christian. James says that the rich will pass away. They will be like the withering of the grass, and the flower that falls due to the heat of the sun. So I think that James says that the poor person becomes essentially synonymous with being a Christian and rich becoming equal to a non-believer. The poor exalt in their exhortation but the rich will be humiliated and judged on the last day. I think this is what James is suggesting here. Remember, in regards to partiality, you pay more attention to that rich person that the lessor well off person even in church. Of course it says not to do this. In verse 5, ‘listen to this my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.’ So it is the poor who will be rich in faith and having faith is what being a believer is all about. The poor will also inherit the kingdom of God and James goes on to say that the rich dishonor the poor; they oppress the poor and drag them into court. Now, I don’t think James is saying that whoever has money is damned. He is sort of generalizing here that it is the rich who blaspheme the name.

Another example of how James is putting this: could we say that university professors are not Christians. Well this isn’t entirely true but there is truth in it, especially the western culture of today. We have to look at what James is saying in context. James gives a warning to the rich in chapter 5: ‘come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you on the last day. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.’ James must be looking to the future here as I don’t think those rotted had rotted yet. The people James is referring to here are unjust. The rich here has with-held from the poor and thus lived in luxury and self-indulgence. They have fattened their hearts and condemned and murdered the righteous person who doesn’t resist them. James doesn’t think that these people are believers as they have killed the righteous. So this is generally true in the situation in which James is addressing. We need to remember that the godly don’t or shouldn’t desire the things of this world. They should be about the Lord’s work. In verse 13, James says, ‘come now, you who say today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit – but you don’t know what tomorrow will bring; what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance.’ So James is also talking about the arrogance of wealth. Those Christians who are rich and still hold to their testimony and love for Christ, you will see that they reinvest their money into kingdom priorities. This is different from those who are rich and getting richer for the sake of getting rich. We must be careful not to judge those brothers and sisters who have money for they may be investing heavily into the Kingdom of God without our knowledge. As Christian, whatever our financial holdings or assets, we are called to invest in the Kingdom of God one way or another, be it time, effort or finances.

G. Law, Grace and Faith

A few questions: what does James mean by the perfect law in verse 1:25 and the royal law in verse 2:8 and the whole law in 2:10 and the law of liberty in 2:12. One view is that he is referring to the Law of Christ and the other being the Old Testament Law. As for as the Law of Christ, this law is linked to the word or Logos. So you have the word Nomos and the term Logos, yet the two are linked together. You were given new birth by the word of truth, the Gospel and the law is linked with that. Royal is matched with being heirs of the Kingdom in 2:5. James seems to summarize the law with Leviticus 19:18 saying that you should love your neighbor as yourself. And this goes back to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 22 which is liberating because such a law is placed on the heart. In Psalm 19:7, the law of Lord is perfect, restoring the soul and this fits with what James is saying. It is a royal law coming from our king. Interestingly in chapter 2, James mentions two norms from the Old Testament law: murder and adultery. So, is it the Law of Christ or is it the Old Testament Law? I actually think that it is both. It is not an either or, because the Law of Christ fulfills the Old Testament and we know the Law of Christ contains the moral norms of the Old Testament Law. These commands are part of the Law of Christ because they are clearly repeated in the New Testament. Interestingly, James being the conservative Jew, he never says anything about food laws, circumcision or the Sabbath, but only mentions the moral norms of the law. He doesn’t view these laws as binding on believers anymore.

H. Justification by Works vs Justification by Faith

So the question presented here, does James’ teaching on justification by works contradict Paul’s teaching on justification by faith. This is in verses 2:14-26. In one respect, they do contradict. This is the view of many scholars today. Why? James says that we are justified by works while Paul says that we are justified by faith. James denies that justification is by faith alone. 2:24 says that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. So it is not by faith alone. In Genesis 15:6 ‘and Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.’ This is the same verse that Paul cites to prove that justification is by faith. They both appeal to the same verse and draw different conclusions. Many Lutherans who are no longer evangelical believe, think that this is a contradiction. They picked up on Luther’s insight of James being an Epistle of Straw and then they concluded that James and Paul contradict and thus reject James altogether as not being the Gospel. This is nothing new as other people will reject statements that they think relate to the Old Testament Law and not the freedom that we have from that law. But this is a personal preference whether it is right or wrong; it is like those in the Corinthian church who say they are of Paul or Apollos, etc. The point being, if James and Paul contradict then that gives us a basis whereby we can deny one or the other! This is a problem. Thus by the next generation, the Scriptures becomes more and more denied because we end up with a preference to what is preferred.

So this can’t contradict each other as Paul also believes that works are necessary for justification; not as the ultimate basis of justification which is the righteousness of Christ. But works as evidence that we are part of the people of God; yes and Paul talks this way a lot. Paul doesn’t necessarily use the word justified. James speaks of a certain kind of faith that doesn’t justify; a faith that is mere intellectual ascent. We must remember that the demons believe and they shutter! It is not enough to have intellectual ascent. Many people may believe in God and many people may believe that Jesus is God but they may not be saved! James doesn’t deny that faith saves and I would argue that it is faith alone but not merely intellectual agreement either. Faith in Jesus requires us to embrace the teachings of Christ and how can we embrace it without works. So we see that James and Paul are addressing different situations. Paul is addressing a kind of legalism while James is addressing antinomianism. Of course Paul sometimes addresses antinomianism also, but Paul concentrates on the issue of whether we can earn, merit or gain salvation by works and Paul’s argument is that we cannot. James responds to the situation of whether a person is saved who have no works at all in their lives and he argues no. So these two points don’t contradict, they are responding to two different situations. So people who come from a very legalistic background have a hard time understanding the message of grace and that we are saved by faith in what Christ has done on the Cross for us. Others may come from a back ground where an emphasis is just on faith that the need for good works goes by the wayside and thus their theology becomes an intellectual idea instead of an embracing commitment.

I think James is justified even from Genesis 12 where Abraham believed God; by faith Abraham obeyed and went out. Justification by faith is a declaration. The Roman Catholics argue that when Paul says that you are not justified by works, it means that you are not justified by the ceremonial law. James is speaking of the good works that ought to be in our lives. Another perspective by some people on Paul, emphasizes that works and the law refers to circumcision, food laws and the Sabbath, boundary markers as such. Some people could take all of this in that direction but this is not correct. But neither do I agree with Calvin that ‘justify’ means to demonstrate or prove; I think it means to declare righteousness. Works is simply the evidence of faith and works is necessary evidence.

I. Wisdom in James

It seems that James uses the word wisdom where Paul uses the word spirit. So where Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, James in a sense speaks of the fruit of wisdom. We saw that in chapter 3. All these virtues are evidence that someone is wise.

J. Prayer

Way to gain Wisdom. We now move to James 5:13 in James’ teaching on a prayer of faith. If you are suffering, then you should pray. When you are happy, then you should praise God. When you are sick, call for the elders of the church to pray for you; I think this is when a person is really sick. (Interestingly as a side note there is reference to the a plurality of elders) This praying by the elders should be practiced today, anointing the sick with oil. I don’t this is sacramental in anyway conveying some kind of supernatural grace. Some people say that the oil is medicine and so when you pray for someone, you also use medicine. Oil was indeed medicinal then, but I don’t think this really refers to the oil as medicine and that they should take medicine. The ancients simply did not believe that if a person was sick, you gave them oil. So it is not sacramental, but symbolic of dedicating the person to God. There is nothing magic in the oil and it is not as if the oil is absolutely needed that you would not pray for someone if you forgot to bring the oil. ‘The prayer of faith shall save the sick person and the Lord will raise him and if that person has sinned, he will be forgiven. There seems to be some recognition that some sicknesses comes about due to sin. One of the difficulties here; if you pray for this person, you will be healed. Now in Pentecostal circles, if you are not healed then they say that you didn’t have faith. Well, I am not sure what the passage means but we need to do but it is what it says we need to do. Some think that the prayer is enacted in the resurrection of the dead; therefore the prayer is answered every time. But, the passage seems to say that the person will be physically healed. Yet, this doesn’t happy very often. Moo argues that it is the healing that comes when it is God’s will and that is certainly a possibility. Now, God doesn’t always grant us a supernatural faith. On one occurrence and we have heard of many that God gave supernatural faith and the person was healed.

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