During this session, we considered the Letter of James.
Considering the Letter of James
Although it was used by at least two writers in the mid-second century, it’s addition to the canon was late, and it was not favored by Martin Luther.
The circumstance around the letter are difficult to determine. James 1:1: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.
James is similar to wisdom literature.
- Characteristics of James as wisdom
- High view of the law - James 2:8-13: You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
- Speaks like the prophets - James 4:13-17: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
- Uses the word “wisdom” - James 1:5: If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.
- James differs from traditional wisdom literature in four ways:
- Focuses on morals, rather than manners
- Addressed to a community, rather than a household
- Egalitarian rather hierarchical
- Communitarian rather than individualistic
- James 1:5: If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.
- James 1:17: Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
- James 1:18: In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
- James 2:5: Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
- James 2:19: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.
- James 3:9: With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
- James 5:4: Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
- James 5:11: Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
- James 5:15: The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
James’s ethic is grounded in this theology.