The book of James
Written about A.D. 45-50.
In a world that denies the validity of Jesus and God’s word, but is willing to accept the validity of someone like Socrates or Plato wholeheartedly; I would like to offer Dr. Gary Habermas. As I sat in an Apologetics conference, Dr. Habermas came on stage. He had notes, but he never opened them. Everything said was said from memory and a genuine understanding. Sadly, I do not remember exactly which philosopher he was talking about, but I found an article entitled “Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels. (Originally published in the Christian Research Journal /vol.28, no.1, 2005.) This excerpt is from Dr. Habermas’ website
“Older strategies that support the historical reliability of the New Testament often begin their case by pointing out that the New Testament documents enjoy superior manuscript evidence. Recent indications are that the New Testament is supported by more than 5500 copies and partial copies in Greek and other languages, while most ancient classical Greek and Roman texts have fewer than ten each. Moreover, there is comparatively little significant variation between these manuscripts, even when they are derived from different textual families.
While this extraordinary quantity and quality of the available texts do not tell us if the New Testament writings are historically reliable, most scholars think that the far more manuscripts and portions do indicate that we essentially have what the authors originally wrote. This is obviously a crucial point to begin.
Further, the New Testament copies are much earlier—that is, closer to the original writings—than the classical texts. Most of the New Testament is available from copies that are only 100-150 years after its completion, while a copy of the entire New Testament dates from about another 100 years after that. In contrast, the classical counterparts generally date from 700-1400 years after their original compositions. This enormous difference significantly closes the distance between the authors and the earliest copies, placing the dates of the New Testament copies much closer to the events themselves. This makes it at least possible that the biblical writers were in a better position to know what actually occurred.1
Generally speaking, critical scholars readily admit these initial two points of manuscript number and date. John A. T. Robinson agrees that “The wealth of manuscripts, and above all the narrow interval of time between the writing and the earliest extant copies, make it by far the best-attested text of any ancient writing in the world.”2 Even the skeptical Helmut Koester attests: “Classical authors are often represented by but one surviving manuscript . . . . But there are nearly five thousand manuscripts of the NT in Greek . . . . the manuscript tradition of the NT begins as early as the end of II CE… Thus it seems that NT textual criticism possesses a base which is far more advantageous than that for the textual criticism of classical authors.”3
In the conference I attended, Dr. Habermas spoke of James, the half brother of Jesus, as you can see above in my introduction, and how he wrote his letter to the early church about 45 to 50 years after the death of Jesus. Dr. Habermas continued, but if you think that is too far removed and memory is diminished, then you should know that the Apostle’s creed was documented to be about 30 years after the death of Jesus. The point here is that there were those who physically walked with Jesus and were still alive, and so this is eyewitness testimony.
There have been those who have said that James wrote his epistle to combat the teachings of Paul; they argue that James emphasizes works while Paul emphasizes faith. However, the earliest of Paul’s epistles, 1Thessalonians, was written about A.D. 52-56. Therefore, even Paul’s first epistle was not written until after the Epistle of James, which was the first book of the New Testament to be written. It is clear that James’ theme is not works, but faith—the same as Paul’s theme, but James emphasizes what faith produces.” From Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s commentary
It is obvious, based on this letter, that James figured out that wisdom was the better course of action.
One other thing before I move on, and it is also from Dr. McGee that get this discussion.
“The problem of authorship is a major one. There is no question that James wrote the Epistle of James, but which James was the author? Some find at least four men by the name of James in the New Testament. I believe that you can find three who are clearly identified:
1. James, the brother of John and one of the sons of Zebedee. These two men were called “sons of thunder” by our Lord (see Mark 3:17). He was slain by Herod, who, at the same time, put Simon Peter into prison (see Acts 12:1-2).
2. James, the son of Alphaeus, called “James the less” (see Mark 15:40). He is mentioned in the list of apostles, but very little is known concerning him. I automatically dismiss him as the author of this epistle.
3. James, the Lord’s brother. He was a son of Mary and of Joseph, which made him a half brother of the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 13:55, we read: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” In the beginning, the Lord’s brethren did not believe in Him at all, but the time came when James became head of the church at Jerusalem. In Acts 15, James seems to have presided over that great council in Jerusalem. At least he made the summation and brought the council to a decision under the leading of the Holy Spirit. I believe it was this James whom Paul referred to in Galatians 2:9, “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen and they unto the circumcision.” This James is the man whom we believe to be the author of this epistle.
We are aware that Jesus’ family did not believe him; this is evidenced in Mark 3:21
Matthew 13:55 NASB “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
Count it all joy.
James 1:1 NASB James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
What do we know immediately about who James is writing to?
That they are not only Jews but are also those caught up in the dispersion. Isn’t it a strange irony that Saul – soon to be known as Paul, played a significant role in that dispersion. Another dimension to this overarching theme – Count it all joy. These Jews, who were followers of Christ, were running for their lives. For many, in so many ways, this was a horrendous burden. The immediate reactions of most people would be to pack quickly and run; there would be time later for the animosity to develop. It is in light of this that James moves beyond his greeting and says, count all of it as a reason to have joy. If you look up the words in Greek, the possibilities range from the immediate to everything, but there is no getting around the imperative tone surrounding the word joy. So, this then becomes a very appropriate word to these believers then, and to us, in these days of quarantine over a created, deadly, scenario that has several purposes to it. If you don’t think that is true, then why aren’t you having fellowship with your church body?
Because James speaks in a broad sense about those in the dispersion, we can also understand that there is the anticipation that his letter would be copied and spread abroad.
Does the fact that he is writing to Jews exclude us?
The answer to the question is NO, and the Apostle Paul speaks to that kind of thinking in his second letter to Timothy.
2 Timothy 3:16 NASB All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
What else can we perceive in this sentence, about James?
That James, a brother of Jesus who did not believe, now, not only believes but is willing to lay his own life down because he believes. Something life-changing has happened, and that had to have been the resurrection, and, because of this life-changing event, James now addresses himself as the bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah.
Where else do we see this phrase, a bondservant?
The Apostle says almost the exact same thing in his letter to the church in Rome.
Romans 1:1 NASB Paul, a bondservant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Did Paul merely copy James, or did they both separately come to grasp the depth of this relationship we have with Christ? I will leave this question for you to ponder.
Testing of Your Faith
James 1:2 MKJV My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into different kinds of temptations,
While to some, it seems like a simple directive, and I suppose it is, what makes it difficult is when you are wallowing neck-deep in pain, persecution, or you are the victim of a robbery, a swindle, or any number of things, that WE think we can control and hence bring about some form of justice to the perpetrator. Ah, there it is, the underlying truth as to why “counting it all joy” is difficult.
A story. Years ago, at a Kenneth Copeland convention where Jerry Savelle was a speaker, Jerry related how things had finally turned around for his family financially, and they bought a home that had a long driveway lined with trees that needed to be trimmed. Jerry told us, “I hired a man that had been recommended, and left the man that morning with specific instructions about which trees to trim.” When Jerry returned later that day, the man had his crews do much more than agreed upon and handed Jerry a very expensive bill that reflected their extra work. Needless to say, Jerry was angry and sought for ways to fight back against this man and his deceitful methods. Joy!, that went right out the window, and the energy Jerry used to fight the man was draining. This is when the Holy Spirit spoke to Jerry and said, “if Satan can’t steal your joy, he can’t keep your goods!” The short end to this is that Jerry had to choose joy. That means, much like my decision to forgive my first wife for cheating on me, the opportunity to rehearse and practice my decision, for a time, popped up frequently.
So, it is not just a matter of choosing joy; it is a confidence that resides deep within you, that knows there is something better on the other side, regardless of how this turns out. We call this our hope.
Translation variations include: regard it, and be very happy.
The Greek word count is hēgeomai and means to lead, that is, command (with official authority); figuratively to deem, or, consider.
Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit that we find in Galatians 5; and, it is the Greek word Chara and means cheerfulness, calm delight, and exceeding joy.
So I am to consider, or handle the circumstance, no matter how hard or ugly, with cheerfulness, calm, and exceeding joy.
What other examples do we have of someone responding with joy in the midst of a bad situation?
In Acts 13:47-52, we see Paul and Barnabas experiencing trials.
Acts 13:47-52 NASB “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'” (48) When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (49) And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. (50) But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. (51) But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. (52) And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
After having a falling out with Barnabas, we now see Paul and Silas out preaching this “new” gospel. As usual, the Jewish leadership rose up against them again, but watch what happened when they allowed the joy to take control.
In front of the Roman officials, they said, “These men are stirring up a lot of trouble in our city. They’re Jews, and they’re advocating customs that we can’t accept or practice as Roman citizens.” The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas. Then the officials tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered the guards to beat them with sticks. After they had hit Paul and Silas many times, they threw them in jail and ordered the jailer to keep them under tight security. So the jailer followed these orders and put Paul and Silas into solitary confinement with their feet in leg irons. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God. The other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:20-25 GW)
Does considering it all joy demand that you play dead?
Not at all. Look at Paul’s example from Acts 16.
Acts 16:37-38 NASB But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” (38) The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans,
Read 1 Samuel 30 and pay particular attention to verse 6. Notice the usage of the word strengthen as it pertains to David. It, too, means to lead with authority. Having come back from a battle, and with your current homes in sight, what does one do? They relax, let down their guard, and throw away any stale rations, as the little misses will have a hot dish waiting for you. But that did not happen, for their new homes had been looted, pillaged, and everything important to them had been taken. David’s family is missing as well, and now some of David’s troops wanted to kill him; consider what David did.
You might ask, what had David done to deserve death?
Nothing really; I happen to think this test had everything to do with the type of men that had joined themselves to David.
David left Gath and ran away to the cave of Adullam. David’s brothers and relatives heard that David was at Adullam and went to see him there. Many people joined David. There were men who were in some kind of trouble, men who owed a lot of money, and men who were just not satisfied with life. All kinds of people joined David, and he became their leader. He had about 400 men with him. (1 Samuel 22:1-2 ERV)
An attack on their city could have been completely random, and they should have understood that, but the fact that they were outcasts and discontents, opens the door to all variety of irrational reactions.
So what did David seize upon at this moment?
There is one word that answers that question, but you have to dig for the answer. It is the word that most of the translators interpreted as strengthen. So, based upon this, I can assume that David pumped some iron and fought back against the bullies that had joined his ranks. Get real, there was no time for this, or anything else for that matter, especially if they are hot-tempered and now have spears pointed at him.
That word strengthened is the Hebrew word châzaq and can also mean to fortify, harden, recover, repair, and withstand.
Suddenly I see David differently, more like one who just regained his bearings. You have to remember; it wasn’t that long ago that he killed a lion, a bear, and then cut the head off of Goliath. The question he then may have asked the crowd, who thought they were bold enough to stand against him, who wants to take the first swing at me. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
What do you seize upon when life is falling apart?
It may not have been a bear or a lion, but you have won some battles. Remember those.
There is very little about this idea of counting the hardships as joy, that makes sense unless there is something more, and that is where verse three takes us.
James 1:3 NASB knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
That something more comes in knowing that the tests are producing endurance.
Endurance? You might say, I have no plans on running a 26K race. Ah, but we are in a race, so to speak, and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews spells that out.
Hebrews 12:1 NASB Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
When Moses left Egypt with God’s people, he wasn’t running as if in fear, he was striding out confidently. However, there is no doubt that he, along with God’s children, endured forty more years of testing, because, in his heart, he could see this Messiah that was his hope.
Hebrews 11:27 NASB By faith, he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.
David, in the Psalms, speaks of holding to God’s promises as part of this race we are in.
I shall run the way of Your commandments, For You will enlarge my heart. (Psalms 119:32 NASB)
An interesting side note: Not that long ago, the devotional, I and about thirty others were reading, spoke about how, in “this New Testament age, we should not be asking, what does the word say about it, but we should be saying, what does Christ’s love have to say about it.” The premise for the statement has everything to do with the fact that the early Church did not have the Word of God, as we do. The primary thing they had was Jesus’ resurrection, and for many, that was only validated by word of mouth, from someone like Peter, James, or John. If this information, held in this manner, caused such growth and excitement, then we too should be looking at the only thing that is real – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The world challenges back with, do you have any hard evidence for this resurrection?
The answer is yes.
Jesus did what He said He would do;
He arose from the dead.
Many witnessed Him in His resurrection, saw Him walking the streets,
saw Him walk into their presence even though the door was locked,
and, in the case of Thomas, he got to touch Him.
I get it, Christ’s love redeemed me, and did many things for many people – Acts 10:38 proves that out.
As we endure the tests that produce patience, what can we expect to happen?
James 1:4 NASB And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The variations of translation are vast; here are a few.
- Moffatt states: let your endurance be a finished product.
- The NLT proclaims that you must, let it grow.
- God’s Word translation expresses how we are to “endure until your testing is over.”
This last one most certainly conveys the idea of endurance, but the question is, when will this testing be over?
For when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
That means, probably not until we die, or change addresses due to the catching away of the church. That may seem a little negative, but it’s true because as soon as you finish one test, the next one comes. Since we are stuck here, working through this act of having joy then our only option is to let is grow.
So let it grow. Is this an admonition from God?
Since all scripture is God-breathed, then yes, it is. When we are in discomfort and pain, all we have on our minds is to relieve that discomfort. For some, it’s called divorce; for others, it is acting out. Sadly, there are a variety of ways to avoid the growth process. If you think suicide is the answer, then let me ask you how that would be letting your endurance grow?
Since we know that God is not doing the testing, then who is?
That’s easy, the enemy. Job’s testing came from the enemy.
The LORD replied, “All right, Satan, do what you want with anything that belongs to him, but don’t harm Job.” Then Satan left. (Job 1:12 CEV)
The skeptics will read this and say, ‘See, God did it to him, but if you had taken the entire context of the Job’s actions into consideration, you would find that Job did this to himself. Consider this:
When the days of their feasting were finished, Job would send for them and sanctify them; he would get up early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job thought, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s customary practice. (Job 1:5 NET.)
God’s people were supposed to operate in faith, and there was no faith in his actions concerning his children.
Will the enemy ever stop trying to get your goat?
Not as long as you look like Jesus, and regardless of what you think, if Christ lives in you, then you are in His image, not yours.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message says this about James 1:4 and endurance.
“So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
1 For many details, see F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 16-18; Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), especially Chapter 3.
2 John A.T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 36.
3 Helmut Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity, two vols. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), II:16-17.