Why The Gaps In Prophecy? By Jack Kelley Scattered throughout the Scriptures are prophecies that…
Book of James – Introduction – Part 1
By Dr. Andy Woods
The background of the book of James; a necessary step to go through in Bible study just to show people that James is a real book written to real people with real problems written by a real author, and if you don’t go through this initial step first before you just start plowing through verse by verse, you don’t really appreciate the fact that this is real history we are studying. So this is not Veggie Tales; this is not Jack in the Beanstalk; this is reality 2000 years ago. Also if you don’t go through this initial step in Bible study, then what you’ll do is to rush through the book, and you won’t really appreciate a lot of the things mentioned in the book — because a lot of things mentioned in the book won’t make a lot of sense unless you do the background.
I believe that this is something that can be done for any book of the Bible you study — all 66 books, and you’ll notice my teaching pattern — that when I get a chance to teach any book of the Bible, I like to take you through these background steps first. You can apply these to any book of the Bible that you study.
So the first step is authorship. Who in the world wrote this book? Well, that’s an easy question to answer, right? The first verse says, “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” well, there is a little problem though because how many James’ are there in the Bible? There are at least four. If you look at Acts 1:13,14 you’ll see all four Jameseses mentioned. This is Christ in His post-resurrection ministry, just before He ascended, and it says, “When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James [that is James #1] and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James [now we have another James] the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas, the son of James [that is our third James].” And if that all wasn’t complicated enough, you have Acts1:14 that says, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brothers.” And one of the brothers of Christ was named James.
So we open up to this New Testament book of James and the first question is well, which James are we talking about, and there are four options:
Number 1, we have James the father of Judas, it says — now the Judas here is not the Judas you’re thinking of — Judas Iscariot. Judas was actually a common name back in biblical times. So a lot of people think he was the author of this book. He is mentioned in Acts 1:13 and Luke 6:16, but most people don’t believe he is the author because he is a very obscure figure. Hardly anything is said of him, and when you read this opening salutation, it says, “James, a bond-servant of God and of the the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” So you get the idea that the audience knew who this guy was — the author. He was well known to his audience, so that would rule out James #1, James the father of Judas, because he is really obscure and we hardly hear anything about him in the Bible.
The second possibility is James the son of Alphaeus; he was mentioned in Acts 1:13 where we read a little earlier, and there are many other places I could quote where he is mentioned, and he is sometimes, in the Bible, referred to as James the Less. Matthew 27:56, for example, and many other passages refer to him as James the Less, and again, he, James the Less is probably not the author of the epistle of James because he is very, very obscure, and when you read the greeting, it seems like his audience knew him very well. That James, James the Less, James the son of Alphaeus, was an apostle. Now, if I was an apostle, I would have told people that I was an apostle in my book. Does James, the son of Alphaeus do that? No, he never identifies himself as an apostle, so that rules out the second James.
The third possibility is that he is the brother of John, James the son of Zebedee and brother of John. And the nickname for those two guys was the Sons of Thunder. So the Lord came into Samaria in Luke 9, and the Samaritans resisted the ministry of Jesus Christ, and James and John the Sons of Thunder said, ‘Shall we not call down fire from heaven and consume these people?’ Kind of the Rambo approach to Christianity. Then Jesus says, ‘You don’t even know what spirit you’re speaking from when you say things like that because the Son of Man does not come into the world to destroy the lives of people; He has come into the world to liberate and love people.’ It is kind of interesting that one of those Sons of Thunder was named John and he became the love apostle. So he went from wanting to call fire down from heaven on people to being the love apostle. So that shows you what God can do with a heart that is His — He can change it.
Anyway, a lot of people think that John’s brother, James, the son of Zebedee, is the author of this book. Again, that James is an apostle; he doesn’t mention here his apostolic credentials, and if you were John’s brother and John wrote five New Testament books, you would probably say, ‘Hey, I am John’s brother.’ But this particular James that we are dealing with here doesn’t do that at all — he just calls himself James. And this particular James, the son of Zebedee, was martyred very, very early. In fact, if you hold your place here in James, go to Acts 12, you will see his martyrdom. As far as I can tell, this is probably the second most significant martyrdom once the church age started. The first martyrdom I am thinking of is Stephen, and he was martyred in Acts 7. But if you look at Acts 12:2, it says, “and he had James [now that would be Herod], and he had James, the brother of John, put to death with a sword.” So that is what you do with zealous people who won’t shut up about Jesus; you just cut their heads off, basically. You put them to death with the sword; so most people believe that martyrdom happened so early in the church, it is hard to believe that that particular James would be the author of this epistle.
So if the writer is not the father of Judas, James the father of Judas; if the writer is not James, the Son of Alphaeus; if the writer is not James the son of Zebedee and brother of John, then probably the best bet that most people agree wrote this book is James the half-brother of Christ. Jesus had brothers, and I am not just talking about spiritual brothers, physical brothers. You might want to jot these verses down: Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; and we called this particular James the half-brother of Christ, because Jesus and James shared the same mother, but not the same father since Jesus had a virgin conception and virgin birth. So Mary was his mom, but Joseph was not his legal father or biological father, I should say.
So following the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, Joseph and Mary had a regular sexual relationship, and from that union came a group of people that we call the half-brothers of Christ: James being one of them, and there is another one that wrote a book of the Bible in that mix: Jude. So it is generally believed that this is who wrote this particular book, James the half-brother of Christ.
Some arguments in favor of this is that particular James, the half-brother of Christ, actually became the pastor of the Jerusalem church. More on that later. And that would fit the opening greeting — backing up for just a minute: “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad…” The whole early church is Jewish; you don’t have a gentile convert until the conversion of Cornelius in the Book of Acts, Acts 10 and 11. And James was the pastor of that Jerusalem church, and so it would stand to reason that he would address members of his church who were Jewish believers in Jesus who they would call Yeshua, scattered abroad.
So the salutation which means greeting, indicates that his audience knew him very well. The tone is very authoritative in this book. And you get the idea that a pastor with authority is addressing his flock. One of the main reasons we believe that James, the half-brother of Christ is the author of the Book of James is the similarities it has with the speech made by James, the half-brother of Christ in Acts 15. In Acts 15, they have a big pow-wow concerning all of these gentiles getting saved; ‘What do we do with all of these people? Do we put them under the Law and make them become Israelites like in Old Testament times?’ That group of people were called proselytes. The most famous proselyte in the Bible is Ruth, the Moabitess. Moab is just east of the Jordan River; Ruth became a believer in Yahweh, and she said to her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, ‘your people will become my people; your God will become my God.’ So the way it worked for 1500 years is if you were a gentile, a non-Jew, and you wanted to walk with Yahweh, you converted to Judaism, and that is a group of people called proselytes. So the issue in Acts 15, we have all of these gentiles getting saved because Paul has just completed his first missionary journey into gentile territory, southern Galatia, and the issue is, ‘What do we do with all of these people, do we make them Jews or not?’ Because that is how it has always been going back 1500 years, and the answer to that question is ‘No, you don’t take a gentile believer and tell them they have to come under the Mosaic Law to join the church.’
So that’s what that whole Acts 15 discussion is about — Paul speaks, and one of those who speaks up here is this man, James, the pastor of the Jerusalem church — James, the half-brother of Christ. And when you look at his speech in Acts 15 and compare it to a lot of the words that are used in the epistle of James, it seems like whoever gave that speech is also the author of this book that we are beginning to study.
So both sections of scripture use the words, ‘greetings; visit; listen; turn; being called by God’s name,’etc., and James, the half-brother of Christ, as the author would explain the Jewish character of the letter, and it would also explain the references to the Sermon on the Mount. So jump over to James 4:11,12 and as I read this, tell me if you have heard this somewhere before in the Bible. It says, “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” Does that sound familiar? “Who are you to judge your neighbor?” That kind of sounds like something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:1.
Now you notice that James doesn’t quote Matthew here, and I’m going to bring that up a little bit later, but you get the idea that James, the half-brother of Christ, was around Christ as his half-brother to hear him say things like this. And maybe James, the half-brother of Christ was there to hear the Sermon on the Mount, for all we know. Take a look at James 5:12 and tell me if you have heard this somewhere before? “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgement.” Does that sound familiar — that sounds like the Sermon on the Mount, also, doesn’t it? You’ll find that reference in Matthew 5:34-37.
So he heard the Sermon on the Mount, but he doesn’t quote Matthew because Matthew probably hadn’t even been written yet, and he was someone that was around Christ and heard Christ make these statements, and that would fit the identity of James, the half-brother of Christ as the author.
Now there are some arguments against that. I don’t find any of those arguments too persuasive, but some people say, ‘Well, why doesn’t he just come out and say, I was Jesus’ brother?’ I mean if you were Jesus’ half-brother, wouldn’t you put that in your resume? I think James intentionally doesn’t do that because I think he is sort of embarrassed, to be honest with you. According to John 7:5, James did not believe Jesus initially when Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. Now I don’t know if I could fault him with that too much, I mean if your brother claimed to be the Messiah, what would you do with that? No, I mean, this is the same guy we are playing kickball in the back with; He is claiming to be the Messiah, so what’s going on here? But James was initially in unbelief.
John 7:5 says, “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.” So that’s maybe why he doesn’t say ‘hey, I am Jesus’ brother. Beyond that, Paul, many times, didn’t call himself an apostle in some of his greetings.
1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, I think it is and Philippians 1:1, and John also sometimes neglected to mention his apostleship. So just because James doesn’t identify himself as the half-brother of Christ in the greeting, I don’t think is enough to disqualify him as the author. Other people say that the Greek here is just too good. When you go through the Book of James here, it is a very high level of Greek and they say, ‘You know, who was James? — he was just a Galilean, and he probably spoke Aramaic; he didn’t really know Greek very well.’ I think we think these people back in ancient times were a lot dumber than they actually were. I think we want to make them dumb because we are actually kind of dumb ourselves, and we don’t like it when people are smarter than we are. What I believe is that in the ancient world, they probably spoke four languages. In the land where the Bible was written, they probably spoke Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew and there is actually Latin in the Bible. When you look at the signs over the crucifixion of Christ, you’ll see the different languages mentioned as you go through the gospels. This one was written in Aramaic, this one was written in Hebrew, this one was written in Latin, and Acts 22:2 indicates that Israelis or Hebrews spoke Greek.
This is Paul’s testimony: “And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet and said…” so being multilingual is not a problem, and so this idea that the Greek is too high or too good — it couldn’t be James, the half-brother of Christ; I don’t really find that argument that persuasive.
James, the half-brother of Christ, was a teacher in the church and you have examples in history of people who are very common that write extraordinary literary pieces in Christianity, one of which is John Bunyan, who was a common cobbler, but he wrote the literary piece in Christianity, Pilgrim’s Progress.
Another argument against James, the half-brother of Christ being the author of the epistle of James is when you study canonicity, what you start to see is that the early church went through a battle, concerning whether they were going to take this epistle and make it part of the biblical canon or not. It really doesn’t get accepted into the biblical canon until a few centuries occur; it doesn’t get accepted unanimously, I should say, by church fathers and church authorities. And so people say, ‘well, if Jesus’ brother wrote this, it would have been accepted immediately.’ Well, not necessarily. The early church was very suspicious of this book because it seemed to contradict what Paul said. Paul taught salvation by faith alone; the Book of James says that a man is justified by what he does. We will explain how to resolve that contradiction as we continue in our study down the road.
By the way, Martin Luther, in the 16th century, hated the Book of James. Luther came up with his own translation from the Hebrew and the Greek into German, which was wonderful because he was trying to put the language into the vernacular of the common man. My wife and I have been on a tour of the room where Luther made this translation.
But Luther, when his translation came out, he hated the Book of James. He called it an epistle of straw and he stuck it in the very back — somewhere in the appendix. Because in his mind, James contradicted Paul, and Luther was all about Paul – salvation by faith alone. So that is the reason that the early church struggled with canonizing this book — it has nothing to do with whether James, the half-brother of Christ, was the author; it really has more to do with the content of the book which they felt contradicted the apostle Paul.
James, the half-brother of Christ was not well known outside of Jerusalem. This letter doesn’t have a lot of doctrine in it; it is very brief and is very Jewish. As the church became progressively gentile, they started to look upon books like this with suspicion, but eventually, it was adopted into the New Testament canon. So my point is that the reticence that the early church fathers had towards this book, had nothing to do with James, the half-brother of Christ, as the potential author. It has to do with some of these other factors that I’ve mentioned.
So the bottom line is who wrote the book? The best bet is that James, the half-brother of Christ is the writer of this five-chapter book that we call the Book of James. The second thing you look at when you discover who the author is his biography. The more you can understand the background of the writer, the better you understand why he brings out the different things that he does.
So he was indeed the half-brother of Christ; shared the same mama but not the same daddy, as we have talked about. Mary and Joseph had other children after Christ’s virgin birth; I’ve given you a few verses on that. James was one of these children. To be clear, Joseph and Mary had a normal relationship after the virgin birth of Christ, and from that union came the half-brothers of Christ, one of which was James. So James was one of these children — by the way, the Roman Catholics — what do they teach? They teach the perpetual virginity of Mary. Mary remained a virgin her whole life, and that’s obviously not what the Bible teaches, because it talks about these other brothers of Christ per Matthew 13:55 and other verses.
It is generally believed that James, the half-brother of Christ was the eldest of those half-brothers, and the reason for this belief is because on all of these lists in the Bible that mention these half-brothers, you always find James’ name mentioned first. So he was the eldest half-brother of Christ, who we believe is the writer of this particular book.
Initially, John 7:5, he, James, the half-brother of Christ, did not accept the messiahship of Christ; he was one of the first to receive word of Christ’s resurrection though per John 20:17. He is clearly involved in the post-resurrection, pre-ascension ministry of Jesus. There is a window there of about 40 days in between Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and when He eventually ascended, where He is speaking to the disciples, and clearly, James is a believer at that point because he is listening very carefully to what Christ is saying. And he clearly became a believer after Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, the apostle Paul, when he talks about who Christ appeared to after Christ rose from the dead, writes this in 1 Corinthians 15:7, “Then He appeared to James [that’s our author] and to all the apostles.” So James clearly is a believer at that point. He didn’t accept Christ’s Messiahship early but accepted it later after he saw his half-brother rise from the dead. James, the half-brother of Christ eventually rose to a position of prominence within the Jerusalem church.
Peter wanted to know that his miraculous escape from prison would get known to James (Acts 12:17), sort of implying that James, the half-brother of Christ was a big wig, if you will, in the early church. Paul, the apostle visited James (Galatians 1:18,19). James, the half-brother of Christ was one of the pillars of the early church (Galatians 2:9), and false teachers came into the church called Judaizers, or legalists. And when they came into the church, they tried to say that they were from James, trying to add his name to give credence to their doctrine. Galatians 2:12 — who is the spokesperson at the Jerusalem council? James, the half-brother of Christ. James, the half-brother of Christ suggested that Paul keep the law to avoid an offense to the Jews (Acts 21:18-26), and then finally when you get to the book of Jude, which is the second to last book of our organization of the Bible as Protestants, it says, “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus and brother of James.” So James was such a big wig that Jude essentially says, ‘Hey, I’m his brother.’ So James, the half-brother of Christ became a major leader in early Christianity.
Was James, the half-brother of Christ married? Yes, he was, and we get that from 1 Corinthians 9:5 in which Paul says, “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord…” — wouldn’t that include James? So Paul says, ‘I have a right to take on a believing wife just like James, the half-brother of Christ did or does.’ And Cephas, Peter had a wife. Jesus performed a miracle at the home of Peter’s mother-in-law; so Peter himself was married. Peter will write in 1 Peter 5:13, “She who is from Babylon greets you.” Some people think he is referring to his wife there. Why bring that up? Because Roman Catholicism teaches the celibacy of the priesthood — that Peter remained celibate as the first Pope his entire life — that is as fallacious as the perpetual virginity of Mary; it goes flatly against what the Bible says.
So he was married; he took on the nickname ‘camel knees’ — you know how camel’s knees have those callouses on them; he took on the nickname ‘camel knees’ and how do you think he got that nickname — because he spent so much time in prayer, and we know that not from the Bible but from extra-biblical literature.
He kind of reminds me of Daniel when the Persians were trying to trap Daniel — the only thing they could find against him was his relationship with the Lord, and they knew he prayed three times a day, so they passed a law to prevent that; that’s what got Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. James, the half-brother of Christ kind of reminds me of that — ‘camel knees;’ he’s a man of prayer; he took on the nickname eventually of James the Just because he treated everyone with such fairness — that’s the name he eventually received and he is a martyr — one of the great martyrs in Christianity. The Bible does not record his martyrdom, but there is a line of thought coming from Hegesippus and you find this in the writings of Eusebius how Annas told the high priest told James that he was going to be stoned to death and he told him, ‘Here is how you can avoid being stoned to death — you need to publicly renounce your faith.’ So James, the half-brother of Christ ascended to the top of the Jerusalem walls, and the high priest thought James was going to renounce Christianity, but James started preaching the gospel, and that upset everybody, so they pushed him off the wall. James, according to this tradition, survived the fall but was stoned to death by the mob as he was suffering on the ground having survived the fall. So that’s one line of thought concerning how James, the half-brother of Christ was martyred.
Josephus tells us that Annas ordered James to be stoned to death for violating the law. So Josephus skips the jumping off the wall part and just records the stoning part, and Josephus actually says that this is why judgment came against Jerusalem in AD 79, or one of the reasons — because of the Jewish people’s first century treatment of this man, James, the half-brother of Christ.
So this is a little bit about who our author is.
One of the most important things you ever do when you study the Bible is to figure out who the audience is. And there are three things to know about this audience.
Number one, the audience is Jewish; it’s Hebrew. How do we know that? Because of James 1:1 “…To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.” By the way the tribes are not lost. There are a lot of people running around today saying the tribes are lost and that they got lost when the northern kingdom was scattered in 722 BC. So a lot of people think the tribes were lost 700 years before the time of Christ, well, obviously they are not lost because James is addressing them. Paul refers to the Twelve tribes in his time period, Acts 26:7, and there is a woman named Anna who is waiting for Christ in the temple, and her tribal identity is given from the time of Asher, one of those northern tribes in Luke 2:36. So the tribes aren’t lost and James is writing to these twelve tribes.
So the Book of James is a Jewish book. It is answering questions that Hebrew Christians would have. Now there are six New Testament books to do this kind of thing. I’m not saying that these books aren’t for us as gentiles; they are; all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, but you can’t really understand the meaning of those books until you understand that they were written to Hebrew Christians who were wrestling with particular issues as new Christians that a Jewish person would wrestle with.
So those books are:
Number one is Matthew — Luke’s genealogy traces Christ back to Adam; Matthew’s genealogy traces Christ’s genealogy back to David and then Abraham. Why does Luke trace it back to Adam? Because he is writing to gentiles. Why does Matthew trace it back to Abraham and David? Because he is writing to Jews. Mark’s gospel talks about a ceremonial ritual of the washing of hands in Mark 7, and then adds a parenthetical comment that this was a common practice amongst the Jews. Matthew 15 records the exact same story but leaves out the parenthetical comment. Why would Mark have to include the parenthetical comment? Because he is writing to Romans. Why would Matthew leave out the parenthetical comment? Because he is writing to Jews and Jews already understood what that ritual was all about; it would’ve been redundant.
The second book in the New Testament that’s written specifically to Hebrew Christians is the book whose title makes it obvious: Hebrews. Does that sound Jewish to you? So that’s the second book written specifically to Jewish Christians. Paul is the apostle to the gentiles. Peter is the apostle to the Jews, right? So 1 and 2 Peter is believed to have been written to Hebrew Christians also. And we like to throw Jude into the mix, because Jude is sort of depending on 2 Peter, it looks like. And then we throw James into the mix.
So there are six New Testament books of the 27 that you can’t really understand unless you put your shoes in the position of a Hebrew Christian, and you start asking the questions that a Hebrew Christian would ask. So those books are: Matthew, James, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude. And we know that this book (James) is Jewish because it has all of these Jewish allusions to it with no explanation.
First fruits. James chapter 1:18 — now any Jew would know what that means because they know the harvest cycle — Leviticus 23:10. Gehenna James — 3:6; Lord Almighty —James 5:4; early and latter rains —James 5:7 — any Jew would know what that is because it is right out of the book of Deuteronomy 11:14; oath-taking —James 5:12; Elijah —James 5:17; Abraham our ancestor—James 2:24; Rahab —James 2:25; Job—James 5:11; synagogue —James 2:2; law; monotheism; adulteress. As you go through the Book of James you see all of these references to the Old Testament with no explanation and the reason that’s so is because it was written to a Hebrew Christian audience. It is written to a people who knew Hebrew Bible backwards and forwards.
The Book of James reads like the book of Proverbs with all of its proverbial wisdom. A Jew would understand that since they received the Book of Proverbs. The Book of James preaches like the prophets. Jews would have access or knowledge of the Old Testament prophets.
There are 41 quotes from 22 Old Testament books in the Book of James. And the Book of James does not deal with questions that gentile Christians were wrestling with like slavery, idolatry. What historical event ridded Judaism of idolatry? The Babylonian captivity. When the Jews came out of the Babylonian captivity, and they realized that idolatry put them into the captivity, they said, ‘we’re never going to let that happen,’ and they started to abhor idols (Romans 2:22). There is nothing here condemning idolatry which also shows the Jewish background.
So the first thing to understand about this audience is it is Jewish. The second thing to understand about this audience is it is heavily persecuted. They were pushed out of Jerusalem and the land of Israel by Saul of Tarsus. Saul of Tarsus who had not yet been converted to the apostle Paul, (Acts 9) heard Stephen preach in Acts 7, and Stephen condemned the Jewish nation from beginning to end. Paul was so mad about this that in Acts 8:3, when he was still Saul, began ravaging the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women putting them in prison. Therefore those who had been scattered went about preaching the Word.
What did Jesus say to the early church? You are going to be my witnesses in Jerusalem then in Judea and Samaria, and then to the remote parts of the earth. The problem with the early church though, which was all Jewish, was that they liked staying in Jerusalem. So God says, ‘we will fix that, we will bring a wave of persecution against you,’ and this is how the gospel, the believing Hebrew Christians were actually pushed out of Jerusalem and scattered. That is the group that James is addressing as their pastor because he was the pastor of the Jerusalem church. Acts 11:19 says, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen, made their way to…” and it describes all of these sort of far-flung places.
So that is who James, the half-brother of Christ, is addressing. He is addressing not just Jews; he’s addressing those who had been dispersed, and how did they get dispersed? They were dispersed because Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8) was so angry at what Stephen said, that not only did he have Stephen, one of the first deacons of early Christianity — in fact, it wasn’t even called Christianity yet; they weren’t even called Christians until the church starts to take off up north in Antioch; they were just Hebrews who happened to believe the message of Jesus. Saul hated that message because he heard what Stephen said, so Saul not only had Stephen executed — martyrdom #1, but he launched a horrific wave of persecution against the Hebrew Christians, and it literally pushed them out of Jerusalem into the dispersion. So when James is writing to these people as their pastor, he will say things like, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” And immediately, your typical 21st century Christian takes that and applies it to their own life, which is fine. We should apply that to our own lives, but we first need to understand that trials he is dealing with; I mean, he is dealing with people, who many of their loved ones had been killed; they had been kicked out of their homes; kicked out of their country, because of Saul of Tarsus. “Consider it all joy, my brethren when you encounter various trials.” Oh, that’s the trial James is speaking of — it gives us context and meaning to what is going on here.
So the audience is Jewish; the audience is persecuted. Now where was this audience residing? — in one of two locations: either in Babylon or north central Turkey. Because when the Jews were scattered, those were the two places they went. The first place they went was up north to northern Antioch, what we call modern day Turkey. There is another picture of it.
The second place they went was into Babylon, Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq between the rivers — the river Euphrates and Tigris. Now why would Jews flee there? Because that is where all their people were because many of them did not come back from the Babylonian captivity. Check out the genealogies in Ezra and Nehemiah.
When the Jews came back from the Babylonian captivity, only a small fraction of them came back to Israel; a lot of them stayed there in Babylon; in fact, Josephus talks about a habitation at Babylon where there were Jews in great numbers. So when James, the half-brother of Christ, addresses this scattered Jewish flock, he is either addressing the folks in north central Turkey or the folks in modern day Iraq. I am of the opinion that James is addressing the people in Babylon; I can’t prove that dogmatically, but the reason I think that is because Peter is already going to address the folks in north central Turkey. He is going to address them in 1 and 2 Peter, so it makes sense to me that James would address the other group in that Mesopotamian Babylonian area. So Peter would write to the scattered Jews in the west, and James would write to the scattered Jews in the east.
So who is this audience? They’re Jewish; they’re persecuted; they’re living outside of the land; they’re either in Babylon/Mesopotamia or in north central Turkey. I am sort of the persuasion that it’s the former rather than the latter, but the most important thing to understand about the Book of James is this fourth aspect concerning the audience. He is dealing with people that are believers. You may not have grasped anything else I’ve said, or maybe it has gone in one ear and out the other, but don’t let this fact about the audience escape you because if you do, you’ll be confused your whole life — because the Book of James has been hijacked by two groups. The first group to hijack the Book of James are the Calvinists. Calvinists basically say that you have to persevere to the end of your life in good works to prove you are one of the elect. TULIP is the acronym for Calvinism, and they camp on the P, which they call ‘perseverance of the saints.’
Now, we at Sugarland Bible Church do not teach ‘perseverance of the saints; we teach ‘preservation of the saints;’ we do not keep people in suspense, saying, ‘well, I guess you don’t really know if you’re a Christian or not until the end of your life.’ We believe in the assurance of salvation, that you can know you’re a Christian the moment that you take Christ as your Savior by faith. The rest of your Christian life with your salvation settled relates to growth, maturity, but it has nothing to do with whether you are a Christian or not.
If you are sitting in a reformed church or a Calvinist church, they will not tell you that; they will keep you in constant fear. The reason they like that doctrine is that it is a great way to control people; a great way to motivate the troops: ‘Oh, you didn’t show up to Wednesday night Bible study, hmmm, maybe you’re not one of the elect; you better keep striving.’ That is what is called ‘perseverance of the saints.’ Calvinists will quote in any discussion you get into with one, James 2, which says, “Faith without works is dead,” and they’ll use that to say, ‘There better be a lot of fruit in your life.’ Now they never tell you how much or how fast it has to come, but it better be there, and if it’s not there, maybe you’re not one of the elect. So some of the most vocal Calvinists today on planet earth, whether it be the late RC Sproul, John MacArthur, etc, really don’t know whether they’re Christians or not. Sproul has been on record saying, ‘You know, I’m about 98% sure, kind of like the weather report, you know; maybe there’s a small chance of rain.’ They teach this doctrine to people all the time. So people who come under their teaching really don’t know if they’re Christians or not. I mean, if the teacher doesn’t know if he’s saved because he hasn’t persevered enough, then how in the world will the flock know if they’re saved?
So James 2:10 becomes one of their big texts: “Faith without works is dead,” not understanding that death there is not talking about anything other than the effectiveness of one’s faith. More on that later.
The second group that have hijacked the Book of James are the Arminians because people think, ‘well if you criticize Calvinism, you must be an Arminian. An Arminian is someone who basically thinks that if you’re a Christian, you are on probation, and at any moment, you can commit the unpardonable sin. Now they don’t tell you what the unpardonable sin is, but whatever that is, it is really bad. So at any moment, God can rip the carpet from under you. They’ll quote James 2:10, “Faith without works is dead.” So this is the problem that we are in — people are under a steady diet of Calvinism or a steady diet of Arminianism, and one of the biggest problems in modern day Christianity is people really don’t know if they are saved or not. Now, if you don’t know if you’re saved or not, that changes your motivation for service: now you’re serving God out of fear. I’ve got to serve God to prove that I’m one of the elect so I can persevere to the end, or I’ve got to serve God to keep my salvation. That destroys the whole basis for Christian service — you don’t serve God because you’re afraid or in a place of insecurity; you serve God, Romans 12:1, because that’s the reasonable thing to do —because of what He has done for you. Look at what Christ has done for you; look at how He has given you eternal security. The logical thing to do would be for me to surrender my life to Christ.
So the story of the Bible is not what man does for God; it is what God has done for man. We respond to that worshipfully by way of faith. The problem with the Calvinist interpretation of James 2 is that they’re trying to get James to answer a question that he is not answering. James is not sitting in judgment on the salvation of his audience. He is assuming that they’re already saved, and that becomes obvious when you look at James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy my brothers…” [does that sound like they’re Christians]? “when you encounter various trials…” [what trial? They’ve been kicked out of their country and were in the dispersion]… “knowing that the testing of your faith [see that there?] “produces endurance. Let endurance have a perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
How do you test someone’s faith? How do you mature someone’s faith unless they already have faith? The very statement presupposes that faith already exists in his audience. This is not a scenario where James is writing to some group saying, ‘some of you are Christians and some of you are not;’ that’s not what is happening. The ones that are versus the ones are not are going to prove themselves by their perseverance. You make James answer that question, which Calvinists do all the time, and you’re forcing James to deal with an issue that he is not set up to deal with.
Flip over to James 1:18 for just a minute. “In the exercise of His will He brought us” [see the word, ‘us’? You think James was saved? I sure hope so. If James wasn’t saved, how did he become the pastor at the Jerusalem church and how did he qualify to write this book]? “In the exercise of His…” [so James is identifying with his audience — if James was saved, so was his audience, and you see that through the word, ‘us’]… “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” So the audience clearly has been brought forth by the word of truth; they’re born again already. To me, the dead giveaway is James 4:5, James, the half-brother of Christ says, “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in [whom]? “us.” Look, if you don’t have the Holy Spirit you are not a Christian, right? Romans 8:9 says that if a man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. So the fact that these people had the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit within them was jealously desiring them, and the fact that James uses the word, ‘us’ — ‘I have the Spirit so you have the Spirit’ is a dead ringer that he is clearly writing to saved people. He calls his audience ‘brethren’ ten times in the book.
There are, in this book, 54 imperatives, which are commands in Greek in 108 verses. Fifty-four commands in 108 verses. Now that fact in and of itself proves that he is writing to believers because you do not command an unbeliever. You do not tell an unbeliever to persevere under trials; to pray because they don’t even know what you are talking about because they don’t have the Spirit of God in them yet. There is only one command that you give to an unbeliever, which is to do what? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” — that’s what you tell an unbeliever to do, which by the way, is what the Holy Spirit is currently convicting unbelievers of their need to do.
Don’t get into a bunch of stuff about progressive sanctification with an unbeliever because an unbeliever doesn’t have the Holy Spirit inside of them. Now, James never once in this book tells his audience to believe in Jesus to be saved. Why? Because they’re already saved. Instead, he is giving commands that they’re able to follow in the walk of sanctification because they have the Holy Spirit in them already. See that?
So the most important thing to understand about James’ audience in addition to it being Jewish, persecuted and in the diaspora, is that you have to understand that James is assuming, that all of these people he is addressing, these Hebrew Christians are believers. If you don’t understand that out of the gate, then what someone will do is to come to you and show you James 2 which makes it look like, ‘well maybe you’re Christians and maybe you’re not.’
And that’s typically how systematic theologians work: they have their system that they’re trying to advocate, and then they cherry pick verses to support their system, and they never give their listeners the background I’m giving you. Because if you understand the background I’m giving you, you can see just like that how they’re taking something out of context.
One other quick thing here is the place of writing. We believe that this book was written from Jerusalem. Why do we think that? Because James, the half-brother of Christ was the pastor of the Jerusalem church. He lived his entire life in Jerusalem, and he was martyred in Jerusalem.
So the bottom line is this book is written from James, the half-brother of Christ, to his flock as the pastor of the Jerusalem church, which was all Jewish. They had now been scattered, so James is writing to that Hebrew Christian audience in their suffering in the dispersion, or in the diaspora. So he is writing from Jerusalem, I think, to scattered Jews in Babylon; that’s what I think is happening here.
Father, we are grateful for Your Word, Your truth, and help us to be good stewards of this book, particularly this background information that we need to understand in order to divide Your Word properly. I pray that You will be with this study, this particular quarter, and I also pray that we would not just go through the Book of James, but more important than that, the Book of James would go through us and change us and make us into the type of maturing Christians that you would have us to be. We will be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said, Amen!