An OT View Of Works

The other day I briefly mentioned how some Bible scholars have drawn attention to the differences in how Paul and James view “works” in terms of faith. In reading an article on a completely different topic yesterday morning, I came across Isaiah 1:10-20, containing a similar viewpoint to what I believe both Paul and James are trying to emphasize.

In this scripture, Isaiah has a disturbing vision of the Lord’s reaction to Israel’s empty, ritualistic faith. The Lord even refers to them as “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah” to describe the ways they’ve approached him in worship.  “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. (v.11)

“If the people of Israel think they are immune from judgment because they are God’s chosen people, they must think again. If their behavior is no different from that of the world, their fate will be no different either. But the Israelites think they are entitled to favorable treatment because they have God’s revealed way of doing offerings.” If they just keep slaughtering more lambs and goats, and burning more incense, surely God will bless them! (Dr. John Oswalt, NIV Commentary on Isaiah)

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.

But apparently the Israelites have gotten it all wrong. Worship isn’t simply about ritual that seeks self-benefit. True worship is reflected in everyday life through our transformed relationships. “The covenant in which the sacrificial laws appear is the same covenant where ethical treatment of one’s neighbors is required. It is not possible to have the one and not the other.” (Oswalt, 77)

17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

“What God wants is right and just behavior, especially toward those who are helpless to demand such behavior on their own behalf…. Here is the true evidence that a person knows the Lord. Anyone can perform rituals, but the person who acts like God… that is the person who has entered into a life-changing relationship with him, and that is clearly what God wants.” (Oswalt, 78)

Similarly, in Philippians 2:3-4, Paul writes: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

And in the letter of James, the brother of Christ points to Abraham, writing, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (2:21-22)

Faith and actions working together. I believe that’s something Isaiah, Paul, and James all agree on.

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Intro to James

Hey everyone! Today I’m going to hit a few major points regarding the Letter of James by way of a very brief, and very broad, introduction. I’ll also direct you to additional resources in case you’re interested in doing more research on your own. As I alluded to yesterday, there’s much more to James than you might think!

Authorship – The vast majority of scholars believe evidence points to James, the brother of Jesus, as the author of this letter. There are six other Jameses in the Bible, but only one has received serious consideration beyond the one already mentioned:  James, the son of Zebedee. However, his early date of death in AD 44 makes him questionable since the letter appears to have been written around that same time.

On the other hand, James, the brother of Jesus, was a leader in the early church and was martyred in AD 62. If you’re interested in the various discussions regarding authorship, the three commentaries listed below are a good place to start. For my study purposes, I’m going with James, the brother of Jesus, as the assumed author.

Audience – Almost as much discussion has evolved around James’ audience as authorship! It seems pretty obvious.  James comes right out in verse 1 and says he’s writing “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” BUT… does he mean to limit the twelve tribes to the messianic Jews who are direct descendants of the Old Testament, or does he mean to include gentiles in this greeting lending a more multiracial, New Testament audience?

As we’ll see later in this study, James appears to be highly devoted to Jewish scripture and faith, while believing in Jesus as the Messiah. After reading the different arguments, I tend to lean toward an audience of messianic Jews. I believe James says exactly what he means: He’s writing to the twelve tribes of the diaspora.

Themes – James’ audience also has “issues” to deal with:  divisiveness, intolerance, and favoritism in the church, as well as individual desire for wealth and status over everything else – including God. They’ve been influenced by false teachers and have turned the church into a social club.

In addressing all these problems, James will write about suffering, sin, righteousness, and holy wisdom. His letter is brief, but he gives just enough details that we’ll also get a glimpse of his theology regarding the Trinity, eschatology, the Torah, ethics of Christian life, and – of course – faith, works, and justification.

It’s hard to believe all that gets packed into this short letter, but as we learned from Ephesians (and are now seeing in Philippians), it pays to read all scripture – short or long – slowly, closely, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.

I believe we come into a time of communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit when we meditate on scripture in this way, becoming a participating member of the Body of Christ in relationship to the Trinity. Other than the Eucharist, I can’t think of any other time when I feel as close to God as when I ‘listen’ to scripture speak.

Resources – I recommend that you watch The Bible Project video on James. Excellent resource from them, as always. I’m also relying on three different commentaries for my personal study.  (Just to clarify… I always read scripture first, at least three times over, before I ever consult anything written about scripture. Always keep the primary thing primary!) These are all available in print or on Kindle, if you’re looking to build your library. Or you can just keep following along here — I’ll be sharing a LOT of their information!

  • The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, by Scot McKnight
  • The Letter of James, Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, by Douglas Moo
  • James: The NIV Application Commentary, by David Nystrom

So there you have it: a super short intro to the Letter of James. Between this and The Bible Project video, you should have a good idea of what to expect. Take the next day or so and read James through two or three times – preferably at least once out loud. Underline, star, highlight, or write down anything that really catches your attention. You never know where the Spirit is leading you. Meet you here again later in the week. Take care!

REMINDERS: 

  • Philippians Bible Study with Cory on Facebook, Wednesday at 6:30.
  • Pray, pray, pray.  Build your friendship with God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Quarantining? Stay connected. Going out? Be a blessing.

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Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. Through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)