About two weeks before we finished reading through and studying Galatians, I began talking to Jesus about which book of the Bible he wanted me to read through next. I want this to be different. I only want to go where he leads, not where I feel like I'm being blown as if on the wind and definitely not where I lead. My leading only takes me to dead ends with no future. And so God told me. I felt an overwhelming answer: James.
I peeked through I and II Peter anyway, thinking maybe one of those would be a better place to go (because, you know, I'm a slow learner apparently). I even briefly considered Acts or Romans (Jesus wasn't really saying James, right?), but alas, I was drawn back to James over and over again. Are you sure, God? I don't know much about James! Yes, James is the one. That was what I felt like he was whispering to me. And so we are going to start here, with an introduction to the book of James.
I started by reading through several introductions in several different Bibles. One was a Hebrew-Greek Study Bible; another was a Chronological Bible. I also looked at the introductions written in a Mom Bible and a copy of The Message. Each one contained a few things that were the same and acknowledged a few things that were up for debate by "the experts." I even read through some commentaries and articles about who James was and why he wrote this epistle.
Who wrote the book of James? There were a couple of guys named James listed throughout the New Testament. One was an apostle of Jesus- one of the twelve in fact. But experts agree that this book can't be written by him as it was written after his martyrdom in 44AD (Acts 12:2).
The only other James who is famous enough to be able to address a letter as simply "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" without any other clarifying statements is James, oldest half-brother to Jesus (check out Matthew 13:55 to see that reference) and son to Mary and Joseph. Initially, James didn't believe his brother's claims to being the Messiah (John 7:5, Mark 6:4). Honestly, if you thought about it, would you? If either of my brothers tried to tell me that, I'd struggle to believe it too. I would want to see it with my own eyes. So no judgment from me on this one! But that's just the thing, isn't it? Faith is believing without seeing. Still, Jesus is pretty awesome and understanding of our human nature, because he actually does show himself to James after his resurrection.
And after he saw him resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:7), he changed his tune! Again, wouldn't you? Paul certainly did after seeing him on the road to Damascus, remember? But I digress. After seeing Jesus risen again, James was in the upper room with the other disciples when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1). He then became a leader in the church in Jerusalem (check Acts 12:17 and look back at Galatians 1:18-19 for references to this fact) thereby becoming well-known enough to address his letter "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ."
When was James written? That isn't entirely clear. Some experts believe that it was written around the time of the Jerusalem council in 46AD while others believe it was closer to the martyrdom of (this) James in 62AD. Either way, it was written in Greek "to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (James 1:1), which implies that it coincides with events from Acts 8-11 sometime. Jewish Christians were being persecuted and were, therefore, spread out pretty far from one another. Acts 7 actually details the death of Stephen at the hands of Jewish leaders, including Saul of Tarsus who stood by watching in approval (remember that later Saul becomes Paul). Jewish Christians were dying. It was a scary time to be a believer.
It's cool though, that what Satan intended for evil (killing Christians, and especially Jewish Christians, for their beliefs), God spun around and used for good. The Jewish Christians were so scared about persecution that they spread far and wide across the known world. If they hadn't spread so very far and shared the good news about Jesus's death and resurrection, would we know about Jesus today or would they have killed off anyone who knew anything? God used that persecution to spread the good news of the Messiah. Just an observation.
What's the main point of James? Interestingly, James is full of great instructions for Christians. Some even refer to it as "the New Testament counterpart to Proverbs." James spends five chapters explaining that you need to demonstrate your inward faith with actions on the outside. Keeping your faith inside kills it. In fact, James 2:17 says, "faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." So the main point of James is to teach us to not just feel our faith but to show our faith through action!
I am so excited to dive into this book of the Bible. I can't wait to see all that God reveals through this study and put that learning about faith into action (see what I did there? Faith and learning in action? No? Okay then...). My prayer today is that God speaks through these pages and reveals more and more of himself to anyone who reads his messages. I am so thankful that we have the absolute privilege of studying God's word without persecution unlike the Christians of James' days. Have a blessed day and allow God to bless someone else through you today as you go.
1. Aust, Jerod, Profiles of Faith: James- Half-brother of Jesus. Access Date: June 24, 2016. Website: https://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/profiles-of-faith-james-half-brother-of-jesus
2. Bible Gateway. Access Date: June 24, 2106. Website: www.biblegateway.com
3. Zodhiates, Spiros Th.D., The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. TN: AMG Publishers, 1996.