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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

James

- James

by William Baxter Godbey

THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

PROLOGUE

In the New Testament we have three men by this name: James the Greater, the brother of John, thought the first to espouse the episcopacy in the Apostolic Church, was the first of all the Apostles to seal his faith with his blood, being decapitated by Herod Agrippa, A.D. 44. James the Less was precipitated from a pinnacle of the Temple and beaten to death with a fuller’s club.

Matthew suffered martyrdom in a city of Ethiopia; Mark was dragged by a roaring mob through the streets of Alexandria; Luke was hung on an olive tree in Greece; John was cast into a boiling soap cauldron at Rome in order to make soap of him. As his work was not done, he did not saponify. So his enemies took him out and banished him to the Isle of Patmos, which was so pestilential, in consequence of the upas and narcotic strychnus, as to be uninhabitable. Hence it was used as a place of banishment for imperial criminals of Rome.

Arriving after dark on Saturday evening, he is thrown out and left alone on the rocky shore, amid the bones of his predecessors, whitening in the moonlight. Having spent the night alone on his knees in prayer, at day dawn the glorified Savior comes down, opens heaven to him and reveals the wonderful panoramic visions which he recorded in the Book of Revelation.

Paul was beheaded by Nero, the Roman Emperor, one mile west of the city wall. I visited the spot in 1895. Then I went to the Campus Martitis, where my guide said Peter was crucified with his head downward, by his own request. Matthias, the successor of fallen Judas, suffered martyrdom in Abyssinia of Africa. Andrew was crucified on a transverse cross in Armenia, preaching to the crowd standing till his spirit took its flight. Bartholemew took Phrygia, an old heathen empire in Western Asia, for his field of labor, where he preached till he incurred the displeasure of the king, who ordered him to leave his country. When he continued to preach, regardless of the royal mandate, the king became so enraged that he had him skinned alive.

Philip suffered martyrdom in Northern Asia. Jude was shot full of arrows while preaching in Tartary, and thus sealed his faith with his blood.

Thomas, the doubter (who never had a doubt after the fiery baptism of Pentecost burned them all up), went far away to India and lived to preach a long time: finally they put him to death by running an iron bar through his body, and hanging him up between two trees. Despite all the bloody Mohammedan conquest and persecutions sweeping over that land, the Christians of St. Thomas still survive to salute the modern missionaries and bid them welcome to that country.

But who is the author of this Epistle? The highest critical authority assigns it neither to James the Great, or James the Less, but to James, the son of Joseph by a former marriage, and brother of Jude. Josephus says he was put to death by the High Priest Annas, A.D. 64. He and Jude the Elder, brothers of the Lord, are not found in the original Apostolic Catalogue (Matthew 10:0). While the world was rising on tiptoe jubilant at the Christhood of Jesus, how natural for His elder brothers to hesitate, soliloquizing, “This is little brother Jesus, we rocked Him in the cradle, singing lullabies over Him; we slept with Him, and He helped us do our work. He was always wonderfully good, sweet, loving and obedient. But surely our little Brother can not be the Christ of God, the Shiloh of prophecy, the Redeemer of Israel and the Savior of the world.”

But years roll on; He is nailed to the cross, and buried in the sepulcher. When He smashes all the fetters of the tomb, walks out, and they all see Him, identify Him, shake hands with Him, hear His voice, while thousands on all sides are proclaiming the Christhood, His older brothers, flinging away all doubt, fall into line with tremendous shouts, “After all, our little Brother Jesus is the Christ of God, the Shiloh of prophecy and Savior of the world.”

In view of their kinship to our Lord the apostles gladly receive James and Jude, promoting the former to the pastorate of the Metropolitan Church, and Presiding Apostolate. The Armenian Christians idolize James much like the Romanists do Peter.