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by Rhoderick D. Ice
INTRODUCTION TO THE LETTER FROM JAMES
At first glance, this Letter seems to be a series of disconnected maxims (pithy sayings), dealing with “Everyday Christian life.” But as we look deeper into the reasons behind its writing, we learn to appreciate the way it is put together.
Beza thought this Letter was written specifically to the Jewish Christians scattered all over the world. Lardner thought it was written to all Jews, whether Christian or not. But certainly it is of value to every believer in Christ.
Many of the Jewish Christians had been Pharisees. They still held to the teachings which said, that: (1) “What is to be will be.” Man is a helpless tool of fate. (2) “The Decrees of God.” That is, absolute predestination. In the idiom of the Hebrew language, God is said to do what He permits to be done. But refusing to understand this, they distorted some things which Paul said (2 Peter 3:15-16) on the basis of the two things mentioned above. Paul said that God has given the Gentiles over to corrupted minds (Romans 1:28); that “So I am not really the one who does this thing; rather it is the sin that lives in me” (Romans 7:17); “And he makes stubborn whom he wishes” (Romans 9:18); “God made them dull of heart and mind” (Romans 11:8). These false teachers then said: “The sinful actions of men are decreed by God, and no one can resist His will.” “Since it is God who tempts men to sin, He is actually the source of men’s sins.” “Since Paul says faith saves, separate and apart from Law, merely believing in Christ will save a man.” “Actions don’t count! You can get drunk and murder somebody, die in the condition, and still go straight to heaven!”
It was necessary, then, that the “apostles of circumcision” who were still living, should use their authority to oppose these false ideas. The Letters from James through Jude deal with these matters. But James makes the strongest statement of all!
James, the brother of John, could not have written this Letter, since he was dead (Acts 12:2), killed by Herod. James the son of Alphaeus could have been the author, but from the earliest times, James the Lord’s brother is the one accepted as the writer, Although not originally a believer (John 7:5), he is called an apostle (Galatians 1:19), although he was not one of the Twelve. He became a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13), and may have been the leader of the circumcision party, although he certainly showed he was on the Lord’s side at the Jerusalem Meeting in Acts 15:0. See also Acts 21:18; Galatians 2:9. Josephus tells us that Ananias, the high priest, convened the Sanhedrin and had this James stoned to death, around 63 A.D.
The Letter was probably written at Jerusalem, about 60 A.D.
the Fifth Week after Epiphany