Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

- James

by Peter Pett

Introduction To James’ General Letter to the Churches.

Who Wrote the Letter?

The letter is styled as being from ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’. This would suggest that while it was not from one of ‘the twelve’ (otherwise he would have mentioned his Apostleship) it was from someone so distinguished that he needed no other explanation. And that is why so many see it as having been written by James, the Lord’s brother, who was so prominent in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21; Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:12) that he could be spoken of simply as ‘James’ (Acts 20:18; Galatians 2:12). It may, however, be that the writer was simply well known to the original recipients. There are certainly no good reasons for denying that it was written by a James, and it will be noted that there is no claim either to Apostleship, or to any other honour, which very much discounts the idea of it needing to be listed among the Pseudepigrapha (something written under someone else’s name). Someone writing under another person’s name would have made clear precisely who he was purporting to be. He would have been quite blatant.

The question is not one of prime importance. The important question is whether the letter, having finally been accepted, bears within it the marks of its own inspiration, and in this regard we might feel that its ‘Scripturalness’ is borne out first by its undoubted quality, second by its similarity to the teaching and attitude of the Sermon on the Mount while not quoting from it (compare James 1:2 with Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 1:4 with Matthew 5:48; Matthew 1:5 with Matthew 7:7 ff; Matthew 1:20 with Matthew 5:22; Matthew 1:22 with Matthew 7:24 ff; Matthew 2:10 with Matthew 5:19; Matthew 2:13 with Matthew 5:7; Matthew 18:33; Matthew 23:18 with Matthew 5:9; Matthew 4:4 with Matthew 6:24; Matthew 4:10 with Matthew 5:5; Matthew 23:12); James 5:2 ff with Matthew 6:19; Matthew 5:10 with Matthew 5:12; Matthew 5:12 with Matthew 5:33-37) and thirdly by the conciseness and evident truth of its arguments.

There is some support, however, for the fact that the letter was written by James, the Lord’s brother, in view of the fact that the author of the letter of Jude describes a certain ‘James’ as his brother in such a way as to suggest that he was so recognised by that name that he required no further identification. One of Jesus’ other brothers was certainly called Jude (Judas - Mark 6:3), and it was unquestionably because the later church did accept these identifications as genuine that their letters were accepted as part of the New Testament.

The letter was certainly written by someone of importance who very much saw the church as being the true Israel (see below), and looked at it primarily in that way, and that would fit in well with the figure portrayed in Acts 15:0, who saw the church as the rebuilding of the tabernacles of David which had fallen down, which was to be inclusive of the Gentiles (Acts 15:16-18). Indeed if it was not he, we can safely say that it was someone very like him, a Christian Jew, brought up bi-lingually, well versed in the Sermon on the Mount, having had regular contact with Hellenistic Christians, who yet saw the whole church as being Israel, and felt able to write to them in that vein expecting to be heeded, and yet without being arrogant.

Furthermore we can certainly understand why James, the Lord’s brother, would not want to style himself as ‘the Lord’s brother’ (Galatians 1:19). That was a reference given by others, and would if used personally have given the impression of making an exaggerated and almost irreverent claim based simply on the accident of relationship. Nor would it have gone well with the exalted words about the Lord, Jesus Christ, with which he opened his letter (James 1:1). To call himself the Lord’s brother at the same time as indicating the deity of the Lord in such a way would have been rightly to bring down on himself the disapproval of the godly. It would have bordered on the edge of blasphemy.

So now that he saw Jesus as his ‘Lord’ he preferred rather to be seen as His humble servant, in the line of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. Thus there would appear to be good grounds for identifying the writer as being James, the Lord’s brother, who could be described and thought of as an Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19), but without openly making that claim for himself because he was not one of the twelve, did not lay claim to a similar special divine appointment as that claimed by Paul, and did not have the same need as Paul to express his authority because it was never doubted by any part of the early church. His name and status in Jerusalem clearly carried its own authority

From the New Testament we learn that James was one of the brothers of Jesus (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55), and for a time did not believe in Him (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:21; Mark 3:31-35; John 7:3-9). John states quite openly, "For even his brothers did not believe in him" (John 7:5). But with Acts there comes what seems to be a sudden and unexplained change, until we discover the explanation in 1 Corinthians 15:7, ‘and then He appeared to James’, for his conversion has taken place. So when Acts opens, Jesus' mother and his brothers are there with the small group of Christians in James 1:14. Later it becomes clear that James has become a leading elder (possibly even the leading elder) in the Jerusalem Church (although how that came about is never explained), for it is to James and others that Peter sends the news of his escape from prison (Acts 12:17).

James also played a prominent part in the so-called ‘Council of Jerusalem’ which agreed to the entry of the Gentiles into the Christian Church without circumcision or requirement to observe all Jewish traditions (Acts 15:21-33), his final summing up, following on the words of Peter, being accepted as authoritative. It is clear there that he is a man of broad vision with a willingness to compromise on what he saw as inessentials. Significantly, however, he still insisted on certain food law requirements (as well as abstention from idolatry and fornication) in order that Jews might be able to eat with Christian Gentiles.

It is Peter, and secondarily ‘James, the Lord’s brother’, whom Paul meets up with when he first goes to Jerusalem, and it is with James, Peter (Cephas) and John, as pillars of the Church, that he discusses and settles his sphere of activity (Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9). It is to James and all the elders that Paul comes with his collection from the Gentile Churches on his final visit to Jerusalem which leads to his imprisonment (Acts 21:8-25). This last episode is especially significant, for it shows James and the Jewish church in Jerusalem as very sympathetic to the observance of the Jewish law, and so eager that the scruples of the Jews should not be offended, (note the idea is not that James would be offended) that he actually persuades Paul to demonstrate his loyalty to the law by assuming responsibility for the expenses of certain Jews who were members of the church in Jerusalem, who were fulfilling a Nazirite vow.

It is true that when men come from the Jerusalem church opposing Paul’s attitudes they are said to be ‘from James’ (Galatians 2:12), but this is not to say that James fully approved of their strictures. Members of the doctrinally strict Pharisaic party in the Jerusalem church could still be described as ‘from James’, that is, from the Jerusalem church, sent by that broad-minded man in order to maintain the unity of all sections of the church, without realising the upset that they would cause. Thus James’ the Lord’s brother was seen as an Apostolic man of significant importance and a great compromiser. (To call him the Bishop of Jerusalem is, however, to borrow language and ideas from much later).

Also in favour of James the Lord’s brother might be seen to be the indications of its similarity with the approach of Jewish teachers, for the Jewish world had its own traditional way of preaching, mainly in the synagogues. It was well known for its rhetorical questions and its continual imperative commands, its pictures taken from life, and its quotations, and its citations of the faith. In this it was similar to Hellenistic orators. But Jewish preaching had one additional curious characteristic. It was deliberately disconnected. The Jewish teachers instructed their students never to linger for any length of time on any one subject, but to move quickly from one subject to another in order to maintain the interest of the listener. Hence one of the names for preaching was charaz, which literally means stringing beads. The Jewish sermon was thus frequently a string of moral truths and exhortations coming one after another. And that is exactly what we find in the letter of James. While it is certainly not totally lacking in a coherent plan (see commentary), its sections do follow each other with a certain disconnectedness almost as though it is a string of pearls. And equally certainly it is steeped in references to the Old Testament. Note also how the pictures, unlike Paul’s, are not borrowed from the social and civil institutions of the Greek and Roman world, but are derived from the background of Palestine. Thus he speaks of the waves of the sea, James 1:6; of the scorching wind, James 1:11; of the vine and the fig-tree, James 3:12; of salt and brackish springs, James 3:11-12 and of the former and the latter rain, James 5:7.

But many have argued against the idea that James could have written the letter. Kummel puts the arguments this way (replies in brackets):

1) The cultured language of James is not that of a simple Palestinian. The suggested evidence that the Greek language was much used in Palestine at that time and could be learned does not prove that a Jew whose mother tongue was Aramaic could normally write in literary Greek. Most of those who defend the thesis that James was written by the Lord's brother must assume that it achieved its linguistic form through the help of a Hellenistic Jew, but there is no evidence in the text that the assistance of a secretary gave shape to the present linguistic state of the document, and even if this were the case the question would still remain completely unanswered which part of the whole comes from the real author and which part from the "secretary."

(The question is, what do we mean by a simple Palestinian? That a Galilean would speak a form of Greek as a native tongue is undeniable, even though it was Galilean Greek. And it is also quite reasonable to assume that the son of a well-to-do artisan who spoke this Greek fluently, and then moved to Jerusalem as a young man and was for many years in constant contact with Hellenistic Jews and Hellenistic Jewish Christians, many of the latter being members of the Jerusalem church, as well as with Hellenistic visitors from all over the Greek world, and would have had to preach to them at Christian synagogue services, and talk with them at ‘council’ meetings, would have honed his Greek accordingly. I well remember meeting two sisters in my native Yorkshire, one whose speech was broad and whose grammar was typical Yorkshire, and the other who spoke in a refined way with not even a trace of a Yorkshire accent or of Yorkshire grammar at all. The explanation was soon forthcoming. The one had never left Yorkshire, the other had spent a few years elsewhere, and she had responded to the demands of the occasion. There is no real need here therefore for the introduction of a ‘secretary’. But even if such a ‘secretary’ were introduced the argument that we would discern his presence is hardly strong. For the whole point of such a secretary was to present material in such a way that it appeared to come from the source. All it would therefore demonstrate would be what a good secretary he was).

2) It is scarcely conceivable that the Lord's brother, who remained faithful to the Law, could have spoken of "the perfect law of freedom" (James 1:25) or that he could have given concrete expression to the Law in ethical commands (James 2:11 f) without mentioning even implicitly any cultic-ritual requirements.

(But the Sermon on the Mount had revealed precisely that, that in Christ the Law was the perfect law of freedom. And James had himself restricted cultic requirements to the Jewish church as we know from Acts 15:20. He was thus a willing compromiser on inessentials. If the cultic requirements of Acts 15:20 were seen as being satisfactorily complied with, or as having been partly superseded where they were not considered necessary, then there would be no need to mention them in a letter written to both Jewish and Gentile Christians).

3) Would the brother of the Lord really omit any reference to Jesus and his relationship to him, even though the author of James emphatically presents himself in an authoritative role?

(As we have already suggested, there is good reason why such a claim made personally might have been seen as arrogant and as one-upmanship to say the least. It was one thing for Paul to speak of him in this way, quite another for James himself to make it an honorific title. That would have been to ask for resentment on the part of others about something which they could have argued was only an accident of birth, although it no doubt played a major part in his having attained the position that he had. But in the end his authority came from the great reputation for righteousness that he built up).

4) The debate in James 2:14 ff containing a misunderstood secondary stage of Pauline theology not only presupposes a considerable chronological distance from Paul - whereas James died in the year 62 - but also betrays complete ignorance of the polemical intent of Pauline theology, a lapse that can hardly be attributed to James, who as late as 55/56 AD met with Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18 ff).

(We can equally suggest that James is countering not Paul, but a misrepresentation of the teaching of Paul and others current in the churches well before 62 AD, being propagated, even possibly in Jerusalem, by people who had misunderstood the doctrine of ‘by faith alone’. The teaching of ‘by faith alone’ would have spread widely in the church long before James died, and even before Paul began to write his letters, for that is certainly what Paul taught from the beginning, and James can therefore be seen as combating a simplistic misinterpretation of that teaching).

5) As the history of the canon shows it was only very slowly and against opposition that James became recognised as the work of the Lord's brother, and therefore as apostolic and canonical. Thus there does not seem to have been any old tradition that it originated with the brother of the Lord.

(This is in fact the strongest argument against seeing the Lord’s brother as the James in question, and we will now consider the grounds on which such a view was held and how the letter ever came to be accepted as such).

6). We might add a sixth argument put forward by others, and that is the lack of mention of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But that would be equally surprising in any 1st century Christian writer if the purpose of the letter had lent itself to it. The assumption must be, however, that he knew that the people he was writing to were quite familiar with those truths (and the truth at least of the resurrection is assumed, for how else could he have seen the Lord as coming again?). He appears rather to be addressing specific problems such as the treatment of the poor by the rich at that time, the strong words being spoken between believers in the churches, and the lack of spiritual vitality in those churches, all in the light of some kind of persecution.

Its Place in the New Testament Canon.

Indications of a knowledge of the letter have been discerned in the first letter of Clement of Rome (c. 95 AD) and in the Shepherd of Hermas (c. 150 AD). There would also appear to be indications of it in the writings of Irenaeus (late second century AD). But they were not direct quotations, and in none of these is there any indication of how the letter was viewed by the churches. We must, however, assume a certain interest in that there were clearly many copies around, otherwise it would not later have appeared in so many churches. Nor is it likely that the church would willingly have finally accepted it if they had not known about it already. Thus it was at least felt to be worth preserving. Origen (mid third century AD) is the first to cite it as Scripture.

The letter was not included in the Muratorian Canon (late 2nd century AD) as far as we know, but the letter of Jude was mentioned in it and our copy of the canon is in fact incomplete. It may therefore be that James was also originally mentioned in it. However, it does not appear to be mentioned anywhere else at that time although clearly being read in many churches. Eusebius (4th century AD), a learned historian, accepts it as genuine and as written by James, the Lord’s brother, but speaks of those who have doubts, while stating that it was read in many churches. Jerome vacillates, and yet cites from it as from Scripture and included it in the Vulgate, the Latin text of the Scriptures that came to be the official Bible of the Roman church. It is, of course, possible that the demise of the Jerusalem church in the 1st century AD prevented his letter from having the powerful support needed to achieve early canonisation, with no one having a particular interest in championing it, with the result that it was never put on ‘the short list’, even though it was read from the earliest times. However by the end of the fifth century it was accepted by all.


(Extracted from William Barclay’s Commentary on James).

There is one other question about the person of James which we must try to solve. In Galatians 1:19 Paul speaks of him as the Lord's brother. In Matthew 13:55 and in Mark 6:3 he is named among the brothers of Jesus; and in Acts 1:14, although no names are given, the brothers of Jesus are said to be amongst his followers in the earliest Church. The question of the meaning of brother is one which must be faced, for the Roman Catholic Church attaches a great deal of importance to the answer, as does the Anglo-Catholic section of the Anglican Church. Ever since the time of Jerome there has been continuous argument in the Church on this question. There are three theories of the relationship of these "brothers" to Jesus; and we shall consider them one by one.


The Hieronymian Theory takes its name from Jerome, who in Greek is Hieronymos. It was he who worked out the theory which declares that the "brothers" of Jesus were in fact his cousins; and this is the settled belief of the Roman Catholic Church, for which it is an article of faith. It was put forward by Jerome in 383 AD and we shall best grasp his complicated argument by setting it out in a series of steps.

(i) James the brother of our Lord is included among the apostles. Paul writes: "But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:19).

(ii) Jerome insists that the word apostle can be used only of the Twelve. If that be so, we must look for James among them. He cannot be identified with James, brother of John and son of Zebedee, who apart from anything else was martyred by the time of Galatians 1:19, as Acts 12:2 plainly tells us. Therefore he must be identified with the only other James among the Twelve, James the son of Alphaeus.

(iii) Jerome proceeds to make another identification. In Mark 6:3 we read: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, brother of James and Joses?"; and in Mark 15:40 we find beside the Cross Mary the mother of James the Younger and of Joses. Since James the Younger is the brother of Joses and the son of Mary, he must therefore be the same person as the James of Mark 6:3, who is the brother of our Lord. Therefore, according to Jerome, James the brother of the Lord, James the son of Alphaeus and James the Younger are the same person under different descriptions.

(iv) Jerome bases the next and final step of his argument on a deduction made from the lists of the women who were there when Jesus was crucified. Let us set down that list as given by the three gospel writers.

In Mark 15:40 it is: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome.

In Matthew 27:56 it is: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Younger and of Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

In John 19:25 it is: Jesus' mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.

Now let us analyse these lists. In each of them Mary Magdalene appears by name. It is safe to identify Salome and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. But the real problem is how many women are there in John's list? Is the list to be read like this:

(i) Jesus' mother; (ii) Jesus' mother's sister; (iii) Mary the wife of Cleopas; (iv) Mary Magdalene.

Or is the list to be read like this:

(i) Jesus' mother (Mary); (ii) Jesus' mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas; (iii) Mary Magdalene.

Jerome insists that the second way is correct and that Jesus' mother's sister and Mary, the wife of Cleopas, are one and the same person. If that be so, she must also be the Mary who in the other lists is the mother of James and Joses. This James who is her son is the man who is variously known as James the Younger and as James the son of Alphaeus and as James the apostle who is known as the brother of our Lord. This means that James is the son of Mary's sister and therefore is Jesus' cousin.

There, then, is Jerome's argument. Against it at least four criticisms can be levelled.

(i) Again and again James is called the brother of Jesus or is numbered amongst the brothers of Jesus. The word used in each case is adelphos, the normal word for brother. True, it can describe people who belong to a common fellowship, just as the Christians called each other brother. True, it can be used as a term of endearment and we may call someone with whom we enjoy personal intimacy a brother. But when it is used of those who are kin, it is, to say the least of it, very doubtful that it can mean cousin. If James was the cousin of Jesus, it is extremely unlikely -- perhaps impossible -- that he would be called the adelphos of Jesus.

(ii) Jerome was quite wrong in assuming that the term apostle could be used only of the Twelve. Paul was an apostle (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1). Barnabas was an apostle (Acts 14:14; 1 Corinthians 9:6). Silas was an apostle (Acts 15:22). Andronicus and Junia were apostles (Romans 16:7). It is impossible to limit the word apostle to the Twelve; since, therefore, it is not necessary to look for James the Lord's brother among the Twelve, the whole argument of Jerome collapses.

(iii) It is on the face of it much more likely that John 19:25 is a list of four women, not three, for, if Mary the wife of Cleopas were the sister of Mary, Jesus' mother, it would mean that there were two sisters in the same family both called Mary, which is extremely unlikely.

(iv) It must be remembered that the Church knew nothing of this theory until. 383 AD when Jerome produced it; and it is quite certain that it was produced for no other reason than to conserve the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The theory that those called Jesus' brothers were, in fact, his cousins must be dismissed as rendered quite untenable by the facts of the case.


The second of the great theories concerning the relationship of Jesus and his "brothers" holds that these "brothers" were, in fact, his half-brothers, sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. This is called the Epiphanian Theory after Epiphanius who strongly affirmed it about 370 AD. He did not construct it. It existed long before this and may indeed be said to be the most usual opinion in the early church. The substance of it already appears in an apocryphal book called the Book of James or the Protevangelium which dates back to the middle of the second century. That book tells how there was a devout husband and wife called Joachim and Anna. Their great grief was that they had no child. To their great joy in their old age a child was born to them, and this too, apparently, was regarded as a virgin birth. The child, a girl, was called Mary and was to be the mother of Jesus. Joachim and Anna vowed their child to the Lord; and when she reached the age of three they took her to the Temple and left her there in the charge of the priests. She grew up in the Temple; and when she reached the age of twelve the priests took thought for her marriage. They called together the widowers of the people, telling each man to bring his rod with him. Among them came Joseph the carpenter. The High Priest took the rods, and Joseph's was last. To the other rods nothing happened; but from the rod of Joseph there flew a dove which came and settled on Joseph's head. In this way it was revealed that Joseph was to take Mary to wife. Joseph at first was very unwilling. "I have sons," he said, "and I am an old man, but she is a girl: lest I become a laughingstock to the children of Israel" (Prolevangelium 9: 1). But in the end he took her in obedience to the will of God, and in due time Jesus was born. The material of the Protevangelium is, of course, legendary; but it shows that by the middle of the second century the theory which was one day to bear the name of Epiphanius was widely held.

There is no direct evidence for this theory whatsoever and all the support adduced in its favour is of an indirect character.

(i) It is asked: would Jesus have committed his mother to the care of John, if she had other sons besides himself? (John 19:26-27). The answer is that, so far as we know, Jesus' family were quite out of sympathy with him and it would hardly have been possible to commit his mother to their care.

(ii) It is argued that the behaviour of Jesus' "brothers" to him is that of elder brothers to a younger brother. They questioned his sanity and wished to take him home (Mark 3:21; Mark 3:31-35); they were actively hostile to him (John 7:1-5). But it could just as well be argued that their conduct was due to the simple fact that they found him an embarrassment to the family in a way that had nothing to do with age.

(iii) It is argued that Joseph must have been older than Mary because he vanishes completely from the gospel story and, therefore, probably had died before Jesus' public ministry began. The mother of Jesus was at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, but there is no mention of Joseph (John 2:1). Jesus is called, at least sometimes, the son of Mary, and the implication is that Joseph was dead and Mary was a widow (Mark 6:3; but compare Matthew 13:55). Further, Jesus' long stay in Nazareth until he was thirty years of age (Luke 3:23), is most easily explained by the assumption that Joseph had died and that Jesus had become responsible for the support of the household. But the fact that Joseph was older than Mary does not by any means prove that he had no other children by her; and the fact that Jesus stayed in Nazareth as the village carpenter in order to support the family would much more naturally indicate that he was the eldest, and not the youngest, son.

To these arguments J. B. Lightfoot would add two more of a general nature.

First, he says that this is the theory of Christian tradition; and, second, he claims that anything else is "abhorrent to Christian sentiment."

But basically this theory springs from the same origin as the Hieronymian theory. Its aim is to conserve the perpetual virginity of Mary. There is no direct evidence whatsoever for it; and no one would ever have thought of it had it not been for the desire to think that Mary never ceased to be a virgin.

(Editor’s note. Besides we have no reason for thinking that Joseph was necessarily so much older than Mary. Death took men at all ages, even moreso than today. Nor if this theory is true was Jesus the eldest son of Joseph, in which case He was not the heir to the throne of David (James) was. But no opponents ever pointed this out).


The third theory is called the Helvidian Theory. It states quite simply that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were in the full sense of the term his brothers and sisters, that, to use the technical term, they were his uterine brothers and sisters. Nothing whatever is known of the Helvidius with whose name this theory is connected except that he wrote a treatise to support it which Jerome strongly opposed. What then may be said in favour of it?

(i) No one reading the New Testament story without theological presuppositions would ever think of anything else. On the face of it that story does not think of Jesus' brothers and sisters as anything else but his brothers and sisters in the full sense of the term.

(ii) The birth narratives both in Matthew and Luke presuppose that Mary had other children. Matthew writes: "When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not till she had borne a son" (Matthew 24-25). The clear implication is that Joseph entered into normal married relationships with Mary after the birth of Jesus. Tertullian, in fact, uses this passage to prove that both virginity and the married state are consecrated in Christ by the fact that Mary was first a virgin and then a wife in the full sense of the term. Luke in writing of the birth of Jesus says: "She gave birth to her first-born son" (Luke 2:7). To call Jesus a first-born son is plainly to indicate that other children followed.

(iii) As we have already said, the fact that Jesus remained in Nazareth as the village carpenter until the age of thirty is at least an indication that he was the eldest son and had to take upon himself the responsibility of the support of the family after the death of Joseph.

We believe that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were in truth his brothers and sisters. Any other theory ultimately springs from the glorification of asceticism and from a wish to regard Mary as for ever a virgin. It is surely a far more lovely thing to believe in the sanctity of the home than to insist that celibacy is a higher thing than married love.

So, then, we believe that James, called the Lord's brother, was in every sense the brother of Jesus.

(Editor’s note: This would then mean that Jesus was the heir to the throne of David as the New Testament suggests).

End of quotation.

To Whom Is The Letter Written?

The letter is addressed to ‘the twelve tribes in the Dispersion’. This may well have been in deliberate imitation of Peter in 1 Peter 1:1. But as with Peter the letter is clearly intended to be seen as addressed to the church as a whole (James 5:14), not just to the Jewish church, (or the Jews as a whole). It is the new ‘congregation’ as a whole (Matthew 16:18) who are ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28), it is they who are ‘the Dispersion’ (Acts 8:1; 1 Peter 1:1). As does Paul (Romans 11:17-29; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22), Peter (1 Peter 2:9) and John (Revelation 7:1-8; Revelation 21:9-14) James sees the whole church as the new and true Israel.

An interesting parallel with this usage is found in the second century when Hermas (Similitudes ix. 17) explains that the twelve mountains in his vision ‘are the twelve tribes who inhabit the whole world, to whom the Son of God was preached by the apostles’

The reason that we can be absolutely certain that the letter was written to the whole church including Gentiles is because of the contents of the letter. There is no way in which the James of Acts 15:0, or any true Christian, could have written a letter like this, with its concentration on moral issues, simply to Jewish Christians, without once mentioning their fellow Gentiles, and what their attitude should be towards them, and how they should fellowship with them. For it is dealing with precisely the kind of subject that would cry out for such a reference if Gentile Christians were not already included among the recipients. If it is only Jewish Christians who are the ‘brothers’ in mind we would have to say that James is being totally exclusive in what he says and is not even seeing the Gentiles Christians as brothers. He is rather seeing them as outside the sphere of those who are to be treated as part of the inner fellowship of believers. He is being a separatist. Far more likely is it that he saw Christian Gentiles as ‘engrafted into Israel’, and therefore as having become true Jews, and with Paul (Galatians 3:29), as true sons of Abraham. In covering such the range of moral issues that he did, had he been speaking to Jewish Christians only the subject matter would have demanded an explanation of how they were to behave towards their Gentile brothers. Otherwise it would have been teaching a separatism that would be totally unacceptable to the church of the day. While silence is usually not a good argument, in this case it is one that is screaming out to be heard. That is not to deny, however, that his intention may very much have been to speak to Jewish Christians, while expecting his words to reach a wider audience, although alternately we might equally argue that he was concerned to bring the Gentile Christians within the Jewish moral ethic as expanded by Jesus by emphasising that they were now part of Israel.

Furthermore Jesus Himself had used the same language of the fellowship of believers. He had declared that the new ‘congregation’ would be founded on the Apostles and their words (Matthew 16:16-18; Matthew 18:17-19; compare Ephesians 2:20), and that the Apostles would sit on thrones ‘judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30) in other words that they would have authority over the whole church (see our commentaries on Matthew and Luke on these verses).

We should note in this regard that while the Jews could still speak of themselves as ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ it was even from their viewpoint a theoretical description of Israel as a whole, not an expression of a genuine reality. Connections with most of the tribes had become very tenuous. They largely did not exist as such in practise. Thus Jesus by the use of this term was merely speaking of the new Israel which He was establishing.

But in view of many who would argue otherwise we must now ask, ‘Is The Church The True Israel?’. Note that we do not speak of them as being ‘spiritual Israel’ as though there were two Israels. We mean are they the true Israel of the covenant with God, the inheritors of the promises, and of the prophecies concerning Israel, the true successors of Moses? And the answer of the New Testament is a resounding ‘yes!’ For that is what Jesus made clear when he spoke of the founding of ‘the congregation’ (ekklesia) which was the old name for ‘Israel gathered as one’ in the covenant (Matthew 16:18). There was to be a new birth, a new creation. The very word ‘church’ (ekklesia) as used here declares that this is so. However, the question is such an important one for the interpretation of Scripture that we must deal with it in detail. Let us therefore consider the facts.

‘Is The Church The True Israel?’

Note again that the question that is being asked here is whether the early church saw itself as the true Israel, the genuine continuation of Israel. It is not asking whether the church is a kind of ‘spiritual Israel’, except in so far as Israel were supposed to be spiritual, or is a kind of parallel Israel, but as to whether Jesus and they saw themselves as actually being the genuine continuation of the real Israel whom God had promised to bless, and as being what God meant by ‘Israel’ (His covenant people), with any outside it being seen as ‘cut off’ from Israel.

In this regard the first thing we should note is that Jesus spoke to His disciples of ‘building His congregation/church (ekklesia)’ (Matthew 16:18). Now the Greek Old Testament often used ‘ekklesia’ (church) to refer to the ‘congregation’ of Israel when translating the Pentateuch (see Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 18:16; Deuteronomy 23:3; Deuteronomy 23:8; Deuteronomy 32:1). This suggests then that Jesus was here thinking in terms of building the true congregation of Israel. It thus ties in with John 15:1-6 where He calls Himself the true vine, in contrast with old Israel, the false vine. From Him is to spring the true Israel of God. Having Himself come out of Egypt as ‘Israel’ (Matthew 2:15), as the Servant was ‘Israel’ (Isaiah 49:3), He is building up the promised remnant who will be the true people of Israel.

It is true that this did come after He had said that He had come only to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’, (that is those of Israel who were as sheep without a shepherd - Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24 compare Matthew 9:36 and see Jeremiah 50:6), but it also followed the time when His thinking clearly took a new turn following His dealings with the Syro-phoenician woman, when He began a ministry in more specifically Gentile territory. So while at the core of His ‘congregation’ were to be those Jews who responded to His teaching and became His followers, He undoubtedly from the beginning envisaged a wider outreach. See Matthew 12:17-21.

We have, therefore, good reason to think that in His mind the term ‘congregation/church’ equates with the true ‘Israel’, the Israel within Israel (Romans 9:6), as indeed it did in the Greek translations of the Old Testament where ‘the congregation/assembly of Israel’, which was finally composed of all who responded to the covenant, was translated as ‘the church (ekklesia) of Israel’. That being so we may then see it as indicating that He was now intending to found a new Israel, which it later turned out would include many Gentiles. This was the very basis on which the early believers called themselves ‘the church/congregation’, that is the congregation of the new Israel, and while they were at first made up mainly of Jews and Gentile proselytes, which was all that the Apostles were expecting until God forcibly interrupted them, this gradually developed into including both Jews and Gentiles on a wider scale. But this entry of Gentiles into ‘Israel’ was no new thing. It had happened from the beginning, right from the time of Abraham, as we shall see.

Indeed in Acts 4:27-28 Luke demonstrates quite clearly that the old unbelieving Israel is no longer, after the resurrection, the true Israel, for we read, "For in truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles  and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to come about." Note the four ‘items’ mentioned, the Gentiles, the peoples of Israel, ‘King’ (Tetrarch) Herod and Pontius Pilate the ruler. And note that these words follow as an explanation of a quotation from Psalms 2:1 in Acts 4:25-26, which is as follows:

‘Why did  the Gentiles  rage,

And  the peoples  imagine vain things,

The  kings  of the earth set themselves,

And the  rulers  were gathered together,

Against the Lord and against His anointed --.’

The important point to note here is that ‘the peoples’ who imagined vain things, who in the original Psalm were nations who were enemies of Israel, have now become in Acts ‘the peoples of Israel’. Thus the ‘peoples of Israel’ who were opposing the Apostles and refusing to believe are here seen as the enemy of God and His Anointed, and of His true people. It is a clear indication that old unbelieving Israel was now seen as ‘cut off’ and numbered by God among the nations, and that that part of Israel which had believed in Christ and were now worshipping together in Jerusalem were seen as the true Israel. As Jesus had said to Israel, ‘the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruits’ (Matthew 21:43). Thus the King now has a new people of Israel to guard and watch over.

The same idea is found in John 15:1-6. The false branches of the vine (the old Israel - Isaiah 5:1-7) have been cut out and replaced by the true vine of ‘Christ at one with His people’ (John 15:1-6; Ephesians 2:11-22). Here Jesus, and those who abide in Him (the church/congregation), are the new Israel. The old unbelieving part of Israel has been cut off (John 15:6) and replaced by all those who come to Jesus and abide in Jesus, that is both believing Jews and believing Gentiles (Romans 11:17-28), who together with Jesus form the true Vine by becoming its 'branches'.

The new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16), thus sprang from Jesus. And it was He Who established its new leaders who would ‘rule over (‘judge’) the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30). Here ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ refers to all who will come to believe in Jesus through His word, and the initial, if not the complete fulfilment, of this promise occurred in Acts. (See the argument in our commentary on Luke 22:0 with regard to this interpretation of the verse). This appointment of His Apostles to rule 'over the tribes of Israel' was not intended to divide the world into two parts, consisting of Jew and Gentile, with the two parts seen as separate, and with Israel under the Apostles, while the Gentiles were under other rulers, but as describing a united Christian ‘congregation’ under the Apostles. Thus those over whom they ‘ruled’ would be ‘the true Israel’ which would include both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. These would thus become the true Israel.

This true Israel was founded on believing Jews. The Apostles were Jews, and were to be the foundation of the new Israel which incorporated Gentiles within it (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14). And initially all its first foundation members were Jews. Then as it spread it first did so among Jews until there were ‘about five thousand’ Jewish males who were believers to say nothing of women and children (Acts 4:4). Then it spread throughout all Judaea, and then through the synagogues of ‘the world’, (to ‘every nation under Heaven’ - Acts 2:5) so that soon there were a multitude of Jews who were Christians. Here then was the initial true Israel, a new Israel within Israel, made up of all who responded to Christ.

But then God revealed that He had a more expanded purpose for it. Just as the old Israel had welcomed proselytes, so proselytes (Gentile converts to Judaism) and God-fearers (Gentile adherents to the synagogues), people who were already seen as connected with Israel, began to join the new Israel and they also became branches of the true vine (John 15:1-6) and were grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:17-28). They became ‘fellow-citizens’ with the Jewish believers (‘the saints’, a regular Old Testament name for true Israelites who were seen as true believers). They became members of the ‘household of God’. (Ephesians 2:11-22). And so the new Israel sprang up, following the same pattern as the old, and incorporating believing Jews and believing Gentiles. That is why Paul could describe the new church as ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16), because both Jews and Gentiles were now ‘the seed of Abraham’ (Galatians 3:29).

Those who deny that the church is Israel and still equate Israel with the Jews must in fact see all these believing Jews as cut off from Israel (as the Jews in fact in time did). For by the late 1st century AD, the Israel for which those who deny that the church is Israel contend, was an Israel made up only of Jews who did not see Christian Jews as belonging to Israel. As far as they were concerned Christian Jews were cut off from Israel. And in the same way believing Jews who followed Paul’s teaching saw one time fellow Jews who did not believe as no longer being true Israel. They in turn saw the unbelieving Jews as cut off from Israel. As Paul puts it, ‘they are not all Israel who are Israel’ (Romans 9:6).

For the new Israel now saw themselves as the true Israel. They saw themselves as the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16). And that is why Paul stresses to the Gentile Christians in Ephesians 2:11-22; Romans 11:17-28 that they are now a part of the new Israel having been made one with the true people of God in Jesus Christ. In order to consider all this in more detail let us look back in history.

It may be asked, are the true Israel not those who have been descended directly from Abraham? And the answer is that they not only are not so,  but never were.

When Abraham entered the land of Canaan having been called there by God he was promised that in him all the world would be blessed, and this was later also promised to his seed (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14). But Abraham did not enter the land alone. In Genesis 14:0 we are told that he had three hundred and eighteen fighting men ‘born in his house’, in other words born to servants, camp followers and slaves. One of his own slave wives was an Egyptian (Genesis 16:0) and his steward was probably Syrian, a Damascene (Genesis 15:2). Thus Abraham was patriarch over a family tribe, all of whom with him inherited the promises,  and they came from a number of different nationalities. Only a small proportion were actually descended from Abraham directly.

From Abraham came Isaac through whom the most basic promises were to be fulfilled, for God said, ‘in Isaac shall your seed be called’ (Genesis 21:12; Romans 9:7; see also Genesis 26:3-5). Thus the seed of Ishmael, Isaac’s elder half-brother, who was himself the seed of Abraham, while enjoying promises from God, were excluded from the major line of promises. While prospering, they would not be the people through whom the whole world would be blessed. And this was also true of Abraham's later sons born to Keturah (Genesis 25:1). Thus the large part of Abraham's descendants were at this stage already cut off from the full Abrahamic promises. As Paul puts it, as we have seen, 'In Isaac will your seed be called' (Romans 9:7). But as with Abraham these promises not only applied to Isaac’s literal children but to his whole ‘household’ which included servants and slaves from elsewhere.

Jacob, who was renamed Israel, was born of Isaac, and it was to him that the future lordship of people and nations was seen as passed on (Genesis 27:29) and from his twelve sons came the twelve tribes of the ‘children of Israel’. But as with Abraham these twelve tribes would include retainers, servants and slaves. The ‘households’ that moved to Egypt (Exodus 1:1) would include such servants and slaves. The ‘seventy’ were accompanied by wives, retainers, and their children. So the ‘children of Israel’ even at this stage would include people from many peoples and nations. They included Jacob/Israel’s own descendants and their wives, together with their servants and retainers, and their wives and children, ‘many ‘born in their house’ but not directly their seed (Genesis 15:3), and yet all worshippers of YHWH. Israel was already a conglomerate people. Even at the beginning they were not all literally descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Most were rather ‘adopted’ into the family tribe.

When eventually after hundreds of years they left Egypt they were then joined by a ‘mixed multitude’ from many nations, who with them had been enslaved in Egypt, and these joined with them in their flight (Exodus 12:38). So the already mixed people of Israel were united with the mixed multitude and became even more of a mixture. At Sinai these were all joined within the covenant and became ‘children of Israel’, and when they entered the land all their males were circumcised as true Israelites (Joshua 5:8). Among these was an 'Ethiopian' (Cushite) woman who became Moses’ wife (Numbers 12:1). Thus we discover that ‘Israel’ from its commencement was an international community. Indeed it was made clear from the beginning that any who wanted to do so could join Israel and become an Israelite by submission to the covenant and by being circumcised (Exodus 12:48-49). Membership of the people of God was thus from the beginning to be open to all nations by submission to God through the covenant. And these all then connected themselves with one of the tribes of Israel, were absorbed into them, and began to trace their ancestry back to Abraham and Jacob even though they were not true born, and still retained an identifying appellation such as, for example, ‘Uriah the Hittite’. (Whether Uriah was one such we do not know, although we think it extremely probable. But there must certainly have been many who did it). And even while Moses was alive it proved necessary to make regulations as to who could enter the assembly or congregation of the Lord, and at what stage people of different nations could enter it (Deuteronomy 23:1-8), so that they could then become ‘children of Israel’.

That this was carried out in practise is evidenced by the numerous Israelites who bore a foreign name, consider for example ‘Uriah the Hittite’ (2 Samuel 11:0) and many of the mighty men of David (2 Samuel 23:8-28). These latter were so close to David that it is inconceivable that some at least did not become true members of the covenant by submitting to the covenant and being circumcised when it was clearly open to them through the Law. Later again it became the practise in Israel, in accordance with Exodus 12:48-49, for anyone who ‘converted’ to Israel and began to believe in the God of Israel, to be received into ‘Israel’ on equal terms with the true-born, and that by circumcision and submission to the covenant. These were later called ‘proselytes’. In contrast people also left Israel by desertion, and by not bringing their children within the covenant, when for example they went abroad or were exiled, and then chose to become like the nations and be absorbed into them. These were then ‘cut off from Israel’, as were deep sinners. ‘Israel’ was therefore always a fluid concept, and was, at least purportedly, composed of all who chose to submit to the covenant. That is why later Gentiles were welcomed as proselytes, and as such, on being circumcised and undergoing certain rituals, became ‘children of Israel’.

When Jesus came His initial purpose was to call back to God ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6), those in Israel who were seeking a Shepherd, and in the main for the first part, with exceptions (e.g. John 4:0), He limited His ministry to Jews. But notice that those Jews who would not listen to His disciples were to be treated like Gentiles. The disciples were to shake their dust off their feet (Matthew 10:14). So even during Jesus' ministry there was a cutting off as well as a welcoming. After His dealings with the Syro-phoenician woman, He appears to have expanded His thinking, or His approach, further and to have moved into more Gentile territory, and later He declared that there were other sheep that He would also call and they would be one flock with Israel (John 10:16).

Thus when the Gospel began to reach out to the Gentiles those converted were welcomed as part of the one flock. The question that arose then was, ‘did they need to be circumcised in order to become members of the new Israel?’ Was a special proselytisation necessary, as with proselytes to old Israel, which was to be evidenced by circumcision? That was what the circumcision controversy was all about. The Judaisers said 'yes' and Paul said 'No'. And the question was only asked because  all saw these new converts as potentially becoming a part of Israel. If they had not seen these Gentiles as becoming a part of Israel there would have been no controversy. There would have been no need for circumcision. It was only because they were seen as becoming proselyte Israelites that the problem arose. That is why Paul’s argument was never that circumcision was not necessary because they were not becoming Israel. He indeed accepted that they would become members of Israel. But rather he argues that circumcision was no longer necessary because all who were in Christ were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ. They had become one with the truly ‘Circumcised One’. They were already circumcised by faith. They had the circumcision of the heart, and were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11), and therefore did not need to be circumcised again.

Thus in Romans 11:17-24 he speaks clearly of converted Gentiles being ‘grafted into the olive tree’ through faith, and of Israelites being broken off through unbelief, to be welcomed again if they repent and come to Christ. Whatever we therefore actually see the olive tree as representing, it is quite clear that it does speak of those who are cut off because they do not believe, and of those who are ingrafted because they do believe (precisely as was to happen with Israel), and this in the context of Israel being saved or not. But the breaking off or casting off of Israelites in the Old Testament was always an indication of being cut off from Israel. Thus we must see the olive tree as, like the true vine, signifying all who are now included within the promises, that is the true Israel, with spurious elements being cut off because they are not really a part of them, while new members are grafted in. The difficulty lies in the simplicity of the illustration which like all illustrations cannot cover every point. Exactly the same question could be posed about the branches of the vine which are pruned from the vine in John 15:1-6 and are burned in the fire. They too 'appear' to have been members of the true vine. And the same could be said of those caught into the net of the Kingly Rule of Heaven who are finally ejected and brought into judgment (Matthew 13:47-50). They too 'appear' to have been a part of the Kingly Rule of God. Thus the olive tree, the true Vine and the Kingly Rule of Heaven are all seen as seeming to contain false members. On this basis then none of them could surely be the same as the true Israel?

This argument, however, is clearly false. For the true Vine is Jesus Himself. Thus the fact that some can be cut off from the true Vine hardly means that the true vine is to be seen as partly a false vine. The illustration simply indicates that they should never have been there in the first place. They were spurious. Outwardly they may have appeared to have been members of the true vine, but inwardly they were not. The same can be said to apply to the Kingly Rule of God. Those who were gathered into the net of the Kingly Rule of God divide up into ‘children of the Kingly Rule’ and ‘children of the Evil One’. The latter were never thus children of the Kingly Rule. They were never a true part of the Kingly Rule. They were children of the Evil One all the time. Indeed their very behaviour revealed that they were not under God’s Kingly Rule. In the same way then the olive tree is an Israel composed of true believers, and is such that unbelieving Jews are cut off because essentially they are proved not to have been a part of it. Outwardly they had appeared to be, but they were not. In each case it simply means that there were spurious elements connected with them that were masquerading as the real thing, which simply have to be removed. Rather than the problem being in the basic concept, it arises from the difficulty of conveying the concept in simple pictorial terms. For the true Vine can hardly really have false members, otherwise it would not be the true Vine. In each case, therefore, it can clearly be seen that in fact those ‘cut off’ or ‘ejected’ were never really a part of what they were seen as ‘cut off from’, but had only physically given the appearance of being so.

The same is true of the ‘church’ today. There is an outward church composed of all who attach themselves and call themselves Christians, and there is a true church composed of all who are true believers and are ‘in Christ’. It is only the latter who benefit, and will benefit, from all that God has promised for His ‘church’ (even though only God knows who they are).

In the same way, as Paul has said, not all Israel are (or ever were) the true Israel (Romans 9:6). Many professed to be but were spurious ‘members’. They were fakes. Their hearts were not within the covenant. They were ‘not My people’ (Hosea 2:23). This stresses the difference between the outward and the inward. Not all who say ‘Lord’ Lord’ will enter the Kingly Rule of God, but only those will enter who by their lives reveal that they truly are what they profess to be (Matthew 7:21).

This idea also comes out regularly in the Old Testament where God made it quite clear that only a proportion of Israel would avoid His judgments (e.g. Isaiah 6:13). The remainder (and large majority) would be ‘cut off’, for although outwardly professing to be His people they were not His people. And thus it was with the people of Israel in Jesus’ day. They were revealed by their fruits, which included how they responded to Jesus.

But in Ephesians 2:0 Paul makes clear that Gentiles can become a part of the true Israel. He tells the Gentiles that they had in the past been ‘alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise’ (Ephesians 2:12). They had not been a part of it. Thus in the past they had not belonged to the twelve tribes. But then he tells them that they are now ‘made nigh by the blood of Christ’ (Ephesians 2:13), Who has ‘made both one and broken down the wall of partition --- creating in Himself of two one new man’ (Ephesians 2:14-15). Now therefore, through Christ, they have been made members of the commonwealth of Israel in Christ, and inherit the promises. So they are ‘no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Ephesians 2:19-20). ‘Strangers and sojourners’ was the Old Testament description of those who were not true Israelites. It is therefore made as clear as can be that they have now entered the ‘new’ Israel. They are no longer strangers and sojourners but are now ‘fellow-citizens’ with God’s people. They have entered into the covenant of promise (Galatians 3:29), and thus inherit all the promises of the Old Testament, including the prophecies.

So as with people in the Old Testament who were regularly adopted into the twelve tribes of Israel (e.g. the mixed multitude - Exodus 12:38), Gentile Christians too are now seen as so incorporated. That is why Paul can call the church ‘the Israel of God’, made up of Jews and ex-Gentiles, having declared circumcision and uncircumcision as unimportant because there is a new creation (Galatians 6:15-16), a circumcision of the heart. It is those who are in that new creation who are ‘the Israel of God’.

In context ‘The Israel of God’ can here only mean that new creation, the church of Christ, otherwise he is being inconsistent. For as he points out, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters any more. What matters is the new creation. It must therefore be that which identifies the Israel of God. For if circumcision is irrelevant then the Israel of God cannot be made up of the circumcised, even the believing circumcised, for circumcision has lost its meaning. The point therefore behind both of these passages is that all Christians become, by adoption, members of the twelve tribes.

There would in fact be no point in mentioning circumcision if he was not thinking of incorporation of believing Gentiles into the twelve tribes. The importance of circumcision was that to the Jews it made the difference between those who became genuine proselytes, and thus members of the twelve tribes, and those who remained as ‘God-fearers’, loosely attached but not circumcised and therefore not accepted as full Jews. That then was why the Judaisers wanted all Gentiles who became Christians to be circumcised. It was because they did not believe that they could otherwise become genuine members of the twelve tribes. So they certainly saw converted Gentiles as potentially becoming Israelites. There could be no other reason for wanting Gentiles to be circumcised. (Jesus had never in any way commanded circumcision). But Paul says that that is not so. He argues that they can become true Israelites without being physically circumcised because they are circumcised in heart. They are circumcised in Christ. So when Paul argues that Christians have been circumcised in heart (Romans 2:26; Romans 2:29; Romans 4:12; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11) he is saying that that is all that is necessary in order for them to be members of the true Israel, that is of the twelve tribes.

A great deal of discussion often takes place about the use of ‘kai’ in Galatians 6:16, where we read, ‘as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be on them and mercy, and (kai) on the Israel of God’. It is asked, ‘does it signify that the Israel of God is additional to and distinct from those who ‘walk by this rule’, or simply define them?’ (If the Israel of God differs from those who ‘walk by this rule’ then that surely leaves only the Judaisers as the Israel of God, and excludes Paul and His Jewish supporters. But can anyone really contend that that was what Paul meant?) The answer to this question is really decided by the preceding argument, and we cannot really base our case on arguments about ‘kai’. But for the sake of clarity we will consider the question.

Kai is a vague connecting word. It cannot be denied that ‘kai’ can mean ‘and’ in some circumstances, and as thus can indicate adding something additional, because it is a connecting word. But nor can it be denied that it can alternatively, in contexts like this, mean ‘even’, and as thus equating what follows with what has gone before, again because it is a connecting word (for ‘kai’ does not mean ‘and’, it simply connects and leaves the context to decide its meaning). ‘Kai’ in fact is often used in Greek as a kind of connection word where in English it is redundant altogether. It is not therefore a strongly definitive word. Thus its meaning must always be decided by the context, and a wise rule has been made that we make the decision on the basis of which choice will add least to the meaning of the word in the context (saying in other words that because of its ambiguity ‘kai’ should never be stressed). That would mean here the translating of it as ‘even’, giving it its mildest influence.

That that is the correct translation comes out if we give the matter a little more thought. The whole letter has been emphasising that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3:28), and that this arises because all are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. So even had we not had the reasons that we have already considered, how strange it would then be for Paul to close the letter by distinguishing Jew from Greek, and Gentiles from the believing Jews. He would be going against all that he has just said. And yet that is exactly what he would be doing if he was exclusively indicating by the phrase ‘the Israel of God’ only the believing Jews. So on all counts, interpretation, grammar and common sense, ‘the Israel of God’ must include both Jews and Gentiles.

In Galatians 4:26 it is made clear that the true Jerusalem is the heavenly Jerusalem, the earthly having been rejected. This new heavenly Jerusalem is ‘the mother of us all’ just as Sarah had been the mother of Israel. All Christians are thus the children of the freewoman, that is, of Sarah (Galatians 4:31). This reveals that they are therefore the true sons of Abraham, signifying ‘Israel’. To argue that being a true son of Abraham through Sara is not the same thing as being a son of Jacob/Israel would in fact be to argue contrary to all that Israel believed. Their boast was precisely that they were ‘sons of Abraham’, indeed the true sons of Abraham, because they 'came' from Sara's seed.

Again in Romans he points out to the Gentiles that there is a remnant of Israel which is faithful to God and they are the true Israel (Romans 11:5). The remainder have been cast off (Romans 9:27; Romans 9:29; Romans 11:15; Romans 11:17; Romans 11:20). Then he describes the Christian Gentiles as ‘grafted in among them’ becoming ‘partakers with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree’ (Romans 11:17). They are now part of the same tree so it is clear that he regards them as now being part of the faithful remnant of Israel (see argument on this point earlier). This is again declared quite clearly in Galatians, for ‘those who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham’ (Galatians 3:7).

Note that in Romans 9:0 Paul declares that not all earthly Israel are really Israel, only those who are chosen by God. It is only the chosen who are the foreknown Israel. See Romans 9:8; Romans 9:24-26; Romans 11:2. This is a reminder that to Paul ‘Israel’ is a fluid concept. It does not have just one fixed meaning. 1). It can mean all Jews. 2). It can mean all believing Jews. 3). It can mean all unbelieving Jews, excluding believing Jews. Which it means depends on Paul's context. Thus 'they are not all Israel who are Israel' indicates already two definitions of Israel (Romans 9:6).

The privilege of being a ‘son of Abraham’ is that one is adopted into the twelve tribes of Israel. It is the twelve tribes who proudly called themselves ‘the sons of Abraham’ (John 8:39; John 8:53). That is why in the one man in Christ Jesus there can be neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:28). For they all become one as Israel by being one with the One Who in Himself sums up all that Israel was meant to be, the true vine (John 15:1-6; Isaiah 49:3; Matthew 2:15). For ‘if you are Abraham’s seed, you are heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3:29). To be Abraham’s ‘seed’ within the promise is to be a member of the twelve tribes. There can really be no question about it. The reference to ‘seed’ is decisive. You cannot be ‘Abraham’s seed’  through Sara  and yet not a part of Israel. (We can further point out that Edom also actually ceased to exist and did become by compulsion, a part of Israel, under John Hyrcanus. Thus Israel was once again to be seen as an openly conglomerate nation. Furthermore large numbers of what were now seen as Galilean Jews (but some of whom had been Gentiles) had been forced to become Jews in the two centuries before Christ. Having been circumcised they were accepted as Jews even though not born of the twelve tribes. And all these in Jewish eyes became members of ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’).

Paul can even separate Jew from Jew saying, ‘he is not a Jew who is one outwardly --- he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and the circumcision is that of the heart’ (Romans 2:28-29 compare Romans 2:26). The true Jew, he says, is the one who is the inward Jew. So he distinguishes physical Israel from true Israel and physical Jew from true Jew.

In the light of these passages it cannot really be doubted that the early church saw the converted Gentiles as becoming members of ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’. They are ‘the seed of Abraham’, ‘sons of Abraham’, ‘spiritually circumcised’, ‘grafted into the true Israel’, ‘fellow-citizens with the saints in the commonwealth of Israel’, ‘the Israel of God’. What further evidence do we need?

In Romans 4:0 he further makes clear that Abraham is the father of all who believe, including both circumcised and uncircumcised (Romans 4:9-13). Indeed he says we have been circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11). All who believe are therefore circumcised children of Abraham.

So when James writes to ‘the twelve tribes which are of the dispersion’ (James 1:1) he is taking the same view. (Jews living away from Palestine were seen as dispersed around the world and were therefore thought of as ‘the dispersion’). There is not a single hint in his letter that he is writing other than to all in the churches. He therefore sees the whole church as having become members of the twelve tribes, and sees them as the true 'dispersion', and indeed refers to their ‘assembly’ (sunagowgos) with the same word used for synagogue (James 2:2). But he can also call them ‘the church’ (James 5:14).

Yet there is not even the slightest suggestion anywhere in the remainder of his letter that he has just one section of the church in mind. In view of the importance of the subject, had he not been speaking of the whole church he must surely have commented on the attitude of Jewish Christians to Christian Gentiles, especially in the light of the ethical content of his letter. It was a crucial problem from earliest times. But there is not even a whisper of it in his letter. He speaks as though to the whole church. Unless he was a total separatist (which we know he was not) and treated the ex-Gentile Christians as though they did not exist, this would seem impossible unless he saw all as now making up ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’.

Peter also writes to ‘the elect’ and calls them ‘sojourners of the dispersion’, but when he does speak of ‘Gentiles’ he always means unconverted Gentiles. He clearly assumes that all that come under that heading are not Christians (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 4:3). The fact that the elect includes ex-Gentiles is confirmed by the fact that he speaks to the recipients of his letter warning them not to fashion themselves ‘according to their former desires in the time of their ignorance’ (1 Peter 1:14), and as having been ‘not a people, but are now the people of God’ (1 Peter 2:10), and speaks of them as previously having ‘wrought the desire of the Gentiles’ (1 Peter 4:3). So it is apparent he too sees all Christians as members of the twelve tribes (as in the example above, ‘the dispersion’ means the twelve tribes scattered around the world).

Good numbers of Gentiles were in fact becoming members of the Jewish faith at that time, and on being circumcised were accepted by the Jews as members of the twelve tribes (as proselytes). In the same way the Apostles, who were all Jews and also saw the pure in Israel, the believing Jews, as God’s chosen people, saw the converted Gentiles as being incorporated into the new Israel, into the true twelve tribes. But they did not see circumcision as necessary, and the reason for that was that they considered that all who believed had been circumcised with the circumcision of Christ.

Peter in his letter confirms all this. He writes to the church calling them ‘a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession’ (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9), all terms which in Exodus 19:5-6 indicate true Israel.

Today we may not think in these terms but it is apparent that to the early church to become a Christian was to become a member of the twelve tribes of Israel. That is why there was such a furore over whether circumcision, the covenant sign of the Jew, was necessary for Christians. It was precisely because they were seen as entering the twelve tribes that many saw it as required. Paul’s argument against it is never that Christians do not become members of the twelve tribes (as we have seen he actually argues that they do) but that what matters is spiritual circumcision, not physical circumcision. Thus early on Christians unquestionably saw themselves as the true twelve tribes of Israel.

This receives confirmation from the fact that the seven churches (the universal church) is seen in terms of the seven lampstands in chapter 1. The sevenfold lampstand in the Tabernacle and Temple represented Israel. In the seven lampstands the churches are seen as the true Israel.

Given that fact it is clear that reference to the hundred and forty four thousand from all the tribes of Israel in Revelation 7:0 is to Christians. But it is equally clear that the numbers are not to be taken literally. The twelve by twelve is stressing who and what they are, not how many there are. There is no example anywhere else in Scripture where God actually selects people on such an exact basis. Even the ‘seven thousand’ who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18) were a round number based on seven as the number of divine perfection and completeness. The reason for the seemingly exact figures is to demonstrate that God has His people numbered and that not one is missing (compare Numbers 31:48-49). The message of these verses is that in the face of persecution to come, and of God’s judgments against men, God knows and remembers His own. But they are then described as a multitude who cannot be numbered (only God can number them).

It is noticeable that this description of the twelve tribes is in fact artificial in another respect. While Judah is placed first as the tribe from which Christ came, Dan is omitted, and Manasseh is included as well as Joseph, although Manasseh was the son of Joseph. Thus the omission of Dan is deliberate, while Ephraim, Joseph’s other son, is ‘excluded by name’, but included under Joseph’s name. (This artificiality confirms that the idea of the tribes is not to be taken literally). The exclusion of Dan is because he was seen as the tool of the Serpent (Genesis 49:17), and the exclusion of the two names is because the two names were specifically connected with idolatry.

In Deuteronomy 29:17-20 the warning had been given that God would ‘blot out his name from under heaven’, when speaking of those who gave themselves up to idolatrous worship and belief, and as we have seen idolatry and uncleanness were central in the warnings to the seven churches. Thus the exclusion of the names of Ephraim and Dan are to be seen as a further warning against such things.

It is unquestionable that the  names  of both Ephraim and Dan were specifically connected with idolatry in such a way as to make them distinctive. Hosea declared, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone, their drink is become sour, they commit whoredom continually’ (Hosea 4:17-18). This is distinctly reminiscent of the sins condemned in the seven churches. It is true that Ephraim here means the whole of Israel, as often, but the point is that John saw  the name  of Ephraim as besmirched by the connection with idolatry and whoredom.

As for Dan, it was a man of the tribe of Dan who ‘blasphemed the Name’ (Leviticus 24:11), it was Dan that was first to set up a graven image in rivalry to the Tabernacle (Judges 18:30) and Dan was the only tribe mentioned by name as being the site of one of the calves of gold set up by Jeroboam, as Amos stresses (Amos 8:14; 1 Kings 12:29-30; 2 Kings 10:29). Indeed Amos directly connects the name of Dan with ‘the sin of Samaria’. Thus Dan is closely connected with blasphemy and idolatry. And to cap it all ‘Dan will be a serpent in the way, and an adder in the path’ (Genesis 49:17). He is the tool of the Serpent. Typologically therefore he is the Judas of the twelve. How could he not then be excluded? It is also voices in Dan and Ephraim which declare the evil coming on Jerusalem (Jeremiah 4:15), closely connecting the two.

That what is excluded is the name of Ephraim and not its people (they are included in Joseph) is significant. It means that the message of these omissions is that the very names of those who partake in idolatry and sexual misbehaviour will be excluded from the new Israel (compare the warnings to the churches, especially Thyatira). The exclusion of the name of Dan is therefore to warn us that those who are not genuine will be excluded from the new Israel. But that does not mean that there were not many Danites who had become Christians.

So here in Revelation, in the face of the future activity of God against the world, He provides His people with protection, and marks them off as distinctive from those who bear the mark of the Beast. God protects His true people. And there is no good reason for seeing these people as representing other than the church of the current age. The fact is that we are continually liable to persecution, and while not all God’s judgments have yet been visited on the world, we have experienced sufficient to know that we are not excluded. In John’s day this reference to ‘the twelve tribes’ was telling the church that God had sealed them, so that while they must be ready for the persecution to come, they need not fear the coming judgments of God that he will now reveal, for they are under His protection.

In fact the New Testament tells us that all God’s true people are sealed by God. Abraham received circumcision as a seal of ‘the righteousness of (springing from) faith’ (Romans 4:11), but circumcision is replaced in the New Testament by the ‘seal of the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30). It is clear that Paul therefore sees all God’s people as being ‘sealed’ by God in their enjoyment of the indwelling Holy Spirit and this would suggest that John’s description in Revelation 7:0 is a dramatic representation of that fact. His people have been open to spiritual attack from earliest New Testament days (and before) and it is not conceivable that they have not enjoyed God’s seal of protection on them. Thus the seal here in Revelation refers to the sealing (or if someone considers it future, a re-sealing) with the Holy Spirit of promise. The whole idea behind the scene is in order to stress that all God’s people have been specially sealed.

In Revelation 21:0 the ‘new Jerusalem’ is founded on twelve foundations which are the twelve Apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14), and its gates are the twelve tribes of the children of Israel (Revelation 21:12). Indeed Jesus said that he would found his ‘church’ (congregation, ekklesia) on the Apostles and their statement of faith (Matthew 16:18) and the idea behind the word ‘church’ (ekklesia) here was as being the ‘congregation’ of Israel. (The word ekklesia is used of the latter in the Greek Old Testament). Jesus had come to establish the new Israel. Thus from the commencement the church were seen as being the true Israel, composed of both Jew and Gentile who entered within God’s covenant, the ‘new covenant’, as it had been right from the beginning, and they were called ‘the church’ for that very reason.

In countering these arguments it has astonishingly been said that  ‘Every reference to Israel in the New Testament refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ And another expositor has added the comment, ‘This is true in the Old Testament also.’

That is quite astounding, as we have already seen. Such statements are not only a gross oversimplification, but in fact they are totally untrue. They simply assume what they intend to prove, and are in fact completely incorrect. For as we have seen above if there is one thing that is absolutely sure it is that many who saw themselves as Israelites were not physical descendants  of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Many were descended from the servants of the Patriarchs who went down into Egypt in their ‘households’, and were from a number of nationalities. Others were part of the mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel (Exodus 12:38). Still others had become ‘Israelites’ at the point of the sword (see above). They were adopted into Israel, and became Israelites, a situation which was sealed by the covenant.

Indeed it is made quite clear that anyone who was willing to worship God and become a member of the covenant through circumcision could do so and became accepted on equal terms as ‘Israelites’ (Exodus 12:47-49). They would then become united with the tribe among whom they dwelt or with which they had connections. That is why there were regulations as to who could enter the assembly or congregation of the Lord, and when (Deuteronomy 23:1-8). Later on proselytes would also be absorbed into Israel. Thus ‘Israel’ was from the start very much a conglomerate, and continued to be so. That is why many Galileans and the Edomites were forced to become Jews and be circumcised once the Jews took over their land. From then on they were seen as part of Israel. So it is simply not true that Israel represents only those physically descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Nor is it true that in Paul ‘Israel’ always means physical Israel. When we come to the New Testament Paul can speak of ‘Israel after the flesh’ (1 Corinthians 10:18). That suggests that he also conceives of an Israel not ‘after the flesh’. That conclusion really cannot be avoided.

Furthermore, when we remember that outside Romans 9-11 Israel is only mentioned by Paul seven times, and that 1 Corinthians 10:18 clearly points to another Israel, one not after the flesh (which has been defined in 1 Corinthians 10:1-18), and that it is one of the seven verses, and that Galatians 6:16 is most satisfactorily seen as signifying the church of Jesus Christ and not old Israel at all (or even converted Israel), the statement must be seen as having little force. In Ephesians 2:11-22 where he speaks of the ‘commonwealth of Israel’ he immediately goes on to say that in Christ Jesus all who are His are ‘made nigh’, and then stresses that we are no more strangers and sojourners but are genuine fellow-citizens, and are of the household of God. If that does not mean becoming a part of the true Israel it is difficult to see what could.

Furthermore in the other four references (so now only four out of seven) it is not the present status of Israel that is in mind. The term is simply being used as an identifier in a historical sense in reference to connections with the Old Testament situation. Thus the argument that ‘Israel always means Israel’ is not very strong. Again in Hebrews all mentions of ‘Israel’ are historical, referring back to the Old Testament. They refer to Israel in the past, not in the present. They do not speak of Israel in contrast with the ekklesia. In Revelation two mentions out of three are again simply historical, while many would consider that the other actually does refer to the church (Revelation 7:4). (Mentions of pre-Christian Israel obviously could not include the ‘church’, the new Israel. But they certainly do include Gentiles who have become ‘members of the congregation’ and have therefore become Jews).

In Romans 9-11 it is made very clear that Israel can mean more than one thing. When Paul says, ‘they are not all Israel, who are of Israel’ (Romans 9:6) and points out that it is the children of the promise who are counted as the seed (Romans 9:8), we are justified in seeing that there are two Israels in Paul’s mind, one which is the Israel after the flesh, and includes old unconverted Israel, and one which is the Israel of the promise.

And when he says that ‘Israel’ have not attained ‘to the law of righteousness’ while the Gentiles ‘have attained to the righteousness which is of faith’ (Romans 9:30-31) he cannot be speaking of all Israel because it is simply not true that none in Israel have attained to righteousness. Jewish-Christian believers have also attained to the righteousness which is of faith, and have therefore attained the law of righteousness. For many thousands and even tens of thousands had become Christians as we have seen in Acts 1-5. Thus here ‘Israel’ must mean old, unconverted Israel, not all the (so-called) descendants of the Patriarchs, and must actually exclude believing Israel, however we interpret the latter, for ‘Israel did not seek it by faith’ while believing Israel did.

Thus here we see  three uses of Israel, each referring to a different entity. One is all the old Israel, which includes both elect and non-elect (Romans 11:11) and is therefore a partly blind Israel (Romans 11:25), one is the Israel of promise (called in Romans 11:11 ‘the election’) and one is the old Israel which does not include the Israel of promise (Romans 9:30-31), the part of the old Israel which is the blind Israel and have not ‘attained the righteousness which is of faith’. The term is clearly very fluid and can sometimes refer to one group and sometimes to another.

Furthermore the same is true of the term ‘Gentiles’. Here ‘the Gentiles’ must mean those who have come to faith and not all Gentiles. It cannot mean all Gentiles, for it speaks of those who have ‘attained to the righteousness of faith’ (which was what old Israel failed to obtain when it strove after it). It thus means believing Gentiles. So that term is also fluid. (In contrast, in 1 Peter ‘Gentiles’ represents only those who are unconverted. Thus all words like these must be interpreted in their contexts).

When we are also told that such Gentiles who have come to faith have become ‘Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’ (Galatians 3:29) we are justified in seeing these converted Gentiles as having become part of the new Israel, along with the converted Jews. They are now actually stated to be ‘the seed of Abraham’. This clarifies the picture of the olive tree. Old unconverted Israel are cut out of it, the converted Gentiles are grafted into it. Thus old Israel are no longer God’s people while the converted Gentiles are.

It may then be asked, ‘What then does Paul mean when he says that ‘all Israel will be saved’?’ (Romans 11:26). It clearly cannot mean literally ‘all’ of old Israel, both past and present, for Scripture has made quite clear that not all of them will be saved. Let us consider the possibilities:

1) All the people of a nation have been saved at one point in time. It would not be in accordance with God’s revealed way of working. But secondly, and more importantly, because it would also make nonsense of those many passages where God’s final judgment is revealed as to be poured out on Israel, and it is therefore clear that all Israel will not be saved. How can all Israel be saved and yet face His judgment?

2) Does he then mean ‘all the true Israel’, those of old Israel elected in God’s purposes, ‘the remnant according to the election of grace’ (Romans 11:5), who will be saved along with the fullness of the Gentiles? That is certainly a possibility if we ignore all the Scriptures that we have looked at and see believing Jews as not made one with believing Gentiles (as Ephesians 2:0 says they were). But if it is to happen in the end times it will require a final revival among the Jews in the end days bringing them to Christ. For there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12). We would certainly not want to deny the possibility of God doing that. That may be why He has gathered the old nation back to the country of Israel. But that does not mean that God will deal with them as a separate people.

3) Or does it mean ‘all Israel’ who are part of the olive tree, the true Israel, including both Jews and the fullness of the Gentiles? All the new Israel, made up of the fullness of the Gentiles and the fullness of the Jews? That seems to be its most probable significance, and most in accordance with what we have seen above. After all, ‘all Israel’, if it includes the Gentiles, could not be saved until the fullness of the Gentiles had come in.

It is important in this regard to consider what Paul’s message was in Romans 9-11. It was that God began with Abraham and then began cutting off many of his seed, leaving ‘the remnant according to the election of grace’, those whom He foreknew. Then He began incorporating others in the persons of believing Gentiles as we have seen, and these increased in proportion through Christ, and all who believed became members of the olive tree. Thus this was now ‘all Israel’, those whom God had elected from eternity past.

But what in fact Paul is finally seeking to say is that in the whole salvation history God’s purposes will not be frustrated, and that in the final analysis all whom He has chosen and foreknown (Romans 11:2) will have come to Him, whether Jew or Gentile.

In the light of all this it is difficult to see how we can deny that in the New Testament all who truly believed were seen as becoming a part of the new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’.

But some ask, ‘if the church is Israel why does Paul only tell us that so rarely?’. The answer is twofold. Firstly the danger that could arise from the use of the term, causing people to be confused. And secondly because he actually does so most of the time in his own way. For another way of referring to Israel in the Old Testament was as ‘the congregation’ (LXX church). Thus any reference to the ‘church’ does indicate the new Israel.

But does this mean that old Israel can no longer be seen as having a part in the purposes of God. If we mean as old Israel then the answer is yes. As old Israel they are no longer relevant to the purposes of God for the true Israel are the ones who are due to receive the promises of God. But if we mean as ‘converted and becoming part of believing Israel’ then the answer is that God in His mercy will surely yet have a purpose for them by winning many of them to Christ in the end days. Any member of old Israel can become a part of the olive tree by being grafted in again. And there is a welcome to the whole of Israel if they will believe in Christ. Nor can there be any future for them as being used in the purposes of God until they believe in Christ. And then if they do they will become a part of the whole, not superior to others, or inferior to others, but brought in on equal terms as Christians and members of ‘the congregation’. It may well be that God has brought the Jews back into the land because he intends a second outpouring of the Spirit like Pentecost (and Joel 2:28-29). But if so it is in order that they might become Christians. It is in order that they might become a part of the new Israel, the ‘congregation (church) of Jesus Christ’. For God may be working on old Israel doing His separating work in exactly the same ways as He constantly works on old Gentiles, moving them from one place to another in order to bring many of them to Christ. It is not for us to tell Him how He should do it. But nor must we give old Israel privileges that God has not given them.

But what then is the consequence of what we have discussed? Why is it so important? The answer is that it is important because if it is the fact that true Christians today are the only true people of God that means that all the Old Testament promises relate to them, not by being ‘spiritualised’, but by them being interpreted in terms of a new situation. Much of the Old Testament has to be seen in the light of new situations. It is doubtful if today anyone really thinks that swords and spears will be turned into ploughshares and pruninghooks. However we see it that idea has to be modernised. (Tanks being turned into tractors?). In the same way therefore we have to ‘modernise’ in terms of the New Testament many of the Old Testament promises. Jerusalem must become the Jerusalem that is above. The sacrifices must become the spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. And so on. But Israel continues on in the true church (congregation) of Christ, being composed of all who have truly submitted to the Messiah.

Added Note. In fact literal sacrifices in the Old Testament could not possibly be repeated in the future in any sense that is genuine. The so-called ‘memorial sacrifices’ of some expositors are a totally new invention. They are certainly not what the prophets intended, nor what Moses instituted. So it is no less 'spiritualising' to call them memorial sacrifices than it is to speak of spiritual sacrifices. And can anyone really believe, if they open their eyes, that in a world where the lion lies down with the lamb, and the wolves and the sheep are mates (Isaiah 11:0), only man is vile enough to kill animals? It does not bear thinking about. It goes against all the principles that lie behind the idea. Whereas when we recognise that that is an idealised picture of the heavenly Kingdom where all is peace, and death is no more, and sacrifices are spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, then it all fits together.

The Letter of James.

James’ Biblical Foundations.

Before looking at the letter as a whole, which is very much an exhortation to godly living and has a number of parallels with the Sermon on the Mount, we should perhaps consider its Biblical foundations. For it is important to see that this was not just moral exhortation. Like the Sermon on the Mount it was firmly grounded in theology. Among the Godward doctrines which are basic to its teaching are the following:

1) That Jesus is ‘the Lord, Jesus Christ’ (James 1:1; James 2:1). This is a phrase which in James 1:1 is either to be seen as in close parallel with ‘God’ (and thus, as with Paul, speaking of ‘one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ’ - 1 Corinthians 8:6), or may even in this case be one which may be conjoined with God by translating as, ‘of God, even of the Lord Jesus Christ’ or even ‘of God and Lord, Jesus Christ’ (both the terms are without the definite article). We can compare here 2 Peter 1:1 in terms of the parallel with 2 Peter 1:11, although there ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ have the article. This paralleling of ‘the Lord, Jesus’ with God is so much so that James can use the title ‘the Lord’ freely without distinction of both the Father and of Jesus (James 1:1; James 1:8; James 2:1; James 3:9; James 4:10; James 4:15; James 5:4; James 5:7-8; James 5:10-11; James 5:14).

2) That God is ‘the God and Father’ (James 1:27) and ‘the Lord and Father’ (James 3:9) (compare ‘God and Lord’ in James 1:1), is the giver of every good and perfect gift given by the Creator (James 1:17), is wholly unchangeable (James 1:17), and carries out everything in accordance with His will (James 1:18; James 4:15) so that the will of God is paramount (James 4:15).

3) That one day Jesus will come again as ‘the Lord’ in order to judge the world (James 5:7-9), while there is in fact but One Lawgiver and Judge (James 4:12).

4) That in accordance with the Father’s will those who are Christians have been begotten from above by means of (hearing) the word of truth as an initial earnest, a ‘firstfruit’, of the redemption of all creation (James 1:18), but that hearing must then be followed by doing (James 1:22).

5) That those who are His must look to God in confident faith in full expectation of His response (James 1:2-8; James 5:13-18).

6) That for the purpose of being put in the right with God faith precedes works, but must then later be evidenced by works (James 2:22-23). Nevertheless while works are the essential fruit of faith, faith is pre-eminent (James 1:3; James 2:1; James 2:24; James 5:15) although it must be a genuine faith (James 2:14).

7) That men must choose between serving God and serving the world (James 1:9-11; James 4:4; James 4:13 to James 5:6).

8) That there is a Devil who seeks to turn us from God’s path (James 4:7; that there are powers of evil is assumed, compare James 2:19; James 3:15).

9) That all are accountable to God’s Law, which is the law of liberty and is expressed in terms of loving all equally in terms of Leviticus 19:18 (James 1:25; James 2:8-10; James 4:11-12). We will all have to give account for this Law because the Lawgiver is also our Judge (James 2:11-13; James 4:12).

It will be noted that all this is very much in accord with the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (ethical instruction underpinned by references to doctrine), which James very much has in mind, and would have been wholly approved of by Paul, Peter and John. It is in the light of these teachings that we must read his exhortations to genuineness of faith and obedience.

The General Pattern Of The Letter.

James, as an experienced teacher, knows how to obtain his reader’s attention from the beginning, and at each point when interest might be slackening. Thus he commences with the idea of testing and trial, and the joy that they should have in it, and then moves on both with vivid illustration and carefully prepared questions, the latter often put equally vividly (e.g. James 4:1). He is determined to keep the interest of his readers and those who hear the letter read.

In general the letter moves step by step dealing alternately with what is good, followed by what is not good. Thus James 1:1-12 is positive, James 1:13-15 is negative, James 1:16-18 is positive, James 1:19-20 is negative, James 1:21-22 is positive, James 1:23-24 is negative, James 1:25-27 is positive and so on. While not rigid the pattern is on the whole maintained throughout.

The Specific Pattern of the Letter.

The letter has, however, a more specific pattern. For while we must not restrict James too closely to a pattern, such a pattern is clearly discernible in that the basic ideas with which he is going to deal in the letter are laid down in chapter 1 and are then dealt with in detail in reverse order in the following chapters. The whole is based on James’ main premise, the need for genuineness and ‘true faith’ in our response to God. We may see these basic ideas as follows:

Analysis of the Letter.

· Introduction. James the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1; compare James 5:19-20).

· His readers are to rejoice in trials and testings and to reveal patient endurance in the face of them (James 1:2-4; compare James 5:17-18).

· For this purpose they are to pray for wisdom so that they may overcome, looking to God in complete faith and avoiding doubt (James 1:5-8; compare James 5:10-16).

· Both poor and rich must respond to these testings in faith. And the rich must especially beware in the light of the uncertainties of the world’ lest they wither away and become nothing (James 1:9-11; compare James 4:13 to James 5:9).

· But those who triumph will receive the crown of life at His coming as Judge (James 1:12, compare James 4:11-12).

· But one type of testing, temptation to sin, is not given by God but results from the uncontrolled desires of men for what is of the world (James 1:13-15; compare James 4:1-11).

· In contrast with this God’s gifts towards men are good, coming down from above, especially His begetting of us through the word of truth which has brought us life. We must therefore choose between what the world gives or what God gives and recognise the splendour of our Father, being submitted to His word, the wisdom from above (James 1:16-18; compare James 3:13-18).

· In view of this men must be hearers rather than constantly speaking and must control their words and their anger, not having loose tongues, and must eschew all evil, responding instead to His implanted word (James 1:19-21; compare James 3:1-12).

· Thus they must not only hear but do, for actions are the final evidence of what a man is and of the purity and truth of his religion (James 1:22-27; compare James 2:1-26).

However we must not simply straitjacket James by a simple pattern, for his ideas recur again and again. For the idea of patient endurance see James 1:2-3; James 5:7-11. For faith see James 1:2; James 1:6; James 2:1; James 2:5; James 2:14-24; James 4:4; James 5:15 and consider James 4:7-8; James 5:7-11. For receiving wisdom see James 1:5-6; James 1:21-25; James 3:13-18. For the idea of doublemindedness see James 1:7-8; James 3:9-12; James 4:8. For the contrast of poor and rich see James 1:9-11; James 2:1-7; James 4:13 to James 5:6. For response to God’s word and Law see James 1:18-21; James 1:25; James 2:8-13; James 4:11-12. For the need to ask with faith see James 1:6; James 4:2-4; James 5:13-18. For the saving of the soul see James 1:21; James 5:20. For watching the tongue see James 1:9-10; James 1:13; James 1:19; James 1:26; James 2:3; James 2:12-16; James 2:18; James 3:5-12; James 3:14; James 4:11; James 4:13; James 5:6; James 5:9; James 5:12. For judging and judgment see James 2:12-13; James 4:11-12; James 5:3; James 5:9; but the idea of judgment also lies behind such verses as James 1:4; James 1:11-12; James 1:21; James 5:7-10 and indeed the whole of the letter.