Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

New Testmant Lesson 42 (KD): James

Posted by Karl D. on November 6, 2011

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: James
Reading: James

PDF Version of Notes

1 Introduction

1.1 Big Picture

The epistle of James clearly occupies a special place in LDS discourse because of James 1:5. Before we narrow in on specific parts of the letter let’s consider some big picture questions:

  • Do you find James to be an enjoyable letter to read? Has it been an influential letter for you personally? Why?
  • Do you find the material in James, in general, more applicable to you than the Pauline letters?
  • Do you think we are are a “Jamesian” Church? Does that go too far? In what ways might that be both a fair and unfair moniker?
  • What are the distinctive features of the letter? How does it differ from other parts of the New Testament? How does it differ from the Pauline letters? How is the letter similar to other books in the New Testament?
  • Does the letter remind you of any Old Testament books? Which ones and why?
  • Do you think James is an influential book in the modern church separate from James 1:5? For example, do you think there similarities in thought between the Doctrine and Covenants and the book of James

1.2 Background

1.2.1 Authorship

The prescript of the letter indicates that James is the author of the letter (James 1:1):

(1) James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

James, the brother of Jesus, was the most famous James in early Christianity. However, the author doesn’t provide enough details to confirm such and identification. Thus we cannot say with certainty that the author is claiming to be James, the brother of Jesus. On the other hand, James, the brother of Jesus, does seem like a natural candidate because of his importance in the early Christian church.

1.2.2 Date Written

Dates range widely based on assumptions or beliefs about authorship (genuine or pseudepigraphic). If James, the brother Jesus, wrote the letter than a date before 60 CE would be likely.1

1.2.3 Audience

The letter is addressed to the scattered twelve tribes (Diaspora Jews). This may indicate a specifically Jewish Christian audience.

2 Trials

Read James 1:2-4:

temptations; (3) Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh
patience. (4) But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be
perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Jim Faulconer notes that the underlying Greek translated as “temptations” in the King James Version can alternatively be translated as “trials.” Most Modern translations tend to use “trials.” Note, this is also consistent with the change in the JST (see the JST footnote for verse 2). What do you think fits better given the context (James 1:2-4 (NRSV))?

(2) My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; (4) and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

  • How should we understand these verses? Does it seem like the imperative to enjoy trials goes too far? Sure, I am on board with the idea that trials are useful, but I am not sure I understand, “consider it nothing but joy?”
  • Do you think the message here in James 1:2-4 is similar to the beatitudes of Matthew 5:10-12?

(10) Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (11) Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (12) Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

  • What does it mean for “patience to have her perfect work” or “endurance have its full effect?” Do these phrases remind you of other scriptures and/or scriptural images? Does this phrase seem to correspond with important points of emphasis in the modern church? Notice, the use of “endurance” in the modern translation (NRSV)? How does the use of “endurance” affect your understanding of the verse and what James is talking about?
  • “Verses 3-4 employ the stylistic device of ‘climax,’ in which the end of one phrase is echoed in the beginning of the next.”2 Why would James use this style? How does it affect the reader’s attention?
  • What does it mean to be “perfect and entire?” Why couple those words together? Does this steer us away from the implication that James is talking about being “flawless?”

3 Wisdom

Read James 1:5-8:

(5) If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (6) But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (7) For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. (8) A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (KJV)

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (NRSV)

  • How are these verses connected with verses 2-4? Do the previous verses help us understand what it means to lack wisdom or do you see these verses as an independent unit?
  • Do you think having wisdom implies completeness (or mature or whole) or wisdom implies the road to completeness? Or do you see the relation between these passages as too loose for that implication?
  • Is it important that patience is a theme of verses 2-4 and wisdom is a theme of verse 5-8. How are they related or interrelated?
  • Do you think that “wavering” is equivalent to doubting? That would seem to imply a very negative view of doubting? Aren’t doubts part of the process and a natural part of being human and living by faith? Can doubt lead to reflection and mature faith?
  • What does the metaphor of the wave emphasize? How can we not be a wave?
  • Do you think that James is contrasting God with us (with humans or people)? Does mentioning the double-mindedness of man emphasize the single-mindedness of God?
  • James emphasizes wisdom in these verses. Do you think James has in mind or wants us to think of the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament?

4 The Rich

Read James 1:9-11:

(9) Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: (10) But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. (11) For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. (KJV)

9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10 and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away. (NRSV)

  • How do these verses emphasize or develop the theme of reversal?
  • Do you think verses 9-11 are related to the two earlier passages? Is verse 9 a specific application or instance of verse 2? How is it related to verse 5?
  • What does low degree mean in this context? Why is being of low degree associated with being exalted?
  • Is exalted being used in a theological sense or should we read the passage like the following (NT Wright’s translation of the verse)?3/.

Brothers and sisters who find themselves impovershed should celebrate the fact that they have risen to this height —

  • What do you think of the metaphor that James uses about the rich? Does it help us understand why he is condemning or taking a dim view of the rich?
  • The metaphor that James uses seems to come from Isaiah 40:7-8:

6 The voice said, Cry.
And he said, What shall I cry?

All flesh is grass,
and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:

7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth:
because the spirit of the LORD loweth upon it:
surely the people is grass.

8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth:
but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

  • Do you think it is important to keep these verses in Isaiah in mind as we read this part of James? Is James’ use of the metaphor different than Isaiah’s use of the metaphor? Does Isaiah’s use of the metaphor help us understand this passage in James better?
  • Should we read these verses (here in James) as a universal condemnation of the rich? Does James 5:1-6 and James 2:1-7 give us important context?

(1) Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. (2) Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. (3) Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. (4) Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. (5) Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. (6) Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

(1) My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. (2) For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; (3) And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: (4) Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (5) Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (6) But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (7) Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

5 Father of Lights

Read James 1:12-18:

12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. 13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

  • How are these verse related to the previous ones? Specifically, how are these verse related to the discussion of the rich and poor?
  • What does it mean that God is the Father of lights? What does it emphasize and how is related to the rest of verse 17?
  • What does it mean the God begat us with the word of truth? Why mention that God is our Father and the Father of lights?
  • What does it mean that “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth?” Why emphasize God’s will in this situation? Why emphasize God’ word of truth? Is this another point of contrast? Maybe with verse 13-15?
  • Why does James emphasize that every good gift is from God? Is it related to verses 13-15?

6 Pure Religion

Read James 1:19-27:

19 Whe refore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. 21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

  • Are these three paragraphs related conceptually or thematically? If so, how do you see them linked together? Do they build on each other?
  • True,False, or Uncertain. Explain. Verses 26-27 are at the heart of what it means to be a Latter-Day Saint.
  • True,False, or Uncertain. Explain. Ultimately, we cannot have a relationship with God without a commitment to the principles of this scripture (no relationship with God without an elementary ethical commitment to human beings4).

Footnotes:

1 Oxford Bible Commentary, 1084.

2 The New Jerome Bible Commentary, Prentice Hall, 910.

3 Wright, N.T., The Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John, and Judah, 6

4 Oxford Bible Commentary,1255.

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