Martin Luther, seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation (16th century Europe) admitted, ” . . . there is many a good saying in [the Book of James], but it contradicts St. Paul and all other Scripture in giving righteousness to works.”
Luther’s judgement raises serious question, some beyond scope of this blog. Here’s one we can ask: Did God the Holy Spirit inspire two men (Paul and James) to write contradictory documents? It almost seems so. Fairness demands we dig out answers, especially since we’ve just come from Galatians where Paul categorically claimed, ” . . . we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). While James wrote, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).
We’ll confront this “contradiction”, as we turn next to the New Testament Book of James. Why James? A word of explanation as suggested by my wife. (She’s the one to the left in the first photo above. It doesn’t do her justice.)
I love my wife with all my heart. She is God’s most precious gift to me after Jesus. She is God-loving, full of faith, a warrior in prayer, one of the hardest workers I know, wise, and beautiful inside and out. She was the rock in our early-marriage years when I was too immature to be married. She’s my caregiver now in our late-married years when my health is poor. She recently suggested, “You really better explain where you’re going with your blog.” I (being no fool myself) decided to listen.
Last April 1st I started the “Acts Eight” series, discussing the eight sermons and talks found in that book. I quickly realized I needed to review the narratives leading up to each for the “sermons” to make sense. Hence, the “Acts Eight” became a walk through the entire book.
Well, not quite. When Paul was about to begin his second missionary journey, I remembered that it was about then he composed his letter to the Galatians. So, I decided we should study that then. Now my plan is to walk through the New Testament chronologically. Which means we step now from Galatians to James, since both were written about the same time though, of course, by different authors and to different readers
To mix things even more, I’ve occasionally blogged topics that struck my interest or seemed timely. I’ll continue that as we wind our way through the New Testament. All things considered, I may not live long enough to reach Revelation. Which is okay for two reasons. One, it’s a very confusing book. And, two, by that time I’ll be with Jesus and it won’t matter.
Scholars are split. Was James Jesus’ brother?
“Isn’t this the carpenter?
Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?
Aren’t his sisters here with us?”
Or half-brother? Mary’s husband, Joseph, quickly disappears from the Gospel narrative. It’s assumed, therefore, that he died. If Mary remarried (supposition), and James was a product of their union, he would have been Jesus’ half-brother.
The scholar-split is actually three ways. Some believe James was Jesus’ cousin. Roman Catholic scholars are among those who especially hold this view, believing Mary was always a virgin. I see no support for this view.
Why the family-tree discussion? James didn’t believe in Jesus.
Nearing Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ brothers challenged him to go to Judea “that your disciples also may see the works you are doing . . . If you do these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:4b). John then explains their motivation . . .
For not even his brothers believed in him (John 7:5).
How was that possible? Brotherly rivalry? Jealousy? Or just incredulity? “My brother? Messiah? Ya gotta be kidding. Do you see how he leaves his room?”
But when we meet James in his writing, he is . . .
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”
Why the conversion?
“Christ . . . was raised on the third day . . . and . . .
he appeared . . . to James . . . “
(1 Corinthians 15:4-7).
Fun to have been there, no? “Oh, Jesus, I really knew it all the time. It was the rest of the family that didn’t believe. I always knew you were special.” I imagine Jesus flashed a small smile, said nothing, and just bore loving eyes into his brother’s embarrassed face.
From years of unbelief, by impact of Jesus’ resurrection, James went on to become the most influential leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13).
What about us? Maybe our beginnings—even to today—have been without God. Or with him, but just ordinary. But God-less or ordinary life given into the hands of the risen Lord can be made holy and extraordinary for his saving purposes! Just remember James.