Tuesday, June 10, 2008

James: The Background (Week 1)

Author: The author of The Epistle of James is generally considered to be James, the brother of Lord Jesus and a leader of the Jerusalem Church (the earliest Christians). We don't think he was a disciple of Jesus during his lifetime. Became a leader in the Jerusalem Church (along with Peter and John) after he was a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. He was also known as James the Just (James the Righteous), possibly a tzaddik (spiritual leader).

Date: Written before 62 AD and recent scholarship places it as early as middle 40s CE

Genre: Considered a catholic letter (letter to the universal church) and wisdom literature. It is believed to have been delivered as a series of homilies rather than as a letter sent to a church.

Audience: It was written to displaced Jewish Christians (the diaspora - the dispersion); an encyclical to Jewish Christians outside Palestine but also reflecting conditions inside the country.

General Comments: James is written in accomplished Greek. It has been controversial and its place in the Christian canon contested. Martin Luther called it an "epistle of straw." However, ordinary Christians love the practical instructions in James for growing closer to God and living a holy, Christian life. A typical verse from James is arguably the most famous command in the New Testament: James 1:22
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (NIV). Soren Kierkegaard (Danish philosopher and writer) has written about James. Of all the New Testament books James most closely echoes the teachings of Jesus (Sermon on the Mount).

External (to the Bible) References: James is mentioned in Saint Jerome's De Viris Illustribus, which quotes from the fifth book of Hegesippus' lost Commentaries. His death as a martyr in 62 CE is mentioned in Josephus' Antiquities.

Individual Activities (for 6 days a week):

Day 1. Look up the following reference in your Bible to understand James' pilgrimage of faith in Christ:

John 7:5 – family of Jesus incl. James hostile to Jesus
Mark 3:21 – in fact tried to stop Jesus at one point
Acts 1: 14 – appearance of Jesus to his family after his Ascension
1 Corinthians 15:7 – May have brought James to faith
Acts 12:17 – Peter reports his escape from Herod to James
Acts 15; 13f – James presides over the first Jerusalem Council
Gal. 1: 19 – Paul consults James
Gal. 2: 8-10 – James in recognizing Paul as an Apostle
Gal. 2:12 – James was a strict Jew, adhering to Mosaic Law
Acts 21: 17-26 – He backed Paul's ministry to the Gentiles (unlike the Judaisers)
James martyred in 62 AD
Jerusalem Church ended in 66 AD

Day 2. Read James (chapter 1-5) and jot down any questions that come to mind.

Day 3. Read James, Chapter 1 and then answer the following questions:

a. What are your first impressions of this letter?
b. Whom does James sound like?
c. What is the gist of this letter?
d. How would you feel if you got a letter like this?

Days 4, 5, 6 - Daily Lectio Divina (Select your own verse from James or use James 1:12 below)
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Group Discussion Questions:
Here's how James introduces himself: James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. James 1: 1

1. Think back to the first time you met your husband or a very good friend. What did you say to them about yourself that you think might have helped you become close later?

2. Imagine that you are making first contact with an alien species. How would you introduce yourself?

3. Now imagine that you have arrived in heaven and are asked to describe how you loved and glorified God on earth. What would you say?

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