Extreme Replacement Theology: Treatment of James 1:1


Summer continues to extend itself into now late October (I’ve never before seen temperatures in the mid-80s at the end of October), and the two Bible study series I was following are also extending their summer break.  So while continuing the adventures in Middle Earth (and Frodo and Sam have left the black gate of Mordor, soon to meet Faramir), I’m still looking for another good sermon audio series.  One possibility has been a study of the book of James, from a Reformed/covenantal view of the law, and a few weeks ago I began one such series, from a 1689 Reformed Baptist/historic premillennial church.

The first lesson started out well, an introduction to the book of the Bible, covering the basic points of any good Bible book introduction.  As noted, this is likely the earliest of the epistles, written by James the brother of our Lord.  But then, abruptly the reasoning changed, from plain sense to a non-literal idea completely unsupported by the words of the text:  the audience, “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.”  In what can only be understood as an extreme reaction against traditional dispensationalism’s “two peoples of God” idea, the teacher veered away from the plain sense, literal, historical understanding and went to great lengths (including reference to Galatians 6, “the Israel of God” and Romans 4 about “true Jews”) to assert that the book of James was actually written to all true believers, to the one people of God, and that these people were not at all Jewish but generically believers.  After this, I found another sermon on this text, from another Reformed Baptist church; its style was more preaching than Bible-study/teaching, but it also took this non-literal view that the audience is really the one people of God and not any particular audience in the mid-1st century.

One obvious problem is that, as already established by this point, the book of James was written so early in the New Testament age – at a point in time when, as is also well-known, the early church was predominantly Jewish–those early years before the Gentiles came in, long before the Gentile population of believers outnumbered the Jewish believers.

More to the point, though:  what is wrong with just being honest with the text, acknowledging the historical context of who these early believers were, including their ethnicity?  And then point out the application, that the book does apply to all of us as believers.  As the early church well expressed it, the words of Peter at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:11), “we  believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

These teachers have also departed from the teaching of the Reformed theologians of past centuries, as noted in the commentaries of men including Matthew Henry, John Gill, Thomas Manton, and Charles Spurgeon’s view (no commentary, but comments from Spurgeon can be found in this sermon).  All of these Reformed teachers (Thomas Manton’s commentary is listed in the top five for the book of James; commentary available online here) acknowledged the literal, plain sense meaning of James 1:1, and considered in detail the specifics of which dispersion the author (James) was referring to.  They note that some thought this was a reference to the dispersion that occurred after the persecution of Stephen (Acts 8) – yet this dispersion only reached to Judea and Samaria – and so more properly, James 1:1 referred to the dispersion that occurred in God’s judgment of exile first to the northern kingdom by Assyria, and then the southern kingdom exile to Babylon.  James’ audience was specifically those believing Jews who were part of the dispersion, and these commentators affirm God’s mercy and providence to His people in what happened to the Jews, as with this excerpt from Matthew Henry:

The greatest part indeed of ten of the twelve tribes were lost in captivity; but yet some of every tribe were preserved and they are still honoured with the ancient style of twelve tribes. These however were scattered and dispersed. 1. They were dispersed in mercy. Having the scriptures of the Old Testament, the providence of God so ordered it that they were scattered in several countries for the diffusing of the light of divine revelation. 2. They began now to be scattered in wrath. The Jewish nation was crumbling into parties and factions, and many were forced to leave their own country, as having now grown too hot for them. Even good people among them shared in the common calamity. 3. These Jews of the dispersion were those who had embraced the Christian faith. They were persecuted and forced to seek for shelter in other countries, the Gentiles being kinder to Christians than the Jews were. Note here, It is often the lot even of God’s own tribes to be scattered abroad.

As to be expected, the commentaries provide greater depth than even the best sermon/message, due to the overall format and expectations of commentaries versus the sermon preached at a local church.  Yet one ought to expect that the layperson-level sermon might at least touch on the issues brought up in the commentary:  instead of a tangent, a non-literal interpretation of the audience, harping about how we’re all one people of God, we’re all the “true Israel,” the better approach here would be to consider the true audience (believing Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire), and the lessons to learn — what is applicable to us all — from these individuals and their circumstances.  As a sampling, some excerpts from Thomas Manton, for further consideration, regarding “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”:

  • God looks after his afflicted servants: he moves James to write to the scattered tribes: the care of heaven flourisheth towards you when you wither. A man would have thought these had been driven away from God’s care, when they had been driven away from the sanctuary.
  • God’s own people may be dispersed, and driven from their countries and habitations. … Christ himself had not where to lay his head; and the apostle tells us of some `of whom the world was not worthy, that `they wandered in deserts, and mountains, and woods, and caves. … Many of the children of God in these times have been driven from their dwellings; but you see we have no reason to think the case strange.
  • There was something more in their scattering than ordinary: they were a people whom God for a long time had kept together under the wings of providence. That which is notable in their scattering is:—
  1. The severity of God’s justice; the twelve tribes are scattered—his own people. It is ill resting on any privileges, when God’s Israel may be made strangers.
  2. The infallibility of his truth; they were punished. In judicial dispensations, it is good to observe not only God’s justice, but God’s truth. No calamity befell Israel but what was in the letter foretold in the books of Moses; a man might have written their history out of the threatenings of the law.
  3. The tenderness of his love to the believers among them; he hath a James for the Christians of the scattered tribes, In the severest ways of his justice he doth not forget his own, and he hath special consolations for them when they lie under the common judgment. When other Jews were banished, John, amongst the rest, was banished out of Ephesus into Patmos, a barren, miserable rock or island; but there he had those high revelations. Well, then, wherever you are, you are near to God; he is a God at hand, and a God afar off: when you lose your dwelling, you do not lose your interest in Christ; and you are everywhere at home, but there where you are strangers to God.
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  1. October 28, 2016 at 6:14 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. Pam S.
    November 18, 2016 at 7:10 am

    Thrilled to come across your blog!
    Found it while looking for some resources on David Baron.
    Been studying the Bible for twenty five years and have basically come to the same understanding as you have.
    I have a question for you since we are in agreement on how to understand the Scriptures: the seven churches of Revelation: after reading Bullinger’s commentary about 10 years ago, it seemed like a reasonable explanation. Most people discount him for several reasons but I have a hard time with most commentators view that the 7 assemblies are the Body of Christ. It seems to me to be very Jewish and could refer to the remnant in the end times as Bullinger alludes to.
    Would love to know what your thoughts on that would be. I know most people think church means churc but I believe the translation of assembly fits and could have to do with Israel. It’s the grace that’s missing and the works that are emphasized. Lots of ref. to Old Testament. Hope this isn’t to confusing😕.
    Thanks,
    Pam S.

    • November 18, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Pam. As to the seven churches of Rev. 2-3, I’m not sure exactly what Bullinger’s view is. As I understand, the word for church, ecclesia, simply means “assembly” or a gathering of people; and in that general sense the term applies to the Old Testament “Jewish church” in their Old Testament worship, everything from the wilderness wandering to the meetings of the Synagogues in the post-exilic up through 1st century time.

      I’ve read the view that these churches represent church history through progressive time periods, but I’m not convinced of that view. I think of these as both 1) literal, actual churches of that time, and 2) representative of the different types of local churches that exist in any time — but not in any particular time sequence, just that these types of churches exist throughout church history.

      Hope that helps. It’s always nice to think about and discuss these things.

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