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Posts Tagged ‘Epistle of James’

Extreme Replacement Theology: Treatment of James 1:1

October 28, 2016 3 comments

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.

The Hidden Life: Devotional Book, by Adolph Saphir

August 9, 2013 2 comments

After trying a few different free online Christian books recently (including works from Henry Morris and Alfred Edersheim), I am now reading Adolph Saphir’s “The Hidden Life”.  This work is available in several formats from archive.org, and also free on Google Play: the format I’ve chosen, without the many typo errors in, for instance, archive.org’s Kindle version.

I’ve only read the first three chapters so far, but finding it a good devotional with the proper emphasis on different aspects of the Christian life: prayer, reading of scripture, and the overall question of what it means to draw near to God.  Saphir’s work considers the epistle of James, and specifically James 4:8 – “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Scripture verses and Christian poetry abound, as Saphir considers the proper way to come to God, how we should approach prayer (along with discussion of our tendency to not pray), and more.

A few excerpts are noteworthy, including this from the preface:

It is right to guard the house against the attacks of foes, or rather to point out the strength and security of the divinely-laid foundation. It is also right to point out the gate wide and open, and to declare to all the freeness and fulness of divine grace. But to describe the home itself, the inner sanctuary, seems to be more essential, and also more in accordance with the practice of the apostles, who declared the whole counsel of God, and regarded the preaching of the gospel, in its fulness, and with the power of the Holy Ghost, as at once the great argument to convince, and the great attraction to persuade.

And

The Word, or the Scripture, is the great, and in many respects the unique, channel of God’s communications to the soul; or rather it is central, round which all other divine influences gather. Scripture is the divine revelation in a special sense, but so that it connects itself with all other manifestations of God to the soul, be they in Nature or Providence, or by the direct influence of the Spirit.

Saphir keeps balance, avoiding the excesses and negative associations of mysticism and Christian mysticism, while noting the proper focus the Christian should have: on the Lord Himself, rather than on the “experience” of communion we enjoy with the Lord (which tends toward self-centeredness).  Notes at the end of chapter 1 specifically address the errors of mysticism, also observing:

The Christian knows not only wherein religion consists, but he also knows the source and power of the true life. The mystics outside Christianity have truly felt the necessity of death, of hating our own will and life, and in this respect put to shame many professing Christians who mind earthly things, and are the enemies of the cross of Christ. But they did not know : ” Ye have died with Christ, and your life is hid with Christ in God. ” They did not know the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the constraining love of the Divine Saviour, who for us died and lived again, that we henceforth may live unto Him. They may therefore be viewed as resembling those who, through the law, have become dead and long for life.

Later chapters deal with worldliness and the Christian’s proper response: to not love the world, yet in our service in the world, The less he loves the world in its God-opposed character, the more he truly loves the world, and is a blessing to those around him.