The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 6: Occasion of writing

Audience: the twelve tribes in Dispersion

At first glance, it seems that James is writing to Jews. After all, to translate literally, James addresses his epistle “to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” The twelve tribes traditionally represent Israel, and the dispersion signifies the Jews scattered throughout the pagan world. But there are reasons to think James is writing for Jewish Christians, not Jews in general. As “dispersion” can serve as a metaphor to indicate that believers are never fully at home in this world. So there is reason to believe that James, like other New Testament writers, envisions a wide audience[1].

The addressee, “the twelve tribes in dispersion,” seems to indicate metaphorically to Christians that are scattered throughout the world.  Since the phrase “twelve tribes” was continued to be used as a metaphor for the Israel as the people of God, long after twelve distinctly identifiable tribes were more of a memory and ideal than a visible reality.

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 5: Authorship

In the prescript of the letter the author merely identifies himself as James, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This self-designation raises the question of James’ identity.[1]

Several schools of thought abound with regards to the identity of this James, because several people bearing the name abound in Scripture[2]. Traditionally authorship of this epistle has commonly been attributed by Church Fathers such Jerome, to James the brother of Jesus.[3]

This is the one whom the Apostle Paul designated as “the brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1:19), who also appears other places in the New Testament as the leader of the early church in Jerusalem. Internal evidence seems to support this view. The author’s knowledge of synoptic tradition is not surprising in one who was a close relative of Jesus and became his disciple.[4] Verse 1 of the epistle shows James stating his office as  “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” here James puts forward to whose authority he is speaking from but also implying that it is not of his own accord that he is writing to his audience, but of his Lord Jesus Christ,  while at the same time implicitly shows his Jewish roots by speaking of the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” to which he is writing to and later on in the passage he would refer to as his brothers (Jas. 1:16).

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 4: The theological thrust of James

The phrase: ‘action speaks louder than words,’ finds an appropriate denotation with regards to the epistles theological and moral vision. As it seems to accentuate the concept of working faith that is animated by love that which is a feeling that begs to be expressed, as it gains personality in action, and like in all things that is put in reference to love: actions speak louder than words.

For James, the reception of God’s implanted word is not sufficient for it is in responding in action, that is to heed what it says that James seems to put extra weight on that is why he calls them to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (1:22) for doing and hearing are two different and yet related actions for one can hear and yet be passive thus according to James is mere self-deception. Using the analogy of a man facing a mirror James speaks of what can be seen as the goal of receiving the word: transformation!

This transformation that we speak of is that which results in pure what James calls as pure and undefiled religion that manifests itself in the ministry of: visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.(1:27)

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 3: Literary Genre and Style

James as a Catholic Epistle

Scholars generally classify James as among the seven writings that are commonly referred to as Catholic Epistles. Although there is some doubt about the meaning of katholikos in this context, it seems likely that it is meant to imply the “general” as opposed to the “particular” nature of these writings: the Catholic Epistles were addressed to Christians in general, in contrast to the Pauline Epistles which –for the most part –were addressed to individual churches[1].

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 2: James in the Christian Canon

With the many diverging perspectives with regards to the identity of the author of James has led it also to become subject to scrutiny with regards to its canonicity –that is its place as to whether or not it is to be considered rightly as Scripture.

In fact church history itself testifies to several disputes over the place of the epistle in canon Scripture, which is prominent in Martin Luther’s consignment of it as an ‘epistle of straw’ to which he wrote: “Therefore, St. James’ epistle is really and epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it[1].”

Luther’s supposition of the epistles’ worth finds substance in his conclusion that: in comparison to books such as Romans and Galatians, the Gospel of John and 1st Peter. James bears “nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.” As according to Luther it does not bear witness to Christ or to such cherished Reformation themes of salvation that one appropriates by faith alone, in Christ’s accomplished work of redemption in contrast to that of the Pauline epistles of Romans and Galatians as well as to that of John’s Gospel and 1st Peter which Luther considers as documents that were to be prized as the “true kernel and marrow of all the books,” because they would “show you Christ” and “teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know[2].”  As a consequence such an appraisal, Luther deemed James unfit to qualify as a book that is to be considered as Scripture, consequently marginalizing the epistle along with its message from the rest of Reformation movement that burgeoned later.

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 1: Introduction

Many agree that the message of James is scandalous as it contains the famous passage that says: “man is not justified by faith alone.” In fact, a book has already been written about it –Elsa Tamez’s The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works is Dead. However, I would like to point out that there is perhaps a more scandalous message contained in the Epistle of James –that is James’ disdain towards the practice of partiality in the community of faith.

The Scripture as the Word of God couched in ancient human language, in human words that persevere for Christians of all generations as a form of God’s self-revelation to his people who are fashioned in and through Jesus of Nazareth. As Christians in the twentieth century we read and study that Word of God as nourishment of our spiritual lives. But we do not study it in a vacuum. We are members of a faith-community that feeds its spiritual life, indeed on the written Word of God along with the tradition that has been born of it and that has helped fashion the understanding of that written record[1].

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The Green Life: A Call to Bear Witness

Transcript of a talk that I gave as a Greenpeace activist at the Asian Theological Seminary’s event entitled The Green Life, organized by the Friends of Life Care Group.

The environment is among the most pressing concerns of this generation. In this bygone age of technology and consumerism, ministry to the natural world has taken a backseat in the teaching and preaching of many Christian churches. While most Christians appreciate the beauty of nature, many of us don’t realize the strong Biblical basis for creation care, in fact many ethical values, fundamental to the development of a peaceful and just society, are particularly relevant to the ecological question.

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Carrying on the divine conversation

Summary and reflection on Nicholas Wolterstorff’s 4-part article series entitled: The God Who Speaks

The view that God is speaking as this has been somewhat of a contentious topic among the present theological landscape, in light of this I would like to tender a summary of four articles written by Nicholas Wolterstorff entitled: The God Who Speaks.

Using Augustine’s conversion story Wolterstorff, pushes forward a thesis that the God of the Bible is very much a speaking God[1]. By weaving Scripture with Augustine’s conversion, He argues that God spoke to people as reported in Scripture, he argues: God spoke to Augustine by way of a child’s sing-song; and God spoke by way of Scripture itself; lastly God spoke, above all, in and through Jesus Christ. The God of Scripture the God of Christian experience who spoke in diverse ways and on many occasions to human beings[2].

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Finding God in a punk rock record…

It has been said that spiritual formation happens through human experiences.

It is in the ordeal of living the whole of human existence that one comes into contact with this dynamic encounter with the God who transforms us via the agency of our lives, to which the experiences that our sensory faculties (like seeing, feeling, and hearing) functions as the arena where transformation takes place. In this case I would like to highlight the sense of hearing as an arena to which I discover God and His loving identification with people in the midst of human pain and anguish.

As it is no secret to those who know me that a lot has been going on in my mind lately. Life and all its complexities that come along with aging and varying circumstances leads one to question so many things and to lose hope –to despair, get angry, cry out to for and against God.

I would write of the details of this pain and struggle but I am at the same time afraid to lay bare my soul as well as space cannot be enough to put what I am feeling into words that would make sense. It is in the middle of these things that I find myself clinging once again, in consolation to the music of my adolescence –to punk rock.

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Living with the nuisance of transformation

Genesis 1:27 says that human beings, male and female, are created “in the image of God.” While, Colossians 1:15 convey that Jesus Christ is the “image of the invisible God.” Thus to say that we are created in the image of God is to say that we are created in Jesus Christ.

That is why over the course of our exploration of this belief in our spiritual formation we are always reminded over and again with the realization that to be spiritual is to be human and that life is the arena of the journey towards being more fully human and that our human existence finds its basis, origin, and form in Jesus. He is our prototype and fulfilment.

However, that in itself is but a portion of this greater reality as we have come also to learn that even now we are gradually being transformed and our lives and all its facets are being pieced together to re-orient us with the startling reality of God’s future that has been inaugurated by Jesus Christ, the kingdom that approaches even now and sets our present lives within the context of God’s reality –which culminates towards our transformation to Christlikeness: to becoming indeed fully human!

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