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Habakkuk: An Introduction

To celebrate the release of our latest book, Wait, Not THEM!  A Study of the Prophecy of Habakkuk, we are going to give you a sneak peak–a just-for-you look at the introduction of the book.

But before we do, let me take just a few seconds to tell you about what’s in the book.

  • Thorough, in-depth, yet easy-to-understand notes on every verse in the book.  It’s even broken down by sections–sometimes by words–so that you know exactly what Habakkuk is talking about.
  • Keeping it in context.  One of the things that we have striven to do with our commentaries is to never take a verse out of context.  We show the explanation of the verse based on how it fits in the book.  If there are New Testament uses of some of the verses, then we point that out and show the greater meaning.
  • Modern-day application.  We make it a point throughout this book (and all of our commentaries) to show what it meant to the original readers, and how those same principles also apply to us today.
  • Offering of different interpretations.  On some passages, words, or phrases, sometimes the exact meaning isn’t completely clear.  When this is the case, we present any possibilities that seem plausible and that also fit the context.  We give the pros and cons of each view, state which one we prefer and why, but leave it to the reader to make their own judgment.

It was written to be helpful to both the new Christian as well as the one who has been involved in Bible study and teaching for decades.

What others have said about this book:

  • Homer Hailey doesn’t have much on this passage in lieu of what you have. –A preacher.
  • I find this intriguing.  You apparently did your research on this. –A preacher and writer from Alabama.
  • I loved it.  So much detail and so much meat! –A Bible teacher in Oklahoma.

If you’re interested in ordering the book (in print or as an eBook), click here.  It’s also available via Amazon.com in print or as a Kindle file.

Now, without further talking, here is the…

Introduction

Habakkuk is among the most overlooked and ignored books of the Bible. Perhaps this is because it’s so short. Perhaps it’s because there really isn’t a clear prophecy of Jesus Christ in the book. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t have any action or stories in it (like Jonah). Whatever the reasons may be, this book hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. After all, it is Scripture, and all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable (II Timothy 3:16).

Who Wrote It?

The writer is the prophet Habakkuk. The book is described as the “burden” (or prophecy) which Habakkuk saw (1:1). Someone might rightfully ask, “Couldn’t someone else have written it, just describing what Habakkuk saw?” That might be a possibility, except that the writer claims to be the one who received the prophecy. The writer says, “And the LORD answered me…” (2:2). Also, at the end of the book, the writer says “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself…” (3:16). This shows that the author is the one who received the prophecy. He identifies himself as the prophet Habakkuk (1:1).

Who is Habakkuk?

Outside of this book, there is no biblical information about Habakkuk.

Habakkuk’s name comes from a word that means “to embrace.” So, it appears that his name carries the idea of “one who embraces” or “one who clings.” In the end of the book, Habakkuk is still clinging to God even in the face of the impending destruction.

Some have suggested that he was a professional prophet, because he identifies himself as “Habakkuk the prophet” (1:1). There were those who, like Elijah or Samuel, were known to be prophets and who made their living by the offerings of the people (see I Samuel 9:6-9).

Others have also suggested that Habakkuk was a priest of God, a Levite who served in the temple worship. This suggestion is based on the final verse of the book, which says “to the chief singer on my stringed instruments” (3:19). Both of these suggestions are possible, though they cannot be definitively proven.

Because of the content of Habakkuk’s prophecy, we can know for certain that he was a resident of Judea (see 1:2-4). We can know that it was written prior to Babylon’s invasion of Jerusalem in 606 BC (which was prophesied in 1:6-11). Beyond that, there is little we can discern.

There is one noteworthy mention of Habakkuk outside of the Scriptures. In the Apocrypha[1], there are two additional chapters to the book of Daniel. One of these chapters is referred to as Bel and the Dragon. In this story, Daniel (who is in Babylon) is thrown into the lion’s den (chronologically, this would have been immediately after the famous lion’s den episode of Daniel 6). In the lion’s den, Daniel is starving. So, in order to make sure Daniel doesn’t starve to death, the Angel of the LORD goes to Judea and tells Habakkuk to go feed Daniel. Habakkuk had just made some soup, and is told, “Carry the soup to Daniel who is in a lion’s den in Babylon.” Habakkuk replies, “I’ve never been to Babylon, and I don’t know where this den would be.” So, the Angel of the LORD grabs Habakkuk by the hair, and flies him to Babylon so he could feed Daniel. Then he grabs him again by the hair and flies him back to Judea.[2]

As you can hopefully see, that information is ridiculous, and gives us no reliable information about Habakkuk.

When Was it Written?

The only thing we can say about the date with absolute certainty is that it was written prior to the invasion of Judea by the Babylonians in 606 BC. The invasion is prophesied as a future event by God in 1:5-11. In 1:5, God says that it will happen in “your days,” meaning during the days of the people then living.

We can be a bit clearer with the date based on Habakkuk’s reaction to God’s announcement. God announces that the Chaldeans (the Babylonians) were going to attack. Habakkuk was extremely familiar with them (1:12-17). Babylon wasn’t really a world-power until around 615. They took and destroyed Nineveh, the capitol of the Assyrian Empire, in 612 BC. This seems to point to a date of 615-612 BC at the earliest.

We can narrow it down a bit more when we see the spiritual condition of the land. According to 1:2-4, the entire nation was wicked to the point where God’s prophet is calling for divine intervention. Josiah had reformed the nation, bringing them back into compliance with God’s word. However, after Josiah died in 609 BC, the nation went downhill fast. The king, Jechoniah, was ready to kill Jeremiah for prophesying.

Based on this information, it appears that we can date Habakkuk’s writing to be between 609 and 607 BC. This would place Habakkuk as a contemporary with Jeremiah.

Who Was it Written To?

It was written to the Jews as a whole. It was written to let them know what was coming and why it was coming. It was written to the wicked Jews so they would understand exactly what God thinks about their wickedness. It was written to the faithful Jews to let them know that God was not going to stand by and let wickedness reign in His nation.

Why Was it Written?

This prophecy was recorded to prepare the faithful for what was about to happen. It was written to encourage the faithful to remain that way. It was written to condemn the wicked, and show that the upcoming destruction was justified because of their wickedness.

Ted Clarke stated it this way:

The ultimate purpose of Habakkuk’s prophecy was to show the grand truths that the just shall live by faith, and that the wicked will not go unpunished.[3]

Interesting Notes:

Most of chapter two deals with the reasons for Babylon’s eventual destruction, but these reasons also apply to Jerusalem, and show that it deserved destruction as well. Babylon and Jerusalem are equated in that section. They are also equated in the book of Revelation (Jerusalem being the “Babylon” mentioned there).

Outline of Habakkuk:

  1. Habakkuk’s complaint (1:1-4)
  2. God’s reply (1:5-11)
  3. Habakkuk’s response (1:12-2:1)
  4. God’s second reply (2:2-20)
  5. Habakkuk’s prayer (3:1-2)
  6. Habakkuk’s psalm (3:3-19)

Final Note:

This commentary uses the King James Version as its basis, though we have taken the liberty to update the spelling and language slightly (for example: didst is now did) to make it more reader-friendly.

[1] These are additional books and chapters accepted as part of the Old Testament by the Catholic Church. They never appear in Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts, but only in Greek copies. The Jews never accepted these books and extra chapters as inspired, and none of these writings were ever referenced by the New Testament writers.

[2] These events can be found in what is referred to as Bel and the Dragon, or Daniel 14:28-38. See Appendix A.

[3] Clarke, Ted, “Habakkuk Notes” The Preaching School Collection, e-Sword edition, available from www.TheCobbSix.com.

Announcements, Changes, and Explanations

First of all, thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read our posts over the past few months.  We really appreciate that you have considered our writings to be worthwhile.  And we also hope that you’ll continue to read them for a long time to come!

The past couple months have been hectic–to say the least!  I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that one of our extended family members had to have an emergency surgery otherwise she wouldn’t be alive the next day.  And she’d just had a baby, so Jesse spent almost a full month in Arkansas playing mommy to a new little girl.

And as you’ve probably noticed, our website went from five articles a week down to three.  But hopefully the quality is still worthwhile!

Now, for some news.  Starting this week, we’ll be bringing back Sermon Thursday–except we’ll be moving it up to Wednesday (and changing the name, because it’d look strange to call it Sermon Thursday when it’s on a Wednesday).  We didn’t mean to discontinue it, but with all the things that were going on, it kind of fell through the cracks.

Also, because of the hectic past couple months, we’ve gotten behind on our planned publishing schedule.  The second Alexander Campbell collection was supposed to be available last month, but there’s still work to be done on it.

The Habakkuk commentary is done except for some really annoying typos that need to be fixed.  Hopefully we’ll have an official announcement next week (Lord willing).

The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts is coming along nicely, but we don’t have a specific date for its publication.

I’m sure you all understand, but we wanted to make sure you all were being kept “in the loop” so to speak.

In other news, Brad’s also taken on a new project.  He’s now one of the head writers of www.ColtsCamp.com, a website all about the Indianapolis Colts.  It’s not a high-paying gig (in fact there’s not been any money yet), but he seems to enjoy it.  You might check out some of his articles at the links below:

Lord willing, we’ll also be adding some more of the James Bales eBook collection, and some more freebies too.

Thanks again for reading, and stay true to Christ, because that is what truly matters!

Bible Q&A – Did the Thief on the Cross Live Under Two Covenants?

Question: Since both thieves on the crosses were still alive after Jesus died (their legs had to be broken to quicken their death while Jesus was already dead–John 19:31-33) did they live under both the Old and New Covenant? –An Inmate in Oklahoma

Just so the readers can have a bit more background to the question, the one asking has been taking a Bible correspondence course, and one of the questions was “Did the thief on the cross live under the Old Testament, the New Testament, or neither?” The student searched, and wasn’t sure because both of the thieves were still alive after the death of Christ—albeit a very short time.

First, let me thank you for asking such a great question. It shows that you’re putting a lot of effort, thought, and consideration into your Bible study, which is great!

The thieves both lived and died under the Old Testament, and we’ll look at a few ways to show that this is the case.

First, the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Testament is based completely on this gospel. Peter preached it that way (Acts 2:22-24). Paul proclaimed it that way (I Corinthians 15:1-3). When the thieves were on the cross, Jesus had indeed died, but He had not yet been buried or resurrected. The gospel (the “good news”) had not yet happened when the thieves died. So, they did not live under the New Testament, because the gospel hadn’t happened yet.

Second, entrance into the New Testament was based on baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). There was no baptism into the name of Christ until the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:1, 38). Jesus had told the apostles not to preach until they received “power” (the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit) in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5, 8). Therefore, it was impossible for anyone to be a part of the New Testament until Pentecost.

Third, the New Testament is the Will (as in “last will and testament”) of Jesus Christ. A will is not in force until after the person is dead (Hebrews 9:16-17). But just as obvious is this: the official reading of the will takes place days after actual death—sometimes weeks or months afterwards. Until the official reading of the will, there’s no way for people to follow it. The will of Christ was not officially read, and its contents made clear and binding, until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Until that time, all people were still living and answerable to the Old Testament.

Fourth, When Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus was still alive (Luke 23:43). Thus, there is no doubt whatsoever that the thief’s salvation was acquired prior to the death of Christ—therefore we can say with 100% sureness and accuracy that his salvation was guaranteed based on his actions under the Old Testament.

Fifth, God is no respecter of persons. The thieves had lived their entire lives under the Old Testament, and now they find themselves nailed to crosses—unable to do much more than struggle to breathe and talk. It is obvious that one of the thieves was repentant, and Christ promised him he would be saved. But if the New Testament instantly started and was therefore binding on all Jews the moment Christ gave up the ghost, then the thieves (including the repentant one) were both lost with no possible way of being saved. As we saw above, baptism into the name of Jesus Christ is a requirement for salvation under the New Testament (see also Mark 16:16, I Peter 3:21). Neither one of the thieves could be baptized into the name of Christ, because they were nailed to crosses when Jesus died. God will not make it impossible for someone to be saved. That would make Him a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).

For this same reason, we can know that the New Testament was not binding on anyone else until Pentecost. Because if it was, then God made it impossible for anyone to be saved from the death of Christ (or the resurrection, if you want to use that as the starting point) until Pentecost, fifty days later. That would make God a respecter of persons, which He is not. There has always, for all people, at all times, been the possibility of salvation through obedience to whatever law of God they lived under. The thieves on the crosses are no exception to this rule.

Thank you for your dedication to studying and understanding God’s word.

—Bradley Cobb

 

All About the Book of James

As a gift to our readers, we’re presenting here the complete introduction from Justified by Works: A Study of the Letter from James, by Bradley Cobb (available in print or eBook here).  Our regular Bible Q&A segment will return next week.  Enjoy!

Introduction

The book of James is unique among the New Testament letters. At first glance, like the book of Proverbs, it seems to be a disconnected series of practical godly living. Some, because of the content of the letter, rejected it as authentic. Others accepted the book but have denied the truths contained therein. Among those who believe in the inspiration of the Bible, there is more debate about the author of this book than any other (except perhaps Hebrews). There’s even disagreement about why and when the book was written. But even with all these disagreements, the letter from James is a goldmine of knowledge and practical application. It’s no wonder that James is many Christians’ favorite book of the Bible.

Who Wrote It?

All Scripture is inspired by God (I Timothy 3:16). As such, the author is God, who by means of the Holy Spirit inspired men to write down His holy word (II Peter 1:21). But now, the question before us is: what man did God inspire to write the book called ‘James’?

The name James is the same as the Old Testament name Jacob. In fact, in Greek, James is spelled Iacob (there is no letter J in Greek). The writer of this book was named after the great patriarch of Israel: Jacob.

There are four men in the New Testament who were named James. Three of them were holy men of God who spoke by inspiration. Each of these three have—to one degree or another—been suggested as the author of this book. But in order to narrow it down, let’s consider each one individually.

James, the brother/father of Judas

The only thing we know for sure about this man is that he was related to Judas, one of the twelve apostles (Acts 1:12-14). The Greek text literally says “Judas of James.” Almost every translation adds words explaining this phrase. The King James Version reads “Judas the brother of James.” The New King James Version reads “Judas the son of James.”

The King James rendering tries to make a connection between this Judas/James relationship and the words of Jude in Jude 1. The New King James rendering is more true to the original language, and appears to distinguish Judas the son of James from Judas Iscariot (something which the original writers thought was necessary—John 14:22).

No one has seriously considered this man as the author of the book of James for the following reasons:

  • No one knows if the man was living or dead when Jesus chose His disciples.
  • No one knows if this man (if he was still alive) ever became a Christian.

In short, there is nothing in the Scriptures to suggest that this man could have been the inspired writer of James.

James, the son of Zebedee.

This man was among the first of Jesus’ disciples (Mark 1:19-20), and one of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4). He was a fisherman by trade, the brother of the apostle John (who wrote five New Testament books), and was one of Jesus’ closest friends. Only James, John, and Peter were permitted to go with Jesus to the mountain to witness the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2).

This James is usually rejected as the writer because he was murdered by Herod around AD 44 (Acts 12:1-2). One has to wonder, however, why James couldn’t have written this book before his death. This question is even more applicable when you realize that many writers think this book was written very early (usually suggesting around AD 45).

Having said all that, this James was not the author of the letter called James. The contents of the letter demand a date after this James—the son of Zebedee—was killed. This will be covered more when we get to the section titled When Did He Write It?

James, the son of Alphaeus.

This man was an apostle of Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:2-4). He was also the brother of another apostle, Matthew (or Levi), who wrote the first book of the New Testament (see Mark 2:14). It is generally agreed that he is the James mentioned in Mark 15:40. There, he is called James the Less. Literally, that verse calls him “James the little one” or “the short James.” It is the same word (mikron, mirco) that is used to describe Zaccheaus—the “wee little man.” James, the son of Alphaeus, was short.

Some people—mostly Catholics—have gone to great lengths to supposedly prove that this James is the same as the man known as James, the Lord’s brother (they say it means “cousin”). Guy N. Woods has shown beyond a doubt that this cannot be the case.[1] We can summarize his main points as follows:

(1)   The apostles had been chosen out of His disciples—those who believed in Him—but Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Therefore, none of Jesus’ brothers were apostles.

(2)   Jesus’ brothers are mentioned as a separate group from the apostles (I Corinthians 9:5, Acts 1:13-14). Therefore, none of the apostles were brothers of Jesus.

This James, being an apostle, would be a prime candidate to write inspired Scripture. The main argument against his being the writer is that he actually was an apostle. The man who wrote this book identifies himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The argument goes like this: since he didn’t identify himself as “James, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” then that proves he wasn’t an apostle. However, Paul didn’t identify himself as an apostle in four of his letters (Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, as well as Philemon). John never identified himself as an apostle in his letters or in Revelation. This argument carries little—if any—weight.

The second argument used against this man as the author is that nothing is known about him outside of the fact that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. Barclay states it this way: “of James, the son of Alphaeus, nothing else is known; and he also can have had no connection with this letter.”[2] Shelly says, “So obscure a person could hardly have written this kind of letter, for the epistle of James presupposes the fact that its readers would know its author and heed its counsel accordingly.”[3] One man said that if this James were the one who wrote it, he would have given extra information to show that he was he James under consideration. This argument is an argument from supposition. It assumes that the apostle James was not well-known enough to have just identified himself as “James.” The early church would have been familiar enough with the apostles that if the apostle James had written them a letter, he wouldn’t have had to specify that he was James the apostle.

N.T. Caton, among others, takes the stance that James, the son of Alphaeus, is the man who wrote this letter. He states:

To these twelve men [the apostles] the Master had said: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” I conclude, therefore, that the twelve were essentially ministers plenipotentiary [invested with the full authority of Christ]. They spake for the King, and when they spake it was the same as if the King had spoken. None others could be so rec­ognized.[4] [Bracketed explanations and bold font added.]

I have no arguments against James, the son of Alphaeus, being the author of this letter. However, I believe that another James is more likely.

James, the brother of Jesus Christ

This man, the son of Joseph and Mary—and thus the half-brother of Jesus—didn’t believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry (John 7:5). But something happened to radically alter everything he thought he knew about his older brother. After His death and resurrection, Jesus appeared in person to James (I Corinthians 15:4-7). James was a man convinced and convicted. He would have quickly gone to tell his other brothers (Jude, Joseph, and Simon) that they had been wrong. We know this because less than 50 days after the death of Christ, all of Jesus’ brothers were gathered with the apostles and other disciples of Jesus (Acts 1:12-14). After Pentecost, James was an integral part of the church in Jerusalem. He was called a “pillar” of the church there (Galatians 2:9), and was numbered with their elders by AD 49-50 (Acts 15:6, 13; 21:18).[5]

His work for the Lord was focused on the Jews (Galatians 2:9). His concern for the Jewish Christians can be seen in his conversation with Paul in Acts 21:17-26. He is mentioned by Josephus (a non-Christian Jewish historian in the first century) as one who was murdered by order of the Jewish high priest in AD 62. An early Christian historian, Hegesippus, —though he embellished parts of it—records that James was viewed in high regard by all Jews because he was frequently to be found at the temple on his knees praying for the Jews. Because of his unwillingness to show respect of persons, it is said that he was known as “James the Just.” This same historian records that James was cast from the pinnacle of the temple, but survived long enough to pray for his attackers before being stoned and then finally being beaten to death with a club. Hegesippus dates his death immediately before Vespasian’s army came against Judea (AD 66-67, though some believe this is speaking of the attack after Vespasian became emperor, which would place it in early AD 70). How much of this is truth and how much is embellishment is difficult to tell. Josephus, having no sympathy for the Christians, would seem to be the more reliable account. Either way, it is agreed by all sources that James, the Lord’s brother, was murdered because he was an outspoken Christian.

This James is the most likely candidate for the author of the book which bears his name. The following reasons are given in support of his authorship:

  • His ministry was to the Jews (Galatians 2:9). The book of James was written to a Jewish audience (James 1:1).
  • Because of his status and influence within the Jerusalem church as an elder (a status he shared with Peter and John), and being Christ’s brother, there would have been no question as to his authority in writing this letter.
  • What we read of James from Acts 15 and 21 shows that he was focused on practical application of God’s word. The book of James is almost exclusively devoted to practical applications of God’s word.
  • There are some specific Greek words and phrases that are only appear in two places: (1) Acts 15 in connection with the brother of Jesus, and (2) in the book of James.

o   “Hearken” – Acts 15:13 (spoken by James) and James 2:5.

o   “To visit” – Acts 15:14 (spoken by James) and James 1:27.

o   “Your souls” – Acts 15:24 (perhaps written by James) and James 1:21.

Outside of the Bible, the first mention of the authorship of James comes from the third century when Origen attributed the book to the brother of Jesus.

Some have argued against this James as the author, saying that the Greek in this letter is too far advanced for a Jew from Galilee. J.W. Roberts, a Greek scholar who taught at Abilene Christian College many years ago, spends a lot of time proving this argument false.[6] Basically stated, Greek was a universal language. Most first-century Jews would have been bilingual, and would have been quite fluent in it. Besides this, we are told nothing about the education of James. Can anyone say with any degree of certainty that James never worked on becoming proficient in speaking and writing Greek? It’s basically the same as saying that no one from Mexico could ever write something well in English.

It is James, the brother of Jesus (and of Jude—see Jude 1) that most likely wrote this book.

Who Did He Write to?

Like Peter and John, James directed his ministry toward the Jews (Galatians 2:9). It should come as no surprise, then, that his letter was addressed to Jews. However, this wasn’t written to just any Jews. James had a specific audience in mind when he wrote.

James wrote to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (James 1:1). Literally, this says “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.” The Greek word translated scattered abroad is diaspora. This is a technical word that meant “Israelites dispersed among foreign nations” (Thayer). The word only appears three times in the Bible. James 1:1, I Peter 1:1, and John 7:35. Each time it has reference to the Jews who lived in the Gentile nations. James was writing to Jews who did not live in the Promised Land.

Some have said that James was using the phrase “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” spiritually to refer to the Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire. This is trying to force a figurative meaning on the words when a literal one fits the evidence. It should also be noted that James wrote to people who met in the synagogue (James 2:2—the word translated assembly is the Greek word sunagoge). The synagogue was a Jewish meeting place.

But the audience is even more specific than that. James was writing to Christian Jews who were scattered abroad. James wasn’t writing to non-Christians. This is obvious when you read James 2:1: My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality (NKJV). He couldn’t have called Jesus our Lord if his readers weren’t already Christians.

It is possible (especially if an earlier date is assumed—see below) that James is writing to those who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 2) and who had stayed in Jerusalem with the church. Many of these people were forced to flee the city because of the persecution brought on by Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8:1-4).

James wrote to Jewish Christians who were living outside of Palestine, throughout the Roman Empire. Interestingly enough, this is also the audience that both Peter (I Peter 1:1) and John (Revelation 1:4) wrote to as well.

When Did He Write It?

Most writers suggest a period of time between AD 45 (after the death of James, son of Zebedee) and AD 62 (when Josephus records that he was killed). There are arguments for an early date (45-50), as well as arguments for a later date (61-62). We will briefly consider both.

The Early Date (AD 45-50)

James, the brother of Jesus, isn’t seen as a leader in the church until after the death of James, son of Zebedee, in AD 44. Because of this, most people propose a date of no earlier than AD 44. Here are the arguments used in favor of an early date (note: compare these with the arguments for the late date).

  • Because there is no mention of Gentile Christians or the problems that were addressed in Acts 15 (AD 49-50), this letter was written before these things became an issue.
  • The persecution that the Jewish Christians were suffering (James 1:2, c.f. Acts 8:1-4)[7] was not as severe after AD 50, so it must have been written before that date.

If this letter was written in the 40’s, then it may well be the earliest of all the inspired letters.

The Late Date (AD 58-62)

Obviously, James could not have written the book after his death, so the latest possible date is AD 62. The evidence in favor of the late date is as follows:

  • There is no mention of the controversy surrounding the Gentile Christians, such as was addressed by James in Acts 15. Thus, this must have been written at a time when the controversy had settled down.
  • The persecution that the Jewish Christians were suffering was intense throughout the Roman Empire, specifically from other Jews (see Acts 17:5-7, 21:27-28, Revelation 2:9).

If you’ll notice, the main arguments for an early date are the same arguments used for the late date. J.W. Roberts stated:

There is really nothing decisive to settle the question. There is an 18-year period from 44-62 A.D. when the letter was most likely written. But the choice between the middle of the 40’s and the decade of the 50’s is difficult. This writer would incline to the latter date, but it is merely a feeling.[8]

Before we move from the discussion of the date, there is one more piece of evidence that must be considered. This evidence, in my opinion, is conclusive.

You also be patient. Establish your hearts: because the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:8)

The phrase “at hand” shows the nearness of something. The only coming of the Lord that was near in the first century was the coming of Christ in judgment upon Jerusalem in AD 70 (see Matthew 24:1-34, especially verses 27, 30, and 34). This argues heavily for a later date (AD 60-62) and against an early date.

If Josephus is correct in dating James death in AD 62, then this book should be dated about 61-62. If Hegesippus’ dating of James’ death is correct, then this book could be written as late as AD 66-67.

Why Did He Write It?

This question is one that we should ask about every book of the Bible as we begin to study it. It is when we understand why it was written that we can begin to truly understand what it means and how it applies to us.

To Supplement Paul’s Epistles?

False teachers had been perverting Paul’s teachings, claiming that salvation is by “faith-only” and that “works have nothing to do with salvation.” Because of this (it is claimed), James wrote this letter to counteract these false teachers, and to show that “faith without works is dead.” While this is indeed possible, it is based mostly on guesswork.

It is interesting that these false teachings are still prominent in the religious world today.

To Encourage Practical Christian Living.

Many people are obsessed with learning, understanding, arguing, and debating things in the Bible. There are many Christians whose study of God’s word is barely more than an intellectual pursuit. People break off into groups based on their unique collection of theological beliefs. If you don’t believe it, go to a congregation and ask them which congregations that they have nothing to do with. Then ask them why. Many times, the answer is that the other congregations believe something differently.

In the face of such differences, James basically says that the true test of Christianity is not your theological beliefs, but on your actions.

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their afflictions, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
After all, what is it that we will be judged on? The Scriptures never say that Christians will be judged based on their beliefs on eschatology or expediency. Instead, the Scriptures are clear that in the final judgment, we will be judged based on our works.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that which he has done, whether it be good or bad (II Corinthians 5:10).

Then shall the King say to them on His right hand, “Come you blessed ones of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Because I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.”… And the King will answer and say to them, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it to me” (Matthew 25:34-40).

And I saw the dead ones, great and small, stand before God; and the books were opened…and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (Revelation 20:12).

After reading these passages, you could imagine the following scene taking place at Judgment:

But God, how could you let HIM in? He believed __________!” God ‘s reply, “He gave his money to the poor, worked tirelessly in evangelism, brought many to Christ, and humbly repented any time he discovered he had sinned.”

In fairness, there are obviously certain things we must believe in order to be among the saved (believe in God, believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and believe that the Bible is His inspired word). But these are necessary in order to become a child of God.

James writes to get people to move from being an intellectual Christian to being Christian who shows his faith through his works.

Some Other Thoughts

When you get in the habit of living out your Christianity, it becomes more and more a part of you. It is quite possible that James was trying to get Christians in this habit because he knew that it would help make them more faithful. This is important when you understand that within three years, the Christians’ world was turned completely upside down as Rome and the Jews launched a joint attack against them—thousands upon thousands of Christians were ruthlessly murdered in the years that followed.

The conclusion? The time to get in the habit of living out your faith for Christ is now.

The book of James encouraged them, but it also encourages us to live a life of faith shown by our works. Don’t be a mental disciple, but be an active one!

James’ Place in the Bible

It has been argued by some that James wasn’t really inspired, and they give different reasons for this assertion. Some say that James contradicts Paul, therefore James isn’t inspired. The truth of the matter is that James contradicts what people have claimed Paul taught. James and Paul are in perfect harmony with each other when you throw out the false idea of “faith-only” salvation.

Others make the claim that James wasn’t widespread in the early churches, so it couldn’t have been accepted as inspired. It’s easy to explain why copies of James may not have been widespread. The massive persecution which began in AD 64 wiped out entire Christian communities and all of their writings throughout the Empire. Since James was written in 61-62, there would not have been as much time for it to be copied and spread around. This is the same reason why there were not many copies of II Peter, Jude, Revelation, II John and III John found from that period.

There are several early writers who allude to James, and some outright quote his letter as authoritative Scripture. Some scholars have shown that some Christian writers as early as the first century (AD 80-99) based parts of their writings on the book of James.

Conclusion:

Regardless of when it was written and which James wrote it, this book is filled with practical, useful instruction that applies to every Christian’s life, every single day. The commands may not always be easy, but you can rest assured that they are right and that they are from God, given as a gift to the ones who are willing to accept them (II Peter 1:3, James 1:17).

 

[1] See Woods, Guy N., Gospel Advocate Commentary on James, pages 12-ff.

[2] Barclay, William, The Letter of James, Revised Edition, page 8.

[3] Shelly, Rubel, What Christian Living is All About (Studies in James), page 3.

[4] Caton, N.T., Commentary on the Minor Epistles, pages 5-6

[5] It should be noted here that the text of Acts 15 nowhere states that this James is the Lord’s brother. However, what we learn from Paul in Galatians 2 seems to indicate that the Lord’s brother was a man of great influence in the Jerusalem church. As such, the general consensus is that the James from Acts 15 is the Lord’s brother. But to be fair, it is possible that Acts 15 is a reference to James the apostle.

[6] Roberts, J.W., A Commentary on the General Epistle of James, pages 13-16

[7] Shelly, Rubel, ibid, page 6.

[8] Roberts, J.W., ibid, page 27.

Coming Soon!

We  take a break from our regular rotation of stuff today to tell you about some things that we’re really excited about!  These are projects that we’ve got in the works and hope to bring to you soon.

The Paul Cobb Short-Film Collection

Yes, Paul has started his own movie-making company.  Well, that is, he’s learned how to use the scanner, Microsoft Paint, and Windows Movie Maker to create his own short cartoons.  We plan on making these available to watch soon.  But don’t blink.  After all, they’re short and you might miss them!

The Truth and the Liars

Our commentary on Second John is finished, and we are putting the finishing touches on the eBook.  We think you’ll really appreciate this one.  If you want to read it and just can’t wait, then pick up our official e-Sword collection which already has it in there!

Wait, Not THEM!

Currently, we are working on a commentary on the book of Habakkuk (at the request of one of the Christians where we live).  This book, titled Wait, Not THEM! will hopefully be finished and ready by early August.

The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts

Writing this book has been one of Brad’s goals for six years.  In it, every verse in Acts that mentions or alludes to the Holy Spirit will be examined to see (1) what we can learn about the Holy Spirit from that verse, and (2) whether a miraculous or non-miraculous working of the Spirit is under consideration.  This book will also divide up the references by who is speaking/writing, so you can see how each of them talked about the Holy Spirit, and what they emphasized.

This book, Lord willing, will be finished around the end of September.

Alexander Campbell: a Collection (Vol. 2)

This book has been in the planning stages for about six months, and we are just about done with it.  Look for an official announcement At the beginning of July!

There’s a lot more that we could tell you about, but this is probably enough for today.  May your day be fantastic!

 

 

Cobb Kids Audio Show – Episode 5 – Puck’s Farm

After months and months of planning, and hours upon hours of recording and editing work, the latest episode of the Cobb Kids Audio Show is ready for your listening pleasure!

For those of you who might be new to the scene, let me give you a brief recap.  A few years ago, Paul Cobb was listening to old time radio shows, and decided to make up his own.  With the help of his sisters (and mom and dad), they recorded and released a 6-minute long episode called “Funnier and Funnier.”  It had laugh tracks and sound effects and everything.

In this brand new episode (the fifth in the series), we finally figure out why Puck’s farm isn’t making any money.  Mr. Oldman discloses his baseball delusion.  Scarlet, Lizzie, and Josie spend time reading the latest Laura Lane book, and Bruce gets…well, if we told you, it’d ruin the story!

But, as a bonus, we will tell you that we have sponsors for the show this time!  Well, I guess for them to be real sponsors, there’d be money involved.  So, perhaps it’s better to say we’ve got commercials!  And we think you’ll enjoy what they have to say.

Episode Fun Facts:

  • The idea for this show originated shortly after episode 2 was recorded.  And it’s been really hard keeping it a secret for these two years.
  • Both of the commercials feature Scott Roderick–or, as he’s more affectionately known by the family, Uncle Booger.
  • Some of the arguing between characters near the end was ad-libbed by Paul and Deserae Cobb.
  • In this episode, we find out something very strange about Josie.

The Cobb Kids have put a lot of work into these episodes.  The first four are all available free of charge in the Audio Show section.  If you like them, try out this brand-new 15-minute episode for just 99 cents!  All proceeds go to the Cobb Kids.

The David Lipscomb Commentary Collection

David Lipscomb.  He was a gentleman and a true scholar.  He helped hold the church together, especially in the south, after the Civil War.  He helped to create the Gospel Advocate, and was its editor for decades.  He also helped found the Nashville Bible School (now David Lipscomb University).

DavidLipscomb

In 1896, David Lipscomb published his commentary on Acts.  Before his death in 1917, Lipscomb had compiled his own commentary notes on the books of John, and all of Paul’s epistles (Romans through Philemon), but never published them because he believed they could be improved upon.  He requested that J.W. Shepherd, his dear friend, expand these notes and publish them.  Beginning in 1935, the David Lipscomb commentary collection began to see the light of day.

J.W. Shepherd took Lipscomb’s notes, but also went back and scoured through all of the articles that Lipscomb had written for the Gospel Advocate to find more material.  And, at the request of Lipscomb, Shepherd also added his own notes to “fill out” the commentaries on Paul’s epistles.  C.E.W. Dorris was chosen to expand the notes on John.

Then these commentaries were made available to the public.

  • John (originally published in 1939)
  • Acts (originally published in 1896)
  • Romans (originally published in 1935, expanded in 1943)
  • First Corinthians (originally published in 1935)
  • Second Corinthians and Galatians (originally published in 1936)
  • Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (originally published in 1939)
  • Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (originally published in 1942)

Years have gone by, and these commentaries are still of great use!  This is why we have taken the time (well over 100 hours of work) to convert these wonderful commentaries into e-Sword format (as well as theWord, MySword, and e-Sword HD).

Seven volumes, 2110 pages of notes, all available in one very usable format.  We have taken great care to make sure the formatting is beneficial, that the spelling is correct, and as much as was possible, check to make sure the cross-references  were correct (if you find a mistake, please let us know).  Comments in italics were added by J.W. Shepherd (or C.E.W. Dorris in the book of John).

Look at the example below (Acts 2:38), and see for yourself.  Click on the image to enlarge it.

Lipscombe-Sword

This collection is an absolute bargain!  Just $4.99 gets you the entire seven-volume set (that’s less than 72 cents per volume!).

NowAvailable

Justified by Works

The Cobb family is proud to announce the release of our newest book!

JamesCover(Front Only)

Justified by Works: A Study of the Letter from James is a 264-page commentary on what has been called the most practical book of the New Testament.

There is an extensive introduction, answering questions such as:

  • Who wrote it?
  • When was it written?
  • Does the date matter?
  • Who first received the letter?

Every verse is covered with in-depth notes discussing things like (1) how each verse and phrase fit into the overall context of the book, (2) a better understanding of some of the original words, (3) how the passages applied to the original readers, (4) how we can apply these same verses to us today.

It is thorough and in-depth, but it is also very easy to read and understand.  The books was written to be useful to new Christians as well as those who have been teaching the Bible for years.

And to celebrate the release of this new book, we’re making it available at a massive discount for this week only.

Paperback – $9.99 $5.99

eBook – $2.99 99 cents!

James D. Bales – Woe Unto You?

Who were the Pharisees?

Why did Jesus condemn them?

Are you under the same condemnation?

Bales - Woe Unto You Cover

The Pharisees are constantly a thorn in the side of Jesus.  And Jesus uses the words, “Woe unto you,” to describe them.  This book examines the many different times that Jesus uses this phrase.  Why were the Pharisees condemned?  And are we guilty of the same thing?

This 121-page, 13-lesson book is specially designed to encourage Christians to examine themselves in the light of God’s word.  This is the third book in the official James D. Bales eBook Collection.

From the introduction:

“Our study of Christ and the Pharisees is not just a matter of historical interest, nor just to learn what Jesus said about somebody else. In our study we must constantly be aware of the fact that Jesus clearly said: “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20) When this is kept in mind we shall examine our own lives to see whether or not we have been following the same principles which the Pharisees follow­ed. If we are following these principles, if we have become like them, then these woes are unto us as surely as they were unto the Pharisees. Thus the very title of this study urges the reader to ask himself: Are these woes unto me?”

  1. JESUS AND THE PHARISEES
  2. WAS CHRIST TOO HARD ON THE PHARISEES?
  3. THE RESPONSE OF THE PHARISEES
  4. HOW THE PHARISEES ATTACKED JESUS
  5. AS THEY BID, NOT AS THEY DO
  6. TO BE SEEN OF MEN
  7. SHUTTING THE KINGDOM
  8. THE PRAYING “PREYERS”
  9. TWO-FOLD MORE A SON OF HELL.
  10. SWEARING AND TITHING
  11. HYPOCRISY
  12. THE LAMENTATION OVER JERUSALEM
  13. WOE UNTO YOU?

Available now for just $2.99

James Bales – The Prophet Like Unto Moses

The second book in the Official James D. Bales eBook Collection is now available!

bales prophet like Moses

This book of 117 pages goes into great detail showing that Jesus Christ–and only Jesus Christ–is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

If you like types/antitypes, this book is for you, because it shows the many different ways that Moses was a “type” of Christ.

If you like reading about fulfilled prophecy, this book is for you, because it shows the overwhelming evidence that Christ fulfilled this prophecy that God gave through Moses.

A quote about the book:

I was blown away by the content.  I especially thought the proof of Moses’ foretelling of the destruction of Israel connected with Jesus’ foretelling of the same event was well-presented and extremely convincing. –-A preacher from Oklahoma.

 

  1. The Prophecy and the Claim.
  2. A Prophet Like Moses.
  3. The Two Mediators.
  4. The New Covenant.
  5. Predictions By Moses.
  6. Predictions By Christ
  7. Required of Them.
  8. The Prophet Like Unto Moses.
  9. A Host of Likenesses.
  10. A Line of Prophets?

This eBook is being made available with the permission of the copyright holder for only $5.99.  It is well worth that and more!