Tag Archives: New Testament

The Model Church

Sometimes, when people realize that I’ve made a lot of old brotherhood books available again (electronically and in print), they send me requests.  “Do you have this book?”  “Can you make this book available?”  And I think it’s great!  One of the ones that I get the most requests for is today’s addition to the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary:

The Model Church by G.C. Brewer.

Here’s why: It is a good, succinct description of elders (and their qualifications), deacons (and their qualifications), and reverential worship in the church.

Having said that, brother Brewer did take the position in the book that female deacons were probably acceptable–so while there’s a lot in the book we agree with, there’s also that part that we don’t (we wrote an article that dealt somewhat with this here).  As always, compare everything with the word of God.

Here’s the chapters, to help give you an idea:

 

  1. What Constitutes A Congregation
  2. The Qualifications of an Elder
  3. The Duties of the Elders
  4. The Relation of the Overseen to the Overseer
  5. How Elders Are Made
  6. How Elders Are Unmade
  7. The Diaconate
  8. Dealing with the Disorderly
  9. Figuring on the Finances
  10. Church Music
  11. A Model Church
  12. Prayer-Meeting Topics

Because of the continual requests for this book, we are making it available in the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary, but also in print for those who want to use it in their Bible classes or personal study.

To purchase the print edition, click here.

To read this book online, or save it for later enjoyment, simply click the link below!

The Model Church (G.C. Brewer)

-Bradley S. Cobb

Sermon Wednesday – The Divisions of the Bible

Back after a few weeks’ hiatus, we are proud to continue our series on “Fundamentals of the Faith.”  And you might have noticed that we’ve moved this feature up a day.  Instead of “Sermon Thursday,” we’ll be having “Sermon Wednesday.”

Enjoy!  And, as always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let us know!

Introduction:

Everyone understands the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament…right?

  • The Old Testament is still binding today for all people.
  • The Old Testament is still binding today, but only for the Jews.
  • The Old Testament is still binding today, but only for Christians.
  • The Old Testament is still binding today except for the animal sacrifices.
  • The Old Testament is not binding on anyone today in any way.

OK, so there’s some confusion about the Old Testament; but everyone understands the New Testament, right?

  • The New Testament only applies to those who have become Christians.
  • The New Testament applies to all people.
  • The New Testament applies to everyone except Jews.
  • The New Testament begins in Matthew.
  • The New Testament doesn’t begin until Acts 2.
  • The New Testament didn’t really officially become effective until Jerusalem was destroyed.

Every one of these things are said by people about the two testaments in the Bible.  To say there is confusion about the Old Testament and New Testament is an understatement.

Today, we’ll look at the two divisions of the Bible, who they apply to, and why.

The two divisions explained.

We get the names “Old Testament” and “New Testament” from the Bible.

  • II Corinthians 3:14 – “…the reading of the Old Testament.”
  • This is also called the “first testament” (Hebrews 9:15, 18).
  • I Corinthians 11:25 – “this is the New Testament in my blood…”
  • See also II Corinthians 3:6, Hebrews 9:15.

What is a “testament”?

This is the same as a covenant, an agreement between two or more parties.  There are two types of covenants: suzerainty and parity (don’t worry, you don’t need to remember the names).

A parity covenant is an agreement between two or more parties of equal standing.  It’s like a business merger.  God is never involved in these kind of covenants, because no one is equal to Him.

A suzerainty covenant is where the more powerful party sets the rules.  This is like the covenants the Roman Empire had with the nations it conquered.  Every covenant involving God is this kind; He is the powerful party, and He sets the rules.

So, when you see the word “testament,” think of the word “covenant.”

The two covenants (or testaments) were both given by God at different times.

The first covenant (the Old Testament), which is also called “the Law of Moses” (Malachi 4:4), was established by God in the book of Exodus (see Exodus 20) and includes all the commands and restrictions given in Exodus through Deuteronomy.

Exodus through Deuteronomy? What about the other 35 books of the Old Testament?

Genesis is the story leading up to the giving of the Law of Moses, beginning with creation, and going through the life of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (whose family is the focus of the rest of the Old Testament).

Genesis contained teachings and commands that would be the foundation of the covenant that was given (such as circumcision, tithing, animal sacrifices, etc…).  But they were not the Covenant itself.

The books after Deuteronomy give the history of Jacob’s family (the Israelites) after the Law of Moses (the first covenant) was given.  Joshua through Esther give, basically, a chronological history of the Israelites until the 400’s BC.  Psalms though Song of Solomon are writings of some of the famous Israelites mentioned in the historical books (primarily David and Solomon).

Isaiah through Malachi (the “prophets”) contain some historical narratives, but their primary focuses are (1) attempts to bring the Israelites back to faithfulness, and (2) prophecies of things that had not yet taken place including many prophecies about Christ and the church.

The new covenant (New Testament), which is also called “the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), was established by God in the book of Acts (see Acts 2), and includes all the commands and restrictions given in Acts through Revelation.

But what about the gospels? Where do they fit in?

Like Genesis, the gospel accounts tell the story leading up to a covenant.  They contain teachings and commands that would be foundational to the new covenant (such as “love one another,” faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and others).

The book of Acts is a brief history of the New Covenant people (the church) from its establishment on Pentecost until around AD 62.

The books of Romans through Jude (the “epistles” or “letters”) are like the books of prophecy in the Old Testament—written with two main focuses (1) to bring Christians to a higher level of faithfulness, and to a lesser extent (2) prophecies about events which had not yet taken place (some of the epistles—like Philemon—don’t include any prophecies).

Revelation is like the epistles, except that it focuses heavily on prophecy about things which had not yet taken place when it was written, but it still encourages Christians to a higher level of faithfulness.

There are two covenants in the Bible, both given by God.

The question before us now is…

Who do the covenants apply to?

Covenants made with specific people do not apply to those outside of that group.

The covenants made between the Roman Empire and the nations it conquered do not apply AT ALL to other nations.  China, which was never conquered by Rome, was never in one of those covenants.  You may say “that’s a big bag of duh right there,” but it is important we point this out.

Covenants only apply to the people who are involved in it.

But just as clear, we must point out that covenants apply to everyone involved in it.

If Rome conquered a nation, then every single person in that nation was now involved—no exceptions.

Covenants made for or at a specific time do not apply outside of that timeframe.

A covenant is an agreement that says “from now on, this is how things are going to be.”  It only becomes enforceable when it begins—not before.  And if the covenant has a cut-off date, it is no longer effective or enforceable after that date.

It’s like a football contract: the player cannot demand that the team pay him for the years he wasn’t under contract, nor can he demand that they keep paying him after the contract has expired.

You may think that this is so obvious that I shouldn’t even bring it up, but it needs to be said because of some of the confusion about the Old Testament and New Testament.

With these things in mind, let’s look at who the old and new covenants applied to.

The Old Testament was given to a specific people.  God had established a covenant with Abraham, then Isaac, and then Jacob to give their descendants the land of Canaan (Exodus 6:4-5).  In Exodus 20:2, God announces that He is speaking directly to the group of people that He had just led out of the bondage of Egypt.

  • What group had He led out of Egypt? The Israelites.
  • Who was God speaking to? The Israelites.
  • Was He speaking to anyone else? No.

Immediately after stating who He was addressing, God gave the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17).

God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, all the Israelites, and no one but the Israelites.

God never commanded that Gentiles (non-Jews) follow the Ten Commandments or the rest of the Law of Moses—it was only ever for the Jews.

This Law of Moses was not intended to last forever—it was given for a specific period of time.

God, through Jeremiah, foretold that God would establish a “new covenant” with His people (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  God specifically states in that passage that it is not the same covenant as the one He made with them when He brought them out of Egypt.

When a new covenant is made, then any old ones are no longer valid.

A football player cannot play under two separate contracts with the same team at the same time.  Only one contract is valid.  So, when this “new covenant” was made, the old one was no longer valid.

Jesus said that the “new testament” (covenant) was in His blood—which was shed for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28).  Christ’s blood was shed on the cross (John 19:33-34).

Jesus connected His death and remission of sins, saying it must first be preached in Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47).  Remission of sins was first offered in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:38).

The New Testament (covenant) began on Pentecost—making the Old Testament no longer valid beginning at that point.

The only group that the Old Testament was ever binding on was the Jews, and that Testament was no longer in effect, starting on the Day of Pentecost after the death of Jesus Christ.  The Law of Christ—the New Testament—became effective beginning in Jerusalem on the same day.

It was first a covenant with the Jews only, but beginning in Acts 10 it was expanded to include the Gentiles as well.  See Romans 1:16 – I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe: to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

There are only two groups of people in the world, so far as Jews were concerned—Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles).  The New Testament applies to both groups, therefore it is a universal covenant.  It applies to every person—none are excluded.

Those who reject it are still subject to the punishments contained in it for disobedience, for breaking the laws.

Because there is only one Covenant in force today—and it is a universal covenant –THAT is the covenant we need to be most concerned about studying.

We still read and study the Old Testament, because it helps us understand God, how He works, His actions towards His people in the past, and for great encouragement from examples of faithful followers then.  But we need to remember that the entire purpose of the Old Testament was to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24-27).

The New Testament is what we live under today, which is why we should focus most of all on its pages.

Conclusion:

The New Testament says that all have sinned, and thus all deserve death (Romans 6:23, 3:23).

The New Testament says that in order to become part of God’s family and receive the blessings of the New Covenant, you have to believe in Christ, repent of your sins, and be baptized to have those sins washed away.

After doing that, the New Testament commands that we continually strive for a life of greater faithfulness to Him, repenting when we’ve messed up (Acts 8:22), and keeping our focus on heaven so that we don’t lose what we’ve worked for (II John 8).

Make the decision to obey the New Testament of Jesus Christ today!

-Bradley Cobb

Bible Q&A – The Thief on the Cross–Does it Matter?

Question: Last week, you posted a question and showed that the thief on the cross lived and died under the Old Testament. My question is why does that even matter? Why post an entire article on something so trivial?–Anonymous.

First, thank you for taking the time to read our article. Second, thank you for taking the time to drop us a note asking this question. There’s two answers to your question: the short answer and the slightly longer answer.

The short answer:

Someone asked us the question, so we took the time to answer it.

The slightly longer answer:

The Bible states that we are to “rightly divide” or “handle properly” the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15). There are many good, sincere people who have mishandled the story of the thief on the cross–and some people will lose their souls over it!  This is not a trivial thing.

Let me explain.

There are several religious groups–prominent, well-known religious groups–that try to tell people that they can be saved just like the thief on the cross was: By simply acknowledging Jesus as the Christ.

When it’s pointed out that Jesus said “he that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), they frequently run to the thief on the cross, and say “He wasn’t baptized, therefore baptism isn’t required for salvation.” It doesn’t matter how many times baptism is shown in Scriptures to be connected with salvation and sin-removal (see I Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38, 22:16, and several others), they still point to the thief on the cross as their proof.

The problem with their stance–with their sincerely-held belief–is that the thief on the cross isn’t an example of someone being saved during the New Testament. The thief lived and died under the Old Testament. It’d be just as logical to appeal to the examples of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, and David for the answer to “what must I do to be saved” as it is to appeal to the example of the thief on the cross. All of them lived and died before the New Testament ever came into existence.

The thief on the cross lived and died during a time when forgiveness was based on obedience to the Law of Moses and the system of animal sacrifices. If we appeal to his being saved on the cross, then logically–to be consistent–we also have to argue that we can be forgiven today by means of animal sacrifices.

One other thing to consider regarding the thief on the cross is that his salvation, as promised by Jesus, was not the same as becoming a child of God. In other words, the thief was already a child of God. He was an Israelite, born into the family of God by means of his ethnic heritage–by means of being a Jew. He was like the Prodigal Son–someone who was already part of the family of the Father, but who had gone astray and needed to be brought back.

Yet whenever the thief on the cross is brought up as an example of how to be saved, people use it as an example of how to become part of the family of God. The thief didn’t become a child of God while on the cross. He simply came back home to God.

God Himself (speaking through Peter) answered the question “What must we do?” with the following words: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37-38).

When someone–regardless of how well-meaning and sincere they may be–teaches that all you have to do to become a child of God is to do what the thief on the cross did, they’re teaching a false salvation.

The thief on the cross is an example of how an erring child of God can come back in repentance. He is not an example of how someone becomes a child of God.

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.

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).

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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!