January 25, 2021

Wednesdays with James: Lesson Three

Photo by Beth Wyse

Photo by Beth Wyse

Ordinary Time provides an opportunity for those who follow the liturgical year to take a different direction in their approach to the Scriptures. In Ordinary Time, we go week by week, examining how we might live the life we share together in Christ. Ordinary Time is therefore a good season for the Church to study books of the Bible, in particular, the epistles, which were written to various congregations and individuals to guide them in the Christ-life.

Our study this summer will be on the Epistle of James.

• • •

Wednesdays with James
Lesson Three: The Ongoing Teaching Ministry of Jesus

A continuation of Jesus’ own ministry is reflected here.

• Patrick J. Hartin

Though it is often not perceived this way, the Epistle of James is one of the most “Jesus-shaped” letters in the New Testament. As Patrick J. Hartin says in his Sacra Pagina commentary, “James shows that he is the true heir to Jesus’ message, in fidelity to their common heritage within the house of Israel.”

James forms a “bridge” between ministry of Jesus and the letters of Paul, which reflect the Gentile mission. This early encyclical was sent to communities of mostly Jewish believers (1:1), and its teaching contains allusions to Jesus’ teaching in every paragraph.

James was circulated before the Gospels were written down, so it is not that James “quotes” them. But rather, as both Peter Davids and Patrick Hartin observe, James regularly alludes to the synoptic tradition of Jesus’ teachings, at times nearly quoting Jesus (5:12), but more often using words and phrases from Jesus’ sayings in the context of his own audience.

His main source is what we now call “The Sermon on the Mount” from the Gospel of Matthew. Below is a chart adapted from Peter Davids’ commentary, showing the allusions to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7:

Epistle of James Allusions to Jesus’ Teachings Gospel of Matthew
James 1:2 Count trials as joy Matthew 5:11-12
James 1:4 That you may be perfect Matthew 5:48
James 1:5 Ask and it will be given Matthew 7:7
James 1:17 The Father gives good things Matthew 7:11
James 1:20 Anger does not produce God’s
Matthew 5:22
James 1:22 Be a doer of the word Matthew 7:24
James 1:23 Not doing = foolishness Matthew 7:26
James 2:5 God has chosen the poor Matthew 5:3,5
James 2:10 Whoever breaks one
Matthew 5:19
James 2:11 If you murder Matthew 5:21-22
James 2:13 Mercy triumphs Matthew 5:7
James 2:15 Naked and lacking food Matthew 6:25
James 3:12 Good tree, good fruit Matthew 7:16
James 4:2 Have not because you ask not Matthew 7:7
James 4:3 Asking and receiving Matthew 7:7-8
James 4:4 Can’t be friends with God and
the world
Matthew 6:24
James 4:8 Purify your hearts Matthew 6:22
James 4:9 Blessed are those who mourn Matthew 5:4
James 4:11-12 Do not judge Matthew 7:1
James 4:13-14 You do not know what
tomorrow will bring
Matthew 6:34
James 5:2 Rotten and moth-eaten riches Matthew 6:19-20
James 5:9 Liable to judgment Matthew 5:22, 7:1
James 5:10 In the same way, the prophets Matthew 5:11-12
James 5:12 Let your yes be yes, your no
be no
Matthew 5:34-37

James clearly recognizes Jesus’ teaching as the new “Torah” for the believing community. Hartin stresses how this underscores that the early Christians saw themselves as heirs to Israel’s tradition, as reflected in her prophetic tradition that was brought to its culmination in Jesus. This is seen especially in James’s concern for the poor and matters of economic justice, and in his down-to-earth emphasis on faith that acts through love and peacemaking rather than on maintaining certain rituals.

Evangelical Christians, in particular, continue to have a blindspot when it comes to knowing how to incorporate the Gospels and Jesus’ life into their preaching and approach to ministry. By and large, they reflect Paul (or perhaps better, their understanding of Paul as a missioner to the Gentiles). James, on the other hand, shows us how to take Jesus’ teaching and apply it to his followers.

As Mary said so simply, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

• • •

Photo by Beth Wyse on Flickr.


  1. Christiane says

    “Evangelical Christians, in particular, continue to have a blindspot when it comes to knowing how to incorporate the Gospels and Jesus’ life into their preaching and approach to ministry.”

    Is it really a ‘blindspot’, or was there an active campaign among some fundamentalist-evangelicals to remove Christ as the lens through which to view the whole of sacred Scripture. Whereas most of the Body of Christ celebrates Our Lord as the focus of sacred Scripture because He spoke and acted in the very Person of God, you had groups like the SBC changing their Baptist Faith & Message 2000 by eliminating this phrase: ” The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”

    That phrase, which says so much of centering on Christ, was present in the Baptist Faith & Message 63. But the fundamentalists couldn’t stomach it, and when I asked ‘why’ on SB blogs, I was told by some that they considered the phrase to make it too easy for ‘liberals’ to misinterpret sacred Scripture.

    No, I think that the ‘blindspot’ was something carefully engineered, so that the doctrines of men could portray God as different from Our Lord’s revelation of Him . . . hence ‘red-letter’ Christianity was made fun of and belittled by fundamentalsists.

    The fall-out? Fundamentalism reigns in certain evangelical circles. And yes, St. Paul is much quoted but it is done far from the context of ” The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ “, and the SBC has wandered away from mainline Christianity as a result. St. Paul would be the first to agree that not using the lens of Jesus Christ to interpret his teachings would be a profound mis-use of sacred Scripture.

    • “(W)hen I asked ‘why’ on SB blogs, I was told by some that they considered the phrase to make it too easy for ‘liberals’ to misinterpret sacred Scripture.”

      Typically, when I ran across this type of thinking (and engaged in it myself, unfortunately), it’s meant as a line of defense against works-righteousness and a non-Reformation view of salvation. “Yes, Jesus talked about good works a lot, but that can’t be all there is – even pagans and Catholics do good works, and we KNOW they aren’t saved!”

      • What if that is all there is, tho?

        Believe and do good works.

        Sort of undercuts all those purity and sin management tendencies.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And all those Sin-Sniffers, Witchfinders, Pure, and Righteous will have to look for another job. One with much less perqs, benefits, and payoff.

        • Dana Ames says

          it really is that simple.

          Trust Jesus and live a truly human life (because “good” is what we were meant to be) –

          BECAUSE the Father loves us, Jesus has smashed death from the inside out, and he has given us his Spirit to help us; therefore we don’t have to be afraid of ANYTHING, so we can learn to love and act from love. And Jesus has united us to and in the Church, which is meant to be the expression of God’s life in the world.

          (That’s not to say any church or any person is perfect – no, not at all; it is only to say that what the Church is is not to be compared with any “organization” – it is meant to be something Other.)

          Fr Stephen writes:
          “The heart of the Christian faith is belief that God became man, Jesus Christ, and that Jesus, in His death, descended into the depths of human darkness and brokenness and made for us a way to healing and wholeness. This is made know to us in His Resurrection from the dead.

          “The teachings and actions of Christ in the gospels center in this reality.

          “The grammar of the faith (in Orthodox Christianity) is a way of seeing the world and speaking about it that is permeated with the ancient Christian faith of the Middle East, its original home.”


      • “Yes, Jesus talked about good works a lot, but that can’t be all there is – even pagans and Catholics do good works, and we KNOW they aren’t saved!”

        Was at a gathering the other day when a person asked us to pray for some people he knows. I picked up my pen to write down their names. He went on to say they were devout Catholics and they were unsaved. I put down my pen and prayed for him, instead.

    • Christiane, I agree with you (having been a Baptist for 30 years, and SBC for 25 of that – I still get a twitch when I drive by an SBC church) but I think there is more to it than that, and it goes beyond fundamentalism and the SBC.

      I think three other factors play into this. The first is Dispensationalism. Though there is some variation (especially among Progressive Dispensationalists [if any still exist]), classic Dispensationalism tends to see Jesus’ ministry as ‘Old Testament’, directed to Israel (Jesus’ offer of the Kingdom, which they rejected, putting the Kingdom on hold until he returns). As C. I. Scofield said in the note on the Sermon on the Mount in the 1917 version:

      ‘In this sense it gives the divine constitution for the righteous government of the earth. Whenever the kingdom of heaven is established on earth it will be according to that constitution, which may be regarded as an explanation of the word “righteousness” as used by the prophets in describing the kingdom . . . In this sense the Sermon on the Mount is pure law, and transfers the offence from the overt act to the motive. . . . For these reasons, the Sermon on the Mount in its primary application gives neither the privilege nor the duty of the Church. These are found in the Epistles.’

      Thus, it’s nice moral teaching, and when Jesus comes, that’s how we’ll live, but it doesn’t apply to us (at least not now); skip to the Epistles (of Paul in particular, and be careful with James).

      The second factor is Protestantism in general – the Reformation legacy (and its concern with ‘correct’ theology). By placing so much emphasis on a perceived law/grace dichotomy (about which James seems not to have gotten the memo) and emphasizing doctrine, we find Paul much more concerned (supposedly) about theological matters and with a similar opposition to law. I say ‘supposedly’ because I don’t believe that to be the case. Paul’s concerns are much more focused on community and the ethics of that community than ‘doctrine’ (and the center of Paul’s thoughts and concerns are NOT ‘justification by faith’ but ‘the new people of God’). In that sense, Paul is very much in line with Jesus’ teaching – the Sermon on the Mount is all about living in community and how we treat each other. But it’s much easier to reduce Paul to bullet points and systematics than Jesus, which brings me to the last factor.

      The third factor, I believe, is that as Westerners, we don’t know what to do with narrative literature – stories! The gospels are narrative literature, but they teach ‘theology’. The gospel writers are using stories, carefully shaping the accounts to emphasize their particular points (which in itself gives inerrantists fits), so their readers understand Jesus, what he said, and what it means, and what it says about God. A good example is comparing the account of ‘Stilling the Storm’ between Mark, Matthew, and Luke’s version. Looking at the details brings out what they are trying to teach. Mark, in particular, is teaching ‘theology’ – telling his readers something about Jesus (and it comes in a series of episodes that demonstrate his authority over sickness, nature, demons, even death). But, we just don’t know what to do with narrative (combined with the fact that we are so far removed from that world we usually miss the point anyway) so we run to Paul because he is much more ‘Western’ in this writings (or at least we think he is – we miss much of what Paul means as well because we are so far removed from that world – but I’ll avoid that hobby horse for now).

      Take all that and throw in a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of anti-intellectualism, and you get the SBC!

      • Christiane says

        Thanks, GREG

        I appreciate the detailed comment. I had heard about Scofeild’s famous ‘footnote’ in a study Bible and how it contributed to a change in theology, but I had not connected the dots the way you have done in detail. I cannot imagine a religion where Our Lord’s teaching is pushed aside so much. In my faith, we are ‘red-letter’ in the sense that we believe Christ spoke and acted in the very Person of God, so His words and teachings are considered the heart of sacred Scripture for us. We stand up in Church when the Gospels are carried in procession, and we stand when the Gospel is read aloud at every mass. And when the Gospels are read aloud, you often see the reader bow his or her head when she or he says the Holy Name of Jesus . . . we learn this from childhood so it is a part of our nature.

        What kind of Christianity pushes Our Lord to the side? Well, I’m learning, but I am not happy to hear it, no. I keep hearing the response to Our Lord when He asked if the disciples too were going away: ‘to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life’

        When will Christians all understand that EVERYTHING about Jesus Christ has eternal implications? He cannot be ‘side-lined’. He IS the second Person of the Holy Trinity. And He spoke and acted in the Person of God for all time and all people.
        Thanks again for your comment.

        • I totally agree, Christ’s teaching is the very heart of Scripture. How can one believe in Him if one does not know or deliberately ignore what He said and what He did? Is our faith placed on an idea or a person?

          • “Is our faith placed on an idea or a person?”

            Great question. Peter Enns (http://www.peteenns.com) argues that for too many it’s placed in an idea – the idea of certainty. If I have all the answers (or correct theology) I have faith (and I have been in many churches where theological certainty is mistaken for faith). But, as he says (quoting me, of course) ‘the opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty’. Faith in my correct theology is not the same as faith in Christ (or as N. T. Wright famously put it ‘One is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith’). And to tie this back to James, claiming to have faith is not the same as having it. If I have the theology right, who needs to love their neighbor, much less their theological opponent?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Back in the 20th, didn’t COMMUNISM have the same Idea of Certainty and All The Answers?

            (Though every Hoopy Frood with their Towel knows the REAL Answer is “Forty-Two”.)

        • I had heard about Scofeild’s famous ‘footnote’ in a study Bible and how it contributed to a change in theology

          The concept of personal agency is perhaps unheard of in christianity in america, but…it was huge for me to realize Scofield or anyone were just men, men with opinions, and I have total freedom to test and weigh what they say, and DISAGREE with them.

          Problem arises when you look around and realize that once again, you are the deviant misfit who doesn’t belong in the majority.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Even though to a LOT of Christianity in America, Scofield’s footnotes are THE 67th Book of the Bible (along with Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth and many-many others).

            (Though there’s weirder out there. Check out a “Dake’s Annotated Bible” sometime. And do what everyone does — skip the two center columns of King Jimmy and go entirely to the two outer columns of Dake’s commentary. Real Weird City.)

      • Robert F says

        Re: Greg: I don’t really understand what you mean when you deny that Westerners know what to with narrative literature. It was in the West that narrative literature was finely tuned into arguably its most focused form: the novel. And it’s exclusively in the West that the most intensely narrative genre of literature, tragedy, developed, along with the tragic hero, at a very early date.

        When you say Western, I think you must mean modern. But I would argue that rationality and the language of logic itself is actually the most highly developed and purified form of narrative, and that it is exactly narrative in this form that has trapped the Western imagination. I would also say it’s no accident that it was in the West, with its highly developed tradition of narrative literature, that the Enlightenment developed; I think the two are causally linked.

        What the West doesn’t know what to with is poetry. It constantly tries to interpret poetic meaning into other words, into narrative and the most logical narrative at that. In the past narrative and poetry traveled together, in the West and elsewhere. But they’ve been made strangers in Western culture; while narrative has gained cultural dominance, poetry has become a museum piece. The yin is missing its yang.

        • Robert, what I mean is that we (generally speaking, at least in church/religious/theological contexts) don’t know how to read narrative literature (like the gospels) and see how the writers are framing their stories to teach theology – it is too subtle, too abstract. It’s great for children’s Bible stories, but for theology we like the (supposed) directness of Paul. Paul tells us ‘For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together’ (Col 1:16-17). On the other hand, Mark tells a story about Jesus stilling a storm – we turn it into greeting card fluffiness like ‘Jesus will be with you in your scariest times’ rather than seeing Mark echoing the creation story – bringing order out of chaos (Mark certainly uses Ps. 107:23-30 as the framework), just like God did in the beginning. Mark’s meaning would not have been lost on his original audience, but it is usually lost on us.

          • Robert F says

            I think you’re headed in the wrong direction. You are trying to distill a unified theological message from the NT, which is what evangelicals and others do, by interpreting the texts into other, explanatory language. I think the narratives point to a poetic truth, a visionary state, or visionary states, that can only by falsified and distorted by translation into theological and/or logical language. The poetry goes missing, when the poetry should actually be the destination.

          • Rick Ro. says

            I’m kinda with Robert F on this one. The main issue I have with Paul’s epistles isn’t the content, it’s that they’ve been used by humans to build theologies, some of which are way off the Jesus-center. I’m pretty sure Paul (nor God) intended for his epistles to be used as they’re often used.

            The last thing I want built using James’ letter is another theology…lol…

          • Rick Ro. says

            Good grief. That should read:

            “…NEVER intended for his epistles to be used as they’re often used.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            As Rob Bell put it “Math Truth and Poem Truth”.

            And we keep trying to read a Bible written in Poem Truth as if it were Math Truth.

            “Winter is Coming, Jon Snow” as a checklist of AXIOM, AXIOM, AXIOM, FACT, FACT, FACT.

          • Robert F says

            @Greg: Upon rethinking, I recognize my comment wen too far. You are right, in the Gospels Jesus speaks in a certain narrative context, a multifaceted context, and it behooves us to understand as much as we can about all those facets, to the degree that we can (incidentally, I think our modern scholarship puts us in a better position to do this than were the Church Fathers of the second, third, fourth, etc., centuries) It helps us to understand the total pattern of meaning that would’ve come across to first century Palestinian audiences.

            But I also think that Jesus frequently spoke in paradoxical utterances that were not intended to be interpreted by going back to previously established meaning categories, and finding where what he had said fit. Sometimes his sayings were meant to break down all categories, to break his audiences out of habitual ways of thinking and bring them into a new, a visionary place that could only be grasped by the poetic mind, not the ratiocinative one. I think we completely miss this in our time and place.

          • Robert F says

            @Greg: To finish up the thinking: It’s undoubtedly true the Jesus’ first audience had access to cultural/literary references that we don’t. That means that they had a familiarity with his terms that we don’t, and for which we must strive.

            But I think there’s something else. I think there was a strangeness to Jesus sayings and parables for his first century audience, an unfamiliarity, that shocked and confounded them. You can sense it in some of the NT texts; I think you know what I mean. This strangeness and element of disorientation that we sometimes encounter in reading the Gospels is not just a function of our ignorance, but something we share with his first century audience.

            Furthermore, I think the NT writers sometimes tried to neutralize the discomfit and disorientation that these sayings/parables induced by providing explanatory text for them that did not originate with Jesus. In other words, I think that as they were composing and redacting the Gospels/NT, they did what later systematizing theologies did: try to make theological sense and unity out of what was not meant by Jesus to make theological sense. I think Jesus was trying to break open the minds and heart of his audience with these paradoxical tropes, and introduce them to new vistas of seeing, being and relating. To some degree, the NT writers were working against him, trying to routinize and normalize his sayings/parables.

            Let her who has ears to hear hear.

          • Robert F says

            I think the explanatory note to the Parable of the Sower in the synoptic Gospels is a clear example of the composers/redactors of the Gospels adding a theological explanation that did not originate with Jesus, but I believe it happens in many places throughout the Gospels, mostly not with explanatory notes, but with theological interpretation through narrative construction.

      • Greg, in my peculiar view Darby and Scofield have damaged the church as much as Jerome and Augustine.

      • classic Dispensationalism tends to see Jesus’ ministry as ‘Old Testament’

        Whoa, I had forgotten about this. It’s absolutely true, I was taught this in several IFB churches growing up.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Yet among the BABBECs, Dispy is the ONLY thing you hear, AKA the One and Only Plain Meaning of SCRIPTURE(TM)!

          During my time in-country, I heard NOTHING else.
          I didn’t even know other than Dispy even existed until after I went over the wall.

          • “I went over the wall.”

            Never heard it put quite this way but now that I have I won’t be able to get this image out of my head! 🙂

          • Robert F says

            On the other side of the wall, they hold to only one correct interpretation, too: that given by the magisterium of the Church. Oh, no doubt it’s richer and more multifaceted and flexible than the one held by the little independent church down on the corner, but it’s still the only one, according to the authorities on the other side of the wall. It’s just roomier.

    • Robert F says

      Christiane, I’m curious: Where is the “lens of Jesus Christ” to be found? Are you saying that the Gospels do not interpret Christ, while Paul, and other NT writings do, and so the Gospels are the lens by which we should interpret the rest of the NT? If that’s what you’re saying, I think it’s incorrect. The authentic letters of Paul, and other Epistles as well, were composed long before the Gospels, and are historically closer to the source than they are. Both the Epistles and the Gospels use many of the same strands of oral and/or written traditions that existed in the Church community in the last half of the first century CE, but the Gospel narratives were composed decades after the Epistles, and are highly interpretative documents.

      You will not find an uninterpreted (or undistorted) “lens of Jesus Christ” in the Gospels by which to judge the Epistles and Revelation (presumably not Acts, because this is thought by scholars to have been composed by the same writer(s) as the Gospel of Luke, and in fact to be the second of a two part work, of which Luke was the first). Since the Epistles are older and closer to the source, scholars often do the opposite: they use the Epistles to assess the historical accuracy and reliability of the Gospels (and Acts). The clear lens you’re talking about doesn’t exist in the NT, and so cannot be isolated either in the Gospels or the Epistles.

      To avoid falling into the Works/Law trap that has resulted from emphasizing some parts of Paul’s Epistles too much, it is better to recognize the different voices and perspectives offered not only in other Epistles but in Paul himself as equally authoritative; and not to straitjacket everything the Epistles have to say, or the New Testament has to say, in a systematic theology that harmonizes what was not actually written in harmony. The Gospels can play an important part in this too, but not as a pure lens by which the Epistles and Revelation should be interpreted: by corroborating themes and perspective in the Epistles and Revelation with evidence from the Gospels, we arrive at multiply attested themes and elements that existed across a decades-long swath of the Church’s oral/written traditions in the second half of the first century. By following this more modest procedure rather than looking for a clear lens, we as a Church learn from how contemporary scholars approach the NT texts, and we work with history rather than against it. That may not be as satisfying as finding an unquestioned lens by which to judge all else, and it may not settle as many questions as we would like, but it is the more historically responsible way.

      • I understand what you are saying from an academic point of view, as a means to study the development of Christian thought. But faith goes way beyond that, at our deepest level we long to believe in a person, the gospels are intimate pictures of Christ. It is not enough to keep Him in our minds, it is not enough to make sure our proclamation is historical and correct, right thinking is not enough.

        • Robert F says

          I don’t understand where you get from what I wrote that I’m concerned above all else with developing a correct and historical proclamation. I’m actually concerned with recognizing the multiplicity of voices in the NT, and with not seeing a unifying “lens of Christ” that isn’t there, a lens that itself would be a n erroneous form of correct and historical proclamation.

        • Robert F says

          But if you work against history, you don’t arrive at the Christ of faith: you arrive at an illusion.

          • I agree that the whole New Testament (whole Bible actually) gives a unified picture of Christ. I’m talking at a personal level, as an ordinary person it is not enough to hear what this person did for you and who his standing is, I want to know what he said, how he reacted to others, the things he did when he was walking the earth. Let’s say my father died at an early age and he paved the way for my future through personal sacrifice. I would want to heard of all that he did for me, but my heart would long to hear about his life, what he was like.

          • Robert F says

            I think we’re not connecting, robin. When you say that you agree that the whole NT (Bible) gives a unified picture of Christ, you’re not agreeing with me, because that’s not what I’ve said, and that’s not what I believe.

          • I worded it wrong, you explicitly said that there is no unified voice. My understanding is that you meant that we should take the different ways Jesus is presented and not use one over the other as the definitive word. But back to the original issue where many fundamentalists and evangelicals never preach from the gospels because it is liberal or contradicts justification by faith, I think this is just wrong on so many levels and I have heard many people who take this approach quote the idea that the epistles were written first (as if that makes the epistles more authoritative!). I do acknowledge the gospels are stylized accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds, and I would contend that this is exactly what was needed to convey Jesus to future generations.

      • Christiane says

        Hi ROBERT,
        by ‘lens of Christ’, I referring to seeing Him as the ‘focus’ of sacred Scripture. An example: some fundamentalists teach of a ‘God of Wrath’ that differs from what Our Lord has revealed to us about God, and that is likely because they take some scriptures in the Old Testament literally and use them to define the character of God. If they used ‘what we know about God through Christ, their presentation of ‘Who God Is’ would not be opposite from what we know of God from Our Lord.

        I hope this helps.

        St. Paul served his Lord. But St. Paul did not act and speak in the very Person of God. In my Church, we understand this: that when Christ speaks, there is no ‘in other words’. Fundamentalists can easily say, St. Paul said such and such, and in other words that mean _________. But they can never say Our Lord said this, but what He really meant was __________. In my Church, when Christ has spoken, His words stand on their own power. The Holy Spirit points ONLY to Christ.

        I appreciate your comment. Maybe some of the terminology we use leads to confusion.

        • Robert F says

          But where in the NT does Christ speak, except through the words, that is through the writing, of other people?

        • Robert F says

          Remember, Christiane, that there are no quotations in the NT; there are no quotation marks. Which means that the words of Jesus as given in the Gospels depend even more for their meaning on their narrative context, there placement and embeddedness in the larger story, for whatever meaning we derive from them. That means that in the Gospels every word attributed to Jesus, even if it is historically accurate, depends for its meaning and interpretation on the larger text, the interpretative text; which means that the writers of the Gospels are shaping those meanings according to their own understanding. Nothing come directly from the mouth of the Lord, uninterpreted or unshaped.

      • Robert , what James does show us (assuming the letter is early, which most think it is), is that there was a vibrant use of a body of teaching from Jesus himself in the earliest churches. These sayings and stories and teachings were formative for the first Christians (James, after all, was a leader in the Jerusalem church).

        Paul’s contribution, in my opinion, was primarily missional (and then pastoral). His concern lay in translating the meaning of the risen Christ to Gentiles in the context of the Roman Empire. Both Paul and James write Jesus-shaped scripture – with different emphases, to different communities, for varieties of reasons.

        I’m with you completely with regard to “systematic” theology.

        • Robert F says

          Yes. The emphasis in counteracting a systematic and tendentious theological approach to Paul should not be on a naive and unwarranted trust in the historicity of the Gospels, but in highlighting both the different and harmonious voices and perspectives throughout the Epistles and Gospels/Acts, and Revelation.

        • …assuming the letter is early, which most think it is…

          Weeeeelll…having considered the other point of view I think claiming James is written by THAT James or even that it is early is extremely problematical.

          • You are welcome to contribute your reasoning for this Stephen. I haven’t read anything that’s very convincing for a late date.

            And we’ve already said that the final edition of the epistle may not have been actually penned by James, but it probably does represent his teaching.

          • Mike it’s not my intention to be a pain in the posterior. I just think it’s important to take note of the issues, which you have done. Anybody who is truly interested can look at the commentaries. The shelves groan.

  2. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

    James clearly recognizes Jesus’ teaching as the new “Torah” for the believing community. Hartin stresses how this underscores that the early Christians saw themselves as heirs to Israel’s tradition, as reflected in her prophetic tradition that was brought to its culmination in Jesus.

    I don’t think this is clear, or even demonstrable. I think James and his audience were Hebrews. They used forms, traditions, symbols, and signs that were familiar to them. Would we call the Founding Fathers heirs to England’s tradition?

    • flatrocker says

      > “Would we call the Founding Fathers heirs to England’s tradition?

      Why yes we would….when it comes to law, society, decorum, and empire building, yes they are heirs.

  3. A Bible study and I’m learning useful things. Astounding! This is really good. It had never occurred to me before the correspondence between James and the Sermon on the Mount, and there it is, plain as plain, a mirror reflecting light. This book by Hartin sounds valuable, and indeed the paperback is going for over $30 with the cheapest used copy at $17 plus. Thanks, CM, for gleaning it for the rest of us.

    Christiane quotes the deleted phrase, ”The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” I don’t know if it was amended or just dropped, but in effect the whole Evangelical segment operates under the Prime Directive of ”The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is the Bible.” I lay that one at the feet of Martin Luther. No, he wasn’t first and, yes, he had good reasons at the time, but the whole Protestant wing has been trapped in that circular cage for 500 years, looking thru the bars and thinking they are on the outside looking in.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      … in effect the whole Evangelical segment operates under the Prime Directive of ”The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is the Bible.”

      And the Bible is true because the Bible Says The Bible Is True.
      Completely Self-Referential. So There!

      This is commonly called “The Islamization of Christianity”, i.e. “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!”
      And this guy Jesus (who’s supposed to have something to do with it) gets thrown under the bus in favor of the Holy Book. “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!”

      • Yeah, our pastor said a few weeks ago that the church’s purpose was to study the word of God and to understand it more fully in order to obey it more fully. I was astounded. I thought the church’s purpose was to be a witness to Jesus Christ. But then, I don’t have an M.Div degree.

    • “I lay that one at the feet of Martin Luther.”

      You’re exactly right, Charles. When Luther pointed to the Bible as authoritative as opposed to the Church, it became imperative that the Bible be interpreted correctly and, as you say, Protestants have been trapped into arriving at more and more precise interpretations in order to achieve that purpose. Like you, I’m not saying Luther was wrong but somewhere along the way the concept of Sola Scriptura morphed into Solo Scriptura .

      • Robert F says

        Well, Catholicism insists that the Bible must be interpreted correctly, but that only the Magisterium is able to do this.

        • Christiane says

          Kind of like when the Church gathered for the Councils that formatted the canon? 🙂

          The story of the development of sacred Scripture is woven into the history of the Church, from the time of Christ to the days when the oral tradition was carried to the five great centers of Christianity that had come out from Jerusalem, to the liturgies of the early Christians with their ‘Service of the Word’ and their Eucharistic celebration; to the letters and epistles copied and taken throughout Christendom, to the time when the witnesses who sat at the feet of the Apostles themselves decided to record faithfully what they had learned in case Our Lord did not return as soon as they expected Him to come.

          St. Luke describes some of his thinking at the beginning of his testament:
          “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,* to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. ” (from the Holy Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 1)

          Concerning the formatting of the canon, the Church considered many ‘gospels’ that had been written, and IN COMMUNITY of the Councils, selected four for reasons related to how widespread they had been used consistently throughout the whole of Christendom in the liturgies of the people. The early Church had no problem believing that the authors were inspired . . . . and today, the Church continues to believe in that inspiration as a matter of faith.

          I suppose ‘the magisterium’ is a phrase that does not receive much understanding in the Protestant world, but in my Church, we like to think of it as guardians and servants of the Word, in the same way that the first Christians were when they sat at the feet of the Apostles and received the Word orally, and passed it down carefully until the time when it became written testament. Why wasn’t it written immediately? Because the early Christians thought Our Lord’s return to them would be imminent. Again, I hope this helps some.

          • Robert F says

            And yet there was no universal Council that defined the NT canon, only local ones. I understand that Roman Catholic Councils assembled after the Great Schism claimed universality in their definition of the canon, but neither the Eastern Orthodox nor Protestants recognize those Councils to be universal.

          • Christiane says

            Hi ROBERT,
            the canon of the New Testament was not challenged by the Eastern Orthodox after the Great Schism, and the Protestants (with some reservations) did also accept the validity of the work of the early Councils in deciding what belonged in the Church’s official canon of New Testament books . . .

            for fifteen centuries, the works in that canon were hand-copied in scriptoriums by monks and their work was carefully checked for any divergence from the original texts, so as to guard the integrity of sacred Scripture . . . . I suspect the work of the Church has always been to find the original teachings of the Apostles, to gather these teachings together when written and to preserve them and pass them on with integrity. So your Bible has quite a history in how it came into your hands. Most people have no knowledge of how this collection of NT sacred books came to exist, and in learning about it, their confidence in the workings of the early Church to collect and pass on these writings with integrity comes to be appreciated.

  4. Robert F inquires of Christiane>>Where is the “lens of Jesus Christ” to be found?

    I would say by far the best place to find it is in Luke’s account of the two disciples meeting the resurrected Jesus on the way to Emmaus. Some have speculated that Luke himself might have been one of those disciples. Whether that is so or not, unfortunately Luke did not write down the extensive explanation Jesus gave of what they saw looking thru this lens, and as we all know, if it ain’t wrote down in words, it ain’t real, it don’t exist.

    If only Jesus had returned in Spirit after his ascension to bring these matters to our understanding. In words, of course, written down, of course, all agreed on as to meaning and application, neat and tidy, plainly obvious to anyone with a rational mind. Alas, we may just have to depend on scholarly consensus to get us thru.

    • “If only Jesus had returned in Spirit after his ascension to bring these matters to our understanding. In words, of course, written down, of course, all agreed on as to meaning and application, neat and tidy, plainly obvious to anyone with a rational mind.”

      Charles, you can find thousands of churches that believe he did just that – ‘It’s called the Bible silly!’

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Rational mind” as in Ayn Rand?
      (Who called herself “The Only Truly Rational Mind Which Has Ever Existed”. Ego much?)

  5. Rick Ro. says

    That chart is wonderful! Worth the whole series by itself!!!

    • Peter Davids’ commentary has an even more extensive chart. I’ve just included allusions to Matt 5-7.

      • Ah, I see I carelessly attributed the chart to Patrick Hartin. Just went and snagged a very good used copy of David’s commentary for twelve bucks plus. Yes, that’s a couple of regular used books or an eighteen pack of beer, but the promise of a more extensive chart was irresistible. What an amazing coincidence that James wrote this decades before Matthew was published and anyone had ever heard of the Sermon on the Mount.

        • Yes, what a coincidence. Almost like people were talking about it or something.

        • Dana Ames says

          In the ancient world, oral transmission was regarded as much more accurate than written transmission. People were generally very careful with what they handed on, because if there was a discrepancy, (theoretically) it could be traced back to YOU… It was actually not like the game of Telephone. People’s memories were trained, and generally reliable, because not everyone could read and write.

          This is a very interesting video discussing, among other things, the accuracy of oral transmission and its connection to the writings that became the NT.


          Of course, Dr Habermas talks a lot about “proof” – it’s not really about “proof”, but rather the consensus of the textual and other witnesses.


          • Robert F says

            I can’t give you sources, but I have read that historians are not so assured now of the accuracy of oral transmission as they once were, Dana. Discrepancies between what one originally hears and what one repeats can only be checked if there is a stable record (a document) to check it against.

          • Dana Ames says


            One document does not a stable record make – it could be forged, or fabricated. I would say if there were an aggregate of documents testifying to something, then it would be more likely it happened, or at least that people viewed an event in a certain way. That’s why we have 4 Gospels, and why there is remarkable similarity in what the Apostolic Fathers describe as the beliefs and actions of early Christians. The flurry of other “gospels” is not as stable a record, because those documents are inconsistent with one another and with what are accepted as “mainstream” orthodox Christian beliefs.

            The point is, what do those documents say is the Meaning of the things they describe? That’s the core that we’re after.


          • Robert F says

            Yes, of course, multiple attestation is important, and is one of the criteria used by biblical scholars to judge the authenticity and/or historicity of a text or fragment of text.

            As you point out, there are four Gospels, not just one; furthermore, they do have different and sometimes non-overlapping perspectives and interpretations. That’s because the original witnesses were plural, not uniform, and they express interpretations that were not completely in agreement. The first century Christian communities were sometimes in serious disagreement; the NT itself attests to that. They were not all arriving at the same interpretation of that Meaning (you mean Jesus by this, don’t you?).

          • Dana Ames says


            There’s a remarkable cohesion of understanding of the meaning of Jesus and what he did (and therefore what God was up to ultimately) among the first Christians. Those who found another meaning (or no meaning, in the case of the Jews who were not convinced of Jesus’ messiahship) eventually separated themselves from the body of Christian believers.

            See Fr John Behr’s “The Shocking Truth About Christian Orthodoxy”:


          • Robert F says

            You may be right, Dana. Then again….

            I don’t share your certainty; simultaneously, I’m uncertain of the position I’ve been tracing out for myself in the last months and years. I find myself putting less and less stock in my own certainties, as well as those of others. There is a theological stance involved in sitting with such uncertainties, and I find myself increasingly comfortable with it. It involves a basic and decisive openness and trust, almost without content, except that it is not empty. Peace, Dana.

          • Dana Ames says

            I got really tired of having to bolster my certainties. One of the reasons I was attracted to Orthodoxy is that it is comfortable with paradox and uncertainty. I’ve come to a place of accepting plausibility, rather than needing certainty. God can do a lot with basic and decisive openness and trust 🙂

            Peace to you, too.


        • Danielle says

          “Yes, that’s a couple of regular used books or an eighteen pack of beer, but the promise of a more extensive chart was irresistible.”

          Ha! Get both the beer and the chart. Let the fun begin.

          Seriously, though, I also didn’t realize how many connections there are between texts. This is fascinating and great.

  6. We need someone to go on a quest to find the historical Jesus, figure out what’s genuine and what’s spurious, put all this speculation to rest.

  7. Fun question:

    Is there any legitimate prophecy of future events in the Bible?

  8. Danielle says

    It predicted the future, but that’s all in the past now.

Speak Your Mind