Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Six Key Themes in the Epistle of James

In last Sunday's introductory sermon in our new series on James, I suggested that the following six key themes in this epistle:

First, James was part of the Jewish mission to the church and was likely originally directed primarily to Jewish Christians, though now it is relevant to all Christians whatever, Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free.

Second, James assumes that those who read this letter already know the basic facts about the life of Jesus, including his death, burial, and resurrection. The words “cross”, “resurrection,” and “gospel” do not appear in James.

Third, James is a practical book that focuses on ethics or the proper living out of the Christian life. James knows the ethical teaching of Christ including the command to love one neighbor as oneself (cf. 2:8), and he knows the teaching of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount (cf. 4:12: “who art thou that judgest another?” and Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”).

Fourth, James is a wisdom book. This theme begins early (1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God….”) and continues throughout (cf. e.g., 3:17). It is like the book of Proverbs in the OT with many wise saying to instruct us how to live our lives skillfully to the glory of God and to avoid foolishness and failure.

Fifth, James focuses on the importance of good works in the Christian life. One of its clear themes is that faith without works is a dead faith (see 2:17, 20). This is one of the most controversial aspects of James. How can it be reconciled with Paul’s teaching in Galatians 2:16 that “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ”?

Perhaps you’ve read somewhere how Martin Luther once expressed some concerns about James, even calling it a “right strawy epistle, and that some radicals even wanted to remove James from the NT. But Luther eventually came to see that James was not at odds with Paul and the wiser men acknowledged that “It is dangerous to loosen foundation stones” (Manton, 9).

The Puritan Thomas Manton noted the core of James’s message on this point as follows: “But in Christ there are no dead and sapless branches; faith is not an idle grace; wherever it is it fructifieth in good works” (9). More contemporary preachers are fond of saying that though we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the faith we have is never alone. It is accompanied by good works as the sign of spiritual life in us. Or perhaps you have heard it said that works are the fruit but not the root of our faith.

Sixth, James stresses the importance of perseverance in the Christian life in the face of struggles, setbacks, frustrations, and trials. We get some sense of what many of these early Jewish Christians suffered when we look at Paul’s letter to the Hebrews when he writes about those who after they were "illuminated" suffered "a great fight of afflictions", including being made a "gazingstock", while taking "joyfully" the "spoiling" of their goods (Hebrews 10:32-34).


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

WM 169: Who Wrote the Epistle of James?

In WM 169 I explore the question of who wrote the epistle of James, in connection with my commencement of a new sermon series through James on Lord’s Day mornings at CRBC. Last Sunday I preached the first message in the series on James 1:1-4 (listen here).

In that introductory message I necessarily spent some time teaching on the question of authorship. In v. 1a the author is identified: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ….”

“James” is the anglicized form of the Hebrew name Jacob.

He describes himself as a “servant [doulos, slave] of God” and a servant/slave of “of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

But the problem is, Who is this James?

The Gospels tell us that that there were two disciples of the twelve apostles who were named James (see the lists of the twelve in Matt 10; Mark 3; and Luke 6; cf. Acts 1).

The first was James, the brother of John and the son of Zebedee. He was one of the closest friends and companions to the Lord Jesus, along with Peter and John. This James is sometimes called James the Major or Greater.

The second was a disciple named James the son of Alphaeus, who is mentioned much less frequently in the Gospels, and has sometimes been called James the Minor or Lesser.

In addition, however, there is mention made in the Gospels of one who was a brother of Jesus named James (see Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:3: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.”).

It is sometimes suggested that this was a third James, the brother of the Lord. It was said of some early writers that he has been among the seventy sent out by Christ (Luke 10) and that he was sometimes called Oblias and “James the Just.” It was he, they suggest, who is the James became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem, who stood up to speak in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13).

I might add that there is what we could call a fourth James, the brother (or father?) of the apostle Judas (literally “Judas of James”) (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13; this is the Judas “not Iscariot” of John 14:22). Note: For the view of this person as a "fourth" James see D. E. Hiebert, James, 27. The traditional Protestant orthodox view (reviewed below) would see this James as James the son of Alphaeus and the Judas (Jude) here as the author of Jude and the brother of James son of Alphaeus (Jude 1:1).

Which James wrote this epistle?

Here are some observations that help us make a judgement:

First, notice that the author does not identify himself as James the brother of John, or James the son of Alphaeus, or as James the brother of Jesus. He does not identify himself as an apostle but simply as a slave.

Second, we know it is not likely that the author was James the brother of John, because that James died very early on as a martyr, the first among the apostles to die for his faith, at the hands of Herod (Acts 12:2).

Third, it is possible that James the apostle, the son of Alphaeus, and James the brother of the Lord were the same person, so that there were not three prominent men among the early Christians but only two.

So, how can we say that James the son of Alphaeus was also the brother of the Lord?

The key here would be to understand the word “brother” not with the nearest sense as “sibling” but more broadly as a kinsman or “cousin.” Those who hold this view say that this James was the son of the sister of Jesus’s mother, also named Mary, the wife of Cleophas (another name for Alphaeus). See:

John 19:25: Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

Matthew 27:56: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

Mark 15:40: There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;

Mark 16:1: And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

Luke 24:10: It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

This view that the author of James was the apostle James, the son of Alphaeus, who was also the brother (kinsman) of Christ, was held by many ancient men in the church, including Jerome (see his Lives of Illustrious Men, chapter 2) and of many of the early Protestant exegetes.

The Protestant men, in particular, pointed to Galatians 1:19 where Paul wrote of his early trip to Jerusalem, “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.”

Then they look to Galatians 2:9 where Paul refers to James, Cephas, and John “who seemed to be the pillars” and conclude that this James must have been an apostle, otherwise, he would not have been accepted as a “pillar” alongside Peter and John.

Here is the conclusion reached in Matthew Poole’s commentary (1685):

“It is not certain that there were three Jameses, two of them apostles and the third (called Oblias and James the Just) one of the seventy disciples; the scripture mentioning but two, one the son of Zebedee, the other of Alphaeus, called the brother of the Lord (Gal 1:19), as being of kin to his family; and said to be a pillar (Gal 2:9), and joined with Peter and John. And though some have thought the James mentioned here to have been the third James, called Oblias, and one of the seventy; yet it is more probable that he was indeed no other than the son of Alphaeus, and one of the twelve; nor is it likely, that one of the disciples should be numbered as one of the three pillars, and therein preferred above so many apostles. This James, therefore, upon the whole, I take to be the penman of this Epistle….”

Thomas Manton in his commentary on James (1693):

“For indeed there were but two Jameses, this latter James being the same with him of  Alphaeus; for plainly the brother of the Lord is reckoned among the apostles (Gal 1:19); and called a pillar (Gal 2:9); and he is  called the brother of the Lord, because he was in that family to which Christ was numbered…. Well then, there being two, to which of these is the epistle ascribed? ….Well, then, James the Less is the person whom we have found to be the instrument which the Spirit of God made use of to convey this treasure to the church” (12-13).

And Matthew Henry’s commentary (expanded upon and published after his death in 1714):

“The writer of this epistle was not James the son of Zebedee; for he was put to death by Herod (Acts 12) before Christianity had gained so much ground among the Jews of the dispersion as is here implied. But it was the other James, the son of Alphaeus, who was cousin-german to Christ, and one of the twelve apostles (Matt 10:3). He is called a pillar (Gal 2:9), and this epistle of his cannot be disputed, without loosening a foundation stone.”

I must note, however, that in John Calvin’s commentary on James of 1551 he concluded that whether James was written by James the son of Alphaeus or another James who was “the rule of the church at Jerusalem,” “it is not for me to say.” He prefaced this conclusion by saying, “It is enough for men to receive this Epistle, that it contains nothing unworthy of an Apostle of Christ.”

Though Manton is much firmer in his convictions that James the son of Alphaeus and “brother of the Lord” is author, he nevertheless refers to the human author as “the subordinate author or instrument.” His point being that whoever wrote it, whether an apostle or not, the true author was the Lord himself by his Holy Spirit.

This consensus of the Protestant orthodox appears out of step with the view of most contemporary Protestant evangelicals who see the author of James as the “third” James, not James the son of Alphaeus, but James of Jerusalem.

Here, for example, is the discussion of authorship from the introduction to James in the MacArthur Study Bible: “Of the 4 men named James in the NT, only two are candidates for authorship of this epistle. No one has seriously considered James, the Less, the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3; Acts 1:13), or James the father of Judas, not Iscariot (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). Some have suggested James the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Matt. 4:21), but he was martyred too early to have written it (Acts 12:2). That leaves only James, the oldest half-brother of Christ (Mark 6:3) and brother of Jude (Matt. 13:55), who also wrote the epistle that bears his name (Jude 1)” (1924).

The Introduction to the ESV Study Bible also makes this assumption and makes no mention of the possibility that the author was the apostle James, son of Alphaeus: “The title of this book derives from the name of its author, James the Just (as he was called), the brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55) and leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15)” (2387).

The older Protestant men seemed more intent to settle James as an apostolic work (written by an apostle: James of Alphaeus). They were not apparently troubled by suggesting that James was not a sibling of Christ but a kinsman, nor did they attempt to defend the proposition that Mary had other children after the birth of Jesus.

Modern Protestants and evangelicals seem to rush past the idea of James as directly apostolic, in favor of the suggestion that the letter was written by one who was not an apostle (James the Just).

Though ultimately in agreement with Manton that the most important thing is the fact that God himself is the primary author and that the human author is only “subordinate,” at this point I am persuaded by Poole, Manton, and Henry that James the son of Alphaeus is the likely author.

Addendum: At the close I noted the commentaries I am reading as I preach through James: two older (pre-critical) works: Calvin and Manton, and one contemporary work by Edmund J. Hiebert. For Hiebert’s intriguing bio on theopedia, look here.


"absent from the body ...present with the Lord": David Larlham

Image: David Larlham (left) at the Lynchburg RB Mission, September 2019.

I received the note below today from a friend with news of the passing of David Larlham:

Just a quick email to let you know that we have received the sad news that our esteemed brother David Larlham was called home suddenly this morning following a heart attack.  But we rejoice that he is now “with Christ; which is far better” and has heard those blessed words “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
I know that all our hearts will go out in deepest sympathy to Monica, the immediate and wider family, and to David’s “church family” at Camberwell, who we know he loved so dearly.

I have been sent this link to the last sermon that David preached at Camberwell, only just over two weeks ago:

Further details concerning the funeral will follow as they become available.

It was my pleasure to meet David and his wife Monica last September while they were on vacation in the area and attended worship at CRBC.

I did the interview below as WM 131 with David in which he gives his testimony and tells of his career as a banker and then his second career as Assistant to the General Secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society:

The interview makes clear David's love for his family, his church, and the Bible as the Word of God. Most importantly, it provides a clear testimony to his faith and hope in Christ.

"absent from the body ... present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).


Monday, July 13, 2020

Eusebius, EH.8.10: The Report of Phileas on the Martyrs of Alexandria

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 8, chapter 10.

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter features a first-person report from Phileas, bishop of Thmuis, a town in lower Egypt, on the tortures and martyrdoms that took place in Alexandria during the Diocletian persecution. Phileas is described as “a true lover both of wisdom and of God.” He wrote this while he was himself imprisoned, and it was reported in the previous chapter (8.9) that he himself had eventually suffered martyrdom by beheading.

Phileas expressed his admiration for the “Christ-bearing” martyrs for their ability to remain steadfast despite undergoing various gruesome tortures and sufferings for their faith. He draws upon the example of Christ from the Servant Song of Philippians 2:5-11.

After cruel torture some were placed in stocks, while others thrown to the ground. Some died under torture, others later died from wounds suffered, while still others recovered and “gained confidence.” When those in this last category were given the choice either to go free and unmolested, if they offered abominable sacrifices, or to face death if they remained steadfast, they chose death.


This chapter continues the account of the sufferings of Egyptian Christians during the Diocletian persecution. It is striking in that it comes from a first-hand report from an imprisoned bishop who would himself suffer martyrdom. Again, the courage and steadfastness of the Diocletian martyrs is remembered with admiration.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

WM 168: Q & A (NKJV, Ward, PIA), then review of Boyce on PA

Earlier this week, I posted WM 168: Q & A (NKJV, Ward, PIA), then review of Boyce on PA. Listen above.

Here are a few links to resources noted in this episode:

Part One: Following up with Correspondence:

On the NKJV:

Check out the articles page on the TBS website. If you scroll down to the section on "English Versions" you will find five articles on the NKJV.

Dane Johannsson also has this podcast on the NKJV.

On Mark Ward's Which TR? article:

See Ward's lecture, An Evaluation of Confessional Bibliology (September, 2019).

Listen to WM 140 here:

On the PIA and debates on text:

Look here for the PIA's list of public debates (none of which, according to the titles, give singular, sustained focus to defending his rejection of any specific TR text).

Part Two: Review of Introduction to Stephen Boyce on the PA:

Read Boyce's full article here.

Listen to my full debate with Boyce on the PA here:

Blessings, JTR

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Vision (7.10.20): Psalm 126: Restoration Song

Image: Phlox David, North Garden, Virginia, July 2020

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Psalm 126.

The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad (Psalm 126:3).

Psalm 126 is set at the time of Israel’s return or restoration from exile. So, it begins, “When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion we were like them that dream” (v. 1). This return came after some 70 years of bondage in Babylon with the edict of Cyrus, when the Persians had toppled the Babylonians (see 2 Chron 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3).

Psalm 126 is, then, a Restoration Song. In v. 3a the Psalmist exults, “The LORD hath done great things for us.” Spurgeon called this verse, “the marrow of the whole Psalm.” The words here recall the words of the old gospel hymn: “Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done.”
We see here the sanctified insight of looking back in hindsight, in retrospect. The exile was a catastrophe, but the Psalmist sees the good that the Lord wrought in those circumstances and the liberation he accomplished.
The last statement in v. 3b is the summary perhaps of the entire Psalm: “whereof we are glad.” This tells us that there is a place in the Christian life for expression of gladness, for exuberant praise.
Christ himself set us a model for this. In Luke 10:21 we read of a time when Christ “rejoiced in the Spirit” and burst into a spontaneous praise to the Father, which began, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth.”

The apostles continued the pattern, as demonstrated when Paul exhorted the Philippians to praise even while he was himself imprisoned: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4). There is a pattern here for us to follow.
Psalm 126 ends with a promise of fruitfulness after tears, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaths with him” (v. 6).
We are here encouraged to be fruitful, to go forth weeping, bearing precious seed, confident not in ourselves, but in the Lord, so that in due time he will bring about a great harvest.
We are reminded overall that tears of suffering, tears of labor, tears of struggle, tears of repentance, most often precede seasons of fruitfulness. So, we are called to perseverance in the faith. This faith is not a sprint, but a marathon.
You may be walking through a season of tears, but joy and fruit will come in the morning (cf. Psalm 130:5). There are for God’s people, corporately and individually, seasons of restoration.
Finally, this Psalm should also cause us to fix our eyes on Christ. Spurgeon, in his exposition of Psalm 126, suggests that “In a fuller, deeper sense, the sower in tears is the Man of sorrows himself.” Adding, “Believers know him thus.” He endured “the sore travail of his soul, the seedtime of affliction” that he might gain “the satisfying harvest when he shall again appear as the reaper of his own reward.”
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Miscellania (7.7.20)

Thanks to Scott Meadows of Calvary RBC in Exeter, NH, who posted this encouraging note about my John Owen book last week (7.1.20):

Also thanks to Dane J┼Źhannsson, of Agros RBC in Glibert, AZ, who sent me this meme he created from my recent blog post on When Restoration Goes Wrong:

Smiles, JTR

Monday, July 06, 2020

Eusebius, EH.8.7-9: The Egyptian Martyrs

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 8, chapters 7-9.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters describe the sufferings of Egyptian Christians under the Diocletian persecution.

Chapter 7 describes Egyptian believers martyred at Tyre in Phoenicia. Eusebius claims to have been an eyewitness of these things, having seen the martyrs being given over to wild beasts. He reports, however, that as they stood defenseless, naked, and in prayer, they were miraculously protected by divine providence from attack by the beasts. Thus, they were then “butchered with the sword”, and their bodies cast into the waves of the sea.

Chapter 8 describes those who suffered martyrdom in Egypt itself. These included men, women, and children who suffered horrific abuse with some being crucified head-down and kept alive till they died from hunger.

Chapter 9 describe the martyrs of Thebais, an Egyptian province, which included the capital city of Thebes. Their sufferings, Eusebius says, surpassed all others. These included those whose limbs were tied to the branches of bent trees and, when the branches were let lose, they were torn asunder. As many as one hundred men were put to death on the same day, and the persecution lasted for years. Women and young children were not spared.

Eusebius claims to have witnessed so many martyrs suffering decapitation in one day that the axe became dull with use and the executioners exhausted. Most amazing, however, was the zeal of the believers who would confess their faith before the tribunal and go to their deaths with joy and singing. Many of these martyrs were known for their wealth, birth, reputation, and learning.

Among the noteworthy martyrs were Philoromus, an imperial administrator in Alexandria and Phileas, bishop of Thmuites. Though urged even by their judge to spare themselves and their families by recanting, they stood firm and were beheaded.


These chapters continue the narrative of the Diocletian martyrs, focusing on those from Egypt who stood firm in the face of death. The manner of their sufferings is described with gruesome detail. The scale of the persecution was vast. It is also noteworthy that Eusebius can claim to have been a personal eyewitness to many of these things. Despite the degree of suffering, Eusebius’s main focus is on the ability of the believers to remain faithful, even during this worst time of persecution.