Gregory R. Lanier

3 Things You Should Know about James

Written by Gregory R. Lanier |
Tuesday, June 11, 2024
Paul’s argument in Romans (and in Galatians) moves from unbelief where law-keeping fails (Rom. 1:18–3:20), to being declared right before God through faith (Rom 3:21–4:23), to adoption and sanctification that flow from justification (Rom. 5–8). In other words, Paul’s statement about justification by faith rather than works falls in his argument about how one becomes saved. James is making a different argument. He is speaking to those who claim to have faith (James 2:14) but lack any kind of Christian charity to go along with it (James 2:16). Such “faith” is not truly faith if it lacks resulting “works” (James 2:17). It is empty or dead, and thus no different from the bare cognitive assent that even demons exercise (James 2:19).

The epistle written by James kicks off the sub-collection known as the “catholic” or General Epistles, so named because they are addressed not to specific churches or individuals but to (more or less) the entire church. In this case, the letter is penned to the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1), a richly symbolic way of denoting all of God’s people scattered throughout the world. In this article, we’ll consider three things to know about this epistle.
1. Jesus’ Half-Brother Probably Wrote It
Let’s start with authorship. Four men named “James” are contenders. James the brother of John (sons of Zebedee, Matt. 4:21) died too soon to be the author (Acts 12:2). James the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3) and James the father of Judas (Luke 6:16) are too unknown in the early church to pull off simply identifying as “James” in the epistle. This leaves James the brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55) as the most plausible contender. This James began as an unbeliever (John 7:5), but through a dramatic encounter with the resurrected Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7), he became a pillar of the early church and possibly an Apostle (Gal. 1:19; 2:9). Why does the identity of the writer matter?
First, James had been transformed by the power of the gospel, yet he does not press his earthly ties to Jesus for clout. He simply refers to himself as a “servant . . . of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). Second, this James makes the pivotal speech at the Jerusalem Council, drawing on Amos 9:11–12 to articulate how the death and resurrection of Christ unites gentiles and Jews under the same banner of faith, not ethnic markers or works of law (Acts 15:13–21). He experienced the gospel and preached the gospel. Third, James inserts direct teachings from his brother Jesus into the letter, such as the poor will inherit the kingdom (James 2:5; Matt. 5:3–5), mourning and laughing (James 4:9; Luke 6:25), exalting the humble (James 4:10; Matt. 23:12), and “yes”/“no” (James 5:12; Matt. 5:34–37). His brother’s gospel has become his gospel.
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Does the Bible Contain Contradicting Genealogies of Jesus?

Written by Gregory R. Lanier |
Friday, June 10, 2022
It can be intimidating to try to wrap our heads around the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. We should not ignore the differences. But we also should avoid the trap of automatically assuming that such differences are unsolvable contradictions or errors. With various tools or principles in place, plausible explanations are out there.

Several times the New Testament declares Jesus to be the heir of King David and, thus, the descendant of Abraham (e.g., John 7:42; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 5:5). But only twice do we get a lengthy genealogy tracing the steps down to Jesus: Matthew 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–38.
Without and, it is not surprising that these two genealogies differ. Some differences are mere spelling variations. But sometimes they involve whole sections of names. It may be surprising to learn that the genealogies in Matthew and Luke align for only approximately seventeen names out of one hundred. But do such differences mean that the genealogies contradict each other? Are there errors, or can the genealogies be reconciled?
Skeptics have attacked Scripture on this point since the AD 200s (e.g., Porphyry and Julian the Apostate), and theologians have responded with various solutions (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Ambrose, and Augustine). No comprehensive solution has won the day, but that does not mean there is none. It just means we must keep working at it. To that end, keep in mind four things when navigating the genealogies.
Intention of the Authors
A genealogy is a compact narrative. The names bring with them the stories. If so, then both Matthew and Luke have authorial freedom in how to tell the genealogical story:

Matthew uses descending order ending with Jesus (A “begat” B), while Luke uses ascending order starting from Jesus (B “son of” A).
Matthew selects Abraham as the starting point, while Luke starts back at Adam.
Matthew places his genealogy at the beginning (Matt. 1), while Luke places it after Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3).
Matthew organizes the names in a 14/14/14 scheme (Matt. 1:17), while Luke may be adopting a subtle 11×7 scheme.

These choices are not contradictions. They simply reflect how the two evangelists have different goals. Matthew, for instance, stresses the Abraham–David–Jesus linkage (Matt. 1:1), while Luke stresses Jesus as “son of God” via Adam (Luke 3:38).
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