Starting to read James

I teach about the Bible in lots of settings. Sometimes I have a hard time knowing where to start.

For example, a group of us are starting a study of James. It’s a short letter in the New Testament. It’s a great letter to read if you want to defend poor people against rich people. It’s a great letter if you like a direct, in-your-face, fix it now, style.

For the first week, I talked about the history of the letter. From a conservative perspective, James is a brother of Jesus, the letter was written in the middle of the first century, and it feels like an argument with Paul. We looked at a map of the places the letter mentions. We did background conversation.

The second week, we read the letter out loud. I think it’s a helpful thing to do. I may write about that. And we looked at the ways that the letter sounds like other parts of the Bible. For example, it sounds like the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ core messages. It sounds like some Old Testament prophets.

But for the third week, I couldn’t do any more overview. We needed to start digging in. And I was struggling. I want to help my friends understand the text before jumping to application or argument. Often, we have been beaten with a word in the text which the beater may not have understood. So we push back before we unpack.

James is full of those opportunities. We don’t understand being perfect. We hate the suffering around us that James seems to praise. We feel like he’s demanding too much work.

But then, as I read, the more I saw pictures. James loves word pictures. Five in the first 18 verses. We’ll look at them tomorrow.

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About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of 300wordsaday.com. I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

4 thoughts on “Starting to read James

    1. Good question!

      According to Douglas Moo, “Luther had doubts about whether James should be regarded with the same respect and authority as the more ‘central’ NT documents. But we should be careful to not overemphasize the strength of his critique. He did not exclude James from the canon and quotes the letter rather frequently in his writings. A balanced assessment of Luther’s view of James is summed up well by Luther himself: ‘I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.'” (Moo, “The Letter to James” (Pillar NT Commentary), p5)

      On Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 7:03 AM, 300 words a day wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  1. I like being a part of this group. thanks for sharing for me this offers a glimpse of the canvas – I don’t reflect on that very often. I am looking forward to your thoughts on reading the text out loud. Funny, I still find that awkward when I am alone. 😉

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