Summary: All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable, and not just the parts you like best. If you pick and choose, you will be an unbalanced Christian. What you have may be good, but it will never be God's best.
A contemporary author who loves mysteries describes his
frustration when the mystery gets too great. A friend gave him a
mystery book to read, and soon he found himself deep in the midst
of the sinister plot. "Imagine my consternation," he says, "as I came
to the end of the unraveling of the mystery to find the last page had
been torn out. The final lines of that next to the last page went like
this: 'What was it that Mrs. Daisy Dick had seen when she looked
through the window of the tower-that had torn from her that last
terrible shriek of protest, that cry of No! No! as she plunged to her
death on the flagstones beneath?'" She plunged, and the reader was
left hanging in the air because the conclusion was missing. That was
more mystery than he cared for.
The letter of James begins with a mystery also, and this mystery
is one that has caused a great deal of frustration. Many have found
it hard to be happy with the unknown. Thousands of pages have
been written about the mystery. It is the same mystery that you
would experience if you received a letter signed James. If you only
knew one James, the mystery would not be difficult to solve, but if
you knew several by that name it could be quite a task to figure out
which one it was who wrote the letter.
This is the mystery which has faced scholars all through history.
Nobody but the God who inspired him to write knows for sure
which James of the New Testament wrote this letter. There are four
men by the name of James in the New Testament, and each of them
has been made to be the author of this letter. Some argue that it
could have been a James not mentioned in the New Testament at all.
Tradition has attributed this letter to the James who was the
brother of Jesus. He opposed Jesus until after the resurrection.
Jesus made a special appearance to His brother when He rose from
the dead, and James became a believer and a dedicated leader in the
church at Jerusalem. Paul called him one of the pillars of the
church, and though he was not an Apostle, he was for many years
the head of the home church of Christianity.
The vast majority of scholars through history agree that the
evidence supports this tradition. James writes with the authority of
one who lived with the Master of the art of living. This letter is
more like the Lord's Sermon On The Mount than anything else in
the New Testament. You might think it is a waste of time to dwell on
who the author was, but not so. Thousands of hours of the time of
the greatest Christian scholars in history have been consumed in
struggling to solve the mystery of who James was. If you are not
convinced of the authority of the author, but believe he was just
some godly man writing down some pious advice, it will undermine
the value of what God is saying to you in this letter.
This happened to Martin Luther, and to many others. He did
not consider the letter of James to be equal with the other Scripture
written by the Apostles. He called it an Epistle of straw, and when
he published his Bible in German, he put James in the back, and he
didn't even list it in the contents. He influenced many others
including Tyndale to follow the same pattern in their Bibles. Luther
did not reject James, but he made it second class Scripture. There is
an extremely value lesson to learn from Luther's attitude toward the
letter of James. It is a lesson that can help us avoid the folly of many
of God's greatest servants.
First we have to understand why Luther had the attitude he did.
Luther was a reformer in constant conflict with the Catholic church
leaders. Luther's main theme was justification by faith. Luther
emphasized the need for personal faith in Jesus Christ; a trust in His
atonement, and His shed blood for forgiveness of sin. The death and
resurrection of Christ, and faith in the Christ who died and rose
were the foundations of his Reformation theology. The letter of
James does not deal with these things at all. It does not mention the
blood of Christ, or His death and resurrection. James does not
emphasize faith, but his focus is on good works. He even says that
faith without works is dead. The opponents of Luther used the book
of James constantly in their debates with him. The result was that
Luther looked upon James as a hindrance to the doctrine of
justification by faith.